Eyes Wide Open

Plant both feet firmly on the ground. Go ahead, feel the soles of your feet greeting the earth, and take a deep breath in, the biggest breath you have taken all day, and imagine a place or scenario where you feel incredibly free.

Are you dancing in front of a mirror without any fear of judgment?
Is the smell of pine tickling your nose as you reach the highest summit?
Are you belly laughing with a friend who knows the realest version of you?
Is your hair flirting with the wind as you sail across the ocean blue?
Are you sipping homemade hot chocolate beside a crackling fire?
Is a book capturing your attention until you’ve completely forgotten the hour?

Take another deep inhale, followed by a freeing exhale. Here I invite you to pause, close your eyes, and keep them resting until you have an image of uninhibited freedom.

Where are you? What do you feel?
What do you hear? What do you smell?
What do you taste? What do you see?

Memorize that image. Jot it down. Type it into the comments section below. Make a quick sketch. What is it about that image that makes you feel so wildly free?

When I let my eyelids fall, I catch a glimpse of cobblestone roads streaming through century-old buildings, as my Kansas sister and I follow their route to discover an Italian treasure. I hear pigeons flapping their wings and Italian words flowing quickly and passionately beneath our uncontrollable giggles, while cigarette smoke dusts the air and tickles our nostrils. I can taste the remnants of the morning’s 2 euro cappuccino, as questions about life, faith, boys, and art volley back and forth in the air between us. I am content, fully present in this moment, known deeply by the person next to me, alive with joy, and so curious about what we will discover next in this city and this life.

When my eyelids force themselves to rise, I notice a plate of remnant avocado toast crumbs that did not quite make it into my mouth. I hear my husband typing intermittently, crafting something profound about psychology and the human brain as he works towards his master’s degree in counseling. I taste the slowly fading flavors of over-chewed gum, as I too type away some wonderings about being human. I am tired, grateful we made it to Friday (yes, you can go ahead and laugh that we are in our mid-twenties and are choosing academia on a Friday evening… yay, adulting), and noticing how very ordinary this moment feels after envisioning my Italian wanderings.

I used to think that this kind of ordinary was undesirable – I have since taken a headfirst dive into the pool of adulthood, only to discover that I don’t know how to swim. I now very much appreciate the safety and comfort of the shallow end, which today has looked like showing up for my 8-5 job and ending the day side-by-side with my husband. Ordinary really isn’t as bad as I once thought, all these tiny moments slowly taking up residence together to create a somewhat respectable existence.

But as my dad would say, “every strength casts a shadow,” and the shading of ordinary is that it often breeds our discontentment, fertilizing the less pretty sides of humanity until they spring up like weeds in spring – polarizing politics, hungry bellies, draining jobs, trafficked girls and boys, broken families, and our unquenchable longings for something more. When we sink too deeply into the comforts of our routines, we accept this sangria of human dysfunction as our baseline – unless. Unless we can imagine something different:

What does your morning look like when you are getting ready to head into a job that ignites your passions? How does your interaction with the woman ringing up your groceries play out in a world where every life is elevated and every voice is heard? What does our country’s climate feel like when every child has access to equitable education, no human being is victim to violence or trafficking, and every life is surrounded by a community of support? How does our world sound when war is a distant memory, the diversity of cultures is celebrated, and every belly is fed?

Our ability to imagine is the gift, the antidote to our discontentment and the gateway to our individual and collective freedom. In our move towards a world that is just and where all lives are filled with purpose, we must imagine what it would look like, feel like, sound like, smell like, taste like – for we cannot live into something that we cannot envision or imagine. To change our trajectory, to live into the “not yet” realities we are hoping for, we must be able to imagine a different narrative.

A couple of my best gals recently sat around my kitchen table on a Saturday afternoon to paste photos and quotes of our most joy-filled realities on vision boards. I started to imagine what it would look like to be an adult who plays hard, who knows freedom intimately, who is deeply connected to people, who elevates the lives of others, and who holds a full time job that doesn’t accommodate endless strolls down Italian alleyways. My vision looks something like this:


A challenge to myself and an invitation to you: reignite imagination. I dare us to not accept things as they are. May we lean in and create spaces where freedom can gallop and plow through the doors we have thought are locked so tightly. I dare us to dream again, to pay attention to the places our minds wander while stuck in traffic or cooking dinner, and to give ourselves and each other the permission to let our imaginations run wild.


3 thoughts on “Eyes Wide Open

  1. schellax says:

    DAYUMMMNN Rylie! This was an incredible read. I need to check out other blog posts…

    I saw myself wandering Europe, eating lots of delicious food 😀

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