On Gossip, Misunderstandings, and Explanations

communicationI put myself in a difficult situation two years ago. I posted something on Facebook knowing that it might be misconstrued because of the timing and content. I thought I had been careful. I considered who would see it before posting it, and I thought I was in the clear. I wasn’t. Someone who I hardly knew saw it. She not only saw it, she shared it with a mutual friend, but someone who isn’t even on my Facebook friend’s list. I’m afraid she misrepresented me and the meaning of my words, because despite it not being a comment directed at anyone in particular, it was easily interpreted as such. Her sharing it resulted in me becoming the topic of a conversation in which I was not included…all based on assumptions and misrepresentations. I know she didn’t intend to cause harm, but harm was the result.

When I learned of this whole unfolding, at first I felt slightly embarrassed that I may have hurt anyone’s feelings. I was kicking myself for my carelessness. But then, I just got really angry. Whose right was it to share anything I posted to my friends? Whose right was it to then discuss my life, and why I might have posted it, all without checking in with me to see if it were the case? Gossip and I have never mixed well. I am always shocked to discover anyone is talking about me with others. I mean, what’s the fascination? Or is it simple deflection? If one is talking about others, one’s own messy personal life remains out of the discussion?

After this unfortunate incident, I had visions of news of this spreading through the small group of which I was a part. I imagined myself the subject of their speculations. It turned my stomach; I didn’t want to be talked about. I especially didn’t want anyone drawing erroneous conclusions about my motivations or feelings, all based on a rumor. I had a small window of opportunity to clear the air. Ironically (or if I’m honest, perhaps intentionally, life swept in and other things came up, closing that window, making everything even worse because it now appeared that not only was their perception of my post confirmed, it seemed I truly wanted nothing more to do with these women. While that wasn’t true when I wrote my post, it slowly became true for me once my trust was broken.

I asked myself many questions in my effort to process the event. Do I place myself in their company again? Am I making a mountain out of a molehill? Am I simply moving on and enjoy different company? Do I bring up the issue and attempt to iron out any grievances and misunderstandings? I’ve long since let the matter pass, somewhat unresolved.

But I have learned some things, the most obvious being to take more care with what I post on Facebook or elsewhere. I had to even debate with myself about writing this post! But I’m a writer. This is what I do. This is how I process. Maybe my only failing was in letting it all slide, ignoring my power to change the outcomes. While I can’t always prevent others from taking things I might say personally or in the wrong manner, I can do what is necessary as soon as possible to correct their perceptions. Maybe I should have confronted things immediately, including my anger at my privacy being betrayed. Live and learn.

I’d love to hear from others how they feel about gossip. Do you consider it normal, neutral, harmful, cultural? Have you ever been the subject of it? What was the outcome? Thanks for sharing!

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Approaching Year Three – 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 ears. Rather, I’ll talk about the transformations of self that took place in 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!

 

 

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.