Approaching Year Four – The Expat Experience

Well, I stopped blogging here since early last year, but a series of spammy notifications reminded me that this blog is still here. It also reminded me that an update may be in order.

When I look back at my pre-prep expat experience and my first three years abroad, I am reminded of the saying that it takes 5 years to fully adjust to life in a new culture. I can say for certain, at least in my own experience, that the first three became progressively easier. And that’s a damn good thing, too, because that first year was harder than anything I’ve ever lived through to the point where I wasn’t sure I would live. It’s something that friends and family will never be able to understand in depth. Only fellow expats really get the anguish that can come with an overseas move and all the outer and inner shifting involved.

I won’t rehash things I’ve already written about in those first two to three years. Rather, I’ll talk about the transformations of self that took place in the later part of the third year. From the bewilderment and complete disorientation of year one, to the depression and emptiness in year two, there arose a growing resolve in year three to stop resisting and accept everything.

Somehow, by some grace, I pulled myself up by the bootstraps. I fully resolved to cut the cords to the ghosts of my old life and my old self once and for all. I surrendered to the emptiness. I came to love the emptiness, in fact. I started to appreciate my situation, that I had what often felt like endless time to myself and an abundance of privacy, surrounded by nature. I began to use rather than fight against it all. I spent time doing yoga and more and more meditation. I pushed myself to experience things alone. I took pleasure in simpler things like preparing healthy food. And I gave thanks more and more for the fact that I answered to no one. My still-fairly-young marriage began to improve, too. We were laughing more. I was having more loving thoughts and appreciation for him, and that was being mirrored back.

Slowly but surely, things started to change of their own accord. But I couldn’t have rushed it. I couldn’t have controlled it at any point along the way. My only job was to allow and trust it. The expat life is its own process.

Now, so much has changed, and it seems as if by magic. I’m living a life I never, ever expected and truthfully enjoying it. Some outward manifestations of my internal change are that I became a yoga teacher, we got adopted by a kitten (despite my allergies), we have a new car (ba-bye stick shift and no air con!), I’m wearing glasses now, and my hair is short! I hardly recognize myself. And that’s a good thing, actually.

There was a part of me that simply didn’t want to be reinvented. But the expat life demands it. So, I’m grateful that I wasn’t “afraid to die” so to speak. It’s really no great loss. I tried to tell myself it was, that my life before moving to France was so perfectly wonderful. However, spending some time reviewing old journals helped me to see that the perfect life I was nostalgic over wasn’t so perfect after all. I had a lot of the same problems and feeling states back home. It wasn’t the outside world that needed to change. I did!




A Post-Inaugural Philosophical Contemplation

Image Source: Flickr Photo by: Thomas Hawk
Image Source: Flickr
Photo by: Thomas Hawk

Last year, before the presidential election in the US, I was becoming fiercely political. I was right up there with the best of them, alienating friends and relatives on Facebook with my posts and comments about the candidates, the events at Standing Rock, and myriad other issues plaguing my country of origin.

After the election, something happened to me. I became disgusted. But it wasn’t that I was so much disgusted with the outcomes and statuses of events (I was, but that’s not so important) so much as I was simply disgusted with the impulse inside that demanded I hold an opinion of everything. I was tired too…of being on the lookout for “critical information” to share and tired of scrolling through what others evidently thought was “critical information” too. I was exhausted of judging other people’s sanity, shocked by the sudden character changes, and completely wiped out by feeling disappointed in them. I couldn’t bear one more shaming, name-calling comment, even if it wasn’t directed at me and even if it was directed at “the other side”.

With such feelings came my decision to abstain from Facebook for a while. I’ve limited my usage to business and essential research. I’ve stopped personal posting and stopped commenting on friend posts. It feels antisocial. It feels like cheating, too, somehow, because the whole point of social media is to be…well…social. But it is something I had to do.

I have to say, my peace of mind has certainly improved. Is that because my head is in the sand or because I’ve found an entirely different sand box to play in? My new sandbox is the life in front of me here and now…the only one I really belong in and the only one in which I can really exert any change.

Maybe I’ve disappointed or even shocked some people with my withdrawal and apparent lack of concern. So many of my friends have gone…what’s the right word…fanatical? Ape-shit? Zealous? I can’t go there. I don’t want to and I can’t. The future is always unknown. Fear and anxiety can eat us alive if we let them. Anger and righteousness can poison our blood. So I’m practicing equanimity. I’m practicing doubt of my own certainties. I’m practicing being the observer.

That isn’t to say I wouldn’t stand up and defend either my own rights or the rights of another if the opportunity presented itself in my sandbox. I hope I would, even if it was dangerous. But creating a situation that doesn’t exist yet because it could…that’s just kinda nuts, in my opinion. Living as if the worst has already happened is certain to make it reality.

It isn’t that I don’t approve of certain movements or ideologies, whatever value my approval might hold for someone. It’s that I’ve chosen to bless both my friends and my so-called enemies. Why not? We all want what we want. Marching, demonstrating, power plays and fighting isn’t going to suddenly change that. Is the eternal solution to the difference of opinion oppressing the other? That is no alternative at all.

I simply can no longer identify myself within the small boxes we are permitted nor base my actions and passions on those lines; the division game has no winners. I’m a woman, but I don’t identify myself as a woman. I’m white, but I don’t identify myself as white. I’m not gay, but I don’t care if someone is. I’m not Muslim, but I can respect the Muslim faith. I’m an American in France, but I don’t think of myself as American or French or anything really. I’m a human (and even that is questionable on some days), and just like every other human, I want to live a life free of fear. I don’t want to waste my time having to be outraged at the fear others create. I just want to live and be free. How can that be possible if I myself want to impose my ideals and beliefs upon others? It is a very tight rope we walk, proclaiming a desire for peace and fairness while we make fun of and humiliate those that are different from us.

I feel for ALL people who are suffering. What people often fail to see is that the s0-called enemy is suffering too. I want for there to be wisdom and peace in this world. I want humanity to rise above itself and create a beautiful world.

Postnote: I just found this awesome video with Byron Katie, and it is so topical to this post and where I’m coming from that I had to come back here and share it.

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.

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.



Settling In

I haven’t blogged here in ages, and I’d like to bring things to a sort-of closure. I am writing this from my office in our new house in the Charente. It is hard to believe that just two years ago, my husband and I met and began our whirlwind, international romance. It is sometimes harder to believe we actually persevered and made it through the unbelievable challenges that were thrown at us from all sides. WE DID IT!!!

I’ve been in France officially as a resident since May of 2015. I have my Carte de Sejour now, and just yesterday, received my Carte Vitale in the mail. Today, I even managed to get myself a library card. Of course, that was significantly easier than everything else, let me tell you! I’ve even made great strides in driving the old stick shift!

I’ve been taking French since I arrived, but it is slow going. While I wish I was in school every day, out here in the country, there just aren’t opportunities for that. So I string my French lessons together as I can. I take a couple of hours in the nearest town every week. I also use the internet to study and listen to French radio and TV. I tried joining a choir but ironically, they sang a lot of English songs. I registered at the Pole Emploi, the equivalent of the Department of Labor, and will receive additional weekly lessons through them for free starting in a few months. I just wish it was starting now and happening every day!

In fact, the language barrier is now the single most important obstacle I must learn to overcome. But as long as one has some good translators to call when needed (and can afford to pay them), one can get by. Of course, I can’t wait for the day when I can actually speak and write well enough to handle things myself. It is tough to put so much trust in others who are speaking for me all the time. So much is lost in translation.

But generally, I’m finding that life here isn’t nearly as difficult as I expected it to be. Now that the worst is over, I’m finding it all pretty easy. Maybe I’m fooling myself. Time will tell…

The hardest parts about living here:

1. It is easier to meet and socialize with the English-speaking community than to integrate into French society. In my experience, there is little support to help the English-speaking community to integrate…okay, actually none! Maybe it would be different if we were in a big city like Paris, though.

2. It can be a nightmare to find the answers to important questions. Very often, the answers lead one down a rabbit hole that merely seems to produce even more questions.

3. My life has shrunk considerably in many ways in terms of friends, opportunities, and a sense of control over what happens to me.

The best parts about living here (aside from being with Stuart):

1. The view out my window is phenomenal, and there is plenty of quiet.

2. There are some real angels here and it is a joy to meet and interact with them. France is cultivating my gratitude for the finer things in life (and I don’t mean wine).

3. I’m growing by leaps and bounds and am having to overcome a ton of my fears and resistances, all very good for my personal healing. As I can’t control anything, I have no choice but to just let go and let is all unfold. That is a huge lesson and a huge gift.

Time will tell how difficult it is to make an actual living here doing what I was doing in the States. I may have to be more flexible or go in a completely unexpected direction. I may find it impossible. Who knows?  But that’s the next thing on my plate…making a living.


Bon Courage!


Lessons from A Deer in the Garden

This morning, I looked out my meditation room window to see a deer in the field. I was shocked that it was on the wrong side of the garden fence. How it got in, I’m not sure, because despite repeated efforts, it simply couldn’t jump back out.

deer smallThe poor thing kept running from one end to the other, desperately trying to figure out WTF happened to it. How did I get here? Am I trapped? How do I get out? Will I ever get out? Is my life now the size of this rectangle? These are the questions I heard myself asking (je me demandais) as I watched the scene.

I called Stuart to see what was taking place. We saw the creature jump into the mesh fence and spring back startled and frustrated. Stuart grabbed his camera and went downstairs. He reappeared out the window and started closing off the driveway. I’m not sure what he was thinking (he later said he was afraid it might run into the road and get hit), as that was the only way out for the creature. I suggested it would be better to leave it open and get the animal to move in that direction.

So, Stuart had to sort of herd the deer away from the path it had been running, back and forth, as if it would suddenly yield some new doorway, some new relief and freedom. This, of course, spooked the deer even more, and it slammed itself against the fence in desperation to get away. It made me wonder about that fight/flight part of the brain that tells us to run and how often it might be faulty.

As I watched, I had to wonder also about what I was dreaming…this symbol of the heart and unconditional love feeling caged, trapped, and confined. I felt its anxiety, or at best, maybe just projected my own, and began to hum. I wanted it to feel calm, to stop just enough to realize there was another way. The beaten path would get it nowhere.

And a moment later, it had its revelation and headed toward the open gate and down the road, looking back as if to make sure there was no one in pursuit. It bounded across the road and up into the open field across from us.deer oh deer

I feel touched by this medicine in so many ways, the deer being a symbol of gentleness and, ironically, alternate paths to the same goal…

“Deer has entered your life to help you walk the path of love with full consciousness and awareness, to know that love sometimes requires caring and protection, not only in how we love others, but also in how we love ourselves….When a Deer totem enters your world, a new innocence and freshness in about to be awakened. New adventures are just around the corner and there will be an opportunity to express the gentle love that will open new doors for you.” From

If I could just find that gentleness of spirit within myself and toward myself when I feel anxious and caged, maybe I would discover an open gate through which I too could leap. Maybe the only reason I feel so anxious and lost sometimes is because I keep trying to run the same 50 yards of territory in a vast, mysterious world.

So I pray for greater awareness. I pray to find the grace with which to move through life’s obstacles. I pray to turn my head and walk in a new direction when necessary for my own happiness…one in which my heart is free to be open, one in which I trust my intuition over the fight/flight response, one in which I am less demanding for perfection in myself and others. I pray to remain vigilant to my highest path.





Together Apart

Yes, I realize I’ve been quiet. Things have been sort of…unpredictable, uncertain, and intense. This has been a time of letting go. That seems to me to be the lesson again and again. Let go of every concept of how I think things should be. Let go of any and all expectations. Learn to live by a sense of what feeeeels right in the moment even if it seems to be going in the opposite direction of where I thought I wanted to go. The Universe seems to be providing me with immeasurable gifts to hone my intuition, to improve my ability to communicate, to see and release negative habits and thought patterns, to open up to synchronicity and learn to trust it, to learn better and better self-care, and to constantly refocus myself from a place of fear, lack of trust and self-doubt to one of love, faith, and confidence. They are proving to be the hardest lessons of my life. Some days, I just want to leave the planet. Others, I feel more hopeful.

Since arriving back in the states, I’ve spent a good portion of my time in Asheville, the city I lived in before I went to France for three months. I also spent time in Virginia, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and presently, New Mexico, where I grew up. All this moving around has been rather disorienting and wearing on my nerves. Being back in the Sandia mountains is helping to alleviate my sense of groundlessness.

Stuart and I have both learned a lot during this intense time of separation. Mostly, we’ve learned that we don’t have control over everything (and probably anything) that happens to us. The only place we have control is over our attitudes and interpretations about it all…and that can be the bigger challenge. One thing is certain; we both have to do what we can to keep ourselves sane and happy right where we are…even if it feels like our lives are growing apart.

Who knows why things have gone crazy apeshit? Who knows why we’re even further apart now than we were before we even got married? Seriously, who knows? I know I don’t. Life is a constantly swirling mystery. I can’t explain it.

Partly for the grounding I mentioned earlier and for other reasons I’ll save for another post, I started an apartment search here in Albuquerque. Talk about swirling mystery! WTF am I doing here? It’s a lot of stress, this current situation. For one thing, I’m up against the crazy catch-22 of “can’t open a bank account without an address; can’t get a car without a loan; can’t get a loan without a job; can’t get a job without a car, etc.” The more difficult part is knowing if I commit to a lease, that’s pretty much the death of some dreams I had when I met and married Stuart. It’s going to cement a lot of moving pieces into place…including me. I’ll be buying a car, furniture, finding some work, setting up my business again. Stuart’s and my relationship will change. Everything will change…again.

“What about Stuart?’, you may ask. “What about France?”

Life seems to have other plans. And that’s okay. That’s just the point. Something really weird is happening, and I just have to trust it.

Will we even stay married? Honestly, we don’t know. We just don’t know. We’re both trying to find our way to the light right now after a year of unbelievable stress loads. It sucks. It hurts. It’s scary. Where are we both supposed to be? What is the nature of our relationship? Nothing has been clear. Then again, I could write a blog in two weeks saying I’m going to France after all. That’s how WEIRD life has been, so I’ve finally cried, “Uncle!” and stopped trying to figure things out. The only thing we know is how important we are to one another…that we love and serve each other in completely mysterious ways…that we can’t imagine our lives without our connection. How it ends up looking though, that’s all in the mystery.

As Stuart said earlier today, tongue in cheek, signing off of Skype, “Go do what you do there, and I’ll continue to do what I do here. And someday, we’ll be where we’ve gotten, and it’ll all makes sense.” It doesn’t get much clearer than that.

Perhaps the deepest lesson I’m coming to appreciate is that all I really have is me, here, now. My relationship with myself is ultimately the one that matters most. So, I have to allow myself to live where I am. I can’t keep trying to live where I am not nor wait for the day when I am. And I have to constantly de-emphasize all the unwanted things that keep happening instead of thinking about them constantly, trying to solve unsolvable problems. I must focus on how I want to feel. Stuart has to do the same. To do anything else would just be insane and create more resistance and more of what we don’t want!!! On the outside, it looks like we’re falling apart. So what? I already know appearances can be very deceiving. Maybe we will fall apart. But for now, we’re just riding the waves…the crazy, ludicrous waves…together apart, as gracefully as we can.

There is an anonymous quote that says, “Your soulmate is not someone who comes into your life peacefully. It is someone who comes to make you question things, who changes your reality, somebody that marks a before and after in your life. It is not the human being everyone has idealized, but an ordinary person, who manages to revolutionize your world in a second.” I would add, “It is a person who unknowingly pulls you inside-out, forcing you to confront every last remaining shadow aspect that keeps you from loving what is.” Thank you, Beloved. I am doing my best to embrace your lessons.