After seven months on the road, I’d learned that I need a lot of time in nature; as much as I enjoy city life, it creates a plaque-like accumulation of tension that only the silence of water, air and lush earth can diffuse. While I was researching the Baltics I came across a little town called Nida at the far reaches of the UNESCO-listed Curonian Spit in Lithuania. I knew I had to go.
I also knew exactly what I needed to do there. If you read my last post from Riga, you know that something — my subconscious, the universe, or whatever you want to call it — was calling for a major shift within myself:
This is the work of your life: to peel away everything that is not you and enter the flow. Open the clenched hand… This is the practice every day — we are called to let go. Let go. Let go…. It’s a path you’ve run from. You’re still running. All of this distraction from the real work to which you committed long ago.
Nida, it turned out, was the perfect place to tackle this interior work. The calm lagoon waters worked its magic upon my arrival, reflecting a sense of peace into a mind that was running in too many directions. I decided to extend my weekend stay and promised myself three things: to not work, to not feel guilty about not working, and to reconnect with what brings me joy. I’d been expending an enormous amount of effort trying to live someone else’s life: it was time to stop, turn around and open myself up to new possibilities.
Nida became a palate cleanser to neutralize the tastes of severe soul-level nutritional deficits: the salty taste of should, the metallic taste of corporate culture, the sugary taste of chasing the dream like a hamster endlessly spinning on its wheel. I was on a self-imposed fast of sorts, cutting out anything that didn’t light me up and put a smile on my face.
I pedaled my rental bike through the long shadows of the sunny Baltic summer, remembering the same exhilarating freedom from my childhood. I slowly devoured the local delicacy — whole smoked fish — being mindful of the bones. I made photographs, climbed sand dunes, and wrote poetry. Deep musings filled my journal on silence and light, two concepts that have been my touchstone for as long as I can remember.
Yes, I struggled with the guilt for the first two days. “I should be working!” But working at what? Who am I, if not the career that has occupied most of my waking moments for decades? Let it all go, Jen. Just let it go. Let your life come to a full stop. I succeeded by day 3, but it didn’t feel like success. How can I describe what it felt like?
As usual, I turn to analogies: like I had just smashed the engine that had kept me moving forward — like I’d discarded the exoskeleton that kept me upright — or that I’d cut my cord to this planet and was floating, like a balloon, into outer space. Within this profoundly existential mix of terror and liberation, I worried that I’d permanently untethered myself from all of society; I wondered if I’d ever be able to live a “normal” life again. But “normal” according to whom? How should I define normal for myself?
Letting go is hard for most people, but the challenge is magnified for those on the autistic spectrum. “Environmental scaffolding” is a term used by scientific literature to describe how autistics use their belongings, surroundings and ideas to define their sense of self. Letting go of the scaffolding means letting go, quite literally, of identity.
I read about scaffolding a few weeks after my letting-go experience in Nida, and I thought, yes, this exactly explains the sensation I experienced. I had already released so much over the past five years; the last thing to go was my identity as a consultant, to which I was tenaciously holding like it was the only barrier that prevented me from falling off a cliff.
As a lifelong chameleon, my biggest challenge has been too many options. Choices are often overwhelming, so I’m either blind to other options or second-guess myself constantly when I get into “overthink” mode. What I’ve been learning over the past 15 years of meditation and self-discovery is how to interpret my own metaphorical instrument panel: to learn the language of emotions and intuition, and allow them to guide my decisions like auto-pilot in a thick fog. Or, as I wrote in this post, like bat using sound to navigate in the dark. Without these years of practice, I don’t believe letting go would have been possible.
The solitude, simplicity and visual silence in Nida enabled me to clearly see my instrument panel; I felt, rather than saw, the green lights of joy that writing, creativity and spirituality have signaled throughout my life. But I’d discarded them for some reason: partly due to forgetfulness in the midst of too many options clamoring for my attention, but also due to assumptions like “you can’t make money doing what you love.”
By the end of my week-long solitude in Nida, I’d gained some clarity and made some decisions:
- Eliminate some stops from my original travel plan; I needed to slow down.
- Tackle one bucket list item next year — the Trans-Siberian Railway from St. Petersburg to Beijing — which meant I needed to learn Russian.
- Take Russian language classes in Kiev, which would check not only the language box but also my desire for a social life.
- Make a home base in Tbilisi, Georgia based its mix of easy visa, no/low tax, affordability, strong expat community and extensive (gorgeous) nature. And, of course, Russian language practice in both Georgia and the surrounding central Asian countries.
- Keep writing and see where it leads.
I’m sure you noticed that this list did not include what I planned to do for a living. At this point in my journey I was still floating, untethered, relishing the enormous sense of relief that came from releasing my self-imposed pressure to figure everything out Right This Second.
I had let go.
Nida is definitely off the beaten path. First you’ll need to get to Klaipeda; I took a train from Riga, but you could also fly into Palanga (about a 30-min taxi ride north of Klaipeda). You’ll need to take a taxi from either the airport or the train station to the ferry, ferry across the water to Smiltyne, and then a bus to Nida. Be sure to snap a photo of the ferry hours when you land on the Spit side of the water as you’ll need it to plan your return trip.