6 Tips for Surfing Through Uncertainty

27 Oct uncertainty

It’s a cool grey day in Vienna.  Since I last wrote the temperature has dropped about 10 degrees celsius and no sign of sunny skies.  With the change in temperature came the departure of one of my hosts as she left on an adventure of her own in the States. While she is overseas, her husband, daughter and I remain in Vienna. With some timidity and adjustment on all parties, so far we are faring well.

This week I connected with the Vienna Art of Living group, an international spiritual and humanitarian organization led by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.  I first encountered the Art of Living about 8 years ago in New Orleans where I took their introduction course called The Art of Breathing.  In this course I learned their signature breathing technique called the Sudarshan Kriya, a powerful technique for health and relaxation that I still use regularly today. As I travel internationally, I rely on connections through groups like Art of Living to be connected to community, meet new people and receive support.

I was delighted to discover the local Art of Living group meets just down the street from where I am stay in Vienna. This past week I attended an introduction to Ayurvedic medicine hosted by the Art of Living.  Sri Sri and the Art of Living support a complete healthy lifestyle including the use of Ayurvedic medicine.  New to this topic, I loved the talk and scheduled an appointment with the visiting Ayurvedic doctor.  A native of India, he now lives in the Netherlands and has just begun regular visits throughout Europe including Vienna.  I am excited to explore this approach and how it can support my health and well-being!

While waiting for my appointment, I met a wonderful person who herself had done some traveling.  As we briefly chatted, I shared some about my past four years of travel.  I came to realize that there is a bit of an art to travel and the level of uncertainty that often comes along with it.  After sharing with her, I took note of the many lessons I have learned from my experiences. Perhaps it would be helpful to share with you!

We all have uncertainty in our lives. The support of our growth, dreams and life often demands that we tango with uncertainty.  Whether you dream of traveling the globe, are in the midst of a career change or facing unexpected life changes, here are some tips that may assist you.

6 Tips for Surfing Through Uncertainty

1.  Seek Wise Counsel.  Four years ago, many elements of my life fell away at once.  My car broke down, my belongings were destroyed (again), living arrangements dissolved… and my cat ran away. I was in a huge sea of uncertainty.  After I panicked for a bit, one of the first things I did was seek wise counsel.  You know what I am talking about, that grounded but inspired friend, teacher, or professional.  I reached out to someone I trusted who could give me a broader and directed perspective on the situation. Seeking wise counsel gave me a fresh viewpoint, some vision and hope in the space of uncertainty, and ultimately liberation and support. This great time of uncertainty was when I first considered traveling overseas. Initially the idea was just a tiny spark, with no big plans or ideas.  Seeking wise counsel helped me to align with that dream and more confidently move into action.

2.  Have a Support System.  Negotiating the unknown is a time of great creativity when nearly anything is possible. But when I first mentioned the notion of traveling overseas, the idea was like a fragile bubble that someone could have easily and carelessly popped… never to be seen again.  With a healthy support system, the idea quickly grew, blossomed, and continues today.  Keep in mind, not everyone is suitable to serve as support through uncertainty.  Choose your grounded wise friends and supporters who have your best interest at heart but can also be playful and usher you in the direction of “yes” to you dreams.

3.  Take risks.  It is true, in the space of uncertainty, there will be no rewards without risks.  On this journey it has been essential that I leap out of my comfort zone and sometimes take daring action.  Keep in mind, this is not reckless action.  The risks I take are in the space of seeking wise counsel and having a support system.  This combination has made all the difference to assist me in more confidently leaping into the unknown.

4.  Stay in Action.  Sometimes in the space of uncertainty, we may have an idea or concept about where to go or what is next, but it still isn’t clear and we really are not sure just what to do.  At this time I find it important to stay in action.  Keep doing things daily that take us in the direction we want to go… even if that is just a vague concept.  For me, staying in action helps to keep my attitude positive and to never give up.  It also gives way to unexpected opportunities.  I look at it like scattering seeds. I try to stay unattached to what “works out” and what doesn’t and then watch what blossoms and grows.

5. Practicality.  Of course, there is a practical element in the waves of uncertainty.  Even with the opportunities that uncertainty can present, it can be daunting at best.  When living into uncertainty, I do my best to handle the practical.  Make sure the details that I know to handle are all cared for.  I also seek to provide myself with some practical comfort that may help me ease through the uneasiness.  I ask myself, what do I need to make myself feel better at that point?  Maybe it’s an outline of a plan… even if that plan doesn’t come into fruition.  Perhaps it’s a spreadsheet of options, contacts and ideas. Or maybe even a job, any job, just to bring in some income. Whatever it is, tend to the practical to help ease your mind and being.

6.  Spiritual Practice. Whether you travel the globe or not, life is uncertain.  Things change unexpectedly beyond our control. However, my experience is that through cultivating spiritual practice, we can connect to that unchanging space of spirit.  I view it as building a foundation on something far greater than the ever-changing unpredictability of any life.  As I connect daily with this space through spiritual practice, it helps to ease the discomfort of uncertainty and provides a greater stability for negotiating this space.

Spiritual practices for me include reiki, chanting, yoga, and the Sudarshan Kriya.  I spend some quiet time in these practices nearly every morning and night.

You may enjoy these practices.  But spiritual practice for you may look different.  Perhaps it is meditation, a tradition in your religious practice, or a walk in the woods.  Whatever it is, taste it daily.

How about you?  Any waves of uncertainty you are surfing through?  Any tips or experiences to share?  It’s always great to hear from you.

Now that I have arrived in Vienna, some of my huge waves of uncertainty have settled a bit to make way for some seedlings of stability.  I pick up my little Austrian friend from school today for the first time by myself and prepare to tend to the little things that will help out this family while mom is away.

Good-bye for now from the cozy flat nestled in the busy (but not too busy!) center of Vienna.

Featured photo is a treasured corridor in Vienna en route to my German course.

Parting with Familiarity

22 Oct familiarity

A friend of mine recently submitted the new featured quote for this Gypsy Woman blog.  Her chosen theme couldn’t have been more timely… or appropriate.  It’s message is, simply, that if we want to grow we will have to part with some things we are attached to… including, and at its base, habits and ways of life that are familiar to us.

While I admit there is nothing wrong with a gentle dose of familiarity… sometimes our cherished habits and ways of being can set limits on our dreams, goals, wishes and desires.  After nearly four years of international travel, parting with familiarity has in its own way become familiar to me. But still, it seems that each new destination requires that I strip off a layer of familiarity in the name of my own growth and development.

The larger truth of this gypsy escapade is that growth has become a lifeline for me, a required text for this course in my life.  And while for me there are elements that are UNCOMFORTABLE as I face each new experience and circumstance, it is undoubtedly true that without this discomfort… I would not grow…

I write this presently with an equal doses of pleasure in the foreignness of my new surroundings coupled with the inevitable sense of loss that comes with departing more familiar scenery.  Each day in Vienna offers somethings new and inviting, but simultaneously are daily entanglements with my losses of familiarity. After living in South Korea for nearly two years, Vienna comes with certain comforts for this American bent mind. Most notably, it offers an alphabet I can recognize and a culture that is more at ease with speaking English. But oddly enough, in many ways Korea too became familiar to me… and so that is swimming in my pool of loss, change and growth.

New to me on this journey is studying a language. I am taking a German course!  So far on this international road I have found it quite possible to travel many places speaking only English.  More and more, it seems English is a global language.  However, when the opportunity to take a German class while in Vienna was presented, I thought it was a no-brainer to finally take a leap and explore a new level in my travel.  The idea of speaking another language has always appealed to me… it is the practicality of it, the sea of new words and rules and my adult English-formed neural pathways, that always seemed to get in my way…

After five ultra beginner German classes, I am already knocking loudly on the door of unfamiliarity.  My instructor shared just the other day that to speak German we will slowly have to let go of our own language… and not try to translate every word from German to English as often… you can’t. When first she said this I felt a little panic like being asked to give up a favorite childhood toy or blanket.  But as I relax more with the German sounds and phrases we learn in class, I can see this makes good sense.

Unfamiliarity and foreignness do have an allure and charm of their own. There is the innocence in exploring a new language and land.  The child-like pleasure of learning to count to ten again and communicate the simplest of things in a new way.  The simple pleasure of doing ordinary things, like going to the grocery store and finding new foods or spending new money.

In my present circumstances, I am living with and assisting a family with the care of their child and family life. This too in many ways is unfamiliar. In my past years of wandering, I have taught the youngest of students and at times lived in community with a wide array of “others”.  As most of my adult life has been independent living and the past four years a gypsy, family life lives in the realm of unfamiliar. It is new to me to sit next to my new young German-speaking friend and let her head rest on my lap as she trickles tears and wipes her nose after her mom and dad leave her alone with me for the first time.  And still new to me to find my place, be of service, and meet my own needs within the life and patterns of an established family, generous and giving as they are.

So this new beginning, as the others have been, is met with the push and pull of growth and loss… joy and challenge.  And for now, for this moment, I am content with the balance of the two.  After a lovely morning attending my german class, and now some quiet time in the afternoon to write, do yoga, drink tea… I am delighting in the balance.

How about you?  Any stories of growth to share?  Any new explorations being met with resistance?  If you’d like to share, it’s always great to hear from you!

I was told yesterday would be the last warm day until April.  Yikes!  I woke up today to grey skies and chilly temperatures.   Good-bye for now from the newly fall weather and historic streets of Vienna.

Exploration

15 Oct Donaukanal

It is early afternoon and I have recently returned from my second German class.  This class is a pleasant experience, but humbling nonetheless as I gently wade into the pool of speaking German.  Intended for the very beginners, instruction is delivered all in German with students from around the globe including Turkey, Mexico, Spain and South Korea… and me, from the USA.  It seems it will be a while before I can converse in German. But after two classes, I can ask your name and sort of… count to twenty.

This past week has been a gentle introduction into the world and life of Vienna and Austria.  In truth, much to my natural pace, I have been exploring little bits at a time.  I have just begun to see the sights of my neighborhood, the 7th district in Vienna, and appreciate simple finds like snacks at a local bio (organic) store suitable for this health-conscious traveler.Outdoor break

My hosts have been generous with their weekend, taking time to show me around.  Twice we hopped in their car, not their standard mode of transportation in public-transit-friendly Vienna, and set out beyond the city limits.  Saturday we had a lovely dinner with friends of theirs and also took a quick look at the Klosterneuburg Monastery on the way.

On Sunday we headed out to Gumpoldskirchen (say that three times fast…) and took a little stroll among the vineyards and countryside.  We couldn’t have been luckier with blue skies and a sunny summerish day.  After aAmong the vineyards modest hike we took a brief respite in a perfect outdoor spot featuring local wines, grape juice and light snacks.  We sat with others amongst the tables and haystacks for chairs and just let the beautiful weather sink in.  Next we went to a near-by restaurant called a Heuriger featuring the local wines of the year and simple local foods.  We found a sunny spot on the deck on the second floor and finished the day with a leisurely meal and some good company.

On my own I have found my way to a few local places including the Belvedere Palace and most recently a long stroll down the Donaukanal (“Danube Canal“) that runs through the heart of the city.  I have found folks in Vienna so far to be friendly and helpful.  Many are willing to speak English and offer a kind word or… directions when needed….Belvedere Palace

I have taken note of a few unexpected things so far in Vienna.  I learned that Vienna has the best drinking water right out of the tap!  In fact there is a pipeline that brings water direct from the alps! Amazing!  I was also surprised to see a taxi that was a Mercedes-Benz.  A far cry for the modest models of taxis in the States. I asked, “Is it typical for taxi’s to be such nice cars?”  “Yes,” they said.  In fact, they shared that all taxis are mostly Mercedes or Toyota hybrid cars.

With Fall still somewhat at bay, I continue to slowly sink into my new chapter in Vienna.  Reaching out to a few new connections and possibilities.  Knocking on a few doors for freelance work opportunities.  My hosts’ daughter and I are gently getting acquainted.  As I only speak English (for now…) and she speaks German, we have a funny little dance of getting to know each other…. a common word here and there, a few German words on my part, translation from mom and dad. In less than two weeks, her mom and my host will be off an adventure of her own.  While she is away, things will change here for me as I take a larger role in childcare, cooking and the like.  After nearly two years of living on my own in Korea, that too is an adventure in its own way.

Early evening is setting in.  Tonight I cook my first simple meal for the family.  And tomorrow, well, more exploration.  Good-bye for now from the historic streets of Vienna.

 Featured photo at top taken along the Donaukanal in the heart of Vienna.

Hello Vienna!

7 Oct A view from the window in my room in Vienna

I am at home on a cool Fall afternoon eating delicious leftover goulash.  But this home is none that I have known before.  I have left the midwest and my business in DC is complete.  After a three-hour layover in Istanbul courtesy of Turkish Airlines, I now find myself… newly at home in… Vienna.

How one gets from South Korea to the US and then to Vienna is no common road.  I did not simply wake up one day and think… hmmm, perhaps I will go to Vienna.  It seems, somehow that it was Vienna that wanted me to come to her… with of course, some mutual agreement.

It began simply with an introduction.  A friend noticed on Facebook that I have the exact same birthdate (day, month and year) as a friend of his in Austria.  “Perhaps it would be fun to connect you?” he shared.  Whole heartedly I agreed and we began exchanging stories of ourselves and lives, comparing notes from where our personalities and preferences were similar.  She soon shared that she would be traveling twice to the US this year to work on an e-book project.  When she mentioned her need to create a way to support her husband and child while she was gone, it didn’t take long for both of us to have the thought… that I could come to Vienna!

A little anxiety, some well-organized planning, and an unexpected Visa trip to DC later… and before I knew it I was leaving Dulles airport on my way to Vienna.

Over my past 3 1/2 years of travels, it has been purely by accident that each major destination is separated by a time of respite in the States.  And so just as my mind and body start to sink back in my American ways, it is time to leave again.  This transition is frequently met with at least a little distress but overshadowed by the excitement of what is to come.  I find as I transition from one “life” to the next, it is easiest for me to stay in the present moment, take it one step at time, and allow the change to unfold in my reality as it happens rather than in the fortress of my mind and imagination.

I was greeted at the airport in Vienna by an exuberant friendly face. I felt a rush of emotion as I saw face to face the woman I had been writing to and came to think of as friend.  Her home was a pleasant taxi ride away from the airport and just minutes after my landing, I entered into the world of Vienna.

My first experience of Vienna was unlike any city that I had ever lived in before.  Beauty and history gently surrounding me.  When we arrived at her home, I was shocked and delighted to enter into a lovely courtyard in the heart of the city decorated in Viennese historical stature.  “This is your home?”  I thought in delight.  And for now, for a little while, it is also mine.

I slowly began to move through my jet lag, spending much of my first day on my own in my pajamas.  Today, however, I ventured out into the neighborhood a bit.  I can’t help but be giddy and perhaps a little intimidated by the beauty, culture and architecture that surrounds me. Never before have I taken a walk around my local block only to easily stumble upon historical empires, museums and theaters.

I left armed with a simple map and no real plan except to turn left when I exited the small corridor where their apartment is located.  After being in Korea for nearly two years, it is a noticeable difference to begin to negotiate a city that, while still foreign to me, at least has an alphabet I can recognize.  I couldn’t help but take note of how comfortable and at ease I felt wandering around.  My friend and host shared that Vienna is a safe city.  And while you may still have your pickpockets from time to time, there is not much to be concerned about.  That was apparent in my little outing today.  Even when I had ended up in an area where I was “not quite sure where I was”… I felt in my bones that all was well.

And now here I am, content to have successfully negotiated my way home.  And more content to feel the warmth of inside and enjoy more of my hosts delicious cooking.

I begin to delve into the German language on Monday with a beginners German class that will meet three times a week.  It is a great treat for me to be entering a new country with the opportunity to study the language in a more formal way.  My hosts are quite generous giving me time and space to first settle in and adjust to my new environment.

Good-bye for now from my new place in the world.  I am grateful for some quiet time as I ease into a new chapter of life and adventure in Vienna.

 

Featured photo:  A sneak peak of the courtyard from my cumfy room here in Vienna, Austria.

Wind of Change

29 Sep Outlook in Shenandoah River State Park

After nearly two months at home with my mom and family, change is once again sweeping through my life. Perhaps it is akin to the change in the wind notorious for shifting the lives of Mary Poppins and Vianne from the movie Chocolate, both seemingly at the will of forces greater than themselves.

“Where is the wind blowing me this time?” you may ask.  For now I have drifted still within the boundaries of the continental US, to Washington DC and surrounding areas.  I have a new opportunity that requires I first handle some business in DC before I take my latest leap once again heading for international territory.  And so for now it seems my fate, my will, or simply the wind continues to direct me to new destinations.  And while I must admit I go through a sea of anxiety with each transition, I am truly content to continue my adventure.

My business tending in DC has brought with it some comforts and joy.  I am most grateful to have connected with a high school compadre who lives in the area and have enjoyed her quiet respite and engaging company.  I wandered into DC on a rainy fallish day and handled my important business of the day and then leisurely walked the city.  I found my way to the DC SGI Buddhist Cultural Center nestled comfortably on embassy row.  I took some time to chant there before continuing my extensive promenade down Massachusetts Avenue to Dupont Circle.

DC has such an international flavor as I passed the embassies from countries along the row.  It was fun to catch a small sampling of each country in the architecture and the diplomats coming and going.  I navigated my way through the streets of DC with a fair amount of ease. After being in Korea, it makes a BIG difference simply to be able to read the street signs and maps and ask for directions.

I am now spending a few more days just outside the DC area near the Shenandoah National State Park.  I connected with a woman through helpx.net who was generous enough to invite me into her space while I am awaiting the completion of my DC business.  I am tucked away in a tiny town nestled in the shadows of the surrounding hills and mountains.

 

Days here have been reflective of the surroundings… simple and quiet.  I have enjoyed a walk in the neighborhood of mostly trees and hills with the occasional neighbor. I have soaked up some quiet time near the stream that flows through her property.  I have been glad to share heaping amounts of reiki in the afternoon mostly with my host, but also her cat Bob has joined in. We have the most lovely spot for reiki, the message table set up in her outdoor pagoda alongside the stream.

Just a few more days for me here and then with some luck I finish my DC business and… I am off… again!  In truth this is a bit of a challenging time in the wake of my father’s passing and leaving my family. I am still feeling the shift of the big changes in my life while also on the precipice of the next chapter in my journey.

Where I am off to next… remains with me for now.  But soon I will share.  My flight is just around the corner! Good-bye for now from the coolish mountain land in the northeast.

Inner Voice – Never Leave Home Without It

17 Sep Field

In the world of travel and conquering the great unknown, there is an abundance of information available to assist us on our way. Where to go, what to do, what to pack.  But one important yet seldom discussed item essential for any international escapade or other noble descent into uncertainty is… your inner voice.

You know what I am talking about.  It’s that voice… that one Kermit the frog (and Jason Mraz!) sing about in the Rainbow Connection. We have all experienced it.  That moment or moments when we KNEW that something was true but we had no logical explanation for how we knew that. Perhaps it was something simple like thinking of someone we haven’t spoken to in years just before we ran into them in a shopping mall.  Or maybe it was just a gut feeling that something wasn’t right for us… and we passed on it only to learn later it was a disaster. Whatever your inner voice moment(s) may be, it’s a handy companion to have on any journey.

In my life of uncertainty, staying tuned to my inner voice has served me well.  It has directed me towards concrete ways to immediately bring in money in times of emergency.  It has gently nudged me in new directions or connections that were of benefit to me.  It has encouraged me to take fruitful leaps that my intellect wanted to discard.

Whether you are roaming the globe or facing your own flavor of uncertainty, it is helpful to nurture and cultivate your inner voice. Here are a few tips to begin to add your inner voice to your repertoire.

Tips for Tuning into Your Inner Voice

1.  Take time to be quiet and explore stillness. It’s hard to listen to your inner voice when there is a barrage of noise and distractions around you or in your own head.  You don’t have to sell all of your personal belongings and sit on a mountain to begin to cultivate some quiet in your life.  If you don’t already, find simple ways to bring some quiet and joy into your life on a daily basis.  Maybe it’s a quiet walk in the park, or finding a serene spot outside to just sit and breath.  You could walk barefoot in your back yard or listen to a meditation CD.  Take a bath. Little steps every day to find quiet help cultivate a fertile ground where our inner voice can “show up.”

2.  Take your inner voice out for a test drive.  The best way to explore listening to your inner voice is to simply try it.  Pay attention to your inner world a bit and see what you notice.  Now don’t be confused, this isn’t the worrying voice in your head that starts shouting out distractions or going through your “to do list” for the day. It is a quieter voice.  Sometimes it’s like a whisper or a thought that enters your head, except it’s not your thought. You could start by trying something simple like asking your inner voice, what should I eat for dinner?  And see if you get a reply… a thought or idea that pops into your head.  If you get an answer and it isn’t something that sound totally awful, give it a try and see what happens.

3.  Inner Voice Discernment.  Even for experienced inner voice listeners, it is not always clear what is the wisdom of your inner voice and what is… something else.  So here is my general rule in negotiating the landscape of inner voice wisdom.  If you believe your inner voice is telling you something but you are not 100% sure, and it’s innocent with no negative impact if you try it, give it a whirl.  Perhaps it is reaching out to an old friend, pursuing a new job lead, or even simply trying a new restaurant.  Often, simply trying out innocent instincts can help to validate your inner voice. If, however, your inner voice is serving up life altering advice, seek outside guidance before proceeding.  Whether it’s your mom’s best friend who always has a good sense about things or a professional intuitive, it never hurts to get a second opinion.

Do You Want to Dig Deeper?

In my experience, the more we cultivate the quietness within the easier it is to hear and discern our inner voice. There are many spiritual practices that support this well and perhaps there are one or two that you’d like to explore. Here are a few suggestions and some of my favorites.

1.  Get a Reiki Treatment or Take a Reiki Class.  Reiki is a gentle Japanese healing art and does wonders for quieting the mind and easing the spirit.  It is also a great way to support and nurture listening to your inner voice.  After practicing reiki for over ten years, there are countless times where reiki has ushered in a strong knowing about something specific and useful, sometimes life altering, in my life.

If I am in your area, I am happy to be of service with a hands on reiki treatment.  I can also send long-distance reiki from anywhere in the world.  If you’d like to know more about reiki, visit the services section of my blog.  I am also happy to assist you in finding a qualified reiki practitioner in your area.  Simply write me through my contact page.

2.  Dive Deep Into Silence.  Vipassana is one of India’s oldest techniques of meditation.  Ten day silent Vipassana retreats are offered at no cost to participants all over the world.  These simple yet powerful retreats’ intent is simply to teach and offer practice in this style of meditation.  While not for the faint of heart, it’s a compelling journey into the silence and great support for your inner voice.  To learn more, visit their website at www.dhamma.org.

3.  Take a Yoga Class!  When I first began yoga, my mat was like a refuge.  It was a place where I could dive and surrender into something glorious and peaceful within myself.  It was also a tranquil treat for my inner voice.  Whether you are new or experienced in yoga, classes ranging from gentle to more vigorous flow await.

Do you have any tips or inner voice stories to share?  Perhaps a travel story or other time when listening to your inner voice really paid off?  Or maybe a time you were surprised by an inner voice encounter.  Feel free to write and share!  It’s always good to hear from you.

In the meantime, happy adventures into the unknown… whatever and wherever that may be for you!

Transitions

21 Aug back porch flowers

I have been back in the States for over three weeks now.  It has been an unexpected time filled heartily with family, life transitions and passages. Saying that my father has passed away is still a bit of a shock to me.  I find I am aware that the first stage of grief is denial.

The busyness of life after a family member passing has started to subside and what remains is simple day-to-day living.  I am staying with my mother and we each have our own list of things to do at this time. Each day we tackle something new –  run a new errand, take a next step to resolve something on our list. Her list is much about the many changes that happen in life after a spouse has passed away.  Mine includes tying up loose ends from my time in Korea and preparing myself for “what’s next.”

Being back in the US is still new enough for me that I am enjoying the simple comforts and pleasures that come with life in the States – rides in cars, easy access to things I want and need, comfy couches and chairs, and bathtubs big enough for me to extend my legs in.  I find I cherish the Korean habits that still remain in my mind and body.  There is my habit of taking my shoes off when I walk in the door or my guilt if I still have them on while walking on carpet, even though no one minds.  My instinct remains to do the cute Korean two-handed wave whenever someone is leaving.  And of course, I cannot forget my tendency to bow in gratitude or respect… in a variety of situations, including to the lady at the customer service desk at the local department store.

The truth is I love all of these little habits and I cherish them like favorite souvenirs.  While I was only in Korea for a year and half, it became a part of me and I am delighted to carry a small piece of that as I move on.

As things have slowed down here, my time more recently is passed with long leisurely hours and neighborhood walks.  I particularly enjoy my time at the wellness center at my mom’s church down the street where they offer regular yoga and exercise classes.  Nearly daily, I get to enjoy the company of mostly senior members as we embark on yoga and strength classes together.  From time to time, we may even do a line dance or two.  The people are friendly and caring and it does my mind and body good to get out for a bit, connect with others and get some exercise.

I am just starting to catch up with myself after the recent whirlwind of experiences . The exhaustion is beginning to lift and my mind and attention are now turning to new things.

But for now I am here, in a small midwestern town filled with big skies, open fields and hot August weather.  I am surrounded by the everyday sounds of my mom and her life.  From the comfort of my mom’s guest room and her sunny back porch, I am also starting to take a look just a little further down the road.

 

Featured photo – sunny flowers on the steps of my mom’s back porch.

 

Departures

7 Aug peaceimage

It wasn’t easy leaving.  But I did it…in record time.  I was on the phone with my family in the US at 2am Korea time.  After that phone call, I was clear. I needed to get home and no time was to be wasted.

We had known for some time that my dad was sick.  More recently, I knew I had to be on the alert for a possible quick departure.  I had made arrangements with my employer to leave Korea in two weeks.  But after that phone call I was clear… two weeks was too long and I had to leave right away.

At 2 o’clock in the morning, I called the airline and began searching for a flight leaving the following day.  There was one that left at 5:15pm from Korea with only two seats left.  If I wanted to see my father again, I had no choice but to book that flight.  I was taking a risk in doing so as I made this change at a time when I was unable to consult first with my employer.  But I took a leap of faith hoping they would understand the circumstances.

After that I started to pack, wrapping up my year and half of life in Korea in the early morning hours. I was intently focused and by noon I had minimized the expansiveness of my personal belongings down to two suitcases, a backpack, and one box to be shipped to the States.

I quickly made my rounds at work, doing my best to smooth over in person the quick changes I had made in the night.  I cleaned my apartment and completed the sale of a few household items to other teachers. Next, without time to spare, I took a cab to the airport.

The flights passed quickly and I soon found myself landing around midnight at an airport in the midwest. My sister picked me up and we went directly to the hospice where my father was being cared for.

When I saw him he smiled and I am grateful for that recognition.  Later in that day he called me by name a few times.  I cherish those moments that I would not have had if I waited even a day longer to leave. What unfolded next was the witnessing and ushering in of my father’s passing.

My mom, my sister and her family, and I were constantly at his side.  Even during the night my sister and I took turns sleeping on the couch in his room.  He was receiving impeccable care from the nurses at his hospice, but we wanted to be there nonetheless.

As the days went by the nurses continued to share the signs that let us know he was getting closer to his end.  We watched daily until the nurses with precision suggested that he had just a few hours left.  We all gathered around and were present as he simply just stopped breathing.

It is quite something to see a parent go and the swarm of emotions that follow.  Feeling strong one moment and being swept away by a surge of tears the next.  When my father passed away I felt honored for having been there for his last days. Strangely, it felt like we had accomplished something in being there for him every step of the way.  In some ways no different from birth and ushering in a life, we participated in the important process of being with someone, comforting, keeping and caring for them as they make their departure.

For now I am riding the quiet waves of grief in the strange space of his absence as my family and I prepare for his memorial service.  As my family migrated a few hours west of our home town, we are grateful to receive family and friends arriving from out-of-town for the service.

As life carries on… I am noticing all the little spaces that are now empty since my dad’s departure.  The thoughts of him that are now memories and the commonly spoken phrases that are no longer true. I am grateful that my dad and I did our best to stay connected with one another during this last year of his life and the journey of his illness.

And so, this journey of mine is detoured in the quiet lands of the midwest, stopped for now at this important family passage.

 

Featured photo – This quote was featured on the wall of the hospice where my dad spent his final days.

Simple Summer Pleasures

17 Jul Shopping in Itaewon

It’s the end of the day on Thursday, the last day of my “weekend” as I prepare to begin a new work week.  It’s been a somewhat relaxing weekend filled with the many familiar rhythms I have become acquainted with in my time in South Korea – the 2220 bus that takes me from English Village directly to Seoul; shopping for friendly and familiar food at2200 bus the foreign markets in Itaewon; riding the subway in Seoul while watching the sea of Korean faces mesmerized by their smart phones.  These are some of the things that have become the simple landscape of my life here in Korea.

I was thinking today that, aside from a few trips home, I have not lived in the United States for more than three years now.  That is amazing to me and it’s hard to believe it is true.  The other day I Skyped home to chat with my family and had the pleasure of receiving questions about being in Korea from my four very engaged nephews.  “What are the kids like in South Korea?” and “Why do they want to learn English?” were some of the sea of questions.  It was fun for me that they were interested and I was grateful that I could share this with them.

When I started this journey just over three years ago, buying a ticket to Germany felt like buying a ticket to the moon. Even still, a few years later buying a ticket to Korea felt like I was preparing to… I don’t know… travel through time.  While in earnest my international life has been quite modest, I am grateful for the “normalness” of it that has started to sink in over the years.  Buying or considering buying a ticket to visit a new country, while still exciting and sometimes a bit scary for me, is also something that feels totally available and accessible to me.  That is new.  And for that, I am grateful.

Don’t get me wrong, I do still “wonder” when I will return to the States and sometimes wish to swim in more familiar waters.  Occasionally I miss the accessibility I feel in the States simply because I can speak the language and read the street signs. But for now, I continue with my international journey.

My day today consisted of a quick trip to Seoul and some simple pleasures in the summer heat.  A little grocery shopping in Itaewon and also a little shoe shopping. The shoe shopping part did not take long as the shoes I liked were not available for my size 8 American feet. Disheartening… but not unusual in Korea.

I also treated myself to a therapeutic massage… doing my best to ease and tend to the tension I tend to carry with great commitment.  I went to a new place today called Create Wellness on the main strip in Itaewon.  My American conditioning is still disheartened when I walk into an office on a balmy summer afternoon and there is no air conditioning.  Even so, the staff was kind and friendly and the massage was excellent and my body heaved a sigh of relief as I exited the office.  I then easily made my way back to Paju and English Village.

We have a hearty handful of new teachers arriving lately at English Village.  As we haven’t hired in a while, most of the teachers here have been at English Village at least a year or longer.  It is good to have some new faces and energy around.  I see many of them observing with a timid or sceptic’s eye, adjusting to their new environment.  In many ways, English Village is a strange slice of life and it can take some time to adapt to its ways.

Good night for now from the balmy (but not yet rainy) lands of Paju English Village.  Thanks for reading and as you know, it’s always good to hear from you!

 

 

KSGI Escapade

10 Jul GEVSummerMorning

They picked me up at 7:10 in the evening – just outside English Village in front of the giant Stonehenge replica, still an unexpected sight in the quiet hills of South Korea.  They opened their car door and ushered me towards them with a friendly wave. I hopped in and we were off!

Where were we going, you may ask?  To the local Paju City meeting of my buddhist group, Soka Gakkai International.  I am grateful for my English-speaking connections and SGI friends in Seoul.  But from time to time… I get invited to a local meeting in Paju and it is always an adventure.

When they pick me up, I am never quite sure where we are going… it is a simple act of trust really.  We make an agreement to meet at a certain time and then they take me… wherever it is we need to go… wherever the meeting is.  I get a small glimpse of feeling a bit more “normal” in Paju, traveling by car through the regular roads and life of local folks. On the way there we pick up one, no two more people, and now there are five of us tucked into the back seat like a bunch of teenagers out for the evening.

A kind face turns to me and offers some friendly words in Korean.  After a years and a half submerged in the all English world of English Village, I have nothing to offer her.  I smile.  I shrug my shoulders.  She talks more slowly and uses her hands.  While well intentioned, it doesn’t help. I still don’t understand Korean.

In no time we arrive at the meeting and I follow the rush of bodies loading into the elevator.  We find our way to a member’s apartment where most guests are seated on the floor, Korean style.  Koreans know that foreigners don’t do the floor very well and I am no exception. I am escorted to a prime seat on the couch and me, my knees and my back are grateful.

Mostly, no one speaks English at the meeting.  So I sit and smile and look and listen.  I watch with admiration as the meeting is run so efficiently, packed with information, intent and interest and not a moment wasted.  People stand, share and everyone laughs.  I turn to ask, “what did she say?” and realize there is no one there who can answer this.

A near-by member, also on the couch, offers an olive branch.  There is a small paragraph written in English that summarizes the reading for the evening.  He shares it with me, smiles and says, “understand.”  I nod and am grateful for his English word.

The message of the reading is a reminder to “pray as earnestly as though to produce fire from damp wood.”  I love it and have some inspiration to take home to my daily practice.

As the meeting neatly comes to an end, just a well-packed hour later, everyone stands and prepares to leave.  I am met by wonderful faces and smiles.  The leaders greet me with their kind eyes and tug onto my hand as we share in our own language our wish to communicate.  But still, in earnest, it is nice to communicate in other ways too… the silent ways of smiles and eyes and kind touch.

As we prepare to leave, my couch mate offers his friendly smile and we take a picture together.  Without hesitation, he zips it off to my phone electronically.  But there is no time to wait as my escort is shuffling me towards the door and I feel I must keep up or lose my ride.  And so, I keep my eyes on them like a hawk as they lead me out and to their car amidst the many bodies departing.

A few minutes and a comfortable ride later I am home after my brief immersion into K-SGI.  I offer thank you in Korean, among the few simple words that I know.  I depart and they are off… almost as quickly as they came.

I check my phone to find a copy of the picture from the evening sent via text.  I respond a quick, “thanks!” to which I receive the reply, “No problem.  We are friends.  We are SGI members.”

And so is the beauty of community.  Anywhere in the world.  Whether we do or don’t speak the same language.  While I am someone with hermit-like tendencies and often happy with huge helpings of autonomy, I am also grateful for these snippets of connection and community.  Like a warm light in the night-time sky.

I returned to my apartment… happy to be home but also altered in a small way after my interlude in connection and the shared joy and power of the people and practice of Korea Soka Gakkai International.

Thanks for reading!  … and feel free to drop me a line… it’s always good to hear from you!

 

Featured photo:  Enjoying a quiet moment before class surrounded by the morning light and summer green of the surrounding hillside.

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