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  • Writer's pictureJ Bristol

DON'T. HOLD. BACK - Finding Your All-In

These three words may be the most unexpected, yet timely advice I've received. They rolled off the tongue of my best friend of 25+ years between other phrases of encouragement as I was about to embark on a transformational journey. There was a certain silence and echo around those three short words that separated them from the others as she spoke and I knew I'd come back to them. ‘Don't hold back’ seemed like an odd thing to say to someone who had just spontaneously booked a trip overseas to seek a deeper wisdom by walking 500 miles on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. Nothing about that seemed held back to me.

But her words resonated. The energy and intent behind them were sincere and over the weeks that followed, they came back to me many times. First on a plane, then on a train, then in many scenarios face to face with others I met on the Camino. I thought to myself how it would actually be JUST like me to make a big grandiose gesture like book a spontaneous self-explore tour, then retreat back into myself as if it wasn't really me who put herself out there so blatantly in the first place.

Where else had I been hiding? As I started to apply that thought to my daily life, I realized I had actually been the poster girl for holding back in recent years. In relationships, in self-care, in business ventures . . . I was an equal opportunity with-holder. When was the last time I had been all-in? A series of personal and professional burns had left me scarred and I didn't even realize how tough my exterior had become. I was only attracting love relationships with unavailable men; I was tying myself down to potential business partners who would slow my creative process to a halt because I didn't have the confidence to be out there myself. Visible, vulnerable, available.

And so, on seemingly endless days of very long hiking, tough terrain, less than comfortable sleeping conditions, pouring rain and the mindless chatter of many, I started playing with this concept of not holding back. What did it mean to not hold back? To be all-in? I started by allowing myself to be where I was in the moment. I stopped sugar-coating, stopped being agreeable, stopped pleasing, stopped pretending I was interested in stories of the verbally incontinent pilgrims who wanted to pass their time by polluting my air space with an onslaught of words. By setting that one small boundary, I could faintly connect with the silence. Such. Beautiful. Silence. As I allowed more space for silence, I found it easier to get in touch with my words, and from that moment, I began owning and expressing my needs.

Why is it easier to say “yes, I need a bed for tonight” at a refugio along the open trail than it is to state such basic needs in day-to-day relationships and ventures? I allowed myself to begin looking more deeply into the eyes of the person sharing with me, listening with a more open heart. I became intimately attuned to the feeling of the Earth crunching beneath my feet, the sting of the sun on my skin and the kiss of the breeze. In this connection, presence, and awareness, the scents became stronger, the sounds keener, and the tastes richer. Suddenly, there I was, fully present, all-in. Somewhere in the middle of physical exhaustion, sleeplessness, and uncertainty on an open trail in Northern Spain, I had found my truth. It was no longer a version of my truth, molded by the opinions of others around me. It was that deep knowing within me that came bursting through so powerfully it couldn't be changed or tainted by its environment. And the literal step by step walking of my truth turned into talking my truth. Now there is no looking back. There is no time for half anything.

For me, “don’t hold back” became my license to love unconditionally, without restraint, give generously, cry shamelessly, laugh wholeheartedly. Give fully of myself in all that I do. I learned about needs and worthiness, about asking and receiving. I took responsibility for all the reflections of myself shining back at me as I moved throughout my days. Don’t hold back came to mean not holding back from myself, either. Learning that I had to show up for myself before anyone else would. If I could not articulate my needs in unfamiliar territory amongst strangers, I was not going to survive, let alone thrive.

Suddenly, there became an effortlessness to being in the flow. I was now available to share in a moment, an experience, that only those on the Camino can relate to. Tough days turned into joyful exchanges. I found harmony and unison with those I had been trying so hard to get away from. On one particularly quintessential day of walking, I was chased down by Olga, a fellow pilgrim whose journey had begun thirty days prior to mine that I had meet days before. She ran toward me with her arm outstretched, seemingly offering me something that I could not yet make out. As she reached me, she said through strained breath, “Here, I didn’t want you to miss these fresh figs from the tree I found.” Her smile was pure, her teeth shone brightly, and the sun bounced off her golden brown natural curls. She embodied mother nature in that moment.

I had left behind that part of me that would have turned it down, would have given into all the questions in my brain like, “Is it clean? is it ripe? do I dare eat this? what if it doesn’t sit well and there’s no bathroom for miles???” Instead, I DIDN’T HOLD BACK. I gratefully accepted. Not just the fruit, but the kindness, the gesture, the joy with which it was given. As others caught up to us, we laughed and dropped to the gritty trail below us for an impromptu picnic. We lounged on our packs, shared trail food and fresh figs, while talking about nothing and everything, ALL IN.

Reprinted with permission from Elan Vitae Magazine, Fall 2018 Issue


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