pleasure and paradox in paris

At the Musée d’Orsay, pressing my face close to a Monet painting, practically inhaling the brushstrokes, I felt a mixture of profound gratitude and nostalgia. The pale pinks, lavenders, and yellows were indescribably soothing. I wanted to merge with the work. Escape into it.

I was mesmerized by the art of Paris to a degree that surprised even me. I’d studied Art History many moons ago at university, but standing in front of certain works – I could easily touch them, were it not for the ever-present security – left me deeply affected.

Until that point, I’d felt somewhat ambivalent about my impromptu trip to Paris. Though I had the time off work, cash saved in the bank, and a great deal from Air France, I questioned my decision to travel to the City of Lights. Surely there were more responsible things to do with my money.

In my hotel room that first night, I tossed and turned as the jet lag (and in-flight wine, no doubt) sank in. Habitual thoughts about work, relationships, and family pounded in my head. Paris, I thought. Why am I here? What can I learn from you?

Pleasure. Presence. Enjoy life, she answered. Be in your body, not your head. You already know this…but I can help you. In fact, you need me to. That’s why you’re here.

You think you’ve lost your intuition, she continued, but you haven’t. Don’t focus on my image or the tourists or the incessant honking and police sirens, or the camouflaged men with machine guns standing on the corner. There is an essence of me that is much deeper than all these things. Be with it.

I didn't make it to the top, but I had to get the Eiffel shot!

I didn’t make it to the top, but I had to get the Eiffel shot!

I spent a week exploring various neighbourhoods in the city. I walked along the Champs-Élysées and the Seine. Apart from food (and chocolate presents!), my only purchase was a 4-day Museum Pass, which I’d picked up at Charles de Gaulle airport upon my arrival.

Viewing the paintings of Monet, Degas, Manet, Cassatt, Morisot, Seurat, and Renoir (and so many more), I felt deep nostalgia. Nostalgia for the time in my life when I initially studied these works. Nostalgia for historical periods of great art, music, and beauty. Most of all, nostalgia for an era where artists truly sat with their inspirations. Focused and present, devoting hours, days, even years to the execution of their visions.

What must it be like to have that kind of patience? It is hard to imagine. My attention span is much shorter than it used to be, a deterioration I blame on technology. All around me, people flitted about with iPhones, snapping photos and selfies. I tried to take some pics, but they never did the moment justice. And trying to capture that moment would just take me out of it.

Jardin des Tuileries - I couldn't resist including this

Jardin des Tuileries – I couldn’t resist

I wondered what these artists would think of this modern world. Would they be disturbed, fascinated, inspired? Life cannot be as it was in nineteenth-century Paris, of course. And even then, things probably weren’t as idyllic as the dreamy vistas suggest. Still, I long to sit in front of a landscape or sunset, or at a cafe, for hours, just absorbing my surroundings. Not thinking about work or emails or how I should be doing something.

Paris reminded me of India, in that it’s a paradox. The Divine Feminine presence, which surely exists and spoke to me that first night, was accompanied by a rough, almost aggressive energy throughout the city. It was an interesting, and often unsettling, experience.

But visiting Paris was very, very good for my soul. In recent months I’d been feeling some grief for so many lost years where I didn’t trust myself as my own authority, where I sold myself short. This last decade in particular – I don’t know where it went. Paris reminded me to be gentle with myself and look ahead. Not everything in life has to happen at once, and my process won’t look like anyone else’s. Nothing is lost. There is still time.

The art, the red wine, the Autumn sunshine, the walks along the Seine…that’s who I am. Sitting in front of a canvas and feeling where the colours take me…that’s who I am. Doing my best to heal resentments, forgive, and live in divine love…that’s who I am. Willing to learn, be humbled over and over again, and create grand adventures for myself…that’s who I am.

Thank you, Paris, for reminding me who I am.

 

neuroses of a north american diner

I recently found the following in my WordPress drafts folder; I wrote it during my first week in Italy last summer, but for some reason didn’t publish it.

With all the activity and transition of late, I’ve been really missing Italy…but reading this post makes me look forward to the day I will visit again. And I remember what I had promised myself back then: instead of focusing on the ‘negatives’ of my own city, I would bring home those aspects of Italy that I loved most.

Fortunately, I still know how to linger over a good glass of wine. 😉

breakfast of champions!

breakfast of champions!

[August 2013]

I’ve only been here a few days and already I can tell that dining solo in Italy is going to be one eye-opening experience. I knew this before I arrived; in fact it was one of the things I was most nervous about. Am I going to be the only single gal amongst tables full of amorous couples? How do I order food in Italy? How much do I tip? Do they even serve dinner at 6pm?

In Eat Pray Love, Liz Gilbert writes of a leisurely lunch during one of her many long walks in Rome: “I eat my lunch in a quiet trattoria here, and I linger over my food and wine for many hours because nobody in Trastevere [Rome] is ever going to stop you from lingering over your meal if that’s what you would like to do” (chapter 25).

I’m so glad I’m re-reading this book as I travel, as many of Liz’s insights resonate with my own experience. Back home, when I dine solo (or even with people), I’m usually aware that others might be waiting for my table. Though I’m a slow eater, I often feel I’m on a time limit. Lingering is generally not encouraged in North American establishments!

This morning, my ‘do not dawdle’ conditioning revealed itself. I was at my favourite cafe in Villasimius [Sardinia], having just finished my now-standard breakfast of a cornetto di chocolat and cappuccino. As I ordered some water, tables began to quickly fill around me. One man stood at the cafe entrance, looking for a free spot. I felt a mild sense of anxiety that I must hurry up and leave, as I was clearly finished.

Another man then asked if he could take one of my extra seats. He seemed extremely apologetic for interrupting me, which I thought was sweet. I then saw the first guy’s grandchildren (I presume) rush up to him, and they all walked away together. Turns out he had just been chilling, waiting for his famiglia.

It was then that I started to relax. Maybe no one was impatient and waiting. Maybe it didn’t even cross their minds to rush someone while they were still dining. Maybe the servers take a while in asking me what I want next, or bringing me my bill, because I’m supposed to savour every minute of the experience.

I’m not in ‘hurry-up’ culture anymore.

snacks in sardinia

snacks in sardinia

Later, at a bar having a glass of wine (or two) as I wait to catch a bus back to my villa, the server brings me dishes of peanuts, pretzels, courgettes, and yummy potato crisps. I look at all the food in front of me and again a mild neurosis arises: all this, for just me? I didn’t ask for it. Should I eat it all, or is that inelegant? If I don’t eat enough, is that rude?

Fortunately, it doesn’t take me long to realize that it doesn’t matter to them what I do with it.

I relax (again), put my book away, and stare off into space for a while. Because you know, that’s what they do here.

I love this place.

saturn, i’m listening

Today I am living in the fifth place I’ve stayed at in the last six months.  Tomorrow will begin my last week of work before my Leave.  Next week I depart for my six-week trip to Europe, 4-5 of which will be in Italy.

I’ve barely had time to catch my breath and last week the ‘good’ stress manifested into physical and emotional haywire. Thankfully this weekend has been hugely restorative, as I’m housesitting a friend’s spa-like pad, and caring for her two very sweet and rambunctious kittens.  (These creatures have been very effective at taking me out of my own thoughts as, for example, I watch them fight over a crumpled piece of paper for half an hour.)

technicolor lakshmi, sonja picard. www.sonjapicard.com

technicolor lakshmi, sonja picard. http://www.sonjapicard.com

In Vedic Astrology there’s a phenomenon called ‘Saturn Transit’ (Sade Sati) in which the planet Saturn enters one’s moon sign (and the sign before and after) for a period of approximately 7½ years and, depending on who you ask, either makes your life miserable or inspires great growth and change. I’m exaggerating…but it’s essentially known to be an intense period of shift, and the best thing to do is just go with the changes with an open mind and willingness to learn what Saturn teaches.

Saturn is known to remove all that no longer serves us, whether we want it gone or not. Saturn makes those changes we’ve been dragging our heels on making ourselves. Saturn is a disciplinarian; he can seem cold and harsh, but ultimately the changes are for the better. (This by no means fully explains Sade Sati; you’d have to ask a Vedic Astrologer for the expert analysis.)

I was advised that my Saturn Transit was coming, months before it actually started a couple of years ago.  Whether I believe in Sade Sati or whether it’s the power of suggestion, I cannot deny that since that time there has been enormous change in my life, not only on an external level, but even more so internally.  Remembering the lessons of Saturn has brought me some grounding.

Saturn demands that we pare down, de-clutter, simplify, and organize. He forces us to examine: what is truly important to us?

For most of my life I’ve been on a spiritual search, and I’m sure this will continue throughout…eternity. But this search has often been a bit heavy, wrapped up in analysis and trying to understand things intellectually, or wanting to ‘heal’ things in my life (past, present, and future).  In other words, the spiritual path has often been so serious. And while this has served me perfectly in the ways it’s needed to, I’m ready for more fun.  For more lightheartedness.  For more joy.  For more beauty.

And what better place to experience and integrate the pleasures of life, than Italia?  The food, the scenery, the language, the wine, the art, the people, the…all of it.

This trip represents my intention to enjoy life without figuring out all the why’s. To let beauty absorb my senses.  To, as the kitties do, fully experience and embody what’s right in front of me without figuring out (worrying) where I’m going next.  To accept this beautiful gift from the universe without questioning my worthiness for receiving it.

Saturn is known for his heaviness, for putting pressure on us; but maybe he’s teaching me that I am the one – in fact, the only one – who can diminish the pressure and heaviness in my life, by cleaning up all my own self-imposed ‘stuff’.  I like this, and I gleefully accept Italy’s role in the metamorphosis.

Namaste.

travelling to new places

It seems these days that the universe is presenting me with numerous opportunities to break out of my usual routine and comfort zone.  And as uncomfortable as it can be, I know that I’ve asked for it. So I’m going with it.

First, I booked my flight to Europe.  I’m still in mild shock that I made, and acted upon, the decision so quickly.  If you’d told me a week ago that I’d be planning a trip to Italy instead of applying for a great job and signing my apartment lease, I wouldn’t have believed you. (Okay, I might have believed you, but it would be with big surprise.)

My plans changed fast, but my intuition was telling me not to over-think things. I’m sure the longer I would have waited, the more reasons I’d find to talk myself out of it.

me and my co-host, who doesn't mind being on my blog

me and my co-host, who doesn’t mind being on my blog

Also, a few nights ago I really stepped out of my comfort zone in co-hosting my work’s annual Arts Gala.  This was an entirely new thing for me; my previous public speaking was limited to class presentations in university.  When I was approached in April to host this event, I immediately knew that, despite my ‘shyness’ and lack of experience, I had to say Yes.

I’m becoming more aware that if I want real growth in my life – and by ‘growth’ I mean allowing more opportunities for joy – I need to try those things that I would normally avoid doing.  I’m also learning that stretching out of my comfort zone doesn’t mean pushing myself unnecessarily hard, or having to ‘prove’ something to anyone (myself included).

It’s about breaking out of my own limiting self-perceptions, as an act of self-love.  It is allowing the possibility of more personal expansion.  And it is experiencing the amazing feeling of seeing myself in a new light.

And the gig was fun!  I was nervous going into it, but instead of over-identifying with that, I tried to channel as much of it as possible into the energy of excitement.  And though there were a few hiccups – aren’t there always? – overall it was an awesome experience, and one that I know will positively impact other aspects of my life.

Another thing I realized from this experience is that when people tell you they see something positive in you – something you don’t see – believe them.  I would not have pictured myself as an event emcee if my colleagues hadn’t asked me to do it.  It’s because I trusted their positive viewpoint that I was able to take that leap.  We all have blind spots and sometimes – often actually – we need others to show us what we can’t see in ourselves.

***

So, life has been a bit of a whirlwind and now that I’m not stressing about speaking in front of a large group of people, I can more fully concentrate on what’s ahead.  The trip is booked, and the details will reveal themselves as I continue to fine-tune the balance of planning and surrender – which will be especially necessary during my travels.

Mostly, I must be vigilant in not identifying with the feelings and opinions of those who don’t understand my decision.  I don’t have a job lined upon my return.  I don’t yet know how long I’ll be gone for; could be three weeks or three months.  I don’t know where I’ll live when I get back.  (I could go on…)

But so what?  Things will work out.  They always do.  There will always be jobs.  There will always be somewhere to live.  There will always be excuses to not do things.

There is nothing to wait for, and there is no more ‘work’ – internal and external – to be done.  I’m trusting the flow and am in gratitude for the ride.