Sunday, August 29, 2010

A Good Traveler

“A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.” (Lao Tzu)

The Scottish vacation planned by Caitlin and myself is officially off. Since my visa still hasn’t arrived, we had to cancel our trip. We were both, naturally, very disappointed. She had to let go of her imminent vacation plans and I had to let go of my best friend’s hand as I begin a new life. I will now be moving to Aberdeen alone, nesting in my new home alone and meeting people alone. My security blanket (in the form of the most outgoing person in my life) will not be there to help me. And I won’t be there in person to help her with some of the major changes going on in her life.

Not surprisingly, we both knew that we need to embark on our paths alone. We have adopted the following radical notion: “Where I am right now is exactly the place to be.” We practiced being in the moment by eating fine chocolate, breathing deeply, and letting go of control of that which we cannot influence: The British Government. Of course, the blessings have poured in.

We called American Airlines and learned that she can change her ticket to Thanksgiving without spending a dime. In fact, AA will actually pay her the difference for the cheaper fare. I was nervous about spending Thanksgiving away from family and friends so this idea is very comforting. We are currently planning a trip to Colorado next week. Everything is falling into place to visit friends and family who are happy to see us on short notice. Going to Aberdeen later in September will actually save me money and I’ll start the school year in better shape, without having to eat ramen for a month waiting for my October financial aid check.

I’m starting to see August 2010 as my personal month of Zen. It began in Wales with beautiful scenery and lovely people. Then entered chaos, followed by acceptance. It continued with three weeks of bonus time with my family and friends in the Austin area. Then disappointment, then more acceptance. It ends with bonus time in Colorado and a huge dose of gratitude. I have learned perhaps the most important lesson of my life this month. Many things will happen that are out of my control. Rather than torture myself about it, I will drink a cup of chai about it. I will breathe deeply about it. I will pet the cat about it. And I will let go and live in the moment. What a relief!

Song of the Day: Thank You by Alanis Morisette

“The moment I let go of it was the moment I got more than I could handle. The moment I jumped off of it was the moment I touched down . . . Thank you terror. Thank you providence. Thank you disillusionment. Thank you nothingness. Thank you, clarity. Thank you, thank you silence.”

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Letter from Rilke

I stayed up late reading Rilke last night, and discovered to my surprise that he sat down at a desk in Sweden in 1904 and wrote a letter to me. At least that’s how it felt. Letter VIII in “Letters to a Young Poet” contains a famous quote about the future entering into us in order to transform us long before it happens. What I never knew was that the entire piece is about sorrow. And the timing couldn’t be more perfect since the summer depression has rolled in again like a Texas thunderstorm. Rilke wrote that each sorrow is a tool to transform us into our future, better selves. To hide from sorrow is to fail to grow into that stronger person.

“The more patient, quiet and open we are in our sorrowing, the more deeply and the more unhesitatingly will the new thing enter us, the better shall we deserve it, the more it will be our own destiny, and when one day later it ‘happens’ we shall feel in our inmost selves that we are akin and close to it.”

I think it is our human nature to try and escape our pain. We seek distractions through work, love, hobbies or addictions. But what would happen if went all biblical and took the time to sit in the sackcloth and ashes when we are sad? Why are we so afraid of our pain that we do everything but face it? Rilke advised his young friend to embrace his sorrow.

“You must not be frightened when a sorrow rises up before you, greater than you have ever seen before; when a restlessness like light and cloud and shadows passes over your hands and over all your doing. You must think that something is happening upon you, that life has not forgotten you, that it holds you in its hand; it will not let you fall. Why do you want to exclude any disturbance, any pain, any melancholy from your life, since you do not know what these conditions are working upon you?”

I do not know what this insomnia or seasonal sadness is making of me, but I know I am growing along the way. So I’m going to sit in the dark, play some quiet tunes, and allow myself to feel.

Song of the Day: All Along the Way by Drever, McCusker and Woomble. This one is actually Scottish, since this is supposed to be a Scottish blog after all :)

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Letting Go

The blessings keep rolling in. Friends have taken me to lunch, hired me to do odd jobs, and even taken me shopping. Today Caitlin bought my car. And I let it go in gratitude and peace. This decision was months in the making. I knew it was silly to keep it registered and insured when I didn't need it. Because it was a gift from my parents, I was afraid that selling it would upset them. When I got to Texas to weeks ago, broke and needing to finance my return to Scotland, I sought wisdom on how to find some money under a rock. I could hear my own voice say, "Sell the car. I told you that months ago." It just so happened that Caitlin's car died while I was in Paris and she needed another one. She specifically wanted the kind of car I had. And it all fell into place. She gets a car for less than she had planned to spend and I get money to go back to Scotland. It couldn't be more perfect. And so I let go of the last tangible piece of my life in Texas with joy for our shared financial blessing.

This summer has been all about letting go of the physical things that bound me here. My next challenge will be to let go of old pain, an absolute requirement for my own health and well-being as I build a new life. I read Elizabeth Gilbert's "Eat, Pray, Love" on my recent trip and had personal revelations all over the Atlantic ocean, France, England and Wales. Though my life story differs from hers, the wisdom she channels though this book is striking. Today I'm pondering the following:

"Clearing out all of your misery gets you out of the way. You cease being an obstacle, not only to yourself but to anyone else. Only then are you free to serve and enjoy other people."

Recently I was struck by the realization that my own unprocessed fear and grief has the potential to harm not only myself but others around me. I don't want to be an obstacle. I want to be a source of compassion for myself and those I love. So I strike out in a new direction, sort of an emotional detox. I'm not sure what the next step is, but it will present itself before long.

Here's to letting go!

Song of the Day: Let Go by Frou Frou

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


"Happiness hit her like a train on a track." (Florence & the Machine)

I took my own advice and started celebrating my lack of control. I put my control along with my passport into an envelope and shipped it to the British Consulate in Los Angeles. And I physically felt the stress leave my body. Happiness beyond any I've known (and without any precipitant event) really did hit me like a train. So did the blessings. Suddenly, I'm practically drowning in an abundance of love and support. The numerous, daily miracles are pouring in. I landed in Texas without any luggage and quite literally just the clothes on my back. I was, therefore, thrilled to discover one pair of clean underwear somehow overlooked at my parents' house, along with deodorant, facial soap and makeup. My bed is here and the sheets are clean. There were a few pieces of clothing in my closet that I didn't remember leaving here. My friends from my old job threw me a party last night. I feel an outpouring of gratitude for the opportunity to come visit my hometown and see my family and friends at a time unexpected. Since I'm not working, I have the time to spend with them that I didn't have before I left. I have time to pet the cat, take a nap, and eat tomatoes from the garden. I have found a way to finance my return to Scotland. A nice man gave me free juice. The list goes on and on . . .

I believe that my sense of control was clouding my vision from all the blessings around me. This experience has become profoundly beneficial for my well being rather than meaningless chaos. So to the American government, for stalling my financial aid process, and to the British government for necessitating a trip across the pond: Thank you! Most importantly, thank you to all my loved ones for the emotional support. You raise me up.

Song of the Day: The Dog Days are Over by Florence & The Machine

Thursday, August 5, 2010

A Rolling Stone

“But a Stranger in a strange land, he is no one. Men know him not, and to know not is to care for.” (Bram Stoker, Dracula)

With apologies to Mr. Stoker, I have to disagree. I have been a stranger in a strange land all week, all alone, and multiple people have taken the time to talk or joke with me. Even in the bustle of London, there are friendly folks happy to get to know you. Last night I chatted with an Italian waiter who confessed to me that he has never like gnocchi. “I feel like I’m supposed to like it, but I just don’t” he explained. I told him that I am from Texas and am in danger of having my state citizenship revoked over my hatred for guacamole. “Oh,” he said, “isn’t guacamole supposed to be very nice?” “Yes,” I agreed, “and I wish I liked it, but I hate avocados.” He said I don’t sound like I’m from Texas. I busted out my West Texas accent, learned in my youth during summers in Lubbock, and he was satisfied. Then I told him the accents get thicker the further you go from the populated Dallas-San Antonio-Austin triangle. I didn’t know what to tell him about the cowboy and immigrant multi-cultural sauna that is Houston.

Our conversation drifted to the inevitable “How long will you be in Britain?” I told him of my visa woes and he expressed faith that it would all work out fine. My Welsh innkeeper held the same opinion. Is lack of faith in government, in systems, in life – is that an American thing? Surely, somewhere, there are other cultures who go through life with the fatalistic belief that if a government (any government) is involved, things will not go according to plan. Why do people here seem to sure? Is it because the trains run on time and trash gets picked up and they get their medicine for 6 pounds? Is it a belief shared across the European continent full of countries who feel that as long as we’re not at war, we’re doing pretty well? I must learn this Euro-zen method. Where can I buy it?

I’ll be in Texas in 24 hours with very mixed feelings. Tonight while watching Mastermind on BBC (the best quiz show ever if you’re a bookish nerd) I learned that the word “nostalgia” is derived of two Greek words meaning “homecoming” and “pain” respectively. That just about sums it up. A chance to see family and friends? Wonderful homecoming. Leaving my dreams up in the air? Pain. I think it’s time for a little Bob Dylan.

Song of the Day: Like a Rolling Stone

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Traveling Against My Will

"If everything seems under control, you're just not going fast enough." (Mario Andretti)

I have been taking my time in Britain for granted and now I have to leave. New UK visa laws (and I mean 4 days ago new) say that I cannot change my immigration status form tourist to student from inside the country. Nor can I change my status in Ireland, France, or anywhere else other than the USA. I did all the research and planning months ago so this has come as quite a shock. I’m flying to Texas day after tomorrow to have a face to face meeting at the UK consulate (probably in Houston) and god only knows if this will all get processed in time for my August trip with Caitlin or my September 22nd term start date. Because the US Government changed all the financial aid laws last month, there are literally thousands of American students rushing to get visas. I feel my dream slipping away . . . again.

Not being in control of what’s happening to me and not knowing where I’ll be next month is very disconcerting. I feel homeless, directionless and frightened. The Buddhists I know would challenge me to celebrate not being in control. (In fact, I said something like that to Caitlin just the other day . . . damn it.) So here I sit in a cafĂ© in Wales, not knowing what the hell is happening or having any control over much, not even the flavour of scone I just ordered. Curent . . . hmmm.

I’ve been so stressed that I haven’t taken the time to enjoy the Welsh coast very much. Llandudno is a cute Victorian town full of English “pensioners” (senior citizens) on holiday in the cheapest (and one of the prettiest) parts of the UK. The English tourists like to ask me for directions and seem surprised by my accent. There aren’t many Americans here. In fact I haven’t heard any American spoken since the day I left London. I hadn't even realized that until this moment. Somehow I feel like I belong in this country even though I'm an outsider. Sigh . . .

Llandudno is surrounded by wild, windy mountains and crashing surf. The air is teaming with seagulls the size of roosters whose favourite thing to do is argue at 3:00am. I could swear last night I heard two distinct cries of "No! No no no no noooo!" That, of course, made me lie awake for at least 20 minutes thinking about the seagulls in "Finding Nemo" that fly around screeching "Mine! Mine!" I don't think these speak the same language here. I haven't seem them fight over fish or scraps like they do in Galveston. They mostly gripe and gossip like their crusty human counterparts that hang out in the pubs. Maybe the gulls don't like the new Prime Minister either.

I’ve included a couple of photos of Llandudno as well as a couple from Stratford Upon Avon and Warwick Castle (which is like a permanent Renaissance Festival for small children). Levi and I went to see Shakespeare’s birthplace as well as a Royal Shakespeare Company performance of “Julius Caesar.” Brutus was played very well by Sam Troughton. That’s for you BBC Robin Hood fans. The rest of you are like “who the hell is that?” The RSC does some of the best Shakespeare around. Levi and I couldn’t decide whether the productions at the RSC or the Globe were better done. I vote for a tie. If you’ve never been to the Globe, I highly recommend it. There’s something to be said for seeing Shakespeare done in a more original setting. If you book a seat, make sure you rent a cushion. Serious bum-numbing occurs on those benches.

Friday I bid farewell to my beloved Britain. I hope to return soon. In the mean time, this is me celebrating not being in control. Woohoo. Who wants to buy the first drink?