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female at edge of grand canyon

But what I've learned, I learned the way no one tells you about

Some Days - Ira Wolf

I’m here to tell you that everything will work out.

But at first, it won’t.

You’re made redundant (twice). You break up with the person you thought you were going to marry. Friendships end. New ones begin. Health problems arise. Anxiety, depression and panic attacks hit. Money is scarce. Then comes the near-death experiences. Family issues. Rollercoaster romances. Moving away. Moving back. Childhood pets dying. The feeling that you might also die any minute. Bloated, burnt out, and having a breakdown about almost everything and I AM JUST GETTING STARTED.

Do you feel like your whole world is falling apart? Welcome to your Saturn Return — it’s real.

So what is Saturn Return exactly? Saturn (the planet) was in your natal sign when you were born and it takes about 26 to 28 years (give or take) to circle back around into your chart. When Saturn returns to your sign, it brings with it a great reckoning.

I’ve been there.

One minute I was elated living la vida loca and the next my life was a mishmash of shattered dreams and hopeless prospects with no desirable future in sight or clue about what to do. I was sleep-deprived, highly anxious, lonely, sad, confused, frustrated, exhausted and frankly some days it felt like crawling on broken glass just to get through.

Experience is a brutal teacher, but you learn. My god, do you learn. — C. S. Lewis

Saturn is said to be the great teacher and also the great destroyer — of paradigms, belief systems, addictions, habits, and patterns. In short: anything that doesn’t serve you. Yes, it sucks. We, humans, want to feel comfort and homoeostasis at any cost. If your life is not in alignment, Saturn will have no trouble showing you (sometimes quite harshly) what needs to change. It’s up to you to recognise the signs and take actions to transform or risk repeating the same lessons over and over.

The Saturn rollercoaster is real.

Let’s use my life as an example. I’m a Virgo but my Saturn is in Sagittarius or the ninth house (you can find out your Saturn sign and Saturn return here). This tells me that ‘Cross-cultural relationships will be your learning grounds and you may become “adopted” by a culture different than your own at some point in your life. If you haven’t travelled extensively, your Saturn Return would be an ideal time to live abroad’. Correct. I’m also told that Saturn came back around into my natal sign since birth from 23 December 2014. Correct again. Around age 26 is precisely the time when my life upheaval began.

Each Saturn Return is said to last between two to four years but for me, it was FIVE YEARS AND ONE MONTH (until I was 31) so rest assured that I know a thing or two about what it brings.

How do you know when your Saturn Return is over?

I met a Vedic astrologer and had a reading in Ubud, Bali in May 2019. He told me the exact date that my Saturn Return would end: 20 January 2020. HALLELUJAH, I rejoiced (also how’s the symmetry). Honestly, it felt like I was on a double Saturn Return bender that I thought I’d never come off. The Vedic astrologer also said that when Saturn leaves my birth chart in early 2020, there would still be “aftershocks” for the months following. This was again, very correct. 

Saturn as a planet is said to represent a father figure, and not in the physical male body sense but more in a protective, grounding, and looking-out-for-you kind of way. The energy of Saturn is asking you to be the ‘father’ of your own life and take responsibility for what you’re not learning. I knew it was time to be the Saturn of my own life when I was so sick of repeating old patterns, feeling stuck and caged, and had a feeling in my bones that the time was ripe for something new.

Growth is simply learning how to suffer gracefully, elegantly and not letting your pain completely tear you apart. — Nikita Gill

What we resist, persists.

This is a frequently repeated adage in spiritual communities and I can’t deny it. When I resist change and sidestep the “work”, I suffer more and whatever is causing me pain me persists. I get it: transformation isn’t easy. Many of us flag it in the “too hard” basket. But maintaining the status quo over following your truth (or just the plain facts on the table) is a way to be alive on the outside yet dead on the inside. I know this first hand. Everything seems easier than doing that one thing you know you really need to do. The true price we pay in suppressing our integrity and aliveness is not fulfilling our highest purpose in life.

You are so young, so before all beginning, and I want to beg you, as much as I can, to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign language. — Rainer Maria Rilke

My own Saturn Return was tumultuous, thrilling, and by the far the most painful yet transformative period yet. When I embraced Saturn Return for what it is — a great cleansing and levelling up — I noticed that my life started to change dramatically.

I started questioning everything, saying no more confidently, letting go of ideals that I didn’t agree with and reassessing values that didn’t resonate with me anymore. It’s also when I decided that there are a lot of expectations that I have no interest in living up to, so I don’t. A fun thing that came out of my Saturn Return was deciding to live each year by a word and this is when I learnt the true meaning of grace, flow, reverence, soften, and alignment.

Saturn will return again.

It will come back into your sign around your late 50s to early 60s. Ever heard of a mid-life crisis? Or a delayed call to adventure? It is said if you don’t learn the lessons in your first Saturn Return, you can bet they will show up in your second (or third). I consider doing the inner work the first time around a HUGE HELP to your future self. The work requires a lot of self-inquiry and reflection, as well as bravery in facing the unknown road ahead, but the reward is remarkable.

We live in a world where to admit anything negative about yourself is seen as a weakness, when it’s actually a strength. — Jon Hamm

I wish I could console my late twenties self and say ‘it will all work out, even better than you expected’ but she wouldn’t have listened. She was too busy trying to hold her public life together (career, relationships, family, self-care, identity, the future) while privately wondering why the questions of her soul’s deepest yearnings wouldn’t go away. Ultimately my heart won, but not without a lot of heartache.

And while you’re in the clusterfuck of Saturn.

It bears repeating, everything will be okay. Maybe not right now, or tomorrow, but eventually. I know that might be hard to believe, so I’ll believe it for you.

Here are thirty one bits of advice from someone who made it to the other side:

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book with flowers

Too forward, too fine, too patient, too wise, now look at you shine

I Won't Run From It - Big Red Machine

1. What do you hope greets you at heaven’s door?

A tray of warm cinnamon scrolls with Justin Vernon playing an acoustic set and every cat I’ve ever loved running towards me.

2. What is the best thing you have ever overheard?

Do the next right thing’ at a cafe in Sedona, Arizona. Also “all my needs have been met” at a farmers market in Santa Barbara.

3. Your biggest karaoke fail?

Africa by Toto in an Athens karaoke bar – there are definitely two extra syllables in the chorus that I didn’t know about until I was singing it to a room full of unimpressed Greeks.

4. What fascinates you to no end?

Dreams, sex dreams, the perfect potato to salt ratio, how the postal service actually works, the mystery of attraction, the universe.

5. Is there anything that people would find surprising about you?

I have a seemingly bottomless reserve of blind faith and almost every Ed Sheeran song can make me cry.

6. A fun fact about yourself that no one really cares about?

I am told my name means ‘apricot tree jewel fruit’ in Japanese!

7. Which childhood game misled you about how adult life would be?

Tetris, bastards.

8. The best song to play when stuck in a traffic jam?

Walking In Memphis, every time.

9. Confound me?

I hate being cold and I love winter.

10. Which film would you make devoted to an entire subject matter?

How people actually meet – synchronicity.

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how to read more

She wants a tree house, she wants a garden, a little bit of land, to put her hands in

She Don't Like Roses - Christine Kane

I am one of those annoying people that reads a lot of books.

In 2018, I set out to read 52 books (a book for every week) and I ended up reading 58 in total. I then challenged myself to double it in 2019 to 100 books, I finished 101 that year. We’re just over halfway through 2020 and I’ve read 46 books (or so, as my Goodreads tells me).

Here’s my advice: don’t have a reading goal, it’s actually quite distracting and you end read things just for the sake of it. Instead, read what interests you greatly. I’ve stopped counting how many books I have read and it turns I’m unknowingly reading more instead.

It would be fair to point out that I spent half of last year and the start of this year travelling so I had time, and also that I am a voracious reader. I will forgo watching the latest TV show and socialising online for a good book. I carry whatever I am reading with me to most places. You’d be surprised how many pockets of time there are in a day (waiting in line, for a friend, an extra 20 minutes here and there) to read a book instead of scroll a screen.

I can trace back the beginning of my love of reading to when I was totally engrossed in The Baby-Sitters Club as a child of the 90s. I have read almost every book published in the 213 edition series, and many of them three times over. I remember as a kid I would press a book up against my window at night to catch the streetlight so that I could read when everyone else was asleep in my house. It’s probably the reason I wear glasses now.

A few friends have asked me: ‘how do you read as much as you do?’. I joke: while you were breeding, I was reading (not entirely untrue) — but to be honest, I don’t have any speed reading superpowers or special abilities, I have just made reading a way of life.

Give me a night by the fire, with a book in my hand. — Mark Helprin

My bliss point is a brilliant narrative with believable characters or an engrossing non-fiction book that gets to the heart of a matter. Reading makes the pressures and stresses of life cease to exist, for at least a little while. Words in novels and poetry can be a full-body experience, not just taking place in your mind. Sometimes I feel a scene in a story or a line in a poem as a literal pain in my chest or a fluttering in my gut.

There is a blurred line between this world and the worlds that I read. I often refer to my favourite writers like they are close friends: ‘Oh yes, Rilke said…’, ‘It’s like how David Whyte always says…’, ‘That reminds me of when Liz Gilbert talks about…’. In some way, from afar, we share a kinship through the sharing of their experiences, they become a part of mine too.

For all my love of reading, I’ve never been in a book club — I KNOW. I’m actually a bit of a stubborn reader and I very rarely read genres that don’t interest me, like historical fiction, crime, or anything fantasy or sci-fi. I love to read philosophy, psychology, poetry, memoirs, essays, spiritual texts, contemporary fiction, food, health and wellness, and travel non-fiction. Sometimes I read for pure escapism which is totally fine too. 

I am someone who cannot persist with a book I am not enjoying. Or rather, I’ve decided to stop reading things that don’t resonate with me. There are literally a million more illuminating books that I am yet to get to! This is not hyperbolic. You will barely get to read even 1% of the books you want to before you die. As such, I have no regrets or doubts about giving up on a book a few chapters in and neither should you. 

I do take recommendations from trusted friends and mentors, and these have been some of the most lifechanging books of my life. If there is a book you’ve told me to read and I’m not vibing with it, I’ll politely let you know. I will, however, insist that you read everything on my ‘Everyone Must Read This’ list (annoying, see I told you).

Love words, agonize over sentences. And pay attention to the world. — Susan Sontag

Sometimes I read three books in a week and other times, like many of us, I get into a reading rut. I know that reading the books on your nightstand can feel like an insurmountable task to add to the many others on your overwhelming list, but I promise you — reading nurtures a rich inner life that supports your selfhood. Reading is a refuge while the world spins madly on. 

Here are eight tricks and tips that I’ve picked up along the way that can help you read more:

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Winter, spring, summer or fall, all you have to do is call and I'll be there

You've Got A Friend - Carole King

A relationship to anything deep and intimate is often inexpressible.

It occurred to me recently that my memory is catalogued in smells and tastes, and most of them come back to tea.

Tea is a lot of things: a warm beverage, an invitation, a moment to yourself, a chance to connect with someone, and a way of life.

Tea is said to have roots that go back 6000 years, she is ancient and wild. But let’s go back to before I knew that, to the beginning of me and tea.

My earliest memory of tea is of my mum making me a cup of chamomile when I was sick. She would add honey and it would taste like sticky sweet goodness. As a child, I would sometimes open the box of teabags in the back of the cupboard just to get a whiff of that flowery meadow scent. Chamomile is still my go-to when I am unwell or need comfort.

When I was 19, I left Australia to study abroad at Queen’s University in Canada. I lived in a giant Home Alone-style house with ten people and one of them was an English rose called Amanda. I met her while she was unpacking and noticed she had a giant ziplock bag of teabags. I asked her what they were, and she said “PG Tips”. She had bought a stash with her from London in case she couldn’t find them in our small college town. Amanda made a cup with a dash of milk and sugar and it was like a warm liquid hug. We became instant friends. To this day, the smell of English breakfast tea takes me straight back to Amanda’s room and the giant autumnal tree outside her window.

In Kington, where we lived, I was introduced to jasmine dragon pearl tea after Amanda gifted me some from a charming tea store downtown. This was 2008 and I had never had proper loose leaf tea before this point! I was enchanted by the smell of the fragrant jasmine buds and would sometimes poke my nose in the bag just to get a hit. When I went back to Canada seven years after my exchange, I went looking for that very tea shop on the main street only to find it was no longer there. A heavy sadness came over me. It’s no coincidence that I wear jasmine scented perfume to this day and always stick my head in every flowering jasmine bush that I pass.

When I was 26, I went on my first 6-month solo trip (or ‘quest’) across North America. I made a point to visit Portland and discovered it to be the tea capital of the US, and later had a tea and tarot session at a teahouse in Burlington, Vermont. I ended up going to a sacred spirituality festival called Beloved in the Oregon woods. I went for a walk after setting up my tent and came across an altar covered in crystals and gems with a man called RonJon sitting behind it. He was serving tea to anyone who pulled up a cushion, all day and all night. I sat down to drink tea and ended up staying for hours chatting openly with strangers. One particularly memorable night, I made my way to the tea circle around 3am and RonJon served us a special tea with palto santo shavings and coca leaf. It was magical and I had one of the best sleeps of my life.

After months of travelling across the US and Canada, I ended up living in New York’s East Village in a 15th floor apartment with no elevator. I had a lifelong dream to live in Manhattan and so I had to see it through. However, it quickly started to show itself as not being my place. The hustle and grind of the city, the everpresent noise and sirens, the community you could see everywhere but never get into, and the lack of nature and trees (two things I need!) really got to me. And frankly, I had no idea what I was doing there.

One day, I saw that my yoga studio was hosting a ‘tea ceremony’. I didn’t know what that was exactly but I was drawn to it. I was going through a particularly hard time with my health and I wanted a feeling of peace. The tea gathering was hosted by Bealyn Elspeth who is better known as All Matters of Spirit. As I sat in a semicircle with about twenty women drinking bowls of tea, I didn’t quite know what was happening, but I liked it. At the end, we shared our experiences with each other. I can’t remember what I said but I did feel connected to something for the first time since I got to the city. Several people in the group broke down and cried. They said the silence made them anxious and they didn’t know what they were meant to do. That’s the thing: we were just drinking tea and not talking. I then realised that for so many of them, being native New Yorkers, they had never experienced such stillness in their entire life.

From this moment, I was in rapture with tea and the ritual of ceremony.

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I once read that hope is the most private emotion, I would add that so is loneliness.

We can all feel it so much without telling anyone. I’ve often thought that the opening line of Simon and Garfunkel’s Sounds of Silence should be changed to ‘Hello loneliness, my old friend’.

There are so many types of human longing: for a partnership, a pet, purposeful work, a community, a landscape, or your place in the world. I feel it when I glimpse into other people’s homes from the street. It is something unexplainable yet so present.

Add to that being isolated, detached or not having support networks, and suddenly loneliness is a psychologically difficult pain to live with.

One tragedy of loneliness is that lonely people can’t see that lots of people feel the same way they do.  Jill Lepore

I recently listened to a conversation between Brené Brown and Dr Vivek Murthy and I was struck by the concept that there are three types of loneliness:

Intimate loneliness. What you feel when you lack really close relationships and don’t have any people who know who you truly are, and with whom you can be fully yourself. For instance, being single and craving an intimate relationship. Or having a nourishing, loving relationship but not a best friend (I call this person your anam cara — Celtic for soul friend).

Relational loneliness. When we lack close friendships or a circle of friends that we can spend time with outside of work and on weekends. These can be old school friends, a tight-knit group of friends you make in adulthood like a girl gang, a surfing crew, a women’s or men’s circle, or a group of people you share a similar hobby or passion with and emotional closeness.

Collective loneliness. You feel this when you lack a sense of community or don’t have a group of people with whom you share an identity and likemindedness with a truth, mission or interest. This could be a physical community like the neighbourhood you live in, an online community like a fan club, a sangha commonly found in spiritual traditions, your extended family, or a faith-based collective like a church group.

When I get lonely these days, I think: So BE lonely, Liz. Learn your way around loneliness. Make a map of it. Sit with it, for once in your life. Welcome to the human experience. — Elizabeth Gilbert

I can relate to all three. As I delved deeper, I did a ‘loneliness inventory’ of my own current life:

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I wish you could know what it means to be me then you'd see and agree that every man should be free

I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free - Nina Simone

It is impossible to be alive right now and not address the Black Lives Matter movement, the violence and violation of human rights against marginalised communities and First Nation’s people, police brutality and misconduct, and the systemic undermining of Black, Indigenous and people of colour worldwide.

Last week George Floyd walked out of a grocery store and was arrested while uncharged and killed in an undignified, unjust and horrific way, as were countless others before him while innocent and sleeping like Breonna Taylor, a child playing in a park like Tamir Rice, and David Dungay Jr, an Indigenous Australian man who died in police custody. His last words were also “I can’t breathe”.

This current uprising traces back to very deep roots of racial inequality and deprivation of basic humanity, this is a huge problem and we all need to do more.

I will, of course, never truly understand what it’s like to not have white privilege and how it feels to live in daily fear of my safety and very beingness. But I can acknowledge it, educate myself, and actively be an ally for anti-racism. As anti-apartheid and human rights activist Desmond Tutu said:

If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.

Read that again. This hit my heart like a dart. I realised my silence, although well-meaning, was a convenient cloak for inaction. The fact I can choose to opt-out, stay in, or not speak up is a freedom other people don’t have. Not knowing what to say or if you will get it right stops so many of us from doing anything at all. I get it, but action is more helpful than perfection. The best thing we can do is:

Shut up and get educated

Develop racial literacy. Listen, really listen. Understand white privilege. Do the work.

Privilege isn’t about what you’ve gone through – it’s about what you haven’t gone through. ― Janaya Future Khan

There is A LOT going on and an avalanche of information out there. The collective grief and anger is devastating, soul-crushing, and paralysing. Now imagine how it feels for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, people of colour) who have to live this existence every single day and for whom it has been that way for generations upon generations of trauma and injustice.

The anti-slavery, civil rights and Black Lives Matter movements in America and the Indigenous civil rights and land rights movements in Australia are extremely nuanced, layered, complicated and in some ways, forgotten and buried histories.

No one can be authentically human while he prevents others from being so. ― Paulo Freire

In an effort to begin understanding anti-racism and unpacking white privilege, I’ve collated a starting point as a living list of things I’ve found helpful for educating yourself and taking thoughtful action.

The invitation is to get your head around the issues, learn from the lived experiences of BIPOC voices, and mobilise ourselves in service and solidarity as an ally for anti-racism (now, not later).

Only you can educate yourself, don’t expect others to do it for you. Of course, there are two sides to every story, do your own research.

I’m learning too and I have a lot of catching up to do.

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Keep climbing into my head without knocking, and you fix yourself there like a map pin

Dogwood Blossom - Fionn Regan

There is life before Normal People and life after.

I have just finished the screen adaptation of Irish writer Sally Rooney’s widely acclaimed and loved novel of the same name that spun the internet (and me) into a frenzy when it came out two years ago. It was the soup du jour read of our generation ― passed around from friend to friend and eagerly awaited at every library. The story made me fall back in love with fiction and yes, I was basic enough to post a book in hand review on my Instagram.

Normal People is about that person who you first loved or made you feel most alive, the one you are inextricably entwined with for life. Whoever you first thought of when you read that, it’s probably them. The two central characters Marianne (Daisy Edgar-Jones) and Connell (Paul Mescal) are twin flames ― a concept that has fascinated me for a long time. In the show, hair fringe envy (her) and male sensitivity kudos (him) ensues. The plot is steeped in the intensity of infatuation, the beauty and brutality of relationships, and ultimately our biological yearning for emotional and physical closeness with another.

It’s not like this with other people, she says. Yeah, he says. I know. ― Sally Rooney

Marianne and Connell are young and in love, and it’s complicated. What most fascinated me over the 12 episodes is watching their undeniable chemistry and kismet-like connection unravel. Their conversations are unabashedly honest, innocent, and earnest (even though you want to scream half the time: ‘tell them how you really feel!’) and their intimacy is profoundly raw and beautiful. They are best friends and soul magnets attracted to each other despite remarkable differences. I call it ‘friendship on fire’ and if you’ve had it, you know it captures your mind and spirit like nothing else.

At times he has the sensation that he and Marianne are like figure-skaters, improvising their discussions so adeptly and in such perfect synchronisation that it suprises them both. She tosses herself gracefully into the air, and each time, without knowing how he’s going to do it, he catches her. ― Sally Rooney

Even though I am freshly in my thirties and the story is set at the end of high school and the beginning of their twenties, it is relatable for anyone who has ever loved, lost, lived in the rapture of someone, or wished for it.

For a few seconds they just stood there in stillness, his arms around her, his breath on her ear. Most people go through their whole lives, Marianne thought, without ever really feeling close to anyone. ― Sally Rooney

I warn you now ― watching Normal People is very addictive and will get under your skin.  The series will do seven more things to you:

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I'm in love with how your soul's a mix of chaos and art, and how you never try to keep them apart

Outnumbered - Dermot Kennedy

I live by a theory that life is circular in that ‘for every high, there is a low’ and vice versa. When I am having a peak experience or feeling totally alive and connected — I tell myself to enjoy it and truly savour the moment because it will end, it’s just how it works. The universe is constantly balancing things out and aiming for equanimity.

In the same way, when I am in a low mood and all my highs are forgotten or feel far away, I remind myself that an upswing is coming and I will be back on my feet again.

I was just in a valley myself recently and seemed to have forgotten my own advice.

A friend reached out and asked me: what is bringing you the most joy at the moment?

I was struck by the simplicity of the question.

Joy felt quite far away that day. And so I started to really think about it.

Being happy is not the same as a feeling of joy. Happiness often comes from an outside situation whereas joy comes from someplace inside of you. On closer inquiry, I found the quality of joy to be a more soul-stirring and pure presence. Joy is unforced and comes about in a moment of noticing or being swept away by a moment.

Once I started to dig deeper, it got addictive rather quickly.

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Can I sail through the changing ocean tides? Can I handle the seasons of my life?

Landslide - Dixie Chicks

Time flies, whether you’re having fun or not.

All our lives have been simultaneously turned inside out. I hardly ever know what day of the week it is and now it’s April.

Most mornings I feel sprightly and hopeful, excited for the possibilities ahead. Then by late afternoon my energy drops and I feel deflated and a little lost. The sun was out and then the clouds came. I take this as a sign to get outside for a walk and fresh air or do some quick yoga stretches in my kitchen.

Like many of us, I’ve been itching to help and feeling useless that I am not a doctor, or nurse, or a journalist right now.

I’ve been wondering: what is my purpose in all of this?

I don’t want to create a Method, start a movement, or make a famous meme (although massive kudos to those people who make it look far too easy!). I just want to make meaning in this crisis.

The 1918 Spanish Influenza pandemic went for two years and infected a third of the world’s population at the time. I don’t say this to be alarmist, I’m pointing to the perspective that this has happened before in human history and it’s worth mentioning that social distancing isn’t a new idea.

We are in a rebirth of our planet and this is a spiritual test for us all. I’m sure of it.

I was at a talk with Elizabeth Gilbert in Perth recently and she said a term that resonated right away: purpose anxiety. I nearly jumped out of the chair with my hand in the air like it was a question.

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Things could be stranger but I don't know how

Changes - Langhorne Slim

You really couldn’t make up what is going on now if you tried.

Every day is an avalanche of new information to integrate and act on: Stay in. Keep your distance. Stop seeing friends. No more touching. Restaurants closed. Libraries and yoga studios too. Travel is off the cards until further notice. So are weddings, live music, cinemas, art galleries, festivals, retreats, events, and sport. Even the Olympics have been postponed.

With everything that is happening now, I feel like nature is being returned to Earth. You’ve seen the pictures of the Venice canals running with clear water and reports of wild animals making their way into deserted cities. For this to happen, humans needed to get out of the way. The question everyone wants to know is, how long is this going to last?

We are feeling the same things — panic, fear, loneliness, exhaustion — and a whole bunch of new states such as ecological distress, anticipatory grief, and everpresent anxiety.

I dropped some food to a friend and I got a bit emotional in my car afterward. It wasn’t because I couldn’t hug her (which felt strange), but it was because I didn’t know when I could again. Now that not knowing is the new normal, being okay with it is a superpower.

Everything’s on hold. So hold on. — Nick Miller

I recently was making my way across North America and when you’re travelling — the unknown is all you’ve got. I didn’t know where I was going the day after tomorrow, where I was sleeping the next night, how I was going to get from here to there, who I was going to meet, and where life would take me. It’s a lot to think about it! Even though uncertainty is exhausting, it is also thrilling and pushes you forward.

I should be in Guatemala right now. Or I would be if I didn’t follow my instincts.

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