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Whenever I have a ‘bad’ dream, it’s never about things like being in a car accident, giving a poor presentation, or getting mugged. Strangely, those situations don’t seem to antagonize me (although I’ve experienced the first two and remain vigilant against the third).

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Sleeping through a wake-up call and missing a flight does. During recent travel I heard the 3:30 a.m. Call as if it was part of a dream. At the end of my trip, I was completely exhausted and, having finally adjusted to my new time zone, was in Deep Rest that felt like a coma. I finally woke at the second call, but was so disoriented that I’d confused my shuttle-departure time and barely made it to the hotel’s lobby, where I was literally shoved onto the shuttle by two bellmen.

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Last night I dreamed I was in northern India, traveling with two friends and our guide. When we arrived at our new city I realized that I’d left my travel bag (passport and money), as well as my cell phone, in the previous hotel – a two hour drive behind us.

As a rule, awareness and sensations in my dreams feel visceral:  heightened or exaggerated. Even my physical abilities get amplified. (I used to dream – a lot – about being able to swim and breathe underwater, like a fish. In another dream, I could fly like a bird.) When my dreams are pleasant, they feel like an amazing escape into another world. When they’re fearful, however, the same rule applies and the terror is something that I want to escape from.

Last night’s dream about having forgotten my travel essentials was crystal clear and so real that its intensity woke me with a pounding heart and breathlessness. When faced with the travel-horror of ‘no documents and no money’, my Reptile Brain simply reacts and recoils:  there’s no reason or logic.

I’ve come to recognize (with resistance and resentment) that fear-based dreams are helpful indicators of what still lingers in my subconscious mind. I picture geology lessons from my childhood schooling on volcanoes:  that stream of molten lava, lying horizontal deep in the earth until a seismic event buckles the layers of rock, pushing liquid fire to the surface. Exposed to the air, it eventually rests and cools. But not before causing mayhem. So it is with the fears that still linger deep below, in the most primal regions of my psyche.

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Like many people, I’m engaged (most of the time) with the Personal Work to address and rid myself of my typically-irrational fears. It frustrates me that I continue to review and re-hash themes that echo with vulnerability and powerlessness: they present themselves in such contrast to who I think I am in my waking hours.

The every-once-in-awhile (not often, thankfully),  nighttime-jolt of how my Reptile Brain  really perceives things – despite what my Intellect might be telling me, on the surface of my Life – is a stark reminder. Not to think, but to feel into what I’m still afraid of, and why. It may be that I really don’t want to know, because my fears don’t fit with the Image I have of my Self at this moment in time.

Spiritual teachings remind me that I embody the essence of Light and Dark, the Lion and the Lamb, Yin and Yang. Instead of seeing Fear as an enemy to be vanquished, maybe it’s time I just let it be what it is, and do what it needs to do. Maybe it just wants a seat at the table, inclusion and harmony, as a natural part of Who I Am. Can I be the Gracious Host and allow it?

theledger.com:
The Renowned Miss Manners

When it comes to social niceties, I wouldn’t put myself up there with Miss Manners. (Where in the world is she, by the way…and is she feeling hopelessly redundant these days?). But, even when it requires effort and feels really tedious, I can behave as I’m expected to “in polite society” – at least for an acceptable amount of time. It’s not that I want to be disrespectful – definitely not mean – it’s just that certain social conventions seem so silly:  like we’re doing things according to some script, and not because anyone really wants to do ‘the thing’.

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Cases in point:  I will never say, “Oh, that’s ok” if it really isn’t. I’ll never invite you to lunch if I don’t ever intend to have lunch with you. If I’m not ‘feeling it’, but you press to get my phone number, I’m going to send immediate signals that’ll be very hard for you to misinterpret.

On my recent overseas trip I met another traveler who telegraphed romantic interest right away. I enjoyed our conversations in the moment, but when he asked if I might like to visit him in New York, well…

There’s a social convention that I find totally mystifying. I don’t know if it’s a lack of authenticity, Extreme Manners, or just a discomfort with self-expression. Here’s one scenario:  I run into a friend I haven’t seen in a long, long time. We were never very close – never shared personal information, family updates, etc. When we meet, we hug and smile and briefly catch up. When we’re about to part company – there it is:  “We should get together for lunch or a drink sometime!” So we exchange phone numbers, pretty sure that neither of us is going to call or text the other. (Sometimes we do, but mostly we don’t.) Why is this?

For busy people – jobs, family, our hobbies, or just being happy hermits — we’re all engaged in what I used to call ‘sifting’, but now realize is actually Swiping. Who has access to us begins with our close-personals:  spouses, kids, genuine friends; sometimes co-workers.

Working outward from our Inner Circle, we begin sifting / swiping our Connections. After all, we only have a finite amount of time, energy, compassion, interest, (I call it mental file space) to entertain the thought of more Person-able responsibility. Which means more conversation; more sharing; perhaps more obligations. Most of us have to guard against becoming overloaded. Makes sense. Add to this a delicate Truth:  we all know the person who ‘means well’, or has ‘a good heart’, but who is a human Black Hole, demanding more time and energy than we can muster or give.

So, as we all go about our lives, conventional behavior dictates that we also go through the motions of “let’s try to get together’, or, “I’ll call you”, even though we know there’s never going to be any follow through. But what’s the polite alternative? Pretty rough to say, “I’ve enjoyed seeing you again but – sorry – I’ve gotta Swipe Left.”  I don’t know…is this actually worse than committing to a call or a text, with no intention of doing either?

The fellow traveler suggested that I plan to visit him ( in NYC) – a gutsy leap, considering our short and superficial chats, so, ‘points’ for assertiveness. Still, I did not, could not say, “Sure, that sounds great.” Because it didn’t. (The ‘chemistry’s’ there, or it isn’t). So, I just smiled and pointed to an enormous stork nest atop a minaret, in Morocco – with a stork perched in it. The New Yorker clocked my stork-distraction as a ruse to get out of answering his invitation, and the moment passed.

I did feel a little bad that I couldn’t respond more favorably to New York, but proud that I didn’t say that I would come – or, even worse – create a plan to go without feeling a genuine interest in the man.

At the end of the day, these kinds of things can weigh heavy on my mind, causing me to scrutinize my own authenticity. I don’t ever want to intentionally mislead anyone, or be hypocritical. So yes: I’m going to Swipe My Life, hoping that that the other person can somehow appreciate this as a kindness. I doubt that Miss Manners would approve, but my own conscience does, and that’s what matters most.

This recent trip overseas, I decided to guinea-pig myself in an experiment. Always seeking remedies to reduce the dreaded Jet Lag, I’d read about how face masks – the kind that filter germs – can actually shorten your ‘lag time’. Something about breathing moist air, reducing overall dehydration caused by flying, which apparently contributes to feeling so rotten. So, on the roughly 13 hour flight over, I wore the mask pretty much the whole time. Whether it was the excitement of landing in a new country, or the mask actually working, I perked-up  after only a day and a half of feeling rough. The second half of the experiment:  I didn’t wear the mask at all on the flight home. What a difference. Four full days of a spacey head and not wanting to do much beyond sleep. I’ll definitely be packing a mask from now on.

Back home, while I was still feeling like a zombie, I decided to go to my local grocery store for a pick me up ‘shot’ of immune booster. (What I eventually settled-on was an eye-watering, nose-running, cough-spluttering combo of really hot fresh ginger, turmeric, black pepper and some exotic berries I’d never heard of.) While I was trying to read the teeny tiny print on itty bitty Alice in Wonderland bottles, all in psychedelic colors (is that part of their appeal, I wonder), I felt a person behind me. As I scooted out of the way, the woman began talking to me.

I’ve never heard a person talk so fast. Of course, she didn’t know my brain was ‘toast’ from flying. I smiled, and nodded, and she talked. And talked. Some of what the woman said filtered through my mental fog – she seemed to know a lot about those little super-shots and had tried most of them. Helpful. But then the topic meandered a little…to her battle with all kinds of Life stressors and her body’s ‘breakdown’ as she put it.

This happens to me a lot. I’m in a store. Any store. Someone wants to know, “Does this melon smell ripe to you?” “Does this dress look good on me?” “Do you know anything about the benefits of celery juice?” This last question came from the woman in the store yesterday. Far from being annoyed, or anxious to be on my way, I was transfixed by her story:  it just kept rolling out as I continued to read labels, hoping that one in particular would whisper, Choose me!

In a span of the past five years, said the woman, she’d endured the following:  flying 2,000 miles to support a niece through rehab; caring for her mother-in-law until her death from breast cancer; taking-in her brother and his wife when he lost his job; losing another brother to alcoholism; and coping with the death of a dear aunt who meant more to her (she said) than her own mother. After sharing an impressive (and scary, to me) list of meds she’d been prescribed by various doctors (“I had a full-on breakdown and was hospitalized”), the woman told me she was intent on getting well naturally. Clean foods. Juicing. Ah – that explained her super-shot knowledge.

It was time for me to try to edge – gently and tactfully – away from this encounter. I wished the woman luck – she seemed better for having talked non-stop for a bit — and almost immediately flashed-back to when I was a care provider for my own father. How it wore me down. How my love and care for him caused me to almost get into a similar state of total physical, mental, emotional and spiritual collapse. I can’t imagine a succession of caregiving demands. Love is strong. Love is the greatest power on earth;  but we are fragile systems, often unaware and unable to realize when our breaking point is near. Love allows us to endure unimaginable hardship without a thought for our own welfare; love blinds us to any and all things that are not a part of our impulse to care, to sacrifice, to find strength when strength is gone.

I was glad, suddenly, that I was there yesterday in that store isle. The woman who unburdened herself to me didn’t know I had a minimally-functioning brain. It didn’t matter. She talked. I listened. We both connected, intimate strangers. I walked away marveling at her strength, and at the amazing things we do for Love.

Being a fledgling writer (is there a rung below that? I’ll put myself there), I appreciate well-crafted writing. Especially poetry. Its economy of words, when strategically joined together, that can make me feel connected to a complete stranger (the poet):  a shared intimacy that sometimes feels deeper and more satisfying than many relationships.

Poems I’ve read return to me at odd times. I hear them in my mind like gentle whispers – not overtaking whatever I’m experiencing at the moment, but adding to my experience by reminding me that human perceptions and emotions can feel amazingly ‘universal’:  across time, across countries and cultures; across all other real or imagined boundaries that might divide us.

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During my recent trip to northern Africa, a poem by Robert Frost came to mind. “Mending Wall” is about Frost’s experience with a farmer-neighbor who insists that each Spring they both walk the waist-high stone wall separating them, re-positioning the boulders. “Good fences make good neighbors”, the farmer says. But Frost is not so sure. He says to the farmer, “Before I built a wall, I’d ask to know – what I was walling in, or walling out, and to whom I was like to give offense.”

Global travel brings me into contact with ‘walls’ of all kinds. The surprising attitudes of my travel companions as they clutch their home culture, its behaviors and its expectations, as opposed to relaxing into the new country. What clearly feels like hostility from Passport Control, in completely unfamiliar surroundings and language. The potential is great, to allow those walls to impact the full experience I’m seeking.

I’m acutely aware that, being viewed as a ‘foreigner’, I’m not always enthusiastically welcomed in my new country. I’ve felt this before, especially while traveling in the middle east. I get it, and I’m not offended by it. But…who built these ‘walls’? And who consistently walks them, re-positioning the boulders? It doesn’t really matter at this point; the barriers travelers encounter are as real and as palpable as actual stone.

As poet Robert Frost writes in “Mending Wall”, “Spring is the mischief in me”:   he gently prods his neighbor about why the stone fence is so important to him. After all, Frost says, “You have no cows.” To that, the farmer has no response other than to say that his father before him always maintained the wall. Frost muses about this, but says nothing.

We can choose not to travel, to accept the walls between us; or, we can decide to playfully disregard our role in re-positioning the boulders that dislodge over time. I accept that barriers provide some comfort and security, but, as Frost writes in the opening and closing of his poem, “Something there is, that doesn’t love a wall.” I don’t want to tear it down…just continue to look for openings where I can see, know, experience and feel what’s on the other side.

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travelsinateacup.co.uk

For awhile, after I’ve traveled abroad and through multiple time zones, my sleep patterns are way out of whack. I wake in the middle of the night, feeling like it must be morning (“It is,” says my body, “somewhere…”) More than this, when I wake it takes me a minute to clock my surroundings:  Where am I? I listen for sounds to orient myself. I become oh-so-present, feeling the need to get my bearings in the moment. Darkness sharpens my senses, but my brain doesn’t quite grasp the input it’s getting.

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My emotions also shift during and after a trip. I tend to immerse myself so totally in new travel experiences that, when I come back home, everything inside of me feels as though it’s been re-set to different coordinates. I feel a little ‘out of body’ at first; sleep deprived for sure. But also deprived of things I’ve become used to in my new country:  a different slant of sun; a bluer sky; a haze of burnt-orange, or blinding-white buildings perched on a hillside. Aromas that’ve awakened my senses: the bitter-orange blossoms that are totally distinct from the orange trees in my home state. (How is it that the air in the entire city of Marrakech, no matter where you go, smells like cedarwood?)

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Coming home, I can fall prey to what I call the Traveler’s Blues. Thankfully, the symptoms don’t last long and are eased somewhat by cat-naps. But I’ve also learned to be gentle with myself when a trip ends. It’s ‘ok’ to suddenly long for every aspect of my new country(ies), while at the same time feeling ecstatic about being back home in my own space. The push-pull of relief, and longing – a sweet melancholy. Right then is when I try to bring my mind and heart together by entering a different kind of ‘time zone’.

In his book “The Power of Now” (1997), Eckhart Tolle calls it The Gap:  the space of no mind, no thinking; just being and feeling wholly present where you are, in every way. Of course, Ram Dass’s book “Be Here Now”, written in 1971, should be credited with introducing the mental oasis known as Being Present. Regardless of who nudged us into this practice first, I feel deep gratitude for this resource.

As I return to my own country, back to my own complex life, I feel that I’m returning from a deep-dive: not only into another culture, but into my Self. Imagining myself a scuba diver, ready to make for the glittering sunlight on the surface of the ocean, I swim slowly and calmly. I focus on my breathing. My heartbeat is a meditation. The dark mystery is below, the sunlight shimmers on my eyelids. This perfect moment is a balance of Who I Was, joined by Who I Am Now; of remembering, and anticipating my next travel adventure.