People, Place, Purpose & More

By: Naomi Matlow 

Header photo by: Corey Schultz (Unsettled: Nicaragua, 2019)

“So, what do you do?” I often find myself holding my breath when confronted with this question. 

For years it felt like a confrontation rather than a benign inquiry. 

Whether it was a first date, a friendly chat in an airport lineup, or a real life job interview, I would immediately go on defense mode when asked about my professional journey. I used to think it was because I was never really good at anything. I can’t say I’m a teacher or a pilot. I could say I’m a theatre writer/peer support coach/researcher/editor/tutor but I always felt ashamed of offering someone a bundle of my own confusion. I would say that I do a handful of mini things, but I didn’t know what all those mini things added up to. It turns out that what all those mini things, all those nouns, make up is you, not some other descriptor to strive for, and there is no reason to be ashamed of that. 

I learned this from the badass, diverse, inspiring, and empowering Unsettled community. Almost two years ago, in October of 2018, I spent two weeks living Unsettled in the rolling hills of Tuscany. Not only was it eye-opening, but it was heart-opening. Not once did I explain the loop-de-loop of my career journey, but I shared the most intimate of conversations under olive trees, by the stone pizza oven drinking prosecco, and eating freshly roasted chestnuts in the forest. Conversations consisting of “what would you do if you weren’t afraid?”, “who is your favorite poet?”, and “where do you really see yourself in five years?”. For some reason these types of questions don’t provoke me to hold my breath, but rather take pause and breathe a little more deeply. I have found my people.

I ended my first blog for Unsettled, two months after Tuscany, with one of my favorite quotes by the author Rebecca Solnit. She writes, “to be lost is to be completely present.” I was embarrassed to be somewhat lost on my career path, my living arrangements, and my ambitions, but after finding myself among the Unsettled community, and the myriad of stories and experiences that make up the collective, I could see the forest for the trees. I could embrace the swirling confusion of life because I was fully present, and not alone, within its midst. I found that I can aspire to express through words, conversations, and interviews, that the journey is where all of life’s beauty lies and that each one of our lives is a messy forest, not a row of neatly planted trees. I have found my purpose. 

My awareness of our un-separateness, from one another and from the natural world, was unquestionably planted on my Unsettled experiences — from Tuscany, Nicaragua, and sailing the high seas of the British Virgin Islands and Baja California, Mexico. It was my desire to immerse myself in these questions of belonging that led me to my first insight meditation retreat almost one year ago in the mountains of New Mexico. It was my experience sleeping on a sailboat under the Milky Way in the middle of the Caribbean Sea that gave me the confidence to sleep in a tent in the Tusas Mountains. But this time I was physically alone. Yet, Unsettled gave me the confidence to follow my curiosity and empowered me to truly embrace that a risk which is aligned with your values is worth taking. 

“You can be a misfit and belong everywhere.” This is what one of the dear meditation teachers told me at the end of that meditation retreat. She put into 8 words what I had started to write on my heart 2 years ago in Italy, and what continues to shape my Unsettled journey. I have found my place. And it’s not 4 walls, a zip code, or a downpayment, but it is everywhere. I will be forever grateful to have found so many others through Unsettled, so many people that I admire and love, who feel that way too. Perhaps the world would be a more just and fair place if we saw every place and every person as home, and if we made peace with feeling a little Unsettled most of the time. 

In two weeks I am beginning a graduate program in Mindfulness Studies. I know without a doubt, had I not found myself in the Unsettled community, I would not be following this wave of curiosity and interest. And though I don’t know where it will lead, where I will forward my mail to in the long term, or when we will be setting sail again (and I can’t wait to be there!), I know where I belong, and for thirty years that has felt like the hardest question of all to answer. 

Thank you Unsettled, with all of my heart.

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