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Life, Stripped Bare

How often have you longed to strip your life bare – down to the foundation – to take only what you truly want, burn the rest and start over again? Be honest with yourself.

The truth is I’ve felt this way repeatedly throughout my life. Usually during the low moments when all I wanted to do was escape from a relationship or a place or a situation – even from myself. But I’ve learned that running away never really works, in the end.

However, I’ve felt this longing during the high moments, too. I can’t explain why; you don’t always need to have a reason for feeling the way you feel. Sometimes things simply don’t feel right, not because there’s anything wildly wrong, but because there’s something else your heart and soul wants for you.

A longing to strip my life bare isn’t the reason I left London to cycle from Istanbul towards Singapore. Seriously, there are far easier ways to strip your life down to the foundation than leaving everything that feels comfortable, familiar and safe to spend a year cycling across country after country. Being able to strip my life bare is however, a positive side effect of that decision.

It felt like an opportunity to simplify my days as much as possible, to slow down, to create space in my life and my head and my heart to look closely at every area of my life: At what’s working and at what’s not working. To look closely at not only the light that exists within – but also at the darkness – because both exist within each of us. I want to own everything that makes me, me.

It felt like an embrace; a choice made from a positive place – a place of love – rather than from a desire to escape or as a result of a decision that was made from a desperate rock bottom on a cold and lonely bathroom floor.

It also felt like a natural next step in a series of steps I’ve taken to live life on my terms, rather than the life others expect me to live. For the past five years I’ve been on an incredible journey of personal exploration and growth. I let go of limiting self-beliefs, old ways of being, thoughts, words and stories I told to and about myself. I let go of negative relationships, learned how to set boundaries and say “No”. I ended the war on my body and healed (for the most part) my relationship with food. I let go of clothing – not because of how it made me look – but because of how it made me feel. I donated/gifted/sold a ton of belongings and I burned my journals and said, “Thank you” as each page went up in flames. I acknowledged my own goodness, took ownership of everything life has given me and transformed my relationship with money, defining what wealthy looks like, for me. I gave myself permission to explore and ‘play’ in my work life. Crucially, I learned how to be ‘here’ in this moment, rather than always focusing on getting ‘there’.

I’m not suggesting my life is by any means perfect, but it is mine.

So, why strip it bare? To create space for the new – not new things, but a new way of being; being more present in my relationships, adopting new habits that serve who I am and where I am in my life now – because you are allowed to change and grow out of who and where you were before. To deliberately create a simpler, slower way of living in order to be more focused on the big, bold dreams I have for my life. To claim a side of myself I wasn’t ready to claim before.

So, what does ‘stripped bare’ look like? It can look any way you want it to look. Your foundation might be big or it might be small. You may believe you’ve taken only what you truly want and then realise later that you’ve still got so much more to let go of. You could choose to strip your life bare again and again until all you can see are bones – that’s okay – it doesn’t matter how many tries or how much time it takes. You’ll become lighter with each layer you peel away.

This is what ‘Life, Stripped Bare’ looks like for me, today. Which means it could look entirely different tomorrow, by autumn or this time next year. There are no rules.

  • Since leaving London I’ve unfollowed friends (even the ones I love) and strangers on the Internet and unsubscribed from emails that filled my in-box with relentless advice and offers I didn’t want and certainly have no need for. Why did I do this? Because we get to decide who to listen to and who to learn from. The voices we listen to shape us and I want to be educated in meaningful ways. The Internet is a tool and we each get to decide how to use it for good in our lives. In doing this, I feel like I’ve achieved a relatively sane relationship with the online world.
  • My hands are bare – the diamond engagement ring I love perhaps a little too much is locked in a safety deposit box beneath London’s bustling streets. Conversely, David and I are now together 24/7 after being separated for days and weeks during our six-year marriage, due to the nature of his profession. This too feels like being stripped bare; there is nowhere to hide.
  • I’m far from my country of birth and more specifically, I’m far from my family. I can no longer contact them on a whim. Some days I feel such a deep sense of longing to be with them it hurts; the longing isn’t just emotional, it’s physical. It’s made me question my priorities; I know I allow myself to get caught up in life and work rather than giving my family (and friends) the attention they deserve.
  • I’m far from my friends, my small but precious tribe. I’m acutely aware that bonds are strengthened through shared experiences and traditions – from making memories together – but we’ll make no new memories together this year.
  • I no longer wear makeup, my hair is slowly returning to its natural shade for the first time since I was 17 years old, only much of it is grey now. There are no beauty appointments to attend and the bright nail polish, big earrings and colourful, stylish clothes I love have been replaced with functional items and minimum outfit options. I feel bare, stripped back. (I also feel beautiful).
  • My home still belongs to me, but it’s no longer a place where I live; I’m not required to clean it or do DIY or home maintenance. My home is a budget hotel room, a guesthouse, a tent; my home is wherever I lay my head. It’s also no longer a place – but a feeling – I feel a deep sense of home within.
  • My possessions – the ones I chose to keep – sit locked in storage for I don’t know how long. Everything I need to live now I carry with me in the four pannier bags attached to my bike. I want for so little and I need even less.
  • I have no income. The money I have in my bank account is enough, but it won’t last forever. And whilst I have investments and savings, those are not to be touched.
  • For the first year in many, I’m not reading a blog or a book with the purpose of ‘improving’ myself; not completing a course or attending an event or listening to a podcast, all designed to further my educational or personal development. I have no coach or mentor; I’m not part of a mastermind. I am, instead, immersing myself in the physical world, the one that takes place outside of a screen, beyond the distractions and the noise of the Internet and the world shouting at me to be, do or have things I really don’t want to be, do or have.
  • When people ask, “What do you do?” I’m not entirely sure how to respond. I currently have no products or services on offer – therefore I don’t truly have ‘a business’. I’m not employed – therefore I have no ‘career’. I’m a writer without a book, an artist without an easel. Yet I don’t believe I need a title to be worthy of a place in the world; self-worth is claimed, not earned.

The result is I feel LIGHTER. Less weighed down by life and the weight of other people’s expectations. I spend more time just being.

There are those of us who desperately hold on. There are those of us who long to let go. I can only share my experience: Living lighter helps me shine brighter.

Previously: Leaving London, Nothing Is Wasted…

Next: 100 Words Of Now…

4 Comments

  • Mandy Grantham 29/07/2018 at 11:16 pm

    I am enjoying following your journey Esther. Do you get time (or the energy) to read on your travels beyond guide/travel books of the areas you are passing through? As an avid reader I have been musing on what I would choose to take on such a journey. A bit like Desert Island Discs but with books and not records! Worse than having to choose the clothes to take I am thinking!!

  • Thank you so much, Amanda! I LOVE to read but there’s been less time for reading than I expected, mostly because I spend the evenings we have free either keeping my travel journal up to date, writing my book or writing a piece to publish here. My Kindle also died in the first month on the road, although I’ve just replaced it this week. I love your line of thought though – Desert Island Discs for books, brilliant! – because I was reading a lot of what I guess you’d call self-help books and I decided I was going to step away from those this year and read more memoir/novels. Now that I have my Kindle back, I need to make a list! Any suggestions? You’re right, it’s definitely harder to choose books than clothes! Esther xx

  • As always, your words arrive at the perfect time. I am not bicycling across continents, but have undertaken a voyage to strip away and simplify my life. Your thoughts on not taking classes or reading books to “improve” myself struck a chord. I have always sought the advice and direction from others to help me be better and improved. But in simplifying, we discover that we are, at essence, improved.

    Thanks so much for letting us join you on this journey and for such wonderful insights.

  • Hi Ellie – what wonderful words to read, thank you for taking the time to leave a comment! I’m so pleased this resonated with you and I love the voyage you’re on. I didn’t realise until I decided to step away from reading books or taking classes, etc. to ‘improve’ myself how much all these things were cluttering up my mind, I mean, there’s a place for advice and guidance but sometimes it can all get so noisy! I love your insight, “By simplifying, we discover that we are, at essence, improved” – just beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing this journey with me. Esther xx

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