Erlebnisse: (n.) The experiences, positive or negative, that we feel most deeply, and through which we truly live; not mere experiences, but Experiences. 

Have you ever taken the time to sit and listen to your own heartbeat? To settle back, close your eyes, and focus on the steady beat of that fist-sized muscle whose rhythmic pulse keeps you standing upright, eyes-wide and hands-reaching. There’s something comforting in its reliable tattoo, as if it were a tangible mark of your life, a pin-point sound that seems to say “We’re alive. We’re here.”

My own heart hasn’t historically been very consistent. I mean this metaphorically as well as literally. I can be unbelievably changeable, but it’s been in the past few years that my heart has taken on inconsistencies of its own. It was last autumn, sitting in the clinical cool of a doctor’s office, that I was shaken awake by the stern reprimand that it wasn’t going to keep going unless I made changes to help. I don’t discuss my health issues too widely- I don’t feel the need to- but I will say that at the time there seemed to be no explicable cause to the long string of sypmtoms I was experiencing. To my shame, it would take several more months of struggling before I decided to really do anything about it, but since I have it’s been amazing the improvement in overall quality of life, not the least of which includes a steady heart rate.

So I sit and I listen. And I marvel.

A lot of what I’ve been doing have been simple life changes, most of which go along with my word for the year and all the refining that accompanies it. It may seem a simple or even a silly thing, but at one point I sat down and wrote out my values, all of the things that are important to me, and compared them with the way I live. What we value shapes how we see the world and our reactions to things, but not always what we do. Cognitive dissonance is the technical term for that sense of unrest and inner conflict that arises when our actions contradict our deepest-held beliefs. You’d think that one’s deepest values would shape even the most mundane choices, but it’s not uncommon for culture or perceived expectations to get in the way and start making decisions for us instead.

Lifestyle blogs are an excellent example. I find them showy, overdone, and unbelievably unhelpful, and all they really do is push people further into the toxic mindset of comparison and dissatisfaction. And yet for the longest time I’d fall prey to them myself. Lifestyle is something deeply personal and unique. You can share values with someone, but you can never truly share the same lifestyle. Your daily habits, your preferences, your tastes, your wardrobe, your time, and even the way your hair reacts to certain products are all going to be particular to you. To try and fit one lifestyle into the advertised blueprint of someone else’s only furthers that sense of dissatisfaction and inadequacy when it still doesn’t feel “right.”

I’ve begun cultivating my own lifestyle (and no, I’m not going to tell you all about it). I’ve been learning to challenge my daily habits and start saying yes to more things. Better yet, I’ve started saying no to some as well (boundaries, especially with work, aren’t something that have really existed in my life up until this point). So far this has mostly just looked like more excuses to wear outlandish hats and eat more pancakes, but it’s also been permission for me to meet new people and reach out for help when I’ve found myself plunged back into the perpetual night of the I-Suck Abyss.

My favourite change so far, though, has been that of creating space and luxuriating in it. For several months now I’ve been going every Sunday to the same coffee shop in Scranton to sit and read and write and listen. I never see anyone I know (although one of the female baristas did try and ask me out), but it’s easily the most fun I have all week. I sometimes spend all afternoon there drinking overpriced coffee and reading, or just listening to people talk– eavesdropping on twenty different conversations, jotting down lines and observations, and enjoying the anomaly of sharing close quarters with complete strangers for hours on end. It’s a delicious experience that is always new and all mine.

So what does this post, in all of its ramblings, have to say? Well, dear reader, that I am learning to feel my heartbeat, and that I am learning to appreciate it. That I am stepping out of my habits and comfort zones and into new things and that vast un-comfort zone that takes up so much of the world (at least when you’re looking at it through my lenses). I’m hanging fairy lights in my room, staying up to read until unholy hours, eating pancakes for dinner, and going to see films on my own (and usually being the one to laugh the loudest in the room). I’m learning to have experiences and to live. I truly hope you are choosing to do the same.


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