Notes on the Journey

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Still Riding the Wave

When I answer Life's call, I don't really know what will happen.  Life calls.   I answer.  I show up.  I don't know why I've been called, or even what I'm supposed to do most of the time, other than show up.  And, once I show up, I do my best to ride the wave and stay on my surfboard.

Things are working out very differently in France than I expected.  Why I expected things to turn out in any particular way is a mystery.  You'd think I would have learned by now not to expect anything, but obviously that lesson is still being learned.

I thought I was going to live in Uzes.  But, things haven't opened here either as quickly or as easily as I thought they would.  Hmmm...  What is Life telling me?  I'm not sure, but I just stay with it and keep going.  I find another apartment, this time the process is smoother, but still taking its time and feeling a bit drawn out.  Then, just a day before I'm scheduled to have an apartment inspection and sign the rental contract, I'm offered an alternative opportunity for a place to live.  Everything changes.

Things happen more slowly in France than they do in the U.S.  This is not a bad thing.  It is just something I need to adjust to.  The French are not in a hurry.  Life is not something to be hurried through.  Life is something to be savored.  These are lessons I need to learn.

I went to a lunch gathering at the home of a friend here in Uzes and met some local people who encouraged me to slow down my apartment search.  They also offered me some viable alternatives for places to live so that the housing search could proceed at a more relaxed pace.  I started to open to other ways of doing this and see new possibilities for how things could happen if I gave it all more time and space.  I started to wonder about whether taking the apartment I'd found was the best decision.  Maybe taking a step back is what was needed.

Parallel to my rental search, was the unfolding journey of a friend who was in the process of trying to buy a house a bit north of where Uzes is, near a town called Montelimar.  This friend is someone I met on the airplane coming to France.  We each had had our seat assignment changed twice as Life did what was needed to make sure we were seated next to each other.  When I first saw my new friend, I thought he looked familiar, but I knew I'd never met him.  We sat in a row of five seats.  I was in the seat on the far right, there was an empty seat next to me--thank you! thank you! thank you!--and my friend sat in the middle seat.  We started talking and ended up talking for most of the flight.  We hit it off like we'd know each other forever.  And, in some dimension, we probably have.  He feels like my long lost younger brother, like family.

We've stayed in contact and followed each others respective journeys in our residence efforts.  He was driving back north, after conducting some business south of Uzes, and he stopped to see me and we had dinner.  During the dinner, which happened a day before I was supposed to sign my rental contract, he offered me the opportunity to move into the house he was in the process of buying.  Whoa...  Another possibility.  Plot twist!  As soon as he asked me, I knew my answer was "yes."  Everything within me relaxed into that "yes."

The house is huge, with more than enough room for multiple people to live there.  I will start off in some available upstairs rooms as an apartment is prepared for me on the ground floor.  It is in the country with lots of land and lavender fields surrounding it.  It is about 15 kilometers outside of the town of Montelimar, which is larger than Uzes.  I've seen photographs of it, but will see it for the first time on Saturday before returning to the U.S. on Sunday to pack and do what needs to be done in order to come back to France to live full-time.

I'm more excited than anxious.  And, even though this is all happening in a time of planetary upheaval and travel advisories, I know things are proceeding as they need to be.  I see my path ahead of me and I just keep walking.  I still have no idea of the speed bumps yet to come or of any number of plot twists that will surface along the way, but I have a sense of well-being in regard to everything.  I have a deepened sense of trust in knowing that things will work out for the best, even if I can't always see that.  I've come to understand that a closed door, or a "no," or a slowing down of progress is just Life steering me in a different direction.  I'm still on my surfboard and feel like I'm finally starting to drop into the tube of my own life.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Here I Am

I am in France.  I'm not just traveling in France, I'm in the process of moving here.  I am in the South, in a small town called Uzes, in the Languedoc-Rousillon provence.  The closest larger towns are Nimes and Avignon.  I had never been here before until coming here now to find a place to live.  True to how Life happens for me, I was called to this place.  Called, as in a bolt of lightning striking and an awareness of, not just the South of France, but Uzes in particular.  Okay.  When Life calls, I show up.  So, here I am.

I rarely, if ever, know why I'm called to a place, person or thing.  I just accept that I am.  Sometimes, I realize later what the call was about, sometimes I don't.  But, if I show up and let Life unfold as it will, then I'm giving what Life has in store for me a chance, a context in which to happen.  So, here I am.

On this trip, the things that needed to happen--or, I should say, the things I thought needed to happen, because what really needed to happen is much larger in scale--are that I open a French bank account, which I've done; and, that I find a place to live and sign a rental contract for the length of my long-stay visa, which is a year.  I don't have the long-stay visa yet.  I have to apply for it through the French Consulate when I go back to the U.S.  But, I have to have the French bank account and the rental contract in order to apply for the visa.  So, here I am.

When I lock onto a call that Life has given me, I'm used to things coming together pretty quickly.  It is typical of me to swoop in and magnetize things to me in a short amount of time.  But, I'm not usually in contexts this different and unfamiliar to me.  And, my usual pattern of swooping in and whipping it all together isn't working.  This time, it's requiring some adjustments.

Initially, I was going through a rental agency referred to me through a friend.  But, the person I met there didn't seem particularly interested in showing me places and didn't get back to me as he said he would.  Frustrated with our interaction, I branched out and visited other agencies, looking for other people and possibilities.  I ended up finding an apartment through one of these agencies and spent three days working with the people involved in order to rent the apartment, only to be told that they were not going to rent to me because I did not have my long-stay visa.  I explained to them that I needed the rental contract in order to get the long-stay visa, but they didn't care.  They had also decided that I didn't really have an open bank account, even after talking to my banker, who assured them that I did; and, they said it was "illegal" for them to rent to me without a long-stay visa, which it isn't, but none of that matters now.

The unconditional "no" I'd received from these people stopped me in my tracks.  What?  Did I hear you correctly?  No?  You've got to be kidding.  But, it was indeed a "no."  And, they weren't kidding.  And, there was no movement around their "no."  Done.  Door closed.  Move on.

I felt like someone had punched me in the stomach.  At first I couldn't breathe at all.  And then, I started to breathe very deeply.  As I started to breathe again, I realized how out of my body I'd been.  I'd been hovering around my body instead of inhabiting it.  I'd been here, but not really been "here."  But, the "no" has grounded me into myself, and into this place, in a way that I needed to be and hadn't been.  And, so, here I am.

At first, all my fears about being here surfaced.  Am I really supposed to be here?  Did I "get it" correctly in answering the call to this place?  Did I self-sabotage in some way?  No.  No to all of my insecure questions.  And, no need to blow up one small speed bump of a "no" into a "no" of major proportion.  Breathe.  Keep going.

I have this inner sense of calm now, this deep feeling that everything is going to be okay.  I have no idea how long it will last, but I'm so grateful for it while it's here.  I need to remember how being grounded into my body feels.  I need to remember that when I really come into my body, things calm down and get quiet.  I need to remember that when I come into my body I feel safe and have a sense of well-being.  I need to remember to breathe and tune in to where I am and listen.  Life is always communicating with us, but we don't always listen.  I need to listen.  So, here I am.

I realize that my own desperation in regard to perceived time and money limitations were running the show.  My own lifetime pattern of doing things quickly, of pushing through, of stubborn determinism were running rampant yet again.  No.  Stop.  Breathe.  Re-group.  Tune in.  Listen.

I think I needed to spin myself out with the apartment that didn't happen.  I needed it in order to get a grip and slow down.  If it had happened, I think I would have spun out even more.  The people I was dealing with weren't easy, but I kept going, determined to make it work.  They were unreasonable, but I tried to appease their demands.  These are tendencies that I so needed to see in myself.

I have trouble saying "no," and I don't like hearing it either.  But, "no" is part of Life.  "No" is okay.  Sometimes, "no" is good, and saves us from ourselves.  Or, it moves us in ways we wouldn't have gone, and helps us discover things we wouldn't have discovered.  It shows us alternatives we wouldn't have seen, and helps us get where we needed to go in the first place.

I'm now more open to this place, to its Spirit and its voice, than I was before.  This place, Uzes, called me, and I need to really feel into it and be fully with it...with her, for she is feminine.  How could I just come in, without ever really connecting to this place, and hope to have found a place to live that really fit?  Why did I, and do I, rush through things instead of savoring them?  Why do I limit my experience of Life in any way?  I was feeling like I was drowning in panic and overwhelm before; but, since the "no," all of that has slipped away. 

I don't know how long it will take me to find an apartment.  I don't know how quickly or easily all the paperwork around it will get done.  I don't know when I'll fly back to the U.S., or when I'll move out of my apartment there, or how long the long-stay visa process will take and what other speed bumps might reveal themselves along the way.  But, somehow, right now, I'm okay with all of it.  I've opened to this journey and am ready to take it in and live it instead of skimming the surface of it.

I've let go of my "lack and limitation" perspective.  I've settled into a deeper place of knowing that, smooth or not, it's all going to work out and be okay.  I realize that all is well.  What a relief!  So, here I AM.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

I Am a Pilgrim

I have been back in San Diego from walking The Camino de Santiago for a week now.  It feels like I'm home, and then it doesn't.  It seems like I was gone for a very long time, and no time at all.  It's as if nothing happened, only I know that a lot happened, both internally and externally.  I'm the same, but I'm changed.  I miss it, and I'm glad it's finished.  I'm all over the map in terms of what I'm feeling.

My feet have recovered for the most part.  They're not swollen anymore.  I still might lose a toenail, and some skin on my feet and toes is still renewing itself, but my arches are okay and didn't collapse as I thought they might have.  I can fit in my regular shoes, which I was afraid might no longer be possible.

The Camino is a universe unto itself.  It doesn't matter which route of The Camino one walks.  All of them are going to Santiago de Compostela.  And, it doesn't matter whether the person walking thinks they're doing it for spiritual, religious or recreational reasons.  Whatever one's reason for being on The Camino, it has its way with each of us.  It works us and transforms us, even if we're unaware of it doing so.

The Camino is a sacred pilgrimage, a very old one.  Hundreds of thousands of people have walked it for over 1,200 years.  No matter one's religious background or beliefs, when one walks The Camino, one walks it under the guidance and auspices of St. James, the apostle, and one walks it to the Cathedral which houses his remains in Santiago de Compostela, Spain.  One walks it in communion with the energy of St. James and of every soul who's ever ever set foot upon it.  Why one walks it is as varied as the people who walk it, but for myself, and for most of those I talked with while walking it, we feel "called" to it.  It exerts a pull on us that is impossible to ignore.

I knew about The Camino for a while before walking it and it never called me until this year.  It was a sudden and clear awareness for me that walking The Camino was the next step on my journey.  I didn't know why in any logical sense, I just knew that Life was calling me to it, and when Life calls me to anything, I show up.  Once I made the decision to respond to the call, everything in my life shaped itself around making it possible and getting me there.

I am not an athletic person.  I don't go to the gym or have any type of exercise program that I follow.  And, The Camino requires one to walk farther than most of us ever think of walking.  The route I walked, which is known as the Camino Frances, starts in St. Jean Pied-de-Port in France and goes for about 780 kilometers (approximately 500 miles) to Santiago de Compostela.  Nothing prepared me for the difficulty of the walk.  Nothing I read prior to walking The Camino--and, I read a lot of books--gave me any real understanding of what would be required of me.  I was pushed so far past my comfort zone that I went into shock--both mentally and physically--the first few days.  My body was beyond stressed by what I was asking it to do.  I was nauseous and had diarrhea for the first three days.  I couldn't eat or keep food down.  It was extreme.  But, the body is an amazing vehicle, and mine rose to the challenge.

I walked too far on most days, even after I adjusted to what I was doing.  I had given myself a period of time in which to walk, and thought that I had planned it reasonably, but I was mistaken.  I should have given myself more time and walked less every day.  But, it was what it was.  I understand how far a kilometer is and how long it takes me to walk that far.  I know it in my bones.  My feet know it.  My body found its own walking rhythm.  I knew by how I felt how far I'd walked each day.  I found out how far my body wanted to walk and how far was too far.  I connected to my body in ways that I never had previously.  I listened to it.  I talked to it.  I paid attention to it.  I honored it.  I thanked it.  I apologized to it.  I encouraged it.  I loved it.  I developed a relationship with my body, which is something that's new for me.  And, is something for which I'm very grateful.

I walked alone most of the time.  I'm comfortable with myself.  I like being alone.  The Camino winds through an ever beautiful and changing landscape that I never found boring.  The beauty was often awe inspiring, even though the path was often difficult and mostly rocky.  I mean literally rocky, as in covered with rocks.  Walking for hour after hour and day after day over very rocky terrain is torture on the feet.  My experience was very multidimensional in that I could be aware of the amazing beauty that surrounded me while at the same time feeling a lot of pain and discomfort from the walking that got me there.  I could enjoy what I was doing on one level while feeling exhausted and pushed to my limit on another level.  I had days of intense communion with Life and deep awareness, and I had days of just putting one foot in front of the other.  I wanted it to go on and on, and I wanted it to be over...all at the same time.

The Camino is life-transforming, in ways both large and small.  It is a way of being, a particular perspective.  I think The Camino starts walking us as soon as we decide to walk it.  And, I think it continues to walk us, even after we've finished walking it.  I think walking The Camino is a much deeper and longer commitment than we might realize when we first decide to do it.  It is in me now.  The Camino is part of me and always will be.  I am a pilgrim.  I will always be a pilgrim.

Someone said to me that I should be proud of myself for having walked The Camino, that it is a real accomplishment.  But, I don't think of it that way.  I'm humbled by The Camino.  I feel honored to have walked it.  I feel blessed by it.  I'm in awe of it.  I'm deeply grateful for the experience of having walked it.  It is one of my life's gifts.  There are other pilgrimages, other walks, but there is only one Camino, even though it has many routes.  It is unique and special in terms of what it gives and what it takes.  It expands and enriches the lives of all who walk it, and lives on in the hearts of each of us who've given ourselves to it.  It is an ongoing experience.  The walking never really ends, nor would any of us want it to.  The walk continues.