I sit and wait and wonder. I ruminate. I ask a million questions. I have to be sure. I have to be safe. The risk is simply too much. I could never have all the answers. I must listen to the messages; read the signs. But still, there’s no avoiding the pain. The love and the fear lay down side-by-side.
Your soft manor turns into razor blades and I bleed out all too soon. I hope the blood will stop seeping through my blouse for all to see but I may as well be naked; I’ve never been good at hiding my heart.
I smile – there is hope only in rising up, holding my head up high and beginning again.
I stand like a priestess and walk my talk, freeing the butterflies, abandoning safety, risking it all for the grand experiment of the unknown.
I light a torch and enter the cave. I find them sitting there. The ones like me – with eyes and lips and tongues alight with truth and ancient tales. They speak of hope; there is no more waiting now. It’ll be too painful to ponder, too bitter to berate myself one. more. time.
The choice has been made. I’ve chosen the path. I will not walk around the mountain, I will climb its rocks. And there will be hope with each step as I sweat and breathe and settle with each word of fear and feel it, and feel it, and feel it, until the next step. Until the sky changes from blue to red and the birds migrate south, and the ice hardens on the rivers surface, and crocuses emerge through the snow. When the blisters on my feet have healed, and risk and hope and fear and pain turn into love and it is in them all and in my breath and it all becomes Holy.
Jasmine flowers fall from the sky A fragrant rain beyond compare On the grass, in the water, they die We touch and dance and stare Your face ripples into a thousand incarnations Guides join us in incantations To now To then To us To them We rub the sand into our hands And dance on the graves of the past Talking, walking, circling Our last chance to say goodbye Under a jasmine sky
On a hill with sun and moon We pray and swoon It’s all too soon To laugh, to cry, to say goodbye It ends before it begins The things we thought were sins But we are just innocent Reverent Aching for more Longing Wanting Remembering before What we had What we held Yearning to meld Into our hearts Not to end But to start To intertwine the rose and the thorn To sign with the blood Of a new and sweet dawn Fused with fragrance And sweet summer song The days of sun light and long Will you come to me then? If not, then when? I know your face I’ll remember it well Don’t make me forget Your hands, your smell Kneel here Lay your head in my lap Cry your tears of strength and years I’ll hold you dear You know I’ve always wanted you near.
And in his beauty I saw hope in all that was good. In his presence, a space to dream of possibility, of what could be. A whirlwind of synchronicity swept me up in its arms just as he swept me up in his – an extension of his heart, his love, his nurturing nature.
But it was a heart that was wounded, not fully sure; vacillating; opening and closing in its vulnerability and fear, it’s unsureness and confusion. And I felt it as the doors to a potential dream that opened then closed and opened and finally closed.
And my soul told me, and I listened, at first. And then the longing in my heart, in my bones, in my hands that wanted to touch and to hold, to heal and to love overtook any sense of caution or warning from God and I wanted to dive into a river that couldn’t quite flow. It was filled with reeds and rocks and questions without answers.
And I realized my king was on another shore and if I am to get to him I must stay where I am on my own shore until he feels my breeze calling to him and he can smell the sweetness in my voice beckoning – not out of longing but from a peaceful knowing in my royal heart that is ready and worthy for depth and a divinely aligned new start.
A solo adventure Accompanied by spirit I know I am guided within and without
God speaks and I take the first step; embarking on the barefoot path of rebirth:
A bird, A breath, Of sweet summer air Singing with me Like I do in my dreams Crystal doors open to the subconscious mind Ancient archways, Portals to the Divine I trace the symbols With my fingertips, I see Keys to my lineage Handed down to me
I recognize the longing It’s deep and wide The light and the dark lay down side-by-side
Angels and lullabies Sweet and low They’ve always been here This I know They’re in my bones, my heart, my cells Like ancient scripts Carved like spells
A fresh blue haze Scattered through days Of journeys and rides And turning tides Rivers and seas In blue and green dreams
Tears and laughter – expressions of my soul An egg that’s painted white and gold
I birth my art It’s delicate and deep And dance on my way in order to speak To you, to me, to God, to the One My fear dissolves I hold the sun
There’s been a whispering of late to write another blog post. I just didn’t know where to start because so much has occurred since my last writing that it didn’t seem there was a way of filling in all the gaps since Italy; since my first, wide-eyed, just getting established in Florence post, and then the abrupt changes that occurred after the lockdown.
If I was to briefly summarize what has happened since then: losing all my work, moving out of Florence to a villa in the countryside of Chianti, followed by a shared apartment with a quirky Italian man in a quaint village, and then the almost unbelievable decision to leave Italy altogether. I still cannot believe that this has all taken place; that I finally realized my dream of living in Italy and that I actually made the choice to leave.
I could blame it on the increasing restrictions from the government because of ‘covid’. I could blame it on the fact that I refused to follow along with any of those rules and wanted to escape but there was a much deeper soul urge to completely change the path I was on. A life-path calling that was nudging me to go back to my roots. To take with me all I had gleaned from the 28 years I’d spent away from my place of birth.
Current world circumstances were merely the trigger.
Nevertheless, it was a painstaking decision. That is for sure. My nervous system was already rattled from moving multiple times post my departure from the United States and then again within Italy. I couldn’t fathom how I would have the energy to, yet again, shed my belongings, say my goodbyes to my newly found community of sweet Italians and get on a plane, after the longest pause of flight travel I’d had since I started my travel adventures in 1992.
I only came to my final decision and made it happen one step, one moment at a time. I learned how to pace myself, day by day. During the process my friends from all over the world would ask: “So, have you made a decision yet?” and for weeks and weeks I said: “No”.
When I tired of forcing a decision, I would take myself on walks through the village and get my fill of Renaissance architecture, glance up at green shutters, listen to the sound of cute Italian children riding their bikes in the park, and smile at little old men smoking their pipes and drinking espresso with their friends at the coffee bar. I’d eat gelato whilst sitting in doorways on cobblestone streets, touch ancient walls, making sure to take in everything in minute detail so as not to forget, so as to forge the memory into my mind so that I could recall it at a future date, once I was gone.
I simply was not ready. I wasn’t ready to give up on this dream. I had not had my fill of the beauty before me, to let go of this dream that I’d envisioned ever since I had first visited Europe 28 years before. It had taken me all that time to get back, to take the leap, and now I was considering leaving?
Life is strange.
Some called the prospect of me coming back to Africa the path of least resistance. Some said it was an important task to come back to my family of origin – that it was courageous. My friend Paolo told me it was heroic. Perhaps it’s all those things. I couldn’t call it anything but moving forward for a bigger plan, to be of service to my parents and to the country I was born. It was just a deeper knowing. All the while my heart was breaking and my mind resisting but my soul held the line, along with my anxious body, through days and days and days of third-dimensional uncertainty and resistance, constantly urging me to just take one step at a time. It was the biggest lesson and lived experience of trusting in the timing of things and of literally taking things moment-to-moment in order not to overwhelm myself.
I’m a master at life puzzles, of researching and putting aspects of an unfolding prospect together but it’s not all linear. I jump around from different angles, from one thing to the next until the picture looks legible; until it all starts to make sense. And in between, I distract myself. I’ve been known to clean, decorate and spend entire days cooking just to avoid the next step in the decision-making process. But I acknowledge that that is actually part of the procedure. It’s my meditation. It allows my mind to settle in a subtle subconscious creation process of sorts which fuels me for the next, sometimes agonizing action-oriented move towards a decision, until finally I’m spat out on the other side, and voila! … I’ve decided and it feels like I’m finally on the water slide to my destination.
Now, as I write this, I muse on the inkling that anybody who grew up being trusted and acknowledged for their uniqueness and freedom to make mistakes, ask for help and have faith in themselves would have a much easier time than I do in making big decisions because they would have naturally learned how to truly know themselves. An engrained pattern of trust is forged.
Perhaps I’m wrong in this assumption but it would seem that it has been a life-long lesson of mine to learn to trust myself and my ability to do what I know is right for me, even if it’s not necessarily the easiest choice.
The better you know yourself and the more you’re embodied the easier it is to make decisions. Through trauma and being invalidated, we learn to disengage from ourselves and jump out of our bodies to avoid feeling certain things, so we, in effect, avoid ourselves and what’s true for us.
Perhaps that’s why I’ve gone on the winding path that I have. A path that’s led from dancing on stages – a very external showy art form, to teaching embodiment to others through movement – a more internal process. A path that’s led me to explore various healing arts modalities, and to travel and create. It’s all been a sensory journey to know myself. To know how it feels in my body. To know what feels true. I think to know thyself is the most important task of this human journey.
When you know yourself, you trust your intuition and you don’t second-guess yourself. You know what’s right for you in an instant and it’s not an agonizing weighing of every scenario possible.
There was a moment – a moment when I fell to my knees in acknowledgment of what I needed to do. Tears formed in my eyes and it was as though an angel was wrapping its wings around me from behind. It was a soul YES to return to South Africa. There are no moments quite like those spine-tingling ‘yes’ moments that seal the deal. It’s something no tarot card reading, pro’s and con’s list, or conversation with your closest confidant can give you. It took a while for my mind, my body, and my heart to catch up but my soul knew.
That last week in Italy was not easy: logistically, emotionally, physically. I came down with a cold and had to figure out what to do with all the things I had acquired for my new Italian home a year before that. Most of it was donated, some of it was packed in my trusty suitcase bound for Africa. My bicycle Amoré was sold to the sweetest family. My heart skipped a beat when I saw her being taken up the road. I LOVED that bike with her black basket and her smart tan seat. She and I had traversed the Chianti hills as well as the cobblestone streets of Florence all with ease, grace, and comfort. She was my right-hand gal and I adored her!
My goodbyes were filled with tears, long hugs, heartfelt good wishes from the lovely community of Italians I had finally started connecting with. I love them and am happy that we were able to *breathe together, walk together and, most importantly, eat together.
Upon returning here and speaking with my friend Paolo in Tuscany, I expressed to him that I felt like I had left a piece of my heart there and he said: “Don’t worry, we’ll take care of it for you”. The sweetest sentiment, accompanied by the knowledge that one day I’d be back.
I write this two months after I’ve left Italy and traversed the African continent to the southernmost region of South Africa. The things I had intended for months and months, I’m starting to see manifest around me. My own little place, not too far from the ocean. On some days I can even hear her. I’m surrounded by nature, fruit trees, and the beginnings of a soul tribe. A place where I can walk out my front door and have my feet planted on the earth. Close enough to my parents so I can be there in a few hours if need be.
For now, I’m here. I’m here to witness the old age of my father, the exhaustion of my mother, the desertion by my sister, and all the damage done by her inability to see herself and her unwillingness to heal. I’m here to re-discover home and my roots. To bring what I can to the land and the people who have endured these last 28 years, through an ongoing economic crisis, through corruption, crime, and continued racism. The people that have been holding on by a thread but remain authentic, good-humored, and strong through it all.
I am finding a different kind of strength. I am finding all those vibrant parts of myself that I had stepped away from in order to make others feel comfortable. I’m acknowledging all the ways in which I hid away and all the ways I was the nice quiet girl so others wouldn’t be unkind or jealous. I’m seeing all the ways I contorted myself to fit into others’ expectations of me; to fit into a mold that stifled my brilliance. I’m seeing how, as I traveled further from my home, I traveled further from myself in some ways but in other ways, I moved closer.
And now, I meet myself in the middle of here and there; integrating, rediscovering. Seeing where not to take on others’ stuff and where I can let go more. Where I can laugh and love more. Where I can truly feel at home within myself more.
*I found a holotropic rebirthing breathing group in that small town in Tuscany. There I met my little community of sweet and funny Italian friends. It was a confirmation that wherever I go in the world I will always find a little tribe of kindred souls.
Earth – ashy remains on skin Patterns – blood, bones, cells Disappear in dreams of black and white Integration of life and death
Patterns – blood, bones, cells Churn and undulate Integration of life and death Lay down on the altar and be consumed by the fire
Churn and undulate Integration of life and death Look deep into your own eyes and don’t look away Lay down on the altar; be consumed by the fire Be washed down the river and far into the raging sea Allow the current to take you and show you your vastness
Look deep into your own eyes and don’t look away Patterns – blood, bones, cells Allow the current to take you and show you your vastness Earth – ashy remains on skin
The alchemy of nature within and without. I grind the seeds of the past that have sprouted, bloomed, and perished – disintegrated into powdery dust. The composted remnants had shown new signs of life I wasn’t sure I wanted to nurture. A past that needed to be buried, taken by the earth.
I’ve washed the ashy remains of dust into my skin. It’s mingled with sweat; permeated the pores, seeped under layers of protection, creating patterns in my blood, in my bones, in my cells.
Breath expels the tiny flower shoots. I open my mouth to let them out. Tongue, lungs, heart, belly, womb, root release. Hold me as I disappear into dreams of black and white that churn and undulate in different dimensions of being.
Oversoul, carry all of me through the portal and into the cave of mortar and pestle to be stirred and transformed in the darkness.
Hold me through the integration of life and death and the deaths within a life that has been lived in all directions, dimensions, and seasons.
The grieving of leaving places and faces I’ve loved. The glee of traversing continents on trains and spontaneous meetings with souls I’ve met in other lives and realities.
The dust occasionally settles and time heals some wounds but the mortar and pestle are always there if you’re willing to lay on the altar and be consumed by the fire; to look deep into your own eyes and not look away. To remember how flowers are birthed and shells and butterflies. The natural order of remembering, of letting go, of courage, of allowing yourself to be washed down the river and far into a raging sea, allowing the current to take you and show you your vastness.
I saw an article this morning about vulnerability and how when we hide our feelings it’s usually because as children it was unacceptable to fully express ourselves. That was my experience.
Growing up I was always criticized for being sad, mad, loud…basically for being myself, for being vulnerable and letting it all show. I was told there was nothing to be sad about. No one helped me understand or wanted to understand why I was feeling a certain way.
I was always encouraged not to bother others, not to ask for help, to be perfect, say, do and be the right, quiet, acceptable, well behaved girl I was supposed to be.
God, what a fucking burden; completely exhausting and suffocating!
I shut down all the doorways inside myself that led to wholeness. I stuffed down my anger, sadness, uniqueness and my joy, even! I buried who I truly was! I denied my feelings because they were somehow unacceptable. I fragmented my spirit to please society and those who birthed me.
I remember living with a feeling of inexplicable grief for so long. There was this internal void; a sadness I couldn’t quite put my finger on.
I know now I was grieving all those abandoned, ignored, suffocated parts of myself. I realized when I was reading that article that I’ve really come so far. I’ve worked so hard on peeling away the layers of imposed perfection. I’m so much better at expressing myself and articulating how I feel now. I’m also a much better listener. I never used to be. I would always interrupt and be nervous about the feedback I would be able to give. Feeling that it would never be adequate. Of course, that always boils down to self worth and not feeling like I’m enough. I had to be perfect to be loved, to receive compliments, to be accepted. Love was based on perfect behavior, a pretty smiling face, a nice outfit, clear skin, doing what I was told, etc.
My parents did the best they could, of course, loving me in the way they knew how, from their own rigid idea of what was right but I never knew who I truly was and I’m on a journey of rediscovering what that is.
I notice this gap in truly knowing myself when it comes to decision making, whether it’s moving countries, choosing what to order from the menu or which direction I’m going to go on a walk. I second-guess myself a lot. In the moments when I do choose quickly it always feels so damn good. I’m learning to tap into my heart, into my internal guidance system, to eliminate outside noise and illuminate inside knowing and just be me.
One of the amazing things about growing up in South Africa was that people are very real and raw and speak up much like New Yorkers. It was different when I moved to California. California was another planet where I dumbed myself down, watched my p’s and q’s and trained myself not to be negative. It was the place I began my spiritual journey but it was also the place that covertly advocated for spiritual bypassing. Such a dangerous and damaging thread runs through many so-called spiritual communities there. But I learned to see it; in others and myself and now I’m coming to the middle. Walking the middle path, looking on both sides of the street. And even though the lessons were many and painful I don’t regret the journey. I feel like I’ve had at least 7 different lifetimes this time around and I’m distinctly and suredly moving into the next.
As I head back to the mother land soon I know there will be more threads to heal, to weave into myself, to make my internal fabric stronger, to exercise my warrior sword, to do things I never thought I would. To leave old dreams behind (for now); to pick up the jewels from so many adventures, journeys, trials and triumphs and honor myself for moulding this crown in which to place them all.
In the morning sun, I stand and stare out the window, listening to the church bells and the clanging of options in my head, whilst my tea boils over and the smell of fennel wafts through this ugly apartment.
Maybe it’ll drown out the smell of the old woman’s cigarette smoke downstairs.
Why did I move to a country where everyone smokes? It’s an insult to the senses.
I snarl and close the window.
If a decision is made – any decision – will there be relief or will there be more of the same insanity? More indecision to follow? Have I fallen so far from trusting myself, my path, of whats to come, or is this just a momentary misperception – a divine intervention of sorts? – A veil I cannot, right now, see beyond?
Still, a decision needs to be made.
The card readings, the writing, the pushing of it all aside to meditate and go on long walks, for whole days even, have not helped.
Procrastination remains the highlight of the day.
October will be less complicated they say. More clarity. More letting go.
This month a decision needs to be made.
Another night – the window blind comes down to block out the street lamp. I need complete darkness but hazy restless dreams interject any hope of calm.
I wake with a start.
Maybe today a decision will be made.
The salt water baths, the singing, the washing away of the day before, ashes of the burned paper buried under the pine tree, consecrated with rose water and prayers beneath the moon…they have not helped.
A decision must be made.
My hands are older, the lines around my mouth pulling downwards – I have aged 10 years in one month – the anxiety in my heart and my belly showing in my eyes and on my skin.
The puzzle pieces of research have been put together and taken apart and put together again.
Paper is scattered on the floor with notes and poems, a glass of red wine I realize I cannot drink.
Messages from soulmates ease the resistance.
But everyone is on their own island and the decision is mine to make.
Today I hugged someone for the first time in 54 days.
I rode my bicycle for the first time in 54 days.
I sat in the park under trees. I saw families and dogs and smiles.
The air smelled so fragrant and the flowers so sweet. Roses, wisteria, orange blossoms! All the things of spring I’d been craving. What a marvelous afternoon under the sky.
Today was the first time we were let out in 54 days – allowed to roam further than 200 meters from our home.
I was so happy to see that Amoré, my bicycle, was still where I’d parked her 54 days before. Boy did it feel good to meander through the streets and all at the same time, so sad. Everything closed, on a Friday afternoon.
I cycled passed cathedrals and clothing stores, gelaterias, pizza shops, and museums. Businesses that should be booming at this time of year but it’s like a ghost town out there. I rode through piazzas and beside the old fort. I rode past the gigantic, lonely palaces and over the ancient bridges. I couldn’t bear the mask so I rebelled and only pulled it up over my face when I spotted police and military or people in close proximity. I wanted fresh air. I wanted to feel free. I rode passed my favorite church. It looked so huge and I felt so small. Maybe because I hadn’t seen it at all in 54 days. I paused at its steps and gazed up at it. I’d always found its façade arresting because of its simplicity. More beautiful and admirable than its more intricate and detailed counterparts. It was simply so good to see it again.
I made my way to my friend’s street like I always had to see if he was home. Perhaps he’d like to go on a bike ride with me, I thought. I stopped outside his door, my finger hovering over his doorbell. Was I allowed to ring someone else’s doorbell? Someone who wasn’t my relative? The new decree said, no visits to friends, only relatives. Apparently, that evening after the decree was announced, the word ‘relative’ was the most Google’d word in recent history. Who can we see? Does relative only mean mothers and fathers and sons or daughters and brothers and sisters or can we see cousins and nieces and second cousins and fiancés? For family-oriented Italians especially, this is a very important question!
I looked up and down the street for police and then pushed the bell. Davide hung his head out the window from his 3rd-floor apartment and with a big smile asked me if I wanted to go up. I grinned and shouted up to him, “Am I allowed to!?” Oh my God! What has this world come to? I thought. Without an answer, he buzzed me in and I ran up the stairs – his dog Nino greeting me before I reached the open door.
And the: a hug. The first embrace I’d experienced in 54 days. The first one-on-one human contact I’d had in all this time. The first face-to-face conversation I’d had in 54 days. I thought I would cry but I didn’t. I was just happy and no one would know as we were behind closed doors. And there we were, two little rebels, sitting at his kitchen table having a chat. Petting his dog. Normal but not allowed. Natural but surreal.
We talked about what we were going to do, and how it had been – all this time we’d been locked up.
He’s been getting the government checks, I have not. I don’t qualify. We both don’t have an income but unlike me, his landlady has not pressured him for rent. He’s Italian. I’m not.
We make a plan for our bike ride. No one must know we are together. If anyone questions us, we don’t know each other.
We race down the street on our bicycles, like two excited children, keeping a good distance from each other. We ride along the river. A cool spring breeze caressing our delighted faces. We hang a left away from the Arno, traversing a street that is usually packed with traffic, but now, of course, we sail right across, as there’s not a single car in sight.
We meander through a quiet residential neighborhood. The first thing I notice is all the roses. Voluptuous roses that have been blooming and which I have not seen for all this time – these 54 days that spring had been happening outside. Secretly flourishing alone, with no one to behold her unfolding. I’d been robbed of the experience of witnessing it all unfurl. I feel dismayed but happy, amazed but grieving the time that’s been lost.
We zigzag up the back street hills and find ourselves in the most glorious neighborhood. An area in which I’d looked at an apartment for rent a few months prior to the lockdown. A neighborhood I knew very well I couldn’t afford to live in but was curious to check it out. They say if you want to feel wealthy visit an expensive hotel and wander through its lavish lounges. Order a drink at the bar and sit and observe the opulent people and surroundings. Soak in the energy of it. So, I met the owners. A Well to do Florentine family, and walked around the property, taking in the views, imagining myself waking up in the gorgeous bed overlooking the rose garden. Gazing out of the kitchen window towards the manicured hedge and lemon trees, as I made tea.
Anyway, I diverge…
We push our bikes up the steep hills, huffing and puffing – our bodies straining from the lack of exercise these last couple of months. The fresh air burns my lungs but I’m just so happy to smell the air. There are a handful of mask-wearing people out and about and a sense of censored relief and refreshment.
As we make our way around the neighborhood, my friend and I poke our heads through the fences of fancy homes where wisteria and jasmine cascade over them. We make up stories about living in one of the villas and how it would be to quarantine in one of the palaces with gorgeous gardens, swimming pools, and incredible views of the Florence valley.
We come across a small park and sit there for a long time, listening to the birds and looking up at the trees. What simple magnificence. We watch dogs and cute children frolic in the grass. The new ordinance says that contact is allowed between children and their parents whilst outside, so things look relatively normal as we observe families interact on this Friday afternoon. Facial expressions masked, we now become more observant of body language, voice intonation, and the expression in another’s eyes.
My friend and I sit next to each other, not really thinking about the distance between us. It doesn’t actually enter my mind. It just feels so good to feel relatively normal and there’s no police in the area keeping an eye out.
We leave our bikes and go for a walk up more hills, passing several people, some of whom have their masks pulled up over their faces and some who just can’t be bothered. I wonder, as the hot and humid months of the Florentine summer approach, if we’ll still have to wear masks. Just the thought of it is stifling.
On this exuberant stride up these hills, I marvel at my body and how it moves. I marvel at the smell of the air and the intensity of the brightly colored foliage. I marvel at the little succulents and the bright red poppies pushing their way through the ancient stone walls of Tuscan properties. I marvel at the ability of my eyes to focus on faraway hills after being indoors, enclosed by 4 walls, for 54 days. They say that people who live in the countryside have far better eyesight because they can gaze at the horizon, whereas city-dwelling people’s eyesight deteriorates quicker because the objects they focus on are far nearer and therefore they become nearsighted.
All I know is that on this day we can see far – further than I’ve ever seen beyond the city and into the hills in all directions. The air is clean and fresh and this moment of relative freedom is fantastic, magical, and exhilarating.
We are made to enjoy and appreciate this planet and to savor nature in all her glory. Perhaps she doesn’t need us but we need her and not a day goes by when I take her for granted. 54 days is too long to be apart and I sincerely hope and pray that we are never separated for this long ever again.
I sat and edited some artwork today whilst listening to my favorite music. Music that fits the mood of the world.
I cried today for the first time in a long time.
I cried when I saw a mentor of mine sharing heart-opening exercises to relieve anxiety. I cried because she was sharing it on mainstream media. They were happy tears because this is change, this is healing, transmitted to those who need it – all of us.
I cried for the loss of a friend I love.
I cried because I don’t feel supported within the city I have chosen to live.
I cried in gratitude for the people I feel connected to.
I cried tears that have been building up.
I cried because I’m strong and cope well in times of crisis.
I cried because my friend in Berlin needed to sit in silence to process the sadness she felt after going out to buy food this morning.
I cried for our hearts, for the homeless and hungry, the jobless and overwhelmed, the anxious and exhausted.
I cried for the swans in the Venice canals rejoicing in clean water and for my sister in South Africa who stays silent through it all.
I cried because a stranger emailed me to see how I was and asked if I needed to talk.
I cried because I can feel the collective heart open and love flooding in.
There was a cool crisp, breeze. A shaft of sunlight appeared above the terracotta roof tiles. It was Monday morning but it didn’t matter which morning it was as all the days had seamlessly rolled into each other.
I was happy to finally be up before 10 am. I stood in the only small sliver of warmth at my dresser in front of my bedroom window.
Out of the silence, the bark of a dog in the distance punctured the air as though it were dusk in the countryside somewhere. But this was the city. A city on lockdown, in the midst of crisis, in a country where thousands had died and continued to perish on a daily basis. Whilst we sat; obedient, uncertain, the spring sun shone down outside and our bodies yearned for a walk in the park, along the riverbank, down to the piazza for lunch.
I wished that I were near the ocean, beside a field, next to a trail, where I could disappear for a few hours. Where nobody would notice me or stop me. Where I didn’t have to fill out a form to say where I was going.
But I settle, accept, and appreciate almost, the fact that I am alone. No children to tug on me, no partner to distract me, no external opinion. Just me, in the quiet of my space, my thoughts, my being. Freedom in the stillness, to roam my inner landscape, to look under all the stones I had left unturned, all the flowers I hadn’t noticed that had bloomed, and seeing all the dead weeds I’d clung onto in the hope they’d one day turn into fruit trees.
Here lying bare in a field of dreams. Some hardly alive, some stillborn, some fighting for their lives upon barren soil that had been raked over far too many times. In a desert where the afternoon gust, had swiftly snatched the life force away from them, and there they lay, shaking, in shock and grief.
And now the breeze has turned into a strong wind but I don’t want to close the window. Not just yet, whilst the sun is there for just a few more minutes.
Friday, March 6th – I wake up to the sound of children playing in the courtyard of my apartment building. It’s Friday, I think. Oh, yes, I forgot, the schools are closed.
I go about my day stopping in at the grocery store, not expecting to wait in a line but here we are queuing one meter away from each other to enter. I buy only a few fresh food items and focus on lentils, beans, and other dried or canned foods that I can store in my tiny kitchen cupboard, just in case I don’t have the opportunity in the coming days. I only buy what I can fit in my backpack and put in my bicycle basket.
In the afternoon I cycle to an art school in Santo Spirito, where I model for a painting class. I notice along the way how quiet the streets of Florence are, almost deserted. At this point most learning institutions, gyms, churches, museums, and some businesses are closed. The tourists have vacated almost entirely.
Whilst I’m modeling for three artists in the silent studio I can hear conversations echoing down the street: “I should leave Florence now, I don’t want to be stranded here”, “I wonder if the trains to Germany are still running, I need to get home”.
When the art class is over I ride home with a cash payment in my pocket. Little do I know that this €30 will be the last income I’ll see for a while.
I cycle fast in the crisp air under a huge full moon that hangs over Florence in the early evening sky. I cross Ponte alle Grazie and into my neighborhood, passing some of the cute little restaurants, which are still open – holding on, holding out, for clientele. Tables set with newly laundered white tablecloths, candles alight and not a single person dining. Proprietors standing proudly at the door waiting for someone to come in.
My heart sinks.
Saturday, March 7th – I’m called into the Spa where I work as a massage therapist. I have four clients throughout the day. The first is a woman from Pakistan who has an awful cough. “I’m getting over bronchitis”, she says. I don’t think twice about it until a couple of days later but try not to dwell on it. We’ve sanitized everything between clients and been vigilant about disinfecting the facilities and ourselves. Another client is from Germany, one from Italy and one from the United States who lives in Florence. After her session, we talk about the situation at hand and how her workload has been rapidly declining over the last few weeks. Little do I know she is the last client I’ll work on until further notice.
Two days later the Spa closes its doors. Payment won’t be made until after we re-open. We are notified via our WhatsApp group of the closure and we send good wishes and strength to each other. For some of us, this job is a matter of making the rent or not.
Sunday, March 8th – I am officially let go from my Air BnB job, even though I’ve barely been there since the first coronavirus case was announced in Tuscany at the end of January. Up until this point, everyone in the tourism industry had been riding the winter wave when everything is slower, waiting for spring to pick up and tourists to flood back into the city, but instead, guests have been canceling one-by-one until entire building’s of clients are now empty.
Monday, March 9th – I read an article online about the surge in coronavirus cases in Italy and the grave situation the medical workers are finding themselves in. It states that doctors are having to implement a ‘Selection Protocol’ to choose who lives or dies as the equipment on hand is insufficient to assist all patients. Tears fill my eyes. I just can’t imagine having to be put in that position as a healthcare worker. Not only feeling exhausted from working long hours and at risk of contracting the virus themselves but now having to make this unfathomable choice.
Tuesday, March 10th – Guiseppe Conte, the Italian prime minister, announces further restrictions on public gatherings and advises people to only go out if it’s absolutely necessary.
Later on that day I try and make a call and realize my phone service is down and decide I should brave the great outdoors and go to the cell phone store to solve the problem in case I need to make an emergency call. I get dressed and leave my building. I walk down my street and am dismayed to see that all the shops have closed – the café downstairs, the pizza place, the language school, and the sweet Indian man at the corner, selling bags and clothes is gone. I turn the corner into Piazza Santa Croce. It is empty except for one man walking his dog and a few military men standing at the steps of the Cathedral, its majestic facade casting long lonely shadows down onto the empty square. Will the men stop me? I wonder. They don’t.
I walk briskly under a cloudy dark sky and make my way across town. There is a chill in the air and the atmosphere in the streets is heavy and palpable. I only see a handful of people.
I pass by Piazza del Duomo, which is empty bar one woman sitting on a bench and a couple, wearing surgical facemasks, taking a photo – two miniature figures perched in front of the steps of the immense towering beauty of Cathedral di Santa Maria Fiore. It’s not the first time she’s seen desolation and it won’t be the last.
I reach the cell phone store, which is devoid of any customers. I explain my issue. I am told their system is down and they cannot help me at this particular moment. Unbeknownst to any of us, this would be the last moment as the next day they will be closed.
I start to make my way home and pass through Piazza della Repubblica which is the central point of Florence and is usually bustling with people – musicians play and a carousel whizzes around with smiling children throughout the day and into the night. Now the piazza is empty except for a few police and the carousel is shut down. I sit on a bench in the sun which has decided to make an appearance through the clouds for a few minutes. The only movement is a mother and daughter crossing the piazza with shopping bags and paninis in hand.
On my way back home I decide to buy a tube of toothpaste as I’m running out, and I get a spray bottle for the bleach I purchased a couple of days before. They will be my last purchases for a while.
That evening the Prime minister announces that the whole of Italy is now a ‘protected zone’ and signs a decree that in order to safeguard the citizens of Italy and the healthcare system, it is mandatory for everyone to stay at home, except for emergencies or to walk your dog. The only stores that can stay open are supermarkets and pharmacies. Everything else must close. We are on lockdown. If you do go out, you must go by yourself and keep a distance of one meter from the other people you may pass. Buy what you need and go home.
Being single and having a dog are now tickets to partial freedom!
The next day I wake up and notice something is different. The church bells are not sounding. It’s dead quiet except for a few birds chirping in the palm tree downstairs. I go online and see photographs of the completely emptied streets. Only police patrolling up and down, two by two, making sure everyone is obeying the rules.
I start to feel a sore throat coming on and decide to use my credit card to purchase some extra immune-boosting supplements online, hoping that they will be delivered without any problems or delays. I know I am well. Worrying and staying up too late has affected my immune system but I’ll be fine in a couple of days.
Two days later the mailman rings the doorbell downstairs. I buzz him in expecting to go down and sign for the package as usual but in order to avoid any contact, he has placed my package in the foyer under the mailbox and left.
On my way back up the stairs to my apartment, I pass the elderly lady who lives next door. We nod and greet one another politely in the stairwell. She has a slight grin on her face as she makes her way out of the building. I wonder where she is going. Later, from my window, I see her walking up and down the deserted street to get some exercise.
That was four days ago.
We’ve all accepted that this is what needs to be done for the citizens, for the hospitals, for each other. Resto a casa, I stay home.
I have fallen in love with this country more since this all began – seeing how people have supported each other, been creative and resourceful, setting up times via social media to have music concerts from balconies to lift morale, online support groups established and notes being written to hang out of windows, saying tutto andrà bene, everything will be ok.
I’ve been trying to develop a routine in the last couple of days so that I not only feel productive but am also taking care of myself mentally, physically, and emotionally. The first few days of the lockdown I was somewhat aimless, not getting dressed, online a lot looking at updates, eating more than I needed to, and excessively concerned about not having any work.
There were certain people both near and far who I expected to hear from during a time of crisis: “Hi, how are you, I know we haven’t spoken in a while but I just wanted to check-in and see how you are”. It was the people that I least expected to contact me that did and I’m so grateful. It’s essential not to feel alone during a time like this. Especially in a new country with not much community around you.
As I reach out to my worldwide community and as the days go by we are realizing we are all in the same boat, some sides sinking more than others but nevertheless together. We connect the dots and support each other as the situation develops differently for each of us in our own countries. We stay level-headed and talk about the bigger picture. We see how necessary this situation ultimately is for humanity, although the implications in our immediate reality are real and from this standpoint uncertain. How will we all get back on our feet financially? How will I pay my rent next month? How long will this last? I feel for all the businesses here in Italy and worldwide, some of which will not be able to recover.
I’m quite content with staying at home. In general, I’m a loner and very capable of spending a lot of time by myself. I actually relish it, but when you’re not given the freedom to roam you tend to feel restricted because it’s not self-imposed but rather imposed upon you. This is only human. I miss going on a walk, even if it’s to the river a couple of blocks away from my apartment building to take a few breaths of fresh air and even if I don’t have many friends, just being around people in the street is nice. I know the first thing I’m going to do is go into the hills on a hike when this is over and be in the sun surrounded by nature. I keep that vision in my mind’s eye.
But for now, my days will include my morning tea, as usual, stretching, catching up on creative projects, learning Italian, sending love, light, and compassion to everyone on the planet at least three times a day, eating well, taking supplements to keep my immune system strong, dancing to good music turned up really loudly to release any trapped emotions, reaching out to people to see how they are and going inwards – just being quiet.
As my friend in Scotland said a couple of days ago during one of our lengthy check-in conversations, “Well, we have all the time in the world to do simple things such as laundry, cooking, and reading. If we want to take three hours to do the laundry, we can”. I washed my sheets yesterday, made gourmet mashed potatoes, and cleaned the tiles in my shower.
Because of the silence, I hear sounds in my surroundings that I don’t usually hear – the old man upstairs listening to the news on his radio, the lady downstairs playing classical music, the couple across from my window passionately arguing.
One thing I feel certain about is that this situation is showing us who we are, both individually and as a global community. How are we responding? Do we soften and prioritize generosity, kindness, and positivity or do we demonstrate greed, fear, and animosity? Do we waste time in panic and information overload or are we creative, resourceful and helpful?
Yes, the fear is real, the tragedy of it all is real but I feel now is a time to stay centered and not get carried away with despair and anxiety. As humans we’ve been so driven by the external world – what we are doing ‘out there’. Now it’s time to go inside.
This is a reset. An opportunity for change. It’s showing us what we need to prioritize. It’s showing us that we are together in this – all of us! We are being forced to be at home and that also means at home internally within our own beings. To be quiet and listen to each other and ourselves. To connect to what matters.
This virus is a change-maker and if we ride this wave with strength, trust and take the middle path with the right doses of information balanced with intuition and logic and come together to support each other, we will emerge on the other side of this with a renewed vitality.
I’m going now to sit in my doorway, as there is a shaft of sunlight coming in at just the right angle and I don’t want to miss it. Who knows what tomorrow will bring but for now I will turn my face towards the sun, take some long deep breaths and give thanks for my healthy lungs.
These days have felt strange, at times, surreal. I’m still hovering above the ground. I haven’t fully landed. I wonder when I will.
I’m taking care of my friend’s dog whilst he’s away and I have a deadline for finding housing which is good and daunting at the same time.
I’ve made two ‘big’ purchases – big for a person who hasn’t had a proper income in the last few months with all the moving and transitioning – a pair of sneakers and a fantastic bicycle so I can get around more easily. It’s always been my dream to live in a European town and get around on a bicycle!
I take Nino, the dog, for a walk. He decides to pee in the entranceway of Gucci. Really? Gucci!? Could you not have peed somewhere else? I chuckle; remembering his papa saying, “Don’t let him pee in anyone’s doorway”. I will not be telling him of this atrocity. Gucci, above all doorways. We hurry along in the hope that no-one saw this faux pas.
“Quickly, take a poop, please”. It’s freezing cold and I need to get back so I can start my day. What day? What am I doing? I mean, the list is still long and seemingly overwhelming: choose a place to live, figure out how I’ll make ends meat, make connections at the art schools and yoga studios, finish setting up online portfolios and market my work, and in between, try and learn some Italian so this whole process is a bit easier. Not too much of a list. Ha!
I cycle to the coffee shop. On my way, I stop at a panini shop to see if I can buy a sandwich. I don’t need anything fancy as I only have €5.36 in my wallet and the ATM is too far. Alas, it’s too late. They are all finished. The only thing left are a few cornettos (croissants) and some biscotti della nonna (grandmother’s cookies), which I must say are damn delicious but I must pass as I’ve had way too much sugar in the last couple of days. That cookie was a total surprise when I first got it on a whim a week ago. Soft and flakey outer pastry, encrusted with almonds and custard in the center. Divine.
I could easily turn into a fat Italian mama here – eat my way through pasta, panini’s, and pastries all day.
All of a sudden, I’m overloaded with offers for housing. One outside of town in the north with a bit more nature, sharing with others and my room is below street level and a bit dark. There’s a tiny studio in the west of Florence with a view of the Duomo and the hills of Fiesole, in which things are falling apart somewhat, with a bathroom and kitchen I can’t turn around in as they’re both so small. It has horrendous decorations and a pull-out sofa bed which I think I’ll loath after the first night….but the view! Then there’s another place where I’d be solo, in the east, in a typical Florentine neighborhood. It’s immaculate but has no character and opposite my bedroom window is a parking garage. And then there’s an apartment in the south that I’d have to share with two others in an absolutely desirable neighborhood with light and air and gorgeous views of Piazza Michelangelo and birds and green and it would take a bunch of elbow grease and some imagination to pretend that all the fixtures are not falling apart and haven’t been replaced in a hundred years. So, you see, the universe has me covered in many different scenarios and directions and they all have their positives and their drawbacks and by the time you read this, I would have chosen and be complaining and praising things about one of them.
For now, Nino, keeps me on my toes as I have to walk him three times a day and feed him twice a day, and as much as I complain about having to walk him right before I go to bed when I’d rather actually be in bed, there’s something calming about walking around the neighborhood at that time of night. I’m grateful for the exercise and a cute pooch to hug and talk to when I’m not talking to myself, which seems to be the comforting thing to do as I get older.
I take sanctuary in these, yet to be determined moments, by remembering that I’ve always been OK. I’ve been resilient and I don’t have to figure it out all at once. I have a reminder on my phone that tells me to take things step-by-step and that I don’t need to prove anything to myself or others. To stay in the moment. And when I’m walking down the street, sanctuary is looking up towards the sky and the tops of Renaissance buildings, or when I zoom by on my bicycle and catch a glimpse of a Michelangelo sculpture just hanging out on the corner of the street, and I remind myself where I am and that I made it here. I am here.
We stopped at the public spring to fill our glass bottles with water whilst the old mans slobbery dog ran around like an unruly monster, rolling around in the dust, drinking from the pool of spring water then shaking and spraying us with a mixture of water and saliva. I’m definitely more of a cat person, I thought.
We got back in the car, Gos barking in excitement, as he knew what came next: a walk through the forest and up to the monastery. Again, we walked in relative silence. I tried to comment on this and that, making small talk, mentioning the trees and the view. Asking which villages were in the distance. I was happy it was warm and that I was getting some exercise. The old man had remarked before we left the house that I would not be able to walk up the hill in my sandals but with every step, I proved him wrong, overtaking him and waiting for him at various intervals. I was strong. I had walked all over India for six months in those sandals. Do you think a 30-minute walk up a small hill is beyond my scope of capability without proper walking shoes?
We got up to the monastery and I was eager to look at the architecture and peek inside the church. The old man said he wasn’t fond of Baroque architecture so he and Gos stayed outside whilst I climbed the stairs and into the sanctuary. Sunday mass was just coming out and there was an energy of peace surrounding the entrance as I entered. The Baroque interior was gorgeous and a heavy veil of frankincense smoke hovered in the air.
The smell reminded me of my childhood and Catholic mass. My mother wanted us to go every Sunday and my sister and I would sit in the pew, bored out of our minds. I looked forward to communion when there was some movement and we could get up and have the ‘body and blood of Christ’ and I could give my knees a rest from all the kneeling. I loved when the priest and altar boys would walk down the aisle with the burning frankincense. That was my favorite part; being enveloped in the sweet and pungent smoke.
I sat in a pew and said a short prayer, knowing that the old man was waiting. Usually, on visits like this, I’m on my own and I like it that way. I can take as long or as short a time as I want. I can sit and stare at the artwork on the ceiling and the sculptures on the altar and watch the light as it passes through the stained glass windows, with no urgency to leave. I don’t like to be waited for or to wait on anyone else. Traveling alone has ruined me in this regard. Very seldom do I like to travel with others, especially inexperienced travelers. It’s extremely frustrating for me. I feel like a bird that’s had its wings clipped. My pace is severely hindered. I’m selfish with my freedom and I make no apology for that.
I made the sign of the cross with a half kneel, walked down the aisle and out of the huge wooden doors and back down the stairs to meet Gos and the old man and we all walked back down the hill. The old man handed me the lead with Gos at the end of it. I was not impressed.
“This is your dog”, I thought. “Not mine”.
If he was trained properly it would be a different story but this Gos is unruly and disobedient and meanders all over the place, pulling whoever is leading him wherever he wishes.
Back in the car, Gos and his excited signature bark accompanied us down the meandering hill. I was relieved and excited too, although I knew we’d have another pasta dinner and my belly was starting to look and feel like a bulging beach ball. This was not going to be a sustainable diet for me. I needed to investigate the fresh produce markets once back in Florence and I was counting down the days until my return.
Of course, I’d miss this little world in the hills, in the stone house. One of those houses that you always see when you’re traveling and wonder what they’re like inside. Well…they have heavy wooden shutters, inside and out, complicated latches on the windows that can be quite tricky to figure out at first. They have stone stairs and floors, and uneven walls, and they can be quite cool in the mornings. If you use too many appliances the electricity will go out and it’s quite a puzzle to figure out how to fix it.
In the mornings I woke up to opera, birds and spring blossoms, and squeezed Sicilian blood oranges for the old man every day. We would sit quietly, each in our own worlds, trying to communicate when we could, over sweet biscuits in the morning or raw fava beans and pecorino cheese in the evenings.
I realize that my time there was an exercise in listening to energy when you can’t understand words. I realize how I want to please and how I wanted to be liked and understood and in those moments when words were useless and the old man was stern and frustrated, I learned to be OK with the silence. To be comfortable in my skin, in this foreign land, in this foreign home with this foreign old man.
Strong – I’ve lived, I’m living, for the first time, for the millionth time.
Remembering, forgetting, letting go, calling in the treasure.
Opening, unfolding, dripping from the sky. Flowering from the earth if I stay close enough to her.
Not closed but opening, in her strength and her softness – my strength, my softness.
Allowing her to love me, to hold me.
I open my hands. I receive and I must give back.
I’m sorry to have held on so tightly. I’m sorry I haven’t let you give to me. I have overwhelmed myself with my own control, my own fear. I have closed my doors because of all the hurt. I have kept a box of steel in my belly. No room for the light to get in. No room for the seeds to germinate. Seeds that have turned to stone.
I think I have caught it just in time.
The sound of thunder wakes me up from the dream. The wetness of the rain, makes holes in the worn rusty exterior, causing cracks where the warmth can enter.
I remember now.
When the fire rises in the snow and melts into the heart of me. In between the beats that keep me here whilst you may slip away
And I hold my breath until I realize I’m here and my wings can unfurl and I am free as much as I am rooted and I take you with me no matter what.
Even though the melted snow may drown me, my tears will cleanse away the longing for anything different. The fighting, the pushing, the need for lightness.
So I sit in the heaviness, in the cave of darkness until it becomes comforting like a velvet blanket wrapped around me.
Perishing in the earth – I’ve seen these ashes before – life-giving for flowers to flourish, for life to return and take many forms.
Shade and ocean breeze
Fireflies in the midnight sky
An ocean that breathes along with my inhale as I exhale the parts of me that resist.
Allowing tears to fall at my feet and sink into the roots that hold me up and allow the silver halo of my being to travel with me…
There was only one thin thread holding me there: love. The love of a man who was not in love with me and was not right for me.
I knew it in my bones but I persisted anyway. He was my last attempt, or maybe my last excuse to stay in a place that was not ideal for me and hadn’t been for a very long time. When that fine thread disintegrated, the anchor that was already near the surface of my ocean, broke and there was no sinking down again.
I shudder when I look back on the years of wasted time, trying so hard to make it work. Grasping. Pulling myself up a steep hill and never reaching the summit. Barely even making it far enough for a decent view. Constantly walking, sometimes crawling, through the desert that was California. A valley of tears, that sucked me dry.
It was always love that had led me away or to something. Usually the love for a man, sometimes a job, or simply the freedom to escape, to travel – a new discovery in a foreign land. That, after all, was my first love.
Finding myself in an airport was natural and just seemed to happen throughout my life, from the moment I went on my first journey. Always at certain junctures in my life. Endings, beginnings, times for expansion. Space to untether myself from heartbreak or confusion. To get lost on purpose in an unknown land. To embrace myself and the warrior in me. My free spirit gleefully flying across the skies. I never once regretted spending money on a plane ticket. If it’s all I ever spent my money on, I was content.
So there I was, at another juncture, that I had created, looking back at all the doors that had slammed shut – collaborations, love affairs, homes, projects and attempts at creating something that resembled my version of a good life. A life I could be proud of. But it had all failed. One thing, after the next, until I believed I was a failure. The pathways in my mind, forging a deeper and deeper sense of shame with each passing year. I had to save myself. I had to pack it in, pack up and ship out.
They say that wherever you go, there you are and there’s a great deal of truth in that – whatever your inner state, so is your outer reality. I say, also, that your environment carries an aura that feeds into you, like osmosis, and affects your inner being.
I’ve always been sensitive to my surroundings – the weather, the aesthetics of the environment, the atmosphere, and the people. Plant me in a place with authentic souls, art, beauty and nature and I’ll grow like I was programmed to. Like a plant that needs air, light and warmth to survive. It’s simple. Why be so dedicated to the struggle when there are so many other options available? So many other gorgeous places to discover. As we get older we realize that time is of the essence. Someday, one day in the future becomes now. Not a moment too soon.
Here it was. The final hour. I was just about to cross the finish line and birth myself into another reality. The decision was made and it was just a matter of putting one foot in front of the other. Waking up each day to assess what was most precious and purging the rest. Waking up to the reality of the shift I was about to make. My life in the United States, unraveling behind me. Coming to terms with all the lifetimes I’d lived in the last 23 years – exactly half my lifetime, thus far.
I had to keep a steady focus on what was in front of me, leaving behind the what-ifs and the if-only’s. It was too late for those. I didn’t have any more time to waste. The task was clear and each moment was filled with hitting the target: October 3rd. A flight out of San Francisco, at 6:20 pm.
All my belongings had to be packed, sold, stored, or donated. I had to be ruthless in moments when I could have been nostalgic. I had to press on, placing one foot in front of the other. Making multiple trips to my storage unit and wading through what seemed to be an endless mountain of belongings and an endless exercise in figuring out what was staying and what was going.
Most of it had to go. The precious chairs I had bought at a little antique store in San Diego eight years before when the wide-eyed wonder of living in my 1920’s apartment overtook me with enthusiasm and hope. My rare jazz CDs and my sketchbooks. Artwork I had created and never sold. Trinkets I’d had for years from travel adventures. Things that ex-lovers had gifted me – in the donation pile they went. Things that evoked sadness, things that were old, things that seemed to belong to another lifetime, attached to memories I’d rather not take with me.
Four boxes – keep, throw away, donate, sell. I made gift packages for people, gave things away, arranged garage sales, listed things online. My days were consumed with organizational tasks. Listing Jamima – my 30-year-old Volvo – to be sold, and due to some miracle, she was. Working here and there when I could to make some extra cash. Making dates with people I would see one more time before departing. Packing my suitcases – one for summer and one for winter – for a journey that would take me to the southern hemisphere for three months and the northern for…who knew how long? Books, essential oils, sage, a couple of precious gemstones, my camera, a deck of oracle cards, and my favorite clothes were coming with me.
The time drew more and more near until finally, I was standing in my friend’s living room four hours before my flight, surrounded by things that hadn’t yet been taken care of. Bless that woman for letting me leave with things undone. My vision board on her living room floor, my last donation items in a random box, a pair of suede moccasins I didn’t know what to do with, abandoned in the corner, soaked from running back and forth in the rain. My emotions were undone from exhaustion and from this moment finally arriving.
I had pushed and pushed for months on end, intending to tie it all up in a neat little bow, not wanting to burden anyone with any loose ends. But here I was and I had to give myself permission to leave these few things undone and accept my friend’s loving recognition of what this moment entailed. Knowing I had tried my absolute best. Knowing this was a huge deal. It was OK not to be a perfectionist in this particular moment.
And then, as in a weary dream: sanctuary – sitting on the plane. The few keep boxes stored in my friend’s basement and me, in the air with two suitcases. No more storage units, no more fitting all the puzzle pieces together or taking them apart. There were still going to be decisions that needed to be made but not for these next few hours. I could breathe, watch movies, write and dream.
Six months later, as I write this, sitting at a desk in a farmhouse in the Tuscan countryside, there is one suitcase in London and one with me. So many logistical decisions have had to be made since my departure. More diversions before I finally decided on a place to land. South Africa, England, Scotland, supposedly places I’d work and study and make the proper decision about where to be. Lugging those suitcases more times than I care to mention, up and down stairs, into airports, onto trains and buses. Accepting people’s help when it was offered, otherwise making it work the best I could. An enormous amount of energy to merely sidestep the right decision, any decision, about where I wanted to ultimately land up.
Sometimes a decision just has to be made and any inkling of inspiration followed. A dreamer I may be. An idealist, most of the time. Free as a bird, only encumbered by my own perceptions of the vision ahead.
I realize that sometimes freedom can have one more confused but having gratitude for that freedom and diving into one of those things that have passed through your dreams, things only someone who has this freedom can entertain for real, is a wide-open blessing. Choosing one of those one-day visions. Because if you don’t you would wonder ten or twenty years from now, what if, I had…?
Now, after the intense heat of South Africa, the cold rain of England, and the snow of Scotland, I wait in anticipation of warmer weather again when I can wear my summer clothes that I so carefully packed. To shed a layer and really be here. Here, in the land that I’ve envisioned living for so long. Here now, with another list of to-do’s. Things that seem like massive hurdles at this juncture:
Make new friends
Search for a job
Find somewhere to live
Even amidst the doubt and the worry and the, what if this fails too?, maybe I could start by congratulating myself for my courage and strength in making it this far, as I walk down cobblestone streets, marveling at the grace, beauty and grandeur that surrounds me.
My spine was made of diamonds Velvet for my skin Silver shining through my eyes Inhaling gold, exhaling stars Touching silk at midnight Dewdrops at first sun Butterflies and dragonflies Around my head, they spun Drifting down the river To a home, all made of glass A fire burned within And he was waiting there Flowers at his feet Singing in his soul An offering in his hands: A beating heart outstretched He laid it at my feet And there we stood aglow In fires raging heat With earth below and starry night Our souls alight In pure white light
Our precious souls fumbling around in the dark Looking for some sense of peace Denying the process, Pushing it away like it had no significance. 15 years – leading ourselves to believe all was lost Still trying to find ourselves, Thinking we still have this mountain to conquer
But look how far we’ve come The blisters on our feet have healed and opened and healed and opened and healed.
And now, we’re open raw souls Feet and heart and head OK with raw because we’ve seen the cycle.
We’ve seen it heal and we’ve seen it open Thrusting towards the light as it pierces us to the core Seeking out the dark cracks we’ve carried with us through the ages Dragging them with us Allowing dust to settle in the corners
And now we seek out every lost spec Every last speck. It’s time. Reclaiming the Sparks that have never quite ignited Adding fuel Adding fans Adding wind Adding risk
Bare feet, open heart Looking our ancestry straight in the eyes Asking, begging, accepting, knowing Wielding strength to take them on Enjoying the fight as it’s the final frontier For the next flight.
Watching us dive, tearing our chests open. Kissing the mouths of the past, Which is now, which is coming, Which is all-encompassing. Sweet mothers and fathers holding our hands, egging us on, pushing us forth Holding their breath as we breathe for them. Because we know now Because we know how Because we know
As trees As clouds As sky breathe Connecting our feet deep into the core Remembering our mother Our strength Our softness Our fiery bellies, relaxing into knowing the cycles that align and surrender to steadfast harmony With breath and lungs and feet on soft forest floors Shafts of sun beaming through our heads Our hearts melting us into the vastness of ourselves Bowing to the grace of our fierceness.
I have been studying the idea of rewiring the heart (my heart) and how it is different from rewiring the brain.
I am seeing that my heart has always been a certain way; deep, wide, sensitive, and big — literally and figuratively. I saw an X-ray of my heart years ago and was blown away by the actual size of it.
I love my heart. It does not tiptoe; it dives into the deepest deep without much ‘thought’. It feels so much. It feels everything simultaneously sometimes that I can’t discern where the beauty, excitement, and joy begin and the pain, loneliness, and sorrow end. It’s all in there together in this big swirling universe and it all just wants to gush out and be embraced by the rays of the sun.
Of course, I have realized that because of my empathic nature and my subconscious agreement with the universe to take on more than my fair share of the world’s pain and trying to transform it is one of the reasons for this simultaneous cacophony of emotion that filters through me. But that is another article entirely.
I’m thinking that perhaps what has worked for me in the realm of love and heart matters in the past is no longer fitting. That a rewiring of sorts needs to occur. That my heart must, in a sense, ‘grow up’.
Can we create new pathways in the heart as we can create new neural pathways in the brain?
Perhaps the diving isn’t working and this heart needs to take a step back and be more discerning. But when I think of this it makes me feel like I’m compromising who I am, how my heart really is and is meant to be. I’m almost ‘proud’ of my heart and its capacity to love and be hopelessly romantic and feel all this emotion. Sitting with it, feeling into it, and recognizing it for what it is may help in naturally transforming some of the nuances and depth of feelings.
My thoughts were that perhaps the mind and the heart need to work together more to create some sort of balance. That maybe I needed to go back and study the nature of all my relationships and how most of the time I have dived in it’s been a drowning almost? Though the drowning is a full immersion in unbridled devotion and adoration of the other, the brain needs to step in and be a bit more discerning and communicate that to the heart; learn the lesson.
I don’t like the phrase ‘be careful’ when it comes to my heart and love. I innocently just want to experience the whole thing. I want to extract all the juice out of it, get messy, and take a huge delicious bite. My heart has definitely won over my brain 99.9% of the time. But what about our wounds, our pasts that have influenced the way we love, how much we let in, and how much we turn away? Our hearts hurting, our brains constantly adjusting our thoughts and reactions to ‘protect’ us.
I don’t want a boundary set up around my heart. I want to see the other and be seen fully — blood, guts and all, down to the core. My heart doesn’t understand moderation, discernment, and logic. Does it need to grow up? Does it need to realize that this is what causes huge wounds if it engages too fully? No, I don’t believe that’s it. Perhaps I’ve just not been met. Where are the hearts out there like mine?
After all this questioning I then learned that scientists have actually discovered that the brain and heart do indeed influence each other and that there is a constant dialogue occurring between the two. Out of all the organs in the human body, the heart generates the largest electromagnetic frequency. Sixty times greater than the brain in fact. It is infinitely more intelligent than the brain. To be emotionally intelligent means to be heart-based, sensitive. Apparently, the heart communicates with the brain and body in a few different ways: neurologically via the nervous system, energetically, physically, and chemically via hormones. The different signals that the heart sends to the brain alter its functioning. So, there it is; they do help each other and work together. Focusing your attention on heart healing indeed creates a new pathway and communicates to the brain to create more positive thoughts. That is fascinating and encouraging.
Maybe I am delving into a huge analytical process at this juncture of my journey because I’m just plain old scared of being hurt…again. The pain of heartbreak has been so much. Way too familiar and maybe I’m just simply fearful now. It’s almost like I expect to go down this inevitable road of suffering every time my heart opens. But I’m sure that’s probably an old story cycling around in my subconscious.
As I acknowledge all the work I have done to release the old ingrained patterns and focus physically, mentally, and energetically on my heart and intend for its healing so will my thoughts transform?
In my attempt to take an honest look at this — learn, grow, I realize that it all just needs to be seen and not pushed away or denied in any way. That it’s all ok. I’m not special, my heart is not as fragile as I think it is. It’s just my ego that identifies with the stinging pain of loss, heartbreak, and pain. When I feel that twinge of longing, sorrow, loneliness, fear, or great unrequited love, to be fully with it, to honor it and not hold on to it, rejoice in it even! And then let it fly so my heart can expand and regrow its own wings and be ready to receive and embrace the true reflection of what it is; big, beautiful, deep, juicy, and alive! And then build a bridge to my brain affirming all this so I can function, even thrive!
What do you think? How does your heart operate? Has it evolved and changed the more experience you’ve had? Have you consciously considered how it would be to ‘rewire’ it? Does your heart win? Can you feel it communicating with your brain and your other organs?
I slept on the other side of the bed last night. Laying claim to it seemed appropriate, as you would not be returning.
I stirred every couple of hours. The stinging realization of losing you each time I rose to the surface of my consciousness.
An instant pang of anxiety. An emptiness in my belly. An ache in my heart.
In the morning when I awoke, the twinge in my side rudely reminded me of my aloneness. As I unwound from the fetal position I’d held all night. My eyes, teary once more, greeted me with a salty swollen silence.
Though something beckoned to me from beyond the emotion, beyond the tide of sadness, forbidding me to lose myself. Urging me to see through the sorrow, for out of it was to come an unfurling of vicissitude, a kaleidoscope of motion.
It was only in the memory of that which had passed did my heart feel weighted down.
With a breath, the wild undulation of joy and sorrow that was, softly rippled into a calm hush within and I could see myself as one with the glassy surface of a lake, with trees and clouds and birds reflected inward. The water seeping downward. Gently eroding. Smoothing out the prickly edges. Nature taking its course. Until it made its way to the core. Penetrating the shell that had been waiting for nourishment.
For eons, it had patiently endured. Unstirred by the hands of time. Sure of what would eventually come.
Codes awaken, one cell at a time. They turn to the light and blink with immaculate awareness. Wise in their innocence. Trusting that this time the fullness of love will find them.
My body uncurls. Slowly and gently I stretch. It’s a courageous move to extend my arms away from my heart, exposing it to the blinding luminescence of day.
Legs unfold. Feet find their way to the floor, from the other side of the bed which seems so far away – like you always felt – even as you lay there next to me.
I’d marvel at you; the indentation in your upper lip. The little grey hairs in your beard. Your dark eyelashes. Your profile. As you lay there, motionless on your island, like a corpse. And I would respect you in your sovereign stillness. Every last hair on your body. Even though I wanted to hold your hand, rest my head on your shoulder.
Your beautiful skin, like silk. You would say mine was like moonlight, and you were my sun. Then finally you would turn and smile and sometimes you would say you were glad to wake up next to me, but only sometimes. And sometimes it felt sweet. And sometimes it felt bitter. Feeling your denial. A veiled sadness you held beneath hour ribs. The stubborn anxiety you tried to conceal under your skin.
I sensed every last fragment; feigning detachment from the effect it had on me but it seeped into the cracks and lay there, carving a chasm between us.
And I would remain patient, hopeful, gracious, compassionate. In constant adoration of your endearing heart. Content to have you near enough but not as close as I desired. Not pushing. Not demanding more; time, sex, depth, surprise.
Accommodating your practicality, your sensibility, your schedule, your hesitation, and your realism which sometimes inspired and fascinated and at times frustrated. Whilst I dreamed of romance and enchantment and swimming deeper than your ocean would allow.
And often you would delight and amaze in your essence.
I remember chocolate ice cream and kisses on hills at sunset. Your sweet nakedness; moments of innocent willingness to dissolve your fear and just be. There I found an openness allowing closeness. Pure and real. And I treasured you as oftentimes I felt you treasured me.
I would ignite and delight in you, and your mention of the future; of us. I took it all to heart and I thought you did too.
And now I take it all apart and my life and my body are only mine once more, just like yours always only was, and the surrounding mood in my room and all around me is flat and still and dull and quiet.
The space behind my eyes holding memories and a twinge of longing. Recalling what I gave and wanted and waited for. The faith that you would come around and take my hand and tell me you were in; not in too deep or halfway in, but into me, us, together, as you were in our beginning.
And I softened, opened, after being closed for so long. Your sweetness and kindness, a welcome relief from the harsh neglect of times past.
But beginnings dissolve away. Vacillate. Open and close. Shift from light to dark. Fear and doubt preventing the truth of what could be. No way to see what we were without it. Leaving me alone, confused, resigned.
I hold my breath before the next wave. Anticipate my solitude once more, of which I am most accustomed; strong, self-sufficient. An expert like I’ve always been.
The moments that were filled with you and my excitement of holding you near, emptied, for me to consider anew.
And now it is night again.
I bow to our coming together and our falling away. And to you and all you were and wanted to be.
I beheld your efforts, your care and tenderness. Your steadfastness. Your willingness to help and support. To soothe and heal. It was heartwarming and kind. Rare and new.
My tears flow as much for our joy as they do for the longing of wanting more time: to deepen, learn and grow with you.
I am grateful for knowing your generous heart your brilliance, your essence.
Farewell, dear man, from the other side of my bed.
I wake up and open my bedroom window to reveal blue walls and blue sky, sparrows singing and men singing in the mosque.
Hearing Arabic brings a smile to my lips and I remember my grandmother and my heritage. I hear her saying prayers in Arabic before we eat and her accent. Her sweetness, her innocent outlook, despite all the hardships life had presented.
There’s a passion in the language of these people, the presence with which they talk, their kindness, the way they walk. Their skin, their eyes, their hand gestures.
Where do I come from, where am I going and where will I stay? These questions I ponder as the crucial time for deciding grows ever so near. Will I return to the motherland? Is this my destiny? Will I align with the cultures that are rich with passion, with sound, with design, with music, with a spirituality ingrained in their veins?
I hear the way the footsteps of running children echo down the narrow alleyways and the voices of traders as they argue with each other. It’s all in good spirit though. It’s part of the culture. Passion, authenticity, being heard. They explode with strong emotion then return to a mischievous smile and relax into the moment.
I giggle. I appreciate what I am hearing. There is an aliveness outside of my window that spills over into my room and fills me with gratitude, just for this simple moment of being here and hearing this life that is going on for me to witness, for me to hear, for me to be a part of if I wish.
As we approach Kalaat M’Gouna (Valley of the Roses), I can smell the sweet scent of the Rosa Damascena wafting through the air. Little boys stand on the side of the road selling small rose garlands. Roses and beauty abound.
We arrive in the main square where our taxi awaits to take us to The Kasbah des Roses where we will stay at a small distillery with a Berber family and soak in the peace and dramatic beauty of this valley.
Everything is pink here, the taxis and the walls of buildings and there is a huge rose sculpture in the center of the town square.
We get whisked away to the Kasbah, about a 20-minute ride away, and arrive at the most gorgeous property.
The building itself is humble and simple with an old metal door leading into a main courtyard. We are shown to our room which is covered in roses: the bed, the bathroom sink and window ledge. We have a view of the mountains and the valley below.
We are given mint tea on arrival and introduced to the family who are thrilled that we are there. Mohammed beams a smile and proudly invites us to take a walk in the valley which is the most beautiful sight to behold. Roses bloom in the lush valley amongst pomegranate trees, figs and wheat. Birds sing as the sun sets behind red mountains. We are enthusiastically given handfuls of roses as we proceed on our walk. I’ve never seen so many roses in all my life. The high vibration of the scent in the air is beyond compare.
We have landed in paradise. One of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been with some of the sweetest people I’ve ever met.
It’s been 6 days since I left India and it feels like an age. I feel like I’m in a void and not connecting to much.
After 5 months of travel and sleeping on mostly hard Indian beds with brick-like pillows and taking every mode of transport conceivable; from scooters and motorbikes to taxis and tuk-tuks, donkeys and trains, sleeper buses, bicycles and boats, my body, especially my neck was way out of alignment. Needless to say, I was in desperate need of a chiropractic adjustment as the 50 rupee trip to the barber in Varanasi for one didn’t quite do the trick.
I didn’t realize quite how much I missed India until I got in a taxi to go to the chiropractor in Abu Dhabi a few days ago and my driver was Indian. I was so excited to see him. He was so incredibly kind and we talked the entire way to my appointment. We shared our love for the Indian land, people and culture. He was so happy to hear that I had been to the town he had grown up in in Kerala.
I shared much of my trip and what I’d learned and found myself unexpectedly choking back tears as I spoke with him because I was missing it so much.
As we were saying our goodbyes I opened up my journal to write his name down and out fell a little blue flower I had picked up from the ground at the botanical garden in Bangalore on one of my last days there.
I gave it to him and he took it and cupped it carefully in his hands, noticing how incredibly delicate it was. With big eyes and a huge smile, he asked: “Is it from India?” I said yes and told him it was for him. He was so delighted and said he would keep it to remember me. It was such a touching interaction I felt so blessed to have had. Just as I feel so blessed that India welcomed me and cradled me in her arms and showed me so much of her and of me; through her perfect imperfection, through her chaos and her beauty, through her ritual and her rawness.
She is in me and has forged a deep and rich crevice in my heart that is filled with jewels and a longing to return.
I’ve been tossed and tumbled in this place like a pebble on the river floor. I’ve been pulled by the flow of traffic on this dusty street. I’ve been shown my resilience through these peoples eyes Their hardworking hands that give what they can My edges have been softened by these children’s beaming smiles My wit has grown stronger with these crafty salesmen’s hooks My center has exploded with the burning fire of faith for all the questions answered and for those still wrapped in mystery Another day begins with more lightness and more grace With more trust in flow and pace Floating with the current Dancing down this street Grateful for these feet That have carried me so far My eyes are wet with tears As I try to contain my fears And leave this land I love I love, I love, I love
I’m in the oldest city in the world. I walk passed Buffalo on the street who don’t want to know me Thin and wounded dogs I pray will make it one more day I feed a few but it’s not enough I’m covered in dust from the streets and ash from burning bodies The smell of flesh and banyan wood A heavy fog creates reflections in mystical silver hues Beyond the faded grandeur of ancient architecture Tablas, flutes, and sitars sound, lifting spirits beyond the veil An ancient place A holy place A filthy place A place we come to cleanse A place we come to bask in our shadow While we light candles in prayer I leave you soon, Grateful to have been To have seen To have heard To have felt the denseness Of this uniquely contrasted beauty of a beast.
The sun greets us for another day We sing these songs in praise We pray For illumination that is already here before our eyes And yet we set our sights out yonder Beyond the horizon we cannot see. Oh light of Surya beaming down on jewels right before our feet But we prefer to wonder out on a distant street Where once we were lost And one day might find. Look down right where you stand A rich and uncultivated land Untouched, disregarded, forgotten The blooms trampled The mood dampened Ungrateful for the rain That nourishes those plants you seeded once It is all happening now and now and now Get out your plow And excavate this land right beneath your feet