Shopping Reversals: An Expat Issue

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When I first got to rural France, grocery shopping was a big disappointment. I came from a city with several natural foods stores, and I had very good eating habits. Coming here, though, my choices were severely limited. There weren’t as many organic foods available and finding decent gluten-free anything was a chore. Eventually, I scouted out some essentials and eventually found a couple of bio shops, but they were positively nothing like what I had been spoiled with in the states. With so little to choose from, my diet has become less diverse and not quite as healthy (but I’m working on that).

Recently, I took a short trip to the UK to attend a weekend event. Oh! The food available! From every nation! And the grocery shopping! Unreal! When I walked into Waitrose, I was in ecstasy and downright goofy with happiness. It was sweet grocery heaven. I was actually singing “Heaven, I’m in heaven and my heart beats so that I can hardly speak. And I seem to find the happiness I seek, when I’m shopping at the Waitrose down the street” as I walked up and down the aisles…mostly just looking.  It made several people look at me funny, but hey, my joy was THAT great. I was just so happy to see so many things! But as it was only my first night, I only need to grab some dinner and get back to where I was staying. So, I merely browsed with delight, really, wondering if the crowd around me had any sense of appreciation for the marvel that spread out before them.

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My weekend event was all day and quite intensive. I barely had an appetite to eat during our lunch breaks and wasn’t all that hungry come dinner time either. So with great frustration, despite being surrounded by every possible type of restaurant on the face of the earth, I didn’t get to sample much. I didn’t really have time for any other shopping either although the stores were incredibly seductive. Where I live now, I count such a great deal on the internet…even for staples like decent toothpaste and epsom salts. Mind you, I’ve never been a big shopping person. In fact, I’ve always hated it. But living full-time in a shopping desert made me really appreciate all that was tempting me in London…right there for the buying.

Interestingly, when I found myself at a Whole Foods on my last day, in another rush to eat and get some things to take home, I found myself too overwhelmed. I was so unfamiliar with it all, and I didn’t know what I wanted. Ironically, I caught myself longing for my little local Intermarche and found comfort as I scanned the aisles and found French products! How’s that for reversal! Has living in rural France ruined me for life???

I think not yet, but I wonder what will happen if I stay here much longer!

Two Lessons of the Expat Life

detour-clipart-detourWhat’s showing up IS the medicine. It IS the help you need. I remember what must have been two+ years ago when I was visiting a friend for the last time before leaving Asheville, North Carolina, where I lived for the previous 10 years. I was so full of fear for the venture I was undertaking; I remember crying thinking, “I can’t do this!” He didn’t say, “You’re making the biggest mistake of your life,” which was what I was afraid of. He said, “You’re going to find all the help you need there.” Had I known back then the fires through which I would have to walk, I never would have left my bed, let alone my country. Yet, here I am. And if I look back on the time I’ve spent here, the help I needed (not necessarily the help I wanted but definitely the help I needed) has shown up. And I’ve learned two important lessons:

  1. We don’t always know the crap we believe until given the opportunity to examine it.

  2. We don’t always know the strength we have inside us until given the opportunity to need it.

Learning to Pray…in French

I remember when I still had that expat-adventure gleam in my eye and actually believed myself when I thought learning the language would be my first year priority. I knew I’d be learning to do lots of things all over again…using French ATM’s, using French websites, using French gas stations..not just to speak. What I didn’t know was that my first year would be one filled with so much grief and stress that the last thing I would want to do, let alone find myself capable of, was learning the lingo!

Now that I’m nearly half way through my second year, I’m a bit more relaxed with the idea. The challenges are still there, of course, but they are less inundating. The overwhelming loss and subsequent grief of what I left behind is finally abating. I have more time and more energy, both mentally and physically, to turn to the task of language-learning.

That said, I’ve barely begun. I suppose it was kicked off when a friend of mine from the states came for a visit. I arranged for her to teach a French immersion weekend to fellow expats here. Since then, I’ve been listening to French everyday by watching Un Village Francais, a TV series about WWII now on Netflix…at least in France. I use the French subtitles as I watch which is extremely helpful because otherwise, all the words just run together. I don’t really know what is sinking in and what isn’t, but I’m not making that my concern. I’m just trying to follow along, enjoy, and listen closely.

The other day while taking a walk to clear my head, I surprised myself. Sometimes when I walk, I pray. So, I  started to pray. And guess what? I prayed in French. It didn’t just happen; it was intentional, but somehow it felt more sacred that way. Maybe it’s because I had to fight to learn every single word I used. Or maybe, as I had so few words at my disposal to do so, I felt each word more deeply. Or maybe it is just la musique de la langue that makes everything sound more beautiful.

 

From Expat to Refugee: Some Thoughts on the State of the World

heartyworldI know I am not the only person feeling discouraged and stressed out by the things taking place in our world today. The macrocosm is illuminating the dark and shockingly ugly underbelly of humanity as a collective, while each microcosm is being forced to face the shadowy aspects within as we all deal individually with the racism, corruption and greed, violence, hatred, powerlessness, and, well, the list goes on. These two cosmoses seem to be fueling, inflaming, and magnifying each other. Just as I find some peace inside myself with “how things are”, something else goes ballistic in the world. And just as I fall prey to my own sense of self-important worry, something out there gives me hope again. The dance makes it difficult to pin down reality…if there ever was one.

While a better part of me recognizes that what is happening is simply part of our evolutionary process, another part of me wonders whether we can build the momentum necessary to actually evolve beyond our self-destructive, self-hating habits as a species. Will we ever create a respectful, caring, just world with an appreciation for life? The forces of the status quo and egoic power have such an overwhelming drag effect. We may have to go kicking and screaming then to rise above it all and discover the illusory nature of self. What else is there to do? What else could possibly be of any importance?

I was excited at one time to be leaving the United States for France. I had no clue what expat life would entail, but I went for it anyway. Though I sometimes entertained the idea that I was “escaping”, I never really thought the US was all that bad. Nowadays though, between politics, GMOS, fracking, racism and gun violence, I’m feeling less and less like an expat and more and more like a refugee. What is happening to my country? What is this insanity that is seeping up through the cracks and crevices of so many city streets? And what, pray tell, can change the tide?

Personally, there is an almost endless onslaught of fearful thoughts about Brexit, making ends meet, the falling Pound, choices, finding work, moving or staying, unmet expectations and needs, not being able to master this language, needing to control…plus so many emotions, from guilt to shame to sadness to anger…and I don’t even know where they are all coming from! If I’m not careful, I am tuned into a station that plays negativity day and night, just like the news.

I have enough awareness and have done enough work to know that I cannot afford to entertain this onslaught. I unplugged from the influence of major media years ago, and now my work is uplugging from the 24/7 news channel in my head by placing my attention elsewhere. I take time each day to be in my body, stretching and moving. I take time each day to breathe and only breathe. I take time each day to listen to wise teachers and be inspired by their words. I take time each day to observe my mind without getting sucked into the propaganda that aligns so well with old wounds, ingrained fears, and ancient beliefs.

I don’t have the gall to compare myself to an actual refugee whose very life is dependent upon leaving his home. I’m aware of the plight of thousands rushing out of war-torn areas to face a world that doesn’t want them. And yet, putting the physical threats aside, I am without question a refugee from my own mind. My life DOES depend upon me leaving my thoughts, obsessions, habits, identification, preferences and aversions behind. If I do not learn somehow to let go of what I cannot control and allow life to be what it is, if I cannot cultivate an open-heart, forgiveness of myself and others, and an ability to be completely present and trusting in every moment, I’m as good as dead.

In this moment, I feel exceptionally blessed to be able to look out from my desk and see nothing but trees and grasses. Today the sun is shining, birds are singing and flying past, bugs are humming, and the donkey in the next field over is braying. There’s a cool breeze through the open window, and though I can hear the occasional plane or truck, there is so much peace here. Nature still has a hold here. And nature is keeping me sane.

My friends, wherever you find yourself, please heed me. Take time each day to unplug. Take a moment to recognize the truth of the moment in which you find yourself. Take note of the beauty that surrounds you. Set aside the swords you are carrying and the axes you’ve been grinding. You can pick them up again later. But give yourself a moment to let it all fall away. Let all that fear break into a million tiny, insignificant pieces. Breathe. Just breathe and know that you are okay. Everything is okay. If only for a moment, give yourself that gift. Give your body that gift. Give your heart that peace. Take refuge, my friends. The world needs our sanity more than ever.

 

 

A French Fête

ateThis weekend in the town of St. Aulaye just over the border between the Poitou-Charentes and the Dordogne, there was a huge festival known as La Félibrée du Pays. It is a  yearly celebration, held in different towns each year, of the language, music, dances and songs of the Occitan, drawing thousands of people.

This year was no exception. We didn’t know what to expect, but I certainly wasn’t expecting the crowds that were there. I’m not so sure the organizers were either, because by Sunday afternoon, no beverage stands had any bottles of water left, every toilet has a line to kingdom come, and some places has already run out of food! I hadn’t seen this many people in one place (or collectively in many places) in the whole time I’ve lived in rural France.

oneComfort challenges aside, it was quite a delightful spectacle. The entire village was decorated in bright and colorful, plastic flower bunting. There were hundreds of people dressed in traditional attire from various French regions. There were horses, musicians, dancers, lace-makers, wood-carvers, and people! (Did I mention the endless rivers of people?)20160703_155742

We walked through the throngs looking for some food, and not finding anything palatable, ended up standing in line a good 20 minutes for ice-cream. Nothing ever tasted so good. Shortly thereafter, we found ourselves in the middle of the parade (not on the sides watching like well-behaved spectators. Woops!).  We cut out on a side street and finally discovered some food, so we ate in reverse dining order.

St. Aulaye is a charming village…like most French villages. Around every corner is a picturesque house with a beautiful garden. It was an overcast day, but the sun had broken through several times making it quite hot. We walked around and foolishly became quite dehydrated. Eventually, I had a whopping headache and felt 20160703_154808near to passing out. We went to three different stands in search of water and felt like the Holy Couple, finding no room at the inn. Passing the First Aide station, we considered dropping right in front of them, thinking this would surely get us some water, but thought better of it since neither of us wanted to be taken to the hospital. The fourth beverage stand which was near the entrance (now our exit) was the true life-saver with a gleaming bottle of Perrier still in their refrigerator.

It was a semi-masochistic day of both pleasure and pain. How French!too