Buried Stuff: It Hurts But Heals

Our first full day at the Provence retreat on August 30th, we visited Abbey Thoronet, just outside of the town of le Luc. This Cistercian Abbey was founded in the 12th Century by monks who left the Benedictine order that had grown into a “superpower” of a church, where monks were often quite wealthy and preferred to spend their time focusing on the politics of the era. Cistercian order was founded on the desire to adopt the poverty and humility of the first Christians. While we visited the Abbey, our retreat leader, Nicole offered a thought to each of us, to wander through the grounds of the Abbey, find a spot where we could sit and imagine the lives of the monks that lived, worked and so often died on these grounds and reflect on what our “order” is in this world we live in, what “order” do we desire, one we are working towards, or one we are wishing to leave behind. The peaceful and historic grounds of Abbey Thoronet were the perfect place to contemplate my “order”, what surfaced was a rich discovery in my path to personal growth. I’d like to share the words that rolled through me during that time.

What’s my order? I chose to name my year of travel Wandering in Possibility. When I initially decided on wandering it stemmed from the idea that I didn’t plan out my whole year but rather wrote down countries that interested me, times of the year that would be good to visit these countries and if I had any contacts or recommendations. I would plan enough to be safe, but make sure that I was staying curious to other options. A few weeks ago before visiting Provence, I looked more closely at the definition of wander and was curious to find a reference in the online Merriam-Webster Dictionary, that wander “implies an absence of or an indifference to a fixed course.” This statement is the complete antithesis of how I have approached life. I always had a plan, I chart out a course and I stick to it, even when a better path sometimes shows up. So now, I’m sitting at Abbey Thoronet contemplating my order and what surfaces is my order has been order. I needed order, control, safety and responsibilities. I needed to make a living in Corporate America with a defined salary, a title that displayed where you fit in the hierarchy, a job description with rules about what needed to be done to be considered a “success”, defined parameters around when you work, 8 to 5. But oddly, I fought those boundaries, that authority, and those rules my entire life. Thinking I was somehow above the rules, but needing to live safely within their walls, protected from creativity, vulnerability. I basically fought the order, I was working so hard to create. I wrote this poem at the Abbey after the above thoughts unfolded on paper.

For all of my life, I strived for order

Counting things to feel secure about my surroundings

Connecting lines that did not need to be connected but made me feel part of the solution

Being good at math and science because there is almost always a correct answer

Immersing myself in Corporate America

Protected behind a title, a salary and documented responsibilities

But that order became a bind, a noose around my neck

No room for romance, passion, whimsy or play

My creativity dying to come out

My true order needing the space to be discovered

So now, I wander

Open to possibility

Free to feel

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Glide into romance, into loving myself

Feeling safe to let love be my first reaction

Fast forward three weeks to today, September 20th. I have looked through those words I wrote at the Abbey on at least five separate occasions. Processing how to move forward on this personal journey is daunting and today I found myself on the streets of Naples, a city void of any order whatsoever, completely overcome with self-doubt. I’m talking about full blown – what the hell am I doing self-doubt, shame at its worst. I have walked away from every bit of order and definition in my life. I no longer have a job, a house, a husband, my kitchen to make a healthy, delicious meal, the ability to call my daughter and see if she wants to hang out together tomorrow, my bike to jump on and feed my soul through exercise and fitness, my friends, my family and even my neighborhood Trader Joe’s and favorite breweries.

As Brené Brown writes, the ‘shame gremlins’ were out in full force today and they need to be brought to light to start the healing process. Traveling is definitely wearing me down. You have to have your guard up most of the time and perhaps selecting a city where that is true more times than not, was a way of exposing this shame I am feeling. I didn’t have to face it with the comfort of my friends around me in Provence, or traveling easily along the coast of Côte d’Azur. This isn’t the only moment of fear and doubt that has come up in the nine weeks I have been traveling, but the experiences of those nine weeks provided fuel to it today. I think being in Italy is like pouring gasoline on that internal flame. France has always been my love, the place where I dream of living, the place I felt the most free, the place I wanted to celebrate my 50th birthday. I haven’t visited Italy until now, and I always envisioned Italy as a place I would explore with Jeff. Biking through Tuscany, walking the canals of Venice, seeing his favorite sights that he explored in 2010 while Jordan and I visited Paris for the first time. Now I’m here, by myself, and what has unveiled itself is doubt, regret, fear, pain and emptiness. Acknowledging these emotions are healing for me and vitally necessary, but they hurt like hell! While I have done a great deal of journaling during my travels, I have avoided getting into the hard stuff. I think I’m making excuses because I still have places to go, things to see, and I need some stamina to make those things happen. Today was obvious that it doesn’t do any good to push through and see sights, just for the sake of seeing a new place, when my insides are feeling like liquified concrete. And the fact is, this mid-life gap year isn’t just about the travel, it is about discovery of myself, where I fit into this world with a new and more open perspective. But that new perspective requires healing. 

I don’t want to discount all I have learned and accomplished in the last two months. I have gotten around places with really no huge issues, I have seen so many beautiful and new places. I have met people that have taught me how important it is to be open and honest and let people in. I have been put in situations that would cause some people to utterly freak out and stayed in apartments that weren’t nearly up to my standards of cleanliness. But over these last two months, I have learned to slow down. To not get upset over certain things that are completely out of my control and that is really most of the situations I’m in these days. There is very little that is even within my control. As I witnessed today, Naples lives simultaneously with 2,000 year old structures, some just under the surface of the street and others amidst the streets and buildings that make up the fabric of people’s lives today. My stuff isn’t 2,000 years old and while it might take some internal revolutions or at least a change in management, the end result is completely worth it. In light of all that and the emotions that pushed their way to surface today, I am truly wandering in possibility. With more of a focus on the possibility, or as Merriam-Webster would say:

1: the condition or fact of being possible
2: one’s utmost power, capacity, or ability
3: something that is possible
4: potential or prospective value —usually used in plural

“La vita è questa. Niente è facile e niente è impossibile.” This is life. Nothing is easy and nothing is impossible. 

– Giuseppe Donadei