New Beginning: framed quote. If you cannot find happiness along the road, you will not find it at the end of it.

This picture, I found on the side of the fridge in our new place in Costa Rica after I spent much of the day thinking about this very thing. These words so aptly summarize exactly what I felt yesterday, so much so that a part of me feels like explaining is unnecessary—but it is.

The whole “happiness is about the journey, not the destination” thing has become a cliché and I think, to really experience it deeply, we have to get specific, get real, get deep into those personal stories that reflect general, universal truths.

So, here I go.

To begin, let us rewind about three years ago. In those days, I travelled about 2-3 times a year, sometimes 5-7. I went hitchhiking up to Sauble Beach. I went camping in Georgian Bay. I went to Montreal. I went to Cuba. I went backpacking in Europe.

Travelling, I thought, was essential to my livelihood.

And, each time I would find myself in some new place, I would feel a sense of euphoria. New places, new people, new experiences—all of these made me eye-rollingly, heart-pumpingly ecstatic.

And why? Some would say novelty. Others might say adventure. But I know the truth—each time I left my daily life, my inner cycles of anxiety and shame would be interrupted temporarily. For a moment, I would be free of my self-imposed shackles; I’d be free of myself.

And, of course, in a few days, it would wear off. The insecurities would return. The anxiety would come back full force, even stronger in a new place with new people.

No matter where I went, there I was.

Travelling, to me, felt almost identical to doing drugs. Once upon a time, the only way I knew to stop my anxiety was to smoke pot or take some hallucinogen. These drugs would make me euphoric, high on the absence of pain more than the presence of pleasure.

And even that wore off.

There were times in my life when I smoked pot every single day and, after a few weeks, the anxiety would burst through the drug-induced peace, rendering me, once again, a victim of my own chronic patterns of self-judgment and self-destruction.

No matter where I went, there I was.

Almost three years ago was when I broke down and almost killed myself. Just over two years ago, I made an executive decision to share my authentic experiences with the world.

The journey from then until now was incredibly painful.

I gave up travelling, so that one day I didn’t have to take vacations, but rather could live location independent while working online. I didn’t leave the Toronto area for three years. I was stuck with myself.

I gave up pot, so that I could produce my own peace and my own euphoria, instead of dealing with my anxiety using drugs. I was stuck with my thoughts.

I gave up my mask, so that I could fall in love with my naked face and my naked body, instead of dyeing, painting, and covering up my natural form. I was stuck with my skin, my face, my body.

I gave up dieting, so that I could develop healthy habits of self-care that weren’t based on dogma or results, but rather daily routines of self-care and self-love. I was stuck with my weight, my cravings to binge, my desperate desire for an empty stomach.

I gave up hiding from people, so that I could show up authentically and develop real relationships based on trust and love, rather than playing games and power dynamics. I was stuck with my awkward sense of humour, my sense of inadequacy in social situations, and my face that got red at the drop of a hat.

I was stuck with myself and, through that, I slowly learned to accept my cell mate.

I don’t make the cell comparison lightly. As I mentioned in the post I wrote right before I left Toronto, I spent the past year living in a tiny basement with one tiny window, working from home, and usually going out only to do groceries or take walks when the weather was good enough.

I was stuck with myself. I had nowhere to go and nowhere to hide. No matter where I turned in my tiny little cave, there I was.

That year—the year after I quit my day job and before I left Toronto for good—was the most isolated time of my life. It was also a time of rapid growth.

All I did, all day, was work on myself. What else was there to do? I would work on myself and use the energy I created to help people.

I spent all my days writing, reading, working out, coaching, cooking, cleaning, doing groceries, and meditating. It was very rare that I did anything else.

In that time, I watched myself change.

From accepting my little cave and refusing to travel away from it, I learned to be grateful for it. I realized that having a space to care for is like having a body to care for. I filled that space, each day, with peace and love. And full of peace and love it became.

From living drug-free, I learned to be mindful of my thoughts and pick out the ones that caused anxious feelings. I learned to let go of those thoughts in my mind and in my body, consciously and lovingly. I learned how to do it on my own instead of being a prisoner of chemicals.

From living without covering up or dieting, I learned about the beauty of my body. I learned that, by living in a healthy way, I’m never going to be stick thin and that’s okay. I’m never going to be “naturally tanned” like the girls on television and that’s okay. I learned to love all the little moles and stretch marks and hairs and dimples. I found reverence for my body, for this incredible external form I’ve been given.

From responding authentically in social situations, I learned to be comfortable with my quirks and with my reactions to people. I learned that, after every coaching session, I always walk away with my heart in a flutter and my skin sweaty. I learned that talking to people gets me naturally high and that’s why my face gets red at times. I learned the true cause of those years of social anxiety—I was afraid because I really love people and I love connecting with them. And that’s a beautiful thing.

I learned not only to accept myself, but to appreciate myself deeply, to be present with every part of myself, however “ugly” I thought it was. From being stuck with myself, I learned to be free.

Yesterday, when I stepped on the beach here in Playa Avellana, when I felt that sand between my toes and looked out at the waves rolling on the ocean and the blue horizon, I didn’t feel euphoric. I didn’t feel ecstatic. I didn’t feel eye-rolling pleasure like the kind you get taking a breath after holding it for too long.

I felt peaceful, calm, happy, quiet. I felt grateful. And I still do. I think I always will.

Walking along the shore, listening to the wind rippling through the trees, I realized how different my reaction was to this beautiful landscape than it had been to any beautiful landscape in the past. Historically, I was high on the beach. Now, I was peaceful with it, attentive to it, curious about it, at one with it.

I felt like I’d started a new relationship with this beautiful, mysterious place called Costa Rica, and like this was our first date.

And that’s a perfect metaphor. Because, when I hated myself, when I connected with some new man, I’d feel addicted to him. He would give me a break from the suffering within myself. I would quickly become dependent, clingy, needy. I would desperately seek to fill a hole within me with the presence of another person. I would shove sex, projection, infatuation into a love-sized hole, never knowing why it didn’t fit.

I think that’s what travel used to be to me. I was filling a hole. And that is why it was so euphoric, because those moments on the beach, on the road, on the lake—those were the only times that I let myself open up and be 100% present with the world around me. Those were the only times I let myself live.

So, now, there is no hole. And my meeting with Costa Rica, with Playa Avellana, with the beautiful Pacific ocean is one of respect, honour, and curiosity. It reminds me of how I felt when I met Jamie—not dependent, needy, or addicted—like he was giving me something I didn’t have—but rather inspired, happy, and curious—like he was giving me an opportunity to explore my gifts, his gifts, and the gifts of life even deeper than before.

A client of mine once asked me: “What does being present feel like?”

I said, “It feels like whatever you’re present with. If you’re present with your anger, you’ll feel angry. If you’re present with your sadness, you’ll feel sad. If you’re present with your joy, you’ll feel joy. Presence is being there with whatever comes up, 100% there, not running or turning away. It takes the same thing to get out of a hole as it does to get up a mountain—climbing. By the same token, it takes the same thing to heal as it does to be happy—presence. It’s not a feeling. It’s a process. Asking ‘What does presence feel like?’ is like asking ‘What does cooking smell like?’”

Everything is a process, especially relationships—with ourselves, with others.

After we walked up and down the beach for some time, we settled at a local beach bar and stared out into the ocean, talking about choice and presence and identity.

Each moment rolled into another and our conversation seemed to flow with the beauty of the outside world. And yet, we’ve had these conversations many times—on the bus, in the basement, in the snow, in Canada, and, now, in Costa Rica. We’re still doing what we’ve always loved to do—being present with each other.

So, here I am, present here with this beautiful place the same way I was present with the face I used to hate, the body I used to despise, and the anxiety I used to drug.

I am still me and I am still doing exactly the same thing as before.

I am here finding happiness by loving myself, loving people, and loving life—being 100% open to what I’m “stuck” with.

I just happen to be stuck with something most people would consider beautiful this time around. And that doesn’t make as much of a difference as the eyes I see it through.

How I learned (for the 349th time) that happiness is a journey, not a destination (even if you go to tropical paradise).

No matter where I’ve gone, there I’ve been. And, for the first time in my life, it feels like a very, very good thing.

Some people claim to envy me, but I don’t think they see the real cause of celebration. Anyone can travel. Anyone can take a plane to a beach.

It takes real grit to change the mind that perceives that beach. That’s what really makes a difference.

Of course, it is easier here than it was in Canada. In Toronto, I had to perform hours of self-care routines to ensure that I was always present for my clients and inspired to change the world. Here, I missed two days of yoga and meditation this week, and it didn’t result in chaos.

Yes, things are better, but this move has not made everything better. My inner work made everything better. The wonders of this beautiful world just help me appreciate all that work I’ve done and to build on it in a sustainable, healthy, inspired, creative way.

Finally, I can appreciate all of the magnificence of nature around me without getting in my own way. And that is something anyone can learn to do—and I’d even say must learn to do—wherever they are.

I hope that, if you feel stuck somewhere, this can be inspiring to you. Because, sometimes, being stuck is what creates the most lasting and beautiful friendships, especially when it’s with yourself.

And don’t forget to find happiness along the road, so that you’ll find it again at the end of it.

Costa Rica Lesson #2: No Matter Where You Go, There You Are

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19 More Comments

  • January 10, 2015 at 5:26 pm
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    As I read,clouds lifted. As I read mountains crumbled. A river of clarity and truth flowed from those words and nourished a parched land. Neglect and torment fled for safety to avoid the exposure that flowed, from your words…. I AM… Emerging….. Thank You!!!

    Reply
    • January 10, 2015 at 8:00 pm
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      Wow, CJ, what a beautiful response. Your words remind me of Thich Nhat Hanh’s poetry. I hope you share those words with people, because I have no doubt that words like these are what the world needs.

      Reply
  • January 10, 2015 at 8:13 pm
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    Hi …..keep sharing your lessons Vironika….they are beautiful!

    Reply
  • January 11, 2015 at 1:27 am
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    You have learned so much that it is amazing. I hope to be mentally where you are someday…I’m working on it and your words help so much. I can feel your peace and love as I read this. I’m so glad you are able to enjoy this journey in such a different way than your past trips. As always, I can’t wait to hear more!

    Reply
    • January 14, 2015 at 3:55 pm
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      I really have! This environment is so conducive to epiphany – not only because it is paradise, but because it’s not my familiar little basement cave. I know of no better way to step into my greatness than to step out of what’s familiar.

      As always, I can’t wait to see you do the same!! 😉

      Reply
  • January 11, 2015 at 6:17 pm
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    Thanks Vironika~ I felt like I was with you in Costa Rica while reading your post. I loved every word you wrote and am trying to digest it all ;). I appreciate you!

    xo
    Sharon

    Reply
    • January 14, 2015 at 3:46 pm
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      I appreciate your appreciation! And you! Thank you Sharon 🙂

      Reply
  • January 19, 2015 at 2:02 am
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    So many truths here. I must allude to The Love Mindset …today I found myself in tears acknowledging my own power and courage. I have been a single mother of 3 for over ten years. That is not my “story”. I don’t tell it. I share that fact because I have often felt broken, or unworthy, or unconventional. I thought: I chose my situation, therefore I must provide and bear the burden of my choice, I have no regrets. But today I honored myself in a way I had never done before. Honored myself the way I would any other woman in my shoes. I have raised the most amazing, aware, connected and love filled children – beyond even my own imagination. I am complete, and though I don’t need proof, it’s everywhere. I have grown and thrived and watered the roots of my family. And today, I loved myself for that. I cried at my triumph, my growth, my evolution. Your book took me there. Grateful with love all over. I am.

    Reply
    • January 19, 2015 at 10:14 am
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      Wow, Sofia. This is one of the most beautiful passages of wisdom I’ve received. You’ve got a wonderful way with words and an inspiring story. I hope you’ll share it with the world, like I’ve shared mine. Something within me yearns to hear of your transformation (and I just know many others feel the same)! Thank you for your presence and openness. I see you.

      Reply
      • January 20, 2015 at 4:23 pm
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        Thank you for your sweet and thoughtful responses. As my mind bends and turns and grows, I revisit things, and I am in awe of the novelty of old things that grasp me in new ways. I couldn’t resist sharing.This poem stirred me today:

        “You can’t, if you can’t feel it, if it never
        Rises from the soul, and sways
        The heart of every single hearer,
        With deepest power, in simple ways.
        You’ll sit forever, gluing things together,
        Cooking up a stew from other’s scraps,
        Blowing on a miserable fire,
        Made from your heap of dying ash.
        Let apes and children praise your art,
        If their admiration’s to your taste,
        But you’ll never speak from heart to heart,
        Unless it rises up from your heart’s space.”
        ― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust: First Part

        Reply
        • January 21, 2015 at 11:49 am
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          Wow, that is painfully beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing!

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  • January 19, 2015 at 2:04 pm
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    This is lovely and moving, and your answer to “What does being present feel like?” is absolutely beautiful. Thank you so much.

    Blessings,
    Sue

    Reply
    • January 21, 2015 at 11:49 am
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      You are so welcome. You are moved because you understand 🙂 And that is a beautiful thing within itself.

      Reply
  • January 30, 2015 at 12:57 pm
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    your words have in some level mirrored my life
    And no doubt many others I hope to be able to find the strength towards myself like you have
    Each of us have our journey and lessons
    Reading your words oh how lucky I am to have resources to do so and communication to understand
    Many are not so fortunate
    So each turn I take my awarkard life takes I always judge myself within my social anxiety bubble
    I know I’ve got a lot of work to do you are inspiring me to be brave
    Thank you please continue to share one day I hope to be in the mindset you’ve achieved

    Reply
    • February 22, 2015 at 12:30 pm
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      Thank you for your gratitude and your kind words, Lorraine. I am glad I inspire the courage within you. It is the same courage that is within me – so powerful! I’m honoured to be part of your path 🙂

      Reply
  • February 22, 2015 at 2:27 am
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    Hi Vironika, you made great journey. You really get done something you want. But many people out there can’t achieve things they want because might they don’t have enough courage or don’t have enough motivation. That is their problem. I also recommend people live life they want. Focus on positive. If they want something in future right now they must change what they are doing and what they are thinking. Something are waiting them.

    Reply
    • February 22, 2015 at 12:29 pm
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      I think, having been on both sides, that we all have more than enough courage and more than enough motivation. It’s all behind that wall of fear 🙂 We just have to step through!

      Reply
  • February 23, 2015 at 12:35 am
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    Vironika, you made great journey. You really get done something you want. But many people out there can’t achieve things they want because might they don’t have enough courage or don’t have enough motivation. That is their problem. I also recommend people live life they want. Focus on positive. If they want something in future right now they must change what they are doing and what they are thinking. Something are waiting them.

    Reply

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