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.

cornishstonehedging.co.uk

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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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

en.wikipedia.org

Moments ago I was packing my carry-on for my flight (just hours away now) to Montreal, then Casablanca and beyond, when a long-ago memory flashed in my mind. I was a little girl, with friends at a community swimming pool, being goaded into climbing the high-dive:  about 10 meters, or 33 feet above the pool’s surface. Most of my friends were excellent swimmers and divers, but I wasn’t. Nevertheless, I climbed the metal ladder to the diving platform. My friends below laughed, pointed, not believing I’d go through with it. On the platform I was completely terrified. My internal organs felt like jelly – which I was sure they actually would be, once I hit the water. The audience below, now, also included most of the kids and parents at the pool that day.

All my life, as I think about it now, I’ve been taking ‘dares’ to do what others said I was incapable of:  too young, too old, too weak (read, a female). Or, what others said was too risky (read, ‘stupid’). Why, I wonder, have I always embraced fresh dares enthusiastically ? Those patterns were set as a child. Motherless at age 11 and living in a full household of males, I quickly realized that I was going to have to toughen up, fast. Being the baby (read ‘runt’) of the family didn’t endear me to my male tribe in terms of protection. I was expected to fight my own fights – literally.

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One day at school that same year, a boy at school – a very big, heavy kid in my class about three times my weight – started talking trash about me. With the recent death of my mother, my father had gone into complete shock. Ever the little trooper, I dressed myself and made my own breakfast before school. Most of the time, nothing I decided to throw on that day matched, or was even appropriate for the weather. Who cared? I had bigger concerns on my mind.

So this boy started talking and I set him straight with some smart talk of my own. He backed off, but later on that day, I was playing with friends in my neighborhood and he – for some reason – was there. He approached me, pushed me to the ground and then…sat on me. Laughing. His weight made me feel like a bug being squashed. I, of course, was screaming and cursing like a banshee, scratching and trying to bite (he eventually let me go). On that exact day, at that exact moment, I realized that fear was not going to squash my spirit – ever. Despite the odds, despite the risks, I was going to ensure that every single day would involve something just a little bit out of my comfort zone.

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In one of Deepak Choprah’s books (I can’t remember which one), he urges us to “Look to this day:  it is the very life of Life”. My trip to Morocco will be new territory for me. Making the dive from 33 feet above the water was a game-changer for me. Making sure the school bully got his come-uppence after “teaching the little skinny girl a lesson” ? That was just pure, sweet icing on the cake.