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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?

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.

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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.

Mosque,Marrakech

I’m not sure when I first noticed it. It started out as a feeling or subtle awareness:  a déjà vu sensation. As I’ve traveled more and more over the years, this awareness expanded in both depth and intensity. I began to think, in my mind, about what was going on.

Travel leads me ‘out’ of myself and into the world (most recently, Morocco). The more unfamiliar the environment, it seems, the faster I seem to want to go. Morocco, or ‘Maroc’ as the locals refer to it, felt like one enormous Souk:  a dazzle of sensory experience that was a kind of non-stop seduction further and deeper into the ‘heart’ of whatever city I was in at the time. Most larger cities in Maroc have multiple souks (narrow, maze-like caverns of goods for sale), and medinas (more like a city square).

A Medina, Marakech

Following a souk is exactly like the story of Alice, in her Wonderland:  your curiousity propels you in your very first step forward, to see what further delights might lie ahead. There’s no point in looking for markers or street signs – there aren’t any; and the scenery changes constantly, so it’s impossible to get your bearings. Spices, leather goods, clothing, fabrics, jewelry, food, shoes, crockery, rugs, metal crafts…just a partial list of ‘sections’ within each souk. New wares are constantly being delivered, by donkey or scooter, throughout the day; so walking a souk means paying attention to shouts of “Aihtaras!” (Move! Now!). For Moroccans, this is Life:  vital commerce that extends from about 9 in the morning until midnight. It’s very possible to become disoriented in a large souk:  there are so many people, so many things that draw your attention, moving your feet forward, trancelike. Deeper in wonderment you go.

At some point in my life, travel began leading me ‘into’ myself as I explored the world. Just like in a souk, I abandon any worry of becoming lost, and give in wholeheartedly to the experience. I trust that, when I need to ‘exit’ that exploration for a minute, to process and integrate what I’ve learned, I’ll find the right resting spot.

With this trip, I soon realized that Maroc has been a part of my inner-self exploration even before the trip was planned. Returning to the States, as soon as I walked through the front door to my home, I saw with fresh eyes – and astonishment – that my décor is actually very Moroccan. It has been, since as far back as my first apartment. But I needed to go to Morocco, to wander souks with total abandonment and trust, to be reminded of what was already in my heart and a part of who I am. “Shukran, Maroc.” I will return; and in the meantime, continue to carry you in my heart.

The Blue City, Rabat

I hate going to the doctor. Any doctor, any time (even when I’m sick and might need one), for any reason. Even benign check-ups. It’s not quite at the phobic-level, but close. Recall what early American pioneers took note of as they moved out West, and encountered Native Americans for the first time. If a newcomer wanted to take a photograph of an indigenous person, they were refused. As American folklore explains it, these original Americans felt that a photograph would rob them of all, or part of, their soul-essence. Thanks, but no thanks. That’s how I feel about most of the medical profession. Irrational, maybe, but there it is.

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When a person reaches his or her 90’s, even in relatively good health, more and more doctors creep quietly onto the stage. Yesterday, as I do every week, I spoke with my uncle who lives about 2,500 miles from me. He’s 91 and still able to be independent; mentally and physically active. And yet, his health has to be ‘monitored’. As he puts it, “At my age, it’s always something.” So off he went, to one of his half-dozen doctors two days before our talk, feeling fairly strong and fit, considering. But as soon as he was put into a room to wait for the physician’s assistant, my uncle said he began to feel anxious. When the P.A. arrived and did a blood pressure check, my uncle’s was abnormally high. “You know,” he later told me on the phone, “it doesn’t do a damn bit of good for them to tell me to ‘relax’.

I can relate. The next day I went to get a flu shot (which I always argue with myself about, but end up doing it anyway). Waiting for the nurse my pulse was amped and my breathing was shallow. When she arrived and was ready to jab my shoulder with her needle, she put her arm down, eyeballed me, and said, “Relax this muscle and try to breathe through it!” as she poked the target on my arm. Easier said than done.

As I was leaving that place (as fast as I could), I began thinking about all of the scenarios in which someone had told me to Just-relax-and-breathe-through-it. Labor pains, and the birth of my son; a therapist I went to, when my entire organization was melting-down and people were literally ‘keying’ one another’s cars and slashing tires out of spite; trying to focus on my attorney’s words, as we discussed my brother’s lawsuit over my father’s inheritance, robbing me of two years of peace of mind.

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Relax. Breathe. Sometimes I play a mental game with myself during stress. I compare what I’m presently going through to the absolute worst-case moments I’ve had before.  Just to keep perspective. Which, I know,  isn’t the same as breathing-through whatever ‘it’ is. Because breathing-through it means allowing the terror to enter my heart, to lie coiled there for as long as it wants (while I try to ignore it), until it gets bored and goes away. Intellectually, I understand that a tensed muscle equals resistance, which equals more pain. But something much deeper, and more primal closes my ears and makes me want to hide from scary moments. When I hear, “Relax and Just Breathe Through It”? Well, the expression “Hold my beer…” comes to mind.