When you own your own breath no one can steal your peace. Author Unknown
When I lived in Kits between lives, I took up yoga. It was there that I learned to master the full Yogic breath. You start to inhale slowly as much as you can, hold for a moment, and then inhale a wee bit more. Feel the breath completely fill your lungs, and then exhale ever so slowly, pushing as much out as you can leaving your lungs completely empty. And then you start again. This simply act alone gave me strength, power and focus, a practice throughout my day, especially when I was tired. But like many things we learn, it gets pushed to the sidelines when life happens, and our hobbies move to second rank.
Shallow breathing. That’s what I had been doing for many years, not fulling inhaling my whole breathe.
In actuality, it was far more than that.
I was not taking the time to enjoy the world around me. I was barely living.
To master this yoga move, you have to slow down your thoughts, quiet the mind and make yourself comfortable. Three things that I had never made time for.
I was running on the fast setting on the treadmill. I was simple going through the motions of living a normal Vancouver life.
My job wasn’t 9:00-5:00 like the many; a routine to submit to, and a rhythm to set my life around. Nope. I had shift work in a high paying union job. Sometimes I started at 6:00 and other times I started at 16:00. I barely had time to get used to one schedule when it would change. I had school, and a part-time job along side my full-time job. And once I felt somewhat able to cope, my shifts would change.
From week to week this was my complicated life. I was constantly looking at my timetable. From year to year I was unable to take the time to appreciate being young and alive. I was too busy juggling many plates high in the air in this intricate formation, and this holding pattern consumed my life. The sad part, I had no idea how crazy my life had become because everyone was doing it. I saw my parents doing it. I saw my friends doing it. They all lined up in a circus ring, trying to catch a multitude of things before they hit the ground. And as silly at we looked, as chaotic as it sounds, it was Vancouver-normal; this frantic, high speed routine.
I started working these erratic hours when I was 18, so by 38 it was pretty standard for me to push myself through my days with fierce determination. I would force my days to fit together, will myself energy and visualize how I would cope. I gave myself tiny rewards throughout the day so I would think, like a trained monkey, that it was all worth while.
As I let a square of organic raspberry dark chocolate melt in my mouth and sipped my grande vanilla latte from Starbucks, I did actually believe I was living the life. As I jumped in my Audi and drove the 35 minutes home after midnight when my shift ended, I thought, this is totally doable. And once the kids came along, it became about trying to orchestrate their day care, school schedules and meals. Even then, as I snuck in the house trying not to wake anyone up, if you asked me, I would have told you that I was content. And I honestly believed that I was.
We had the nice house, the two vacations per year; from all aspects it looked like the perfect North American life.
Not many could manage like we did either. It took training from a very young age and commitment to keep that treadmill going at such a rapid pace for so many years. One job, two jobs, three jobs, four! Save, spend, and then move up the real estate ladder.
The children didn’t slow us down either. We rented out our basement suit, we pushed ourselves even harder to pay off that mortgage, save for retirement and their scholarship funds. We made it look easy, and we thought it was. By sheer determination, we made it happen.
Until we stopped cold turkey!
My step father died one year away from his retirement and it jolted me awake.
We ask ourselves in these pivotal moments throughout our lives, what is the meaning of it all?
Is what we are doing just doable, or is it rewarding in some ways?
What if we are saving for a retirement that never comes?
There must be a more balanced life out there for us.
Continuing this pace for another 35 years to reach retirement at 70+ years of age, honestly the thought alone is exhausting.
We don’t like to be reminded of our mortality, but there comes a time when we realize we are not invincible.
So we decided to take action.
Our solution was to take a gap year to explore our options. We thought if we find a better life during that time, we would leave Vancouver permanently.
Our dream life wants were to spend more time together as a family by working from home, slow down enough to pick up those hobbies left behind and enjoy this magnificent world around us. And we wanted Europe as our playground.
We sold the house, the cars and the business. We liquidated to prepare for our expat life and joined the exodus from Vancouver.
Now I realize that not everyone will sell it all on a gap year. It might even seem extreme, but we knew that our life looked perfect, but underneath, it felt synthetic. It was all cosmetic without real depth or substance.
Of course, many people leave the lower mainland when they realize there is no hope of ever getting into the inflated real estate market. When paying outrageous prices for food, insurance, schools, taxes and combating traffic; you have to wonder how anyone can stay.
Vancouver ranks the third most expensive city in the world without any sign of the markets slowing down.
Of course Vancouver is very beautiful, safe, secure with no wars and great health care. If you can afford living along the West Coast of British Columbia, it is a lovely place to live. The blossoms, the ocean, the misty skies, the snow tipped mountains…
But is there a future for our children? What about the generation right after us that didn’t start working at 18 and get into the housing market before things really took off, and instead went to university. They are starting their lives in deep debt from student loans without the means to buy a house EVER.
University is getting so competitive, and expensive and it still doesn’t guarantee a good job. What chance will my own children have competing with foreign students, whose parents are investing billions into Vancouver every year and further pushing those prices up?
It was clear to us, it was time to say goodbye to our Vancouver life. We got on the plane with a suitcase in each hand and called it a day. It was bold, yes, but sometimes when you realize you are living someone else’s life, there is only one way to go.
Of course this new life of ours took a while to get used to. I had to retrain my thinking. I was still getting up at 6:30, except instead of trying to make breakfast, lunch and dinner before work, I sipped a cup of coffee looking out my apartment window in Budapest’s Lizzytown and watched the cars pass by. I took long walks with my family exploring every nook and cranny of our new city. We had a fast pace, but it was from sheer excitement trying to find our new life.
From there we explored all over Hungary, Germany, Austria, Italy, Spain, and lastly France. With two kids in tow, we wanted to see how other people lived. They were living on far less, but they seem far happier, more grounded, balanced and everyone travelled… what was their secret.
It took a long time for us to slow down, to let the stress leave the body. To feel normal without the demands and the pressures on me and in all honestly, it felt weird and somewhat selfish to enjoy life.
I had asked so much of myself for so long, that I forgot about loving life, enjoying every moment and to take it all in.
And after thousands of miles of travel, we did eventually find that life we were after; a life we could get truly excited about. And now that I know what normal feels like, I can never go back to shallow breathing.