It was sometime last fall that I really started to dust off and unroll my old world map and begin to make a plan of where I dreamed of going and in what order and for how long. One of the first things I did was research when the best time of year was to visit the places on my bucket list. Chance would have it, that if I started my travels in October and travelled east, I would follow optimal weather and warmth. I started to create a basic outline for an itinerary...and excitement crept in.
By the end of the year I was chatting with a friend I had met during our retreat in Costa Rica just before CoVid. When I shared my travel plans she started oohing and ahhing and I asked if she'd like to meet me along the way. I didn't have to ask her twice; she jumped in with both feet and signed up for the whole ride. I was excited and tentative all at once. Although I do love to travel solo. this is going to be a long trip and I think it will be wonderful to have a travel companion with a killer sense of humor and a very similar zest for life and adventure.
We've spent the last 4 months poring over maps, combining bucket lists, researching, preparing and booking extensive itineraries all on line. She lives in the UK and I'm in Bermuda. The slightly nerve-racking thing is, we barely know each other and here we are embarking on an 8 month journey together that even the most compatible couples would find challenging... so watch this space. It's a good thing we both have a reasonable sense of humor.
My trusty travel companion Gillian has come up with some great suggestions for our trip; one of which is to travel super light. So we plan to do the whole trip with a small carry-on sized backpack. We'll let you know how that goes... Can I just say here how delighted I am to learn that backpacks have evolved beautifully over the last 30 years? No longer will we have to cram our belongings into a top down loading backpack, (as i did in my 20's) and have the hassle of having to to rummage blind to get to something at the very bottom once the backpack is fully packed. No... these days, there are fabulous new "clam shell" opening packs so you can get to all your kit easily. Especially if you are kitted out with a set compression packing cubes to keep things organised and find everything easily.
We had a few laughs over Gillian's suggestion that we write a light hearted travel blog called "Beryl and Cheryl go Feral". According to the Oxford dictionary, to go feral is to escape captivity and domestication...to re-wild. Sounds good to me.
What's on your bucket list?
Gillian's Ramblings (aka Beryl Bloggins):
Isn't it funny how we all, as individuals, recall certain events differently? My recollection of all of this Beryl and Cheryl malarky actually started when my attention was alerted to an advertisement in the local daily newspapers classifieds. Sandwiched between the hardly used "Miscellaneous" and "Second Hand Vehicles" column, was a personal ad. It read as follows: "Woman of a certain age, disillusioned with the drudgery of domesticity but still with an insatiable appetite for life, seeks lady companion to accompany her on a 'later in the day' grand tour world adventure. Must be willing to be adaptable and flexible, preferably not adverse to roughing it. Only genuine candidates with with full service history, new chassis, body work needing attention but a good little runner need apply. No time wasters." (Seems there was a type setting error during the print run).
Nevertheless, by then, my curiosity had gotten the better of me and knowing I hadn't called the assistance of the RAC in years and with plenty of tread on my tyres, I felt I fitted the required criteria and duly applied. The woman at the end of the phone seemed affable and jolly, if a little over-excitable. We discussed bucket lists, backpacks and marino wool vests and embarked on a strategy that would incorporate most of our third phase of life goals. A one month trip became 6, then 8 as we tumbled remotely hither and thither around the world map with wondrous and wanderer's abandonment. After agreeing on some slight adjustments to our respective idiosyncrasies, personal habits and fashion choices, we now feel it's possible to successfully embark on our amazing, life affirming travels. Safe in the knowledge that if we do turn out to be unsuitable companions, she will at least get a full refund on her advertising fees.
After 27 years of active parenting, 28 years of marriage and 40 years of working (mostly in service to helping others feel better and connect with themselves) - I am taking a break...a midlife gap year (or two), to fill up, recharge and satisfy my appetite for adventure.
In September, I will not only be an empty nester, but I'll also be flying the coop myself. Our cottage by the sea will have a loving caretaker, a small amount of things will be kept in storage and I will be trading in keys for a backpack and hiking shoes. My soul longs to commune in old growth forests, to lay out in the outback under a star studded sky, to breathe in the majesty of rugged mountain ranges, to drench myself in the sounds of the jungle and to soak up the wisdom of those ancient ones who live the principles of a regenerative lifestyle.
Every ending brings the gift of new beginnings and each bring a blend of fear and excitement. I'm walking away from a 21 year career that has been financially stable with great benefits. It's a little scary to walk away from the security that that offers. I'll be travelling to the far reaches of the planet while my daughter dips her toes in her first year at University. Will she feel abandoned by my wanderlust? Will both kids get so used to me being physically absent from their lives that they won't want me around when I return? What if something awful happens to a family member and it takes me too long get back?
I have spent many years longing for the freedom to travel again. I spent the decade of my 20's working and travelling in different parts of the world. It was such an enriching, formative time. And now I have a window of time - while my daughter is in University, before my mum and step-dad need me around more and before potential grandchildren arrive - to go and explore the far flung places I didn't get to visit the first time around.
So many of us, especially women, get caught up in the day to day rhythms of motherhood and work (whether in the home or out in the world). As nurturers, we tend to put everyone else's needs before our own and after a couple of decades of that, we can start to lose pieces of ourselves...and wonder as the kids leave the nest, "what now?". It's a question I have explored deeply with many women; particularly a fabulous group of women who came to a retreat in Costa Rica that I co-led with a beloved friend and colleague.
If I think of my life in chapters, I think of Chapter 1 as my childhood and young adulthood (to about 29/30 yrs). Chapter 2 is from 30 to late 50's - that's when I was career focused, married and raising a family - a wonderful nesting phase. And now Chapter 3.... The ending of a marriage, motherhood as I have known it and career as I have known it. There is a wonderful blank canvas ahead and I am fortunate enough to have the tools and paints I need to paint this next chapter in ways that excite and delight me. It is time to reclaim the parts of myself that I have put on hold, time to do all of the things that make me feel alive - it's chapter 3, time to reclaim me.
How have you reclaimed the parts of yourself that you have suppressed or put on hold? Can you relate to this question "What Now?" What makes you come alive? What are you most curious about? How do you want to spend this next chapter of your life?
Ten years ago I despised social media. I felt that it created more distance between people than connection. Then my son became a teenager. He saved to buy his first phone and with that came his desire to communicate with his buddies on social media. I remember being torn between my reluctance for him to become caught up in what I felt to be anti-social addiction and my acceptance with the reality that these platforms were becoming THE way for kids of his generation to communicate. We caved and allowed him to use Facebook under the condition that I would also join Facebook and he would have to friend me so that I could monitor his posts. (In retrospect, what a nightmare for him!)
What I have enjoyed through Facebook (and now Instagram) over the years, is that social media has allowed me to communicate and connect with friends from all over the world who I wouldn't normally email on a regular basis. I love seeing pictures of my friend's kids growing up and reading the interesting articles they post. I love these shared stories of hope, of people overcoming adversity, of brilliant people all over the world creating innovative solutions to the mounting problems our world faces. These stories make me feel inspired, hopeful, open hearted and they begin to generate my own creative ideas on how I can be of service and make some kind of positive contribution within my community.
I think we all get bombarded enough with the destructive, hateful, inhumane ways we treat each other, our planet and animals. Our newsfeeds are full of negativity. Everywhere we look there are cynical broadcasts of doom and gloom. When I see posts like these I feel outrage, fear, anger and often hopelessness for our world and for our kid's futures, just as I'm sure you do. A sense of helpless paralysis creeps in, the world's problems seem so big - how could any effort on my part create a meaningful impact?
So I decided a while ago that while it may not change anything at all, I can make a decision to only share beauty, inspiration, creativity and solutions-oriented ideas in my posts. My intention is to add to the collective field of creativity and inspiration and hopefully that will ripple out and uplift others so they are inspired to do the same.
This may be seen by some as a "head in the sand" approach to life or that I am only looking at the world "through rose colored glasses". I see it differently. I know the world is full of pain and suffering. And I also know that if I have any chance of keeping any kind of sanity and balance in my life, I need to limit my exposure to negativity, accept the present moment as it is, do what I can to change what isn't working and keep looking for the good.
So this is not about passivity and doing nothing to change an awful state of affairs. Far from it. Rather, it advocates an approach used by yogis and wisdom teachers from all over the world. We see and feel what is going on in the world - the wonderful and the appalling. We may immediately have a feeling of horror and rejection at what is going on, however the practice is to accept it. After all, it is already happening. This is not easy. Allow yourself to feel all the dark ugly feelings that come up. Take several long, slow deep breaths and bring your attention to what you are feeling in your body - maybe a clenching in your gut or a tightening in your throat. Keep breathing and focus on the inhales and exhales. Focusing on your breathing is a powerful tool and will help you find your center again.
We may not like the current situation, but when we choose to breathe deep and stay with what is going on in a relaxed and centered way, we are able to access a wiser, more creative part of our brains. From that place of wisdom, we are better able to "think outside of the box", respond and then act and hopefully improve the situation. When we react to the atrocities in the world with outrage, fear and rejection, we are operating from another, more primal part of our brain which does not have the same access to creativity and problem solving. Albert Einstein supposedly said that we can't solve a problem with the same level of thinking that created it, so there ya go.
We can't control everything happens in our lives and in the world, which stinks, I know. What we CAN control is how we respond to what is going on. When it comes to social media, it cuts like a knife - it can be helpful or harmful, depending on our intention, how aware we are when we use it and how much we use it.
So instead of adding more hysteria and fear into the collective, we can do our part in spreading helpful information, creativity, innovation and beauty. And guess what? If we can be more mindful about what we share and what we spend our time absorbing, we just might all feel a teeny bit more chilled and happy, which may improve our relationships, which may create more harmony in our families, which may lift our communities and maybe even change the world. Can't hurt, right?
All it takes is bringing our Attention to what we are sharing, our Intention to spread the good and the uplifting and the Will to act on it. Who's with me?
Wabi-Sabi is a Japanese aesthetic philosophy; "Wabi" means "quiet simplicity" and "Sabi" refers to the "patina of age" or weathering. Over time, Wabi-Sabi has become one combined concept meaning the simple beauty that comes with age. This philosophy is an acceptance and appreciation of the authenticity of the imperfect and transient nature of life. Cracks and imperfections are cherished as marks of the passage of time and loving use. During my travels this past summer, I have found that my artistic eye is more drawn to the weathered, the imperfect and the worn.
During my yoga practice the other day, I noticed my weathered, veiny hands and feet. My first reaction was “Wow - they are looking pretty knarly and old”. What surprised me was that I didn’t feel sad about that at the time. (That’s not to say that I don’t get moments of despair over the aging process. My dad used to say, “getting old ain’t for sissies” and I am beginning to understand what he meant.)
What I actually thought about in that moment, was all the stories these hands and feet have to tell. That black and blue big toenail tells the tale of hiking 110miles in the alps with inappropriate footwear, these feet have carried me across the Annapurnas in Nepal, the Thar desert, around Australia, and through 3 countries around Mt Blanc and have supported not only my weight but the weight of my babies. These hands have worked in a Kibbutz kitchen, have smoothed fevered brows, made countless dinners dug veggie gardens and carried their fair share of weight.
I hope that when I get another pang of grief during the aging process that I remember the richness of the many people, stories, adventures that have made their mark on this body, this face, these hands and feet.
#lovetheskinyou'rein #wabisabi #authenticageing
Albert Einstein once said, "Look deep into nature and then you will understand everything better".
Oh yeah? Well, Mr Einstein, can nature teach me how to navigate the subtle nuances of parenting? Can it teach me when I should step in and help and when I need to stand back and let them build coping skills and resilience? I think most parents find it excruciating to see their kids in pain and struggling in some way and I am no exception. It is tough to witness your child collecting the shards of their broken heart or feeling lost at a crossroad and unsure of what path to take next. I have spent many years as a parent second guessing myself, feeling under qualified and wondering if my children will need years of therapy to undo any damage I may have done in my quest to raise them well.
I recently read a fabulous blog post by Jen Hatmaker, who states: "Could it be that we are simply too precious about parenting? Have we forgotten the benefit of letting our kids fail? Figure it out? Work hard for it? Entertain themselves? We put so much undue pressure on ourselves to curate Magical Childhoods, when in fact, kids are quite capable of being happy kids without constant adult administration. I would argue that making them the center of the universe is actually terribly detrimental. A good parent prepares the child for the path, not the path for the child." Well said, Jen, couldn't agree more.
I took the image above shortly before the monarch emerged from her chrysalis. Part of what gave her the strength to stretch out those glorious wings and fly away was the struggle it took for her to break out of her cocoon. If I had taken pity on this poor creature in the midst of her struggle and had carefully peeled open her temporary straight jacket, her wings would remain crumpled and she would not have the strength to fly. She would die before her first flight. Growth rarely happens in ease and comfort. It is the challenges we face in our lives that builds the inner resilience and strength to navigate life's uncertain and often rocky terrain.
Maybe one of the greatest tools we can empower our children with is the gift of learning to be present and trust their own inner compass, their innate wisdom, the "still small voice" inside. To hear the whisper of the soul we need slow down, become still, connect with our breath. Clarity arises and the next wise step becomes more apparent. These are behaviors we can model for our children and they are powerful tools when life throws a curve ball.
During my recent training at Kripalu, Lee Albert taught that compassion was the most important healing modality around. He shared the following story that touched the hearts of everyone there:
The Perfect Heart (author unknown)
A young man was standing in the middle of the town proclaiming that he had the most beautiful heart in the whole valley. A large crowd gathered and they all admired his heart for it was perfect. There was not a mark or a flaw in it.
But an old man appeared at the front of the crowd and said, “Your heart is not nearly as beautiful as mine.”
The crowd and the young man looked at the old man’s heart. It was beating strongly but was full of scars. It had places where pieces had been removed and other pieces put in … but they didn’t fit quite right and there were several jagged edges. The young man looked at the old man’s heart and laughed.
“You must be joking,” he said. “Compare your heart with mine … mine is perfect and yours is a mess of scars and tears.”
“Yes,” said the old man, “Yours is perfect looking … but I would never trade with you. You see, every scar represents a person to whom I have given my love….. I tear out a piece of my heart and give it to them … and often they give me a piece of their heart which fits into the empty place in my heart but because the pieces aren’t exact, I have some rough edges.
“ Sometimes I have given pieces of my heart away … and the other person hasn’t returned a piece of his heart to me. These are the empty gouges … giving love is taking a chance. Although these gouges are painful, they stay open, reminding me of the love I have for these people too … and I hope someday they may return and fill the space I have waiting. So now do you see what true beauty is?”
The young man stood silently with tears running down his cheeks. He walked up to the old man, reached into his perfect young and beautiful heart, and ripped a piece out. He offered it to the old man.
The old man took his offering, placed it in his heart and then took a piece from his old scarred heart and placed it in the wound in the young man’s heart.
It fit …. but not perfectly, as there were some jagged edges.
The young man looked at his heart, not perfect anymore but more beautiful than ever, since love from the old man’s heart flowed into his."
When we look at the world through the lens of the mind, there is judgement, separation, resistance.
When we look at the world through the lens of the heart, there is connection, acceptance, unity.
We go from believing "You are nothing like me." to "You are something like me" to finally "You are nothing but me".
Our yoga practice teaches us to keep softening, to keep opening to the life that is right here, right now. There is no wasted experience.
Much of our suffering comes from wanting our lives or our world to be different than they are and, as a result, we can be in a constant state of resistance and discontent. We feel our hearts and mind close to certain people or situations. We rage at the injustices of the world. Our receptivity shuts down and, without realizing it, we close off our connection to creativity and divine inspiration.
When we can soften and open to what is happening right here, right now, (because, after all, it is already happening) we are available to receive the divine, creative intelligence that wants to emerge through us in the form of a wise response to the situation. We have the ability to see the next, highest course of action when we are in a space of open awareness rather than in resistance. This is not easy. I find that I can shut down and become resistant many times a day.
Our practice becomes one of constantly softening; of noticing that we are closed and resisting, of having compassion for ourselves and this human experience. We come back to the breath, soften our gaze, look for the divine in every situation and every person we meet. We learn to respond consciously rather than reacting blindly.
This poem by Rumi says it perfectly:
" Be crumbled.
So wildflowers will come up where you are.
You have been stony for too many years.
Try something different.
I heard this beautiful metaphor the other day for spiritual teachings; Absolute Truth is like a multifaceted jewel and different teachings point to different facets of the jewel.
Where we fall down in our spiritual journey is when we hold on to the teaching and forget that the teaching is just a tool.
Like a teacher pointing to the moon, we are so fixated on the finger pointing, we don't experience the moon.
Imagine living in a mansion with hundreds of windows and looking out of only one them, thinking that what we are seeing is the complete view. That is what we do when we take one facet of this jewel of absolute truth and take it to be the whole story.
Absolute truth must be experienced to be fully grasped and we all catch glimpses of it from time to time. Those moments in nature that take our breath away, witnessing the birth of a child, hearing the lyrics of a song that resonate with the song in our own heart, a deep awakening during meditation or yoga practice....these are all universal moments of sublime love and compassion when we feel our hearts open and we feel connected with all that is.
When we hold onto specific teachings, we risk becoming dogmatic or fundamental in our approach. This creates separation and war. Perhaps a more holistic approach would be to stand back, soften our gaze and let go of the seductive teachings that zero in on one facet of this beautiful jewel. Empty our cups and start the day with beginner's mind, with not knowing. As hard as this journey can be sometimes, I am so thankful to be on it, I wouldn't have it any other way.
One of my favorite quotes is by Mary Oliver, who poses, in her poem 'The Summer Day,' the question:
"Tell me, what is is you plan to do with this one wild and precious life?"
I love it. It inspires me, makes me reach...and adds a touch of pressure to 'get it right' !
There are moments in my life where I have felt so connected and expansive and full that everything I ever dreamt of doing feels possible and within my reach. There are also those daunting moments where I have felt so contracted and small that stepping out of the front door seemed beyond me.
I have noticed lately that those moments of feeling scared and small are taking more of a back seat in my life. When fear comes knocking on the door of my psyche, I am more likely to recognise it as the old familiar friend that it is and sit with it for a while, even when it feels really uncomfortable. When I can hold space for myself with tenderness through a fearful moment, I am less likely to be swept away in a tidal wave of emotion that affects not only me, but everyone around me. As a result, there is a lot less drama in my life. I have more energy to focus on what I do want, rather than what I fear might happen.
My yoga practice has helped me to recognize when I lose my center, when I am moving away from love and into fear. I know from experience that when I am centered, open and present, I am living from my heart, from a place of love. I know that I can access creativity and higher wisdom when I am open and present in this moment; not stuck in my head, fretting about what might happen tomorrow or what happened earlier this morning.
So, what will I do with this one wild and precious life?
I am aspiring to live it fully; one precious moment at a time.