Happy Anniversary to Moi: Two Years in France

Today marks a very special time for me. It was two years ago that I landed in France, newly shed of most of my belongings and all I’d ever known. I thought this would be the perfect time to reflect summarily on my experiences in these past two years.

Image Source: Flickr Photo by: Michael Wilson
Image Source: Flickr
Photo by: Michael Wilson

Year One:

Complete and utter disorientation. Bags always half-packed for home. Steadily devolving language skills brought on by overwhelming stress. Mountains of bureaucracy. Anxiety, depression, grief, loneliness, and despair. “Oh, God, what have I done???!” Inability to nurture self and relationships. Awkward dependence upon others and an unbelievably steep learning curve.

Year Two:

Dwindling bureaucratic challenges. Oscillation between optimism and pessimism, socializing and withdrawing. Rediscovering and redefining of self. Healing through turning inward. Knowing more of the language than I think I do and surprising myself on several occasions but still having zero confidence with it. Sick of being dependent, but still not able to do much about it. Trying to create opportunities and relationships; some take off, but most fall flat. “This will never work!” Every day I wake up, so every day I keep trying.

Year Three???

Well, I don’t know yet, obviously. But as I am still here, my intent is to dig my heels in, force myself to find more opportunities to integrate, do some things that scare the crap out of me, and refocus on the language in a more regimented way. To be honest, if it weren’t for the political situation in the US, I may very well have gone home by now where I know I can make a decent living and be surrounded by like-minded friends and community where I can solve all my problems IN ENGLISH!

But here I am, and here I remain, for as long as I do or am allowed, taking it one day at a time, dreaming a little bigger, using my energy in more effective ways, and simply remembering to practice gratitude, courage, resilience, and opening to possibility. Oh, and French!

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.

 

 

Week One in France

I have been in France a whole week! Hard to believe. In that time, we’ve managed to accomplish quite a bit, but we’ve also encountered some challenges…like a gas stove that isn’t properly regulated and is turning pots, pans, counter-tops and fingers black with soot. The oven won’t stay lit either. I imagine Stuart will fix all this when he has time (and can figure it out). In the meantime, I am being very careful not to place pots onto the counters after cooking something and am turning them upside-down until they can be scrubbed properly lest everything turn black.

We also had a mystery with the hot water which Stuart thinks he has now solved. The first night, we ran out around 6PM or so. We thought the hot water heater was busted and made plans for alternative showering, but the next morning, we had plenty of hot water again. Apparently, we’re on some kind of timer or something which has now been reset (so I’m told).

We’ve also had an upstairs bathroom sink leak through the floor to the dining area, fortunately caught early before damaging anything. Stuart says he can fix this too.

Otherwise, the house is quite comfy and embracing. Of course, our 50 degree sunny weather hasn’t hurt the last couple of days to make everything feel that much sweeter.

We knew we’d have lots to do and buy, so we’ve had to prioritize somewhat. Things related to food, sleep, and warmth come first: hence the fridge, bed, comforter, and fuel for the heater. Next comes the highly practical: power strips, trash bin, dustbuster, and things still to buy: hooks, bathmat, couch, lighting.  Eventually, we’ll start working on aesthetics: mirrors, more furniture, new towels. Then we’ll need to work on getting the gallery in order. And finally, we’ll get that guest room set up (we might just have to rent it out to stay afloat!). Then we’ll move outside, pretty things up a bit in the yard, and plant a garden.

A word about the gallery…

We have two rooms downstairs that we will devote to a gallery/studio. The plan is for Stuart to display his paintings (and mine too as I paint them) and be open perhaps one day a week during tourist season and by appointment otherwise. We’ll also use these two rooms to hold events. Stuart wants to start teaching painting again, and I plan to offer meditation and voicework. We might also sponsor house concerts or other creative events just for fun or rent out the space for others to use, although with limited parking, these will have to be small events. We drove around town a few days ago and came across another gallery near the lake, so who knows? Maybe we can make friends and have some kind of art crawl during the summer.

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

For me the biggest struggle and greatest triumph happened at the grocery store on day one. I was feeling quite overwhelmed with the mass of decisions we were having to make, so I decided to buy myself some tulips. (Stuart offered to buy them for me, but I needed them to be from me to me…ya know?). The woman at the check-out was excruciatingly rude and impatient with my complete ignorance and scant communication skills. I became more and more flustered and felt about as big as a flea, shrinking with each roll of her eyes. So, after the transaction was done and I made my escape, I returned to her and pulled out one of my tulips…”pour vous madame”. That sweet, floppy tulip was too much for her pinched-up face to endure and a smile encroached. She thanked me. I got the sense no one ever does anything kind for her and that she doesn’t yet know how to do such things for herself.

I admit, her rudeness mixed with my exhaustion and anxiety had me fighting tears. Resolving my feelings in the moment and offering her that tulip took all of my strength. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Still, I broke down in the car immediately afterwards. It was a mixture of “Why are people so cruel?” and “How will I ever survive here?” but also of huge spiritual relief for turning the situation around for myself and who knows, maybe altering her life forever too with my gesture. I thank Matt Khan for sharing his perspective so that I had such a choice available to me when normally, I would have carried the weight of her for hours, making her wrong and wholly unlovable and hating my tulips for the memory attached. We’re all just human and in desperate need of kindness from others. In fact, the more cruel our behavior, the more love we need.Picture 69

Finally this week, I have set up my meditation room and office where I meditate and do my kundalini yoga every morning. I still need a few things to make the room fully serviceable, but the essentials are here. It is my retreat, my quiet sanctuary, and I am so grateful for it because the rest of the house is still a mess (and I’m not very good with messes!).

What will week two bring? Stay tuned…

 

 

Ode to Albuquerque

Tomorrow is my last day in Albuquerque, often referred to as “the land of enchantment”, or in my case “the land of re-enchantment”. When I was very little, my father headed west with the dream of moving his family to San Diego. He never made it that far. He got to Albuquerque and said, “This is it!”

Albuquerque is “still it” whenever I am at a crossroads in my life…I’ve been back so many times I’ve lost count. This time, even though I tried to make it my home again, it respected a different path. It had a role in ensuring I didn’t find an apartment, didn’t find a car, didn’t find a job, didn’t have to give up so easily on my heart’s desire, and didn’t have to live so far away from Stuart (and with an eight-hour time difference) for long.

abq snowI am filled with gratitude for this place, because instead, it gave me lots of space to stretch out; it gave me its big beautiful blue sky, hikes in the foothills, snow, and plenty of time to learn to dream again. The powerful, purple Sandias gave me a grounding strength and reconnected me to my own inner strength and the home I can never lose…the one in my heart. (It gave me medicaid too, my first health insurance in over 10 years…even if it was only for three months!)

I want to thank my sister and her frequently-belly-laughing family for their patience, generosity, support and compassion during this big transition in my life. You’ve been such a huge blessing to me in ways I could never fully express, except perhaps to say, my faith in myself has been restored through your kindness…and that has to be the most important of gifts we are ever able to give others.

I also want to thank the people I’ve met here who have had angelic roles (Jeff, Jill, Tonita) in my rebirth whether via their friendship or healing abilities. Thank you for being there for me…and most especially, for helping me to embrace this transformation happening to me and for the most empowering of sendoffs!

Sweet ABQ! I will miss you, but I suspect I will be back…whether for a visit or to stay….one day.

The Hell that Never Was

This blog has been dedicated to my journey in a long-distance relationship and the challenges my partner and I have faced on our way to a life together. I’ve shared practical experience, frustrations, and deeply emotional stories , but it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything. That isn’t because nothing’s been happening. A ton has been happening on so many levels!!! But it has been very nearly impossible to understand myself let alone write about.

Ever heard of Matt Khan? He’s an amazing being with a refreshing perspective that is a great relief to me. When he speaks, it’s kind of like hearing something that I’ve known all along and just couldn’t quite bring into consciousness. Matt’s most recent video had a big impact on me and helped me awaken to the realization that everything here in this blog is now part of the past. While it is recorded and here for others to read and perhaps glean from, it has nothing to do with me now. And that will be true of any post I ever leave here…even this one.

It’s stuff that no longer matters, really. The hardships, the traumas, the obstacles and frustrations…they are here for the world to read, but they are not here for me to cling to and relive. It has been difficult to remember that while things still felt close and very personal. But Stuart and I are totally different people now, having both grown so much this past year. We have many upgraded ways of thinking and feeling. We’ve both learned so much about ourselves and each other. And thanks to Matt Khan, I’ve come to realize that all we’ve been through is nothing more than “the hell that never was.” It may have felt like hell. And it certainly seemed like hell. But really, it was everything just as it had to be. It was just life…messy, surprising, unexpected, challenging and mysterious (and to be fair, some of it was “the heaven that never was” too…the unmeetable expectations, the bright-eyed fantasy, the blush of perfect romance and happily-ever-after).

Since my return to the states in August, I have been taking serious inventory. WTF happened? Why was I getting what I was getting? Did it actually have anything to do with me? Did I have control over anything? Where do I belong? What is it that I want? What’s my purpose? What must I change or simply accept?

For months, I’d been reliving that moment at the airport when I had to decide to stay or go within minutes. It was impacting my ability to make decisions, contributing to states of anxiety I hadn’t experienced in years, and set off all kinds of irrational and negative thinking that I have sometimes successfully and others times not so successfully managed. It had become the dark lens through which I began to see our future, too. Thoughts of, “this is never going to work” and “we just aren’t meant to be together” echoed in my head.

Matt’s words helped me to re-imagine that worst moment of my life differently.  After months of flinching at the memory, I was able to remember it all with new clarity what had transpired before and even after, with love in my heart and a deep knowing that is was perfect. I was able to celebrate everything I was feeling in those moments, to love the airport and the people there, to love the inner battle and confusion I felt then and ever since, to send love back through time and space to the me I was then, and to acknowledge that something not only survived to live on but was learning a great deal in the process…the dream hadn’t died. It was still breathing!

Having reframed that experience, there was no stopping me. I started reframing everything (yes, me the woman who wrote a book telling other people to reframe). I felt like a kid who had finally learned to whistle after trying and trying with no success. You won’t believe what happened. The very next day, Stuart put a deposit down on our new house! Just like that. After months and months of searching. After months and months of everything being so damned difficult. After months of feeling like I would never belong anywhere ever again, had lost all purpose, failed miserably, and didn’t know which way to turn.

I wondered when in the thick of it if I’d ever understand why things played out the way they did…if I’d ever feel gratitude again and come to recognize the gifts that came with the pile of crap. I told myself some day…maybe. Who knew someday wasn’t as far off as it seemed?

I entertain no delusions that going back will suddenly be a piece of cake. It’s going to take work, and there will be the same issues to face…language, bureaucracy, constant unknowns! But I’m a lot more sober now and about 10x stronger, and having laid the accumulated past to rest, there is a new lightness and breathing room once more to start over.

So to anyone who’s feeling like there is no light at the end of the tunnel, I can only say, “you’re in the hell that never was” and the way out is loving it all.

 

 

 

Crabby Cabby

This is the continuing soap opera (as one friend put it) of my return to the United States. If you’ve been following along, you know the turmoil I went through to make the plane home. I was so burned out at this point. By the grace of God, I made each of my connecting flights by minutes despite being directed to the worst possible customs line in Atlanta. I also managed to claim all my bags and wheel them over to be rechecked, despite an injured knee and toe, hobbling along at top speed.

On the last leg from Atlanta to Washington, I started to hallucinate. I’m not sure if it was the guy next to me wearing a bottle of synthetic cologne or the nasty food or just sheer emotional exhaustion, but I could have sworn the airline attendant said we’d land in Dulles. Wishful thinking perhaps. Around 11:30 PM, we landed and everyone piled off. Now I had to find my way around Reagan Airport and find out just how many hundreds of dollars a taxi to Dulles would be. I stopped the first airline attendant I saw and explained that I was expecting to land in Dulles. I needed transportation there. How far was it? She looked at me with a blank look and another attendant stepped in. He heard me asking my question, and with a rather interesting and somewhat fearful expression (Is this crazy lady for real?), he explained to me that I was at Dulles.

I am?

Yes.

Oh. Well, that’s good!

Turns out, the whole Washington/Dulles/Reagan thing at the Bordeaux airport had been one giant ‘lost in translation’ misunderstanding. No one with Air France seemed to know the difference, so they had no way of setting me straight…or maybe they were just having some French-style fun with me.

It was a surreal miracle that I was now in the airport I had originally planned with a free shuttle to my hotel just minutes away. However, by the time I claimed all my luggage with the help of a strapping young porter, when I called the hotel, the last shuttle for the night had already run. No biggie. I’d just take a taxi. At least it was a short trip.

The porter was awesome. He was friendly and energetic and just the energy I needed to be in. He wheeled my stuff out to the street and hailed a taxi. As it was raining, with a suitcase in hand, he opened the cab door for me. That’s when Crabby Cabby appeared. [Please read the part of Crabby Cabby with your best Indian accent]

“Don’t you dare put bags in my car! Leave them! Leave them! I’ll do it!”

“I’m not putting anything in your cab. I know better. I’m opening for door for THE LADY. It’s raining!” my gentle porter explained with a nice roll of the eyes in my direction.

“No one puts bags in my car! I put them in! You just bring them here!” Crabby Cabby insisted just in case he hadn’t been heard.

When I was in the cab, I handed the driver my hotel information. Remember how exhausted I was? Well, I told him it was in the opposite direction. He looked confused. I took this to mean he had no idea where he was going. I said, “If you don’t know where it is, I’m not sure I’m comfortable having you drive me.”

“It is over this way! I know exactly where it is! It isn’t over there. You confuse me!”

So off we sped.

Minutes later, I was at the hotel. I paid Crabby Cabby and tipped him. I could see a bell hop thingie (what are they called?) in the door, so I ran in to wheel it to the cab. But when I came back out with it, Crabby Cabby was already burning rubber–my five suitcases sat on the sidewalk getting rained on. I’d have to heave them onto the “thingie” myself. It wasn’t like I was exhausted or anything.

The hotel room was awesome. It was a rewards freebie. I requested a late checkout and slept like a baby after letting Stuart know I was okay and following a nice hot soak in the tub. I took another bath the next morning too..and one or more a day for the next two weeks; you see, Stuart’s place only had showers. It was heaven to have a bath again after three months!

The next day, my sister, her husband, and my mother came to pick me up and brought me to my next hotel…a long-stay for which my brother-in-law was able to get me a fabulous rate. I stayed there for two whole weeks decompressing; it was a huge blessing, as I had not just a mountain, but a whole range to decompress!

It’s all very dramatic, my story. I admit living it was a nightmare of multiple dimensions too. But in hindsight and after lots of self-nurturing and healing, I’m feeling quite strong and ready for whatever comes next. In fact, one of the very first emails I opened upon returning was a notification of a Bon Chod training I’d been waiting ten years to take. It was happening in New York state on my birthday, and here I was, a five or six hour drive away! I registered for it with hesitation. Some things are just meant to be.

In fact, I must say, the flow seems to have returned to my life. Though there are still many unknowns, even the immigration paperwork here is almost complete and rather effortlessly so…nothing like our experience with the French residency package we’d been working on for months. As Stuart said, “It doesn’t hurt that it’s all in English!”

So, we’ll see what happens next…