31.
June 9, 2013

photo

It seems like only yesterday that I was writing about the big 3-0, but somehow my birthday rolled around on Friday once again. 31. I don’t feel 31 at all, but I’m starting to wonder if I’ll ever feel as “grown up” as I think I’m supposed to.

Last year, as I passed a birthday that’s generally considered to be a milestone of sorts, I came to terms with the fact that my life was shaping up to be quite different, and much less certain, than I’d imagined it would be. Rather than feeling committed to a forward-marching career, settled into a domestic situation, or suddenly possessed of some set of qualities that equals “adult,” I felt shaky in my decision to do a post-bacc, unsure of what the future would bring, and more adrift in many ways than I had been in my early twenties.

However difficult my adjustment to this new realm of uncertainty was, it was important. It taught me to surrender some of my preconceptions about myself and what I’m capable of (as well as what I’m not capable of). It taught me to embrace risks, and I’m so glad it did; I tend to take shelter behind planning and organization, but I grow the most when I venture into the unforeseen. Nowadays, I’m starting to love the fact that I don’t know exactly where I’ll be in a year, or five. Life feels exciting, and full of possibility.

In my yoga practice, I’m constantly told to embrace the present. Until very recently, those words washed over me like background music. I’m always thinking about my future, and if I’m not doing that, I’m analyzing my past. What did I do wrong? What might I have done differently? What did I lose, and what or whom do I miss? Deep down, a part of me has always associated “living in the moment” with a kind of careless abandon, a sloppiness, or a lack of foresight. The same part of my character that craves rules, boundaries, and renunciation of the appetites also fears embracing the present. It’s easier for me–that side of me, anyway–to map out every step I mean to take, or analyze the ones I’ve already taken.

I’ve grown up a lot in the last few years. I think I probably made more mistakes, and have more accumulated regrets from my post-bacc years than any other chunk of my life. Sometimes I felt sorry for myself to the point of being childish–after all, career change is hard, but I was thoroughly blessed all along, as I always have been. I was often self-centered, so focused on getting my work done and succeeding in school that I pushed aside my consideration of others. I didn’t call friends enough, didn’t express enough gratitude to the people who supported me, and bulldozed through my days with a very inward focus.

This past year put a lot of things in perspective. First, there was my volunteer job in pediatric oncology, which was both inspiring and a sobering reminder of how unpredictable and fragile life can be. An unexpected loss in my family soon after, as well as some personal experiences this spring, were further reminders that life is precious, and that every moment is worth cherishing. I never quite appreciated these things when I was younger, and perhaps that’s for the best, but I appreciate them now. As I enter a new year, I’m reminded of what really matters: family, friends, and health, first and foremost. Passions, art, love, and empathy for our fellow travelers, too. Kindness. Patience. An open mind.

And fun–fun matters a lot, too.

I doubt I’ll ever be able to “live in the moment” completely–how can any of us, when we have careers to plan and relationships to nourish and things we want to experience or accomplish while we can. But I am learning to take the yogic principle of non-attachment to heart–the idea that pinning our happiness to possessions, people, and experiences is the root of suffering, and that there is peace in recognizing that life is fleeting (Buddhist scholars, please forgive me if I’m totally butchering this). I struggle to reconcile the concept of non-attachment with my equally strong desire to love as fiercely as I can, clutch my relationships to my heart, and hurl myself into everything I do with abandon. But I’m learning that there’s some sort of harmony between non-attachment and a mindful, loving, appreciative approach to life.

Yesterday, I woke up with a heart swelling from gratitude. I welcomed the smell of summer on the breeze, the feeling of sun on my cheeks, the quiet of my morning coffee, the sound of my mother’s voice when we checked in on the phone. I don’t think I could have savored these moments so fully even a few years ago, in spite of the fact that I’ve always been appreciative of life. It may be fleeting and precious, but it’s also full of beauty, and I’m happy that I’m learning to be more aware of it all.

So that’s 31. We’ll see where I am next year. As usual, I feel tremendous gratitude for everyone who stops by and takes the time to read this blog. And I welcome your musings on birthdays, attachment/non-attachment, uncertainty…or if you just want to make predictions about the Game of Thrones season finale, hey, that’s cool, too.

Have a great night,

xo

 

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    57 Comments
  1. […] 5. I’m pretty smitten with Tavi Gevinson’s ode to “forever”–which is really an ode to her teen years–in Rookie. Though I probably should have figured it out a little sooner, it is really only in the last two years or so that I’ve started to appreciate–emotionally and intimately, not just intellectually–that life is short. This happened for a number of reasons: volunteering in hospitals. The health scare of someone close to me. The loss of two people who were, or who were like, family. Getting a little older. I wrote about it all in this year’s birthday post. […]

  2. I’m so late, but Happy Belated Birthday!!!! This post was so touching to read- not to mention very eye opening. The wheels are turning… You brought a lot of things to the forefront of my mind. I never, ever live in the present. I’m always worrying about the past or the future. Thank you for this beautiful reminder. Hope you’re doing well, love xo

    • I’m glad it had an impact, sweetie. So much I wish I’d always known (to live in the present), but now I know!

  3. Happy (belated) birthday! I’m turning the big 3-0 myself in just 2 months. It’s great to hear about your reflections on your first year in the thirties – I hope mine ends up being as fulfilling and rewarding as yours was. You have accomplished quite a bit, and I’m inspired!

  4. Dearest Gena,
    I really enjoyed reading your thoughts in this post. I had wondered how you were doing with your post-bacc, along with all the life-changes and inward personal growth that are bound to accompany such a humanly significant move. A lot of life’s lessons are quite humbling, if we can only learn to be humbled by them.

    Yes, life is best lived when you realize that all you have is the present moment. You don’t have tomorrow–you only have today. So live it up, Gena. 🙂

    Aletheia

    P.S. You picture makes you look like you’re still 18.

  5. Happy belated birthday Gena! As always, your posts make me reflect on my own life, and thanks to this one, I feel quite a bit calmer about graduating from college this weekend without much of a clear plan for the next few months. Thank you!

  6. I thought that I was starting to really ease into my yoga practice, until one of my yoga teachers floored me by mentioning that if your tongue is touching the roof of your mouth, you’re tensing it. I have since realized I do this unconsciously in almost every single pose with which I struggle. Maybe that doesn’t sound particularly profound, but it was coupled with a similar awareness of mine of the value of mindful non-attachment. All this to say, I think what you’re speaking of here is immensely important, and it sounds like you are embracing it with aplomb. I haven’t commented often on your blog, but I’ve been reading it for years now, and I think you are the picture of bravery and willingness to yield to a new life-direction. This was a lovely post.

  7. Oh no, I don’t know how I could have possibly missed it, but Happy Belated Birthday, Gena! I truly hope it was a joyous celebration, and you enjoyed every moment of it. You’re wise beyond your years and still have so much to give- It’s truly an inspiration, and I’m so happy to be able to watch you flourish. 🙂

  8. What a beautiful post. While I wished you a fleeting happy birthday on twitter, I do hope your day was filled with loveliness and love, because that is what you share with everyone in your life.

    Gena, I am 42 and not sure I know more now than I did at 30! What I do know: I am always learning, I am no longer so foolish to think I’m always right (except with my husband) 😉 and that yes, life is precious.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on your birthday, because they are more than self-reflection, they are inspiration for all of us reading.
    xo

  9. I recently turned 32, and I feel the exact same way. I’m also just as upended (maybe more so) as you seem to have been lately, and I just wrote a post on it–my first in almost a year. Thanks for sharing your musings. =) Happy birthday.

  10. happy birthday! i just celebrated 28 last monday. i go back and forth between fretting over all the ideas + plans i haven’t seen yet… and feeling so thankful + lucky to be where i am and have what i have. beautiful post. thank you for reminding me that i’m not the only one that feels less “grown up” than i thought i would, and not exactly on a path i assumed i should be on.

  11. I too turned 31 a few weeks ago and have been following your blog since I met you in Cassie’s years ago in nyc. In many ways I feel the opposite of you. I have a child and feel somewhat trapped but live very much in the moment constantly and don’t plan enough for my future or think about the past. Because of this I find it difficult to develop or keep relationships of any sort or pursue any long term goals or careers or accomplish any project because I seem to have no desire for them. I think balance and moderation in all things really is key and would like to develop more of the qualities you say you’ve had in excess! Thanks for sharing your blog and yourself!

  12. Beautiful post, Gena. And Happy Birthday! I really enjoyed your workshop on writing at Vida Vegan. And I appreciate what you say about your yoga practice here, and savoring the details of your birthday morning. May you have many many more to savor.

    Maria

  13. Happy birthday. A beautiful and heartfelt post.

    I also chose to change my career, and go back to school to study physiology (of diet & exercise). For now, I’m really looking forward to the next few years, having just been offered an opportunity to study what I want to study, at a place that I’ve kinda been dreaming of studying at for some time.

    I’m also trying to learn to not obsess so much about the past, or worry about the future, and just learn to live and enjoy the present. I keep trying to remind myself that “Every man’s life lies within the present; for the past is spent and done with, and the future is uncertain.” Still not succeeding at that yet though.

    –rfloh

  14. Gena! My birthday was just yesterday – so the spirit of reflection has been on my mind too. Happy birthday to you!!!

    I just turned 40 (wow!), and it has been quite amazing to reflect back on all the experiences behind me that have gotten me this far… and to be open to all the unknown experiences that lie ahead. Yesterday morning, I did 40 sun salutations – one for each year of my life – and reflected on that year as I did that salutation. It was surprisingly moving and meaningful. I spent most of the rest of the day goofing off or relaxing with my pets and my husband… but I was really glad to have that time to reflect. I enjoyed reading your birthday reflections too. 🙂

  15. Happy birthday!

    I love how inspiring your words are 🙂 I think your wisdom is such a reflection of all you have been through and defeated.

  16. Happy belated birthday, Gena! I, too, spend a lot of time living inside my head, relaying conversations or events from the past or about the future; it’s hard to live in the moment! I am much younger than you (not that you are “old” by any stretch), but I only wish that I can be as wise, reflective, and honest with myself as you when I am your age.

  17. Happy Birthday Gena! I would have thought you were definitely in your 20s- you look so young, although your wisdom is maybe the giveaway of your age 🙂 You should be so proud of yourself for making that career change. I’m learning to embrace uncertainty- just like it does for you, my life feels full of possibility.
    It is so difficult to livee in the moment especially when there’s always something new and exciting round the corner 🙂
    Hope you had a lovely celebration.

  18. You are wise beyond your years, dear Gena! Besides that, you are definitely fun and adventuresome, with a good dose of silly. And, you don’t steal chocolate which is always a good quality in a friend. Happy birthday and best wishes for many, many more.

  19. Hi Gena,
    Happy belated birthday and thank you for sharing this post! I will turn 30 next month and also have a lot of uncertanties in my life at the moment. Sometimes this is hard, but most of the time it makes me feel excited. It means there are lots of possibilities and it gives me the freedom to do whatever I want.
    I hope your 31st year will be full of fun and worthy experiences!
    Laura

  20. Happy birthday, Gena! What lovely words to wake up to this morning. As a 62-year-old woman who struggles with many of the same issues as you — yes, still at my age– I can say that I remember being 30 and feeling old, but now that I am in my sixties, I feel younger than I ever did at your age. It only gets better and better, despite our human foibles and lack of perfection. Loving and being loved becomes easier and more expansive with the years. It is our great spiritual reward that the older we get, the more we understand that the love we always wanted was there all along and it is in the giving of that which is already within that gives us the greatest happiness. I wish you many, many more years of health, insights, and inspiring writing and am grateful for how you share so much of who you are with us through this blog. I am a first time commenter but have been reading your blog for many months. Again, have a super birthday!

  21. What a beautiful post, full of good reminders to slow down and enjoy. You’re right that life *is* fleeting–cheers to a lovely new year 🙂

  22. happy birthday my dear! i’ll be joining you in 31 in a few months. ‘full of possibility’ is the theme of 2013 for me. i’m going through a particularly challenging time right now and my future is very.very. uncertain. instead of trying to panic, i’m trying to acknowledge the change and move forward not with reservation or in haste but find that sweet spot in the middle.

    p.s. maybe it’s the personality, but i totally agree about not really being able to be fully present. our lives and social situations simply don’t allow it…maybe we need the island life ha!

  23. Happy birthday, Gena! I hope your year is fantastic. My thirties have truly been my best years, and I wish the same for you. As I reflect on the past 7 years, I can see that they have been full of letting go… expectations, relationships, and beliefs. And for everything that has gone away, a space has opened up for something that was a better fit. Enjoy your birthday month! I’ve always been a fan of making birthdays last longer than a day 🙂

  24. Have an amazing birthday, Gena! Your post really resonates with me, and I too struggle with living in the present. I am a planner by nature, so I’m constantly trying to figure out what’s next, but also analyzing the past to see what I could have done better. Reading your thoughts is a good reminder to strive to live more in the moment.

    Also, Game of Thrones. I just can’t get into it. I think it’s not helping that every time I attempt to watch it I tune in for the most gruesome scenes. My husband says it’s a gift. 😉

  25. I turned 31 on June 2nd! Ours is an interesting generation. I am only now accepting that career changes and lifestyle changes and just CHANGES are inevitable. It’s just the way I roll. Happy birthday Gena! You have a lot to be proud of.

  26. Happy belated birthday Gena! I loved reading your reflection. I also just had a birthday-a couple of days before yours-and like you, I tried to take some time to think back on the past year…what I learned, how I grew, what made me happy/sad, my relationships and the fun I had. I will always be someone who reflects on the past and wonders (worries?) about the future. I wish I could live more in the present, and I have made it a goal to do more yoga and just breathe. I am somone who has tended to attach happiness to life situations and other people, whether it be my current job or boyfriend, and I’m realizing that this is counterproductive. I’m starting to look more inward for happiness and gratitude. It’s not easy! But awareness IS the first step. Hope you had a good one!

  27. Beautiful post, Gena. I’ve read for years, but hardly ever comment. You write so eloquently about something of which I surely identify. I’m very much the same and it is refreshing to see others working hard to live in the present as well. Happy Birthday and I wish you all the best in the future.

  28. Gena you always capture emotions so eloquently… I turned 31 earlier this year and have the same feeling of ‘will I ever feel my age?’ I have the same struggle with non-attachment – especially with letting go of the self. I like being unique and I like thinking forward. But I think there’s a place for non-attachment as well as attachment. Both help us experience life and grow into the people we are and become. Just like the lows help us appreciate the highs in life, being fully in the present helps me appreciate thinking about the future and thinking about the future helps me appreciate the present. And as for life turning out how we expect it to – that is what I love and find so amazing about being in the present. I have my best experiences when I leave myself open to whatever might happen rather than overthinking, overplanning or hiding/avoiding things. Much love and belated hugs to you for your birthday 🙂
    **these thoughts are being written super early in the morning from an airport on my phone so please excuse any incoherence or typos 😉

  29. Happy birthday from a frequent reader, seldom commenter.

    I’m 35 with two kids. The other night at dinner, my seven-year-old asked me if I ever wish I was a kid again. I told her no, I’m doing more and having more fun than I ever have before and wouldn’t change a thing. But being old enough to remember my father at the same age that I am now, I have to wonder if he also felt like he was just playing at being a grownup.

    We’re in Kyoto right now, where our hotel room has a Teachings of Buddha along side the customary New Testament in the night stand, so we’ve been reading that at bedtime. Aside from providing the kids with some additional cultural insight, it’s interesting to hear that were not the only ones with the Four Noble Truths on our mind.

  30. One of the hardest life lessons is forgiveness, and we never really get it until we’ve had to forgive ourselves. And sadly, that means messing up (not that anything on your list counts as messing up from my perspective), if we always got things right, we’d never develop this capacity.

    I don’t pretend to understand the concept of non-attachment in Buddhism either, but I’m convinced it looks/feels different in the monistic world view in which it originated than in the west with its heightened concept of the individual. It can be misappropriated, I think. I don’t believe it’s about loving less fiercely or living less intensely, it’s about holding things lightly. The open palms of the Buddha symbolize to me not only acceptance, but also, a willingness to let go. Some things (some experiences!) in life are ephemeral. If we didn’t expect them to be otherwise, we could enjoy them, our brief possession of them.

    I do agree with my Buddhist friends that the source of all unhappiness is wanting reality to be other than what it is. But we have a kind of fear of negative experience, that makes us less open to the full richness of our lives. It is ironic how opening to it all, not trying to control our lives so we only ever experience happiness and success (as if it were possible), we end up experiencing the sort of heightend joy you felt with the arrival of summer.

    I can’t help sharing one of my favorite quotes, from the film American Beauty:

    “I guess I could be pretty pissed off about what happened to me
    but it’s hard to stay mad when there’s so much beauty in the world.
    Sometimes I feel like I’m seeing it all at once, and it’s too much,
    my heart fills up like a balloon that’s about to burst…

    and then I remember to relax,
    and stop trying to hold on to it,
    and then it flows through me like rain
    and I can’t feel anything but gratitude
    for every single moment
    of my stupid little life…

    You have no idea what I’m talking about, I’m sure.
    But don’t worry.

    You will someday.”

    Happy Birthday!

  31. Happy belated 31st birthday, Gena! Birthdays are so interesting. This year (just over a month ago), I chose to have a very mellow birthday, starting with a yoga class, then lunch with my mom, and dinner with girlfriends. My life has certainly not been as I anticipated (so far) and I have no idea what the future will bring. I generally trust and surrender, but I’ve also experienced deep sadness around that uncertainty and my perceived losses along the way.

    My birthday wish for you is that you know how incredibly loved you are and how you make a profound impact on the lives of others.

  32. Oh Gena. You already know I’m a devoted fan, but this SO speaks to me. That balance between living mindfully and loving recklessly is something I’ve long struggled with… as every introspective person does, I think. But that just seems to be the nature of things. Nothing is certain, and that’s ok!

    Happy birthday, lovely lady!

  33. What a beautiful, insightful post Gena! I thought it was interesting how you said that even at 31 years of age, you are still learning about yourself and the world. I hope your 31st year is even more spectacular than the last!

    Peace&love

  34. “Nowadays, I’m starting to love the fact that I don’t know exactly where I’ll be in a year, or five. Life feels exciting, and full of possibility.” <= This is my heart. These are the words that have been threading through my heart and soul for the past year.

    And your next paragraph, too, is so much the core of me, and so much why I, like you, am glad and also need to be where I am right now, pushing myself into the great big fabulous wild storming world with all its exhilarating uncertainty. It inspires me to see you taking on and embracing the whirlwind of unknown future paths, my darling Gena. You inspire me each and every day, and I am so honoured, so honoured, to have been able to spend your 31st with you.

    Also you are two feet away from me right now. Hello!

  35. Happy birthday, Gena! And wow – what an amazing post. You always seem to eloquently capture what I’m thinking but having trouble articulating. I was especially moved by the sentence, “I struggle to reconcile the concept of non-attachment with my equally strong desire to love as fiercely as I can, clutch my relationships to my heart, and hurl myself into everything I do with abandon.” I, too, have long been plagued by the desire to give everything I have, only to be left empty. But even in those moments, I was scared to practice non-attachment, because it seemed like choosing emptiness. Like you, I have been exploring the concept lately and trying to let go of the expectations and mental chains that hold me down. Thank you for the beautiful writing!

    Iris @ Anatomy & Intuition

  36. Happy birthday! I loved your paragraph about your yoga practice and trying to learn to live in the moment. I do the exact same thing with my future and past. I’m trying to learn to embrace the present more too. I’ve found as I learn to get some of my anxiety down, my ability to enjoy the present more fully aware is higher. Of course that is cyclical and one informs the other too. Enjoy 31!

  37. Happy Birthday, and what a great post. I’m also trying to embrace the present more and take opportunities as they present themselves, instead of constantly stessing over the unknown variables of the future. Very refreshing mindset as I am finishing up my first undergrad with so much uncertainty (and potential!) ahead.

  38. Wishing you the happiest of birthdays! (Or birthday-weeks!) and the happiest of years. You are wise beyond your years and you bring much good into the world. Thank you for all you do!

  39. Gena,
    I have been reading your blog now for a few years and this is my first time to comment because I just found out that we share a birthday. I, like many others, have struggled with my health and disordered eating and your writing has always been a voice of reason and an inspiration. I appreciate that you own your flaws and embrace the beauty in being human and yet, everyday, strive to be better. I want to thank you for sharing a slice of your life with me and to wish you health and happiness in the coming year.

  40. How did I miss this?!! Happy, happy belated birthday, dear Gena! What a lovely and heartfelt post. I can tell you from a couple decades away that you may never feel your “real” age! (I got stuck around where you are, I think). 😉 But you are so wise and give so much, for someone of any age. I’m glad you’re finding things to enjoy and be grateful for, too. . . after all, those are the moments we truly cherish as we get older, and the ones appreciate looking back. Here’s looking forward. . . can’t wait to see what 32 brings for you! xoxo

  41. Fantastic post… as I talked to one of my friends about an overwhelming lack of purpose, direction and enjoyment of my own life, this was a must-read and very well timed.

    Thank you for your inspiration; it’s good to know (even with non-attachment) that we’re not the only ones feeling this way.

  42. This is such a lovely reflection. During my yoga teacher training, the Yama I struggled most with was “aparigraha,” the part of the 8 Limb Path of yoga that encourages “non-grasping.” I too have trouble reconciling how to live both passionately and also without deep attachment. For me, as an outrageously nostalgic person, I struggle in particular with grasping the past. Holding on to memories that keep me from being present and keep me from accepting that my life is what it is and that my future may look different than what I thought. It’s a very difficult lesson and one that those of us in our late 20s/early 30s really have no choice but to confront.

    Thank you for articulating this so beautifully. And a very happy birthday to you!

  43. So eloquent, my fellow 31-year-old friend. While I’m normally prone to rambling on in your comments section, tonight anything I said would sound trite in comparison. So I’ll just say that you are wise beyond your years, and I hope 31 is full of nothing but health and happiness in every which way 🙂

  44. Happy birthday, Gena. This is a beautifully written post. I too struggle with the balance of non-attachment on loving fiercely and fully. I too am a ruminator and a seeker, which makes living in the present moment challenging at times. And I too am going through a career change and so many science classes I think sometimes my head might explode. All that is to say I empathize and it’s heartening to read about someone else going through a similar process. I don’t know what the answer is. Sometimes I think meditation and self reflection help, and then sometimes I think that stuff takes me to a more internal and selfish place that isn’t always helpful. I think “thinking” has to be balanced with “doing,” whether it’s meditation and yoga or research and actually writing writing or reading blogs and actually getting in the kitchen. Meditation and yoga go so well together because it formalizes that balance. We can’t think our way out of every situation, but sometimes we do need to take a moment (or several) to reflect on what exactly we’re doing.

    Anyway, happy happy birthday and I hope you had a lovely celebration.

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