A Sudden Couple of Months

There have been many moments I have wanted to stop and write over the past couple of months. (And several times I have started…) But time is passing quickly out here on the road. Aside from the occasional photo posted, I realize I have not shared much of my adventures since the day I left Northern Ireland. So here goes… 

My first stop in Scotland was Roslin, just south of Edinburgh. I caught up with an old friend I had not seen in more than fifteen years, Andy, staying with his young family and exploring the stunning countryside there. I was pleasantly surprised by the geology along the River North Esk. I also stopped in to see the spooky and beautiful Rosslyn Chapel (made famous by The DaVinci Code). Following this visit, my days in Scotland slowed considerably, at times becoming somewhat uneventful. I got sick – a heavy head cold that descended into my chest. Yet I was nonetheless blessed in my recovery. After briefly catching up with family friends in Edinburgh, Bob and Sheila generously opened their home to me as they left for ten days in New York. I suddenly had a base in the same home my family had lived in twenty-seven summers before. It was a walk down memory lane (and up a few familiar hills) in the gorgeous and historic city of Edinburgh. I even bought a phone in Edinburgh, realizing in the absence of one what a support it could be to my journey. I am also gladly taking photos now.

After posting the above panoramic photo online, I discovered that a Swedish friend I had met in Rome years before, Sanna, was now living in Edinburgh, and we had a chance to catch up and hang out a couple of times. That was good fun. Otherwise, I rested a fair bit and tried to get over my cold, which proved especially pesky. A doctor prescribed me antibiotics if it worsened any. Even with a week of wonderful weather, I was often home-bound, watching movies and feeling a bit lazy and low at moments, yet randomly laughing at my good fortune in others. I did enjoy a few quality Skype visits with friends and family, which stand out as highlights.

Later in the week, I got a call from a dear friend, Franz, who had frequently hosted and employed me on his family farm in Tuscany over the past several years. He suggested I join he and his wife, Molly, down in Greece to help them run a few yoga retreats. He offered to fly me down, put me up and pay me a decent stipend for a few weeks work, supporting the yoga groups throughout their excursions and other day-to-day activities. Though unexpected, and entirely changing the course that had been gradually developing, the offer proved too good to pass up. 

I first headed south to London (which I had somehow missed in all my travels) and spent a couple of days exploring widely, often walking with an umbrella and raincoat, the English weather performing as advertised. I caught up with another old connection, Adrian, from my days working at Trinity College School. We shared a good visit and a tasty meal, and I saw another slice of London (aside from the touristy bits I had already exhausted). As impressive as much of London obviously was, it was not doing a lot for me. The weather may not have helped its case (nor the museums filled with incredible artifacts stolen from their homes).

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‘Tourist Proof’ I was in London.

I much preferred Cambridge, where I spent a day and a half before flying from London’s far north Stansted Airport. Hosted by a generous friend of friends, Gwen (whom I had met once before), I was given great guidance and found myself walking all over town, popping into churches, museumsand parts of the University campus, also watching rowers on the River Cam. I even found some fresh homemade hummus in a little local market. 🙂 I absolutely loved the calm pace of life in Cambridge, especially relative to London. I could easily imagine setting up shoin a spot like that. It likely helped that the weather had turned for the better by the time I arrived.

Once in Greece – happily reunited with Franz, Molly and their daughter Giulia – I found myself in the peaceful seaside village of Epidavros. Having passed through only briefly years before, I learned much more this time about the heritage of healing in the region. Myths of Asclepius – a hero and god of medicine, with his serpent-entwined staff (still a medical symbol today) – place him as a local. The sleeping volcano of Methana is also renowned for its healing power. Nevertheless, shortly after my arrival, my slowly-mending chest infection seemed to reassert itself, morphing and spreading into my throat and swelling my tonsils. On the first day of our first yoga group, sufficiently aware of the upcoming demands on my energy, I decided it was time to take the antibiotics that had been prescribed to me more than a week before. They seemed to take effect swiftly, enabling me to focus on my work with the group. 

I was quickly swept up into the energy and activity of the ‘yoga vortex’. As smooth and easy a program as we endeavoured to present for our clients, it took a good deal of background work from us. I was glad to be a part of the team. We created an interesting schedule and a supportive space for the twenty-six American college students on retreat, most of them coming to Europe for the first time. We had some truly awesome people in the mix, whom I will not soon forget. (I hope I never do!) We saw ancient cultural and archaeological sites, took dance classes, learned about farming and processing olives, went snorkeling and scuba-diving, cleaned plastic from beaches, and met with historians and mythology experts (also learning of the curious intersection between history and mythology which many subscribe to). I was basically just on board to support a pre-existing framework that my friends had developed over years of running retreats in the area (aside from their other retreats in Tuscany, Amalfi Coast, Portugal, Patagonia, Cuba, and Nepal). It was a lively time. With slight alterations to fit each group, we basically repeated the program one retreat after another. Before I knew it, three weeks (and three yoga groups!) had come and gone. I had driven back and forth from the Athens airport (about two and a half hours away) numerous times by then, picking up and dropping off new faces and fast friends.

I also had moments of frustration in Greece, feeling as though I wanted to write something of value, but not quite having the time, energy or impetus. Knowing my body was still in recovery, I usually took spare moments for rest instead of creation. Having set out on this adventure with an intention to reflect on my path through writing, I had thus far felt either too busy, tired, lazy or sick to begin. I sensed there may have been some connection between my illness and my lack of writing, as though I physically had ‘something to say’ lodged in my throat. As I watched my mind frequently composing ‘something to say’, I gradually acknowledged that it was still somewhat invested in becoming ‘someone’ in the world. The effect of this desire was a freezing up of my natural expression, caught up instead in a search for ‘perfection’. Part of me wanted everything to be all figured out before I began. How many times must I face this same hurdle? I continue to remind myself I can only truly be myself, not effectively plan and present myself. In this light, any form of presentation can only reflect our past, not our true presence.

:)

Random stone Buddha.

Receiving a few acupuncture treatments from Molly (a doctor of Chinese medicine), my body began releasing some of the conflict it was going through. My perspective also clarified a bit, seeing that the body – in its own intelligence – was clearing space for purposes of its own. Whether that would translate into some sort of growth or deeper healing, I had to admit I simply did not know. Around the same time, I began reflecting on a pattern of illness arising on the road. Looking back at past travels, I saw a long string of illnesses emerging while I was away from home. It seemed I never let myself fall so fully apart at home as on the road, whether physically, emotionally or mentally. Strange though it may sound, I value these opportunities to fall apart a bit, to ‘peek through the cracks’ and glimpse more stable ground beneath everything else that comes and goes.

I started viewing illness as a storm, realizing that storms bring new ingredients into our environment, ingredients often essential for growth, healing, release, or re-calibration. A storm is not always enjoyable. (Healing often hurts.) But there is something of value to be uncovered in its wake. Aware that storms eventually clear our atmosphere, I figure there is wisdom in weathering them. We can surrender that which is otherwise clogging our space, opening ourselves to receive whatever other elements life may be ready to offer us. However speculative, these images at least inspired in me a renewed commitment to vigilant awareness and a deeper openness to falling into alignment with life’s will. My sense here is that by listening more intently within, I can speak more freely, fully and surely from my very centre, a source common to all. Speaking from life’s heart. Hardly about being heard, this is about sharing what comes from most deep within. The essence, not surprisingly, is love. And it resonates outwardly. 

Amidst this (ongoing) inner work, supporting the yoga groups was an enjoyable and fitting setting. I loved being tucked into such a pretty little aquamarine cove – a slice of paradise – eating good food that I did not need to prepare, sleeping beside the sea, practicing daily yoga and sharing adventures in and around various Greek islands with fascinating people.

After facilitating our three groups in Greece, I took a van-load of fun folks to the Athens airport (listening to the Grateful Dead much of the way) and then jumped on a flight to Naples, set to lead a retreat at a convent in nearby Sorrento. Shortly after arriving at Convento San Francesco, my illness made a serious resurgence. My tonsils swelled up like golf balls. Though I would love to have weathered it without meds, I had committed to more responsibility for this final retreat (Franz and Molly busy leading another retreat in Greece). So I went for my third trip to the hospital in just over a month. I was prescribed a much stronger course of antibiotics than the first, and after a couple of days, the swelling receded. Fortunately, working alongside Franz’s cousin, Mario, the retreat carried on with only a few ‘learning moments’. It seemed somewhat easier on me perhaps because the group was from Toronto, which offered a sense of familiarity. We even found a few common connections between us. It also helped that the structure of their retreat left me little gaps to sneak away and nap during the day.

After the group fanned out in various directions (some bound for trains, others planes, and still more hanging around the area for further exploration), I picked up Franz’s son, Gabriele, from the family summer home up in the hills overlooking Sorrento and we headed north to Ebbio, the farm in Tuscany. We, of course, stopped for lunch in Naples, enjoying a couple of ridiculously delicious pizzas at Antica Pizzeria da Pasqualino. It was a perfect day for driving and the journey was smooth (though not quite as fast as if Mario had been behind the wheel). We reached the farm as the sun was about to set and I was grateful to be back at a place that feels a lot like a spiritual centre for me. I greeted several friends, human, plant and animal. The horses and donkeys seemed pleased to see me, as I was them. I visited a few of my favourite trees, walking the grounds and stopping to soak in the views. I even saw some day old puppies. 🙂 But after a month in the yoga loop – spinning in Franz’s orbit – I was feeling keen to keep moving, so my stay this time was brief. Franz found me a ride north to Milan with a friend of his and I hopped at the chance, with just under an hour’s notice.

Like many of Franz’s friends I have met before, Angelo was quite a character. Our journey to Milan was full of fascinating stories from a life thoroughly lived. I stayed a quick night in a youth hostel (realizing I was pushing the boundary of ‘youth’ now, as 35 is often a cutoff in some hostels) before hopping a bus to Munich, riding for the first time through Switzerland. I was excited to be dropping in on three good friends in the Munich area, catching up after a few years.

I spent a few quality days with a friend from Toronto, Win, who was now living in his wife Julia’s hometown about an hour west of Munich. They have a sweet setup in the countryside there, and a happy dog, Blue. We walked around and talked about a lot, listening to good music (mostly the Grateful Dead) and eating well. One afternoon, they took me on a ‘health’ walk inspired by a famous local priest named Sebastian Kneipp, where you walk through a circuit barefoot, encountering various elements intended to balance your health. I especially liked the mud pool and the multi-textured labyrinth.

Win drove me to my friend Bart’s place in Wörthsee, where I got to meet his fiancée, Hannah, and their beautiful baby girl, Emma (just freshly one year old). Sweet, smiley little Emma did not take long in warming to me. This was a very meaningful stop on my journey. Bart and I, since we met cycling in Spain in 2011, have a strong bond that calls for little maintenance. We pick right up where we left off every time we connect. I loved my time staying with his family in picturesque Wörthsee. Both nights I spent there coincided with World Cup matches, where we gathered in the beer garden with many from the village to cheer on the underdogs.

Heading into Munich to see my friend Robert (who, coincidentally, also met Bart while cycling in Spain), we similarly carried on without missing a beat. I spent a quick couple of days with him, getting into deep conversations as we always do, having plenty of laughs, and enjoying a bike ride around town. We also stopped into Tollwood Festival to drink in the summer fun of the popular local alternative to Oktoberfest. We also ran into Win’s wife Julia and her friend, also named Julia. It was a nice way to connect the dots and sew up my Munich visit with the same thread it began with. Though the time with my Munich friends flew by, it felt great to share energy with each of these old friends.

Arriving in Salzburg to our dear family friend’s home, no sooner had Edda welcomed me than I headed out to Mondsee to join my friend Ralf for a sunset sail. (Edda had told me she would be leaving right after receiving me…hence my other plans cued up.) Getting to know Ralf when I lived a few months in Salzburg years before, we also have a strong bond that suffers nothing from years between visits. Ralf and his friend Christian, both capable sailors, tended to the needs of the vessel while I enjoyed the breathtaking views, savouring the wind, the clouds, and the mountains surrounding the lake. I also chipped in with a bit of musical support, cheerfully strumming away on Ralf’s mini Cordoba guitar. As Christian prepared to head back to Salzburg later that night, I could not have been happier to hear Ralf suggest we stay at the lake and spend the night on the boat. After the stars came out and the air cooled, we cozied into our bunks below deck and shared tales of the life we had each been living, eventually falling asleep to gently rocking waves. A quick, brisk morning dip woke us up and following a bit of breakfast and writing, another day of sailing began, this time just the two of us. Ralf had me helping out as much as I could, even trying my hand at sailing for a stretch. The conditions could not have been better. This brief window together at Mondsee was an amazing way to reconnect with a dear friend.

From Salzburg, I moved quickly to Bratislava, staying only overnight before hopping a bus for the day’s ride to Krakow. The annual European Rainbow Gathering is happening in south east Poland and I am eager to drop in and see what is going on, connecting again with some friends I got to know when I joined the 2012 summer gathering in Slovakia. That was a potent and positive experience, which was at least thoroughly affirming if not somewhat formative. I am only about 200 KM away now and intend to leave either tomorrow or the day after.

Leading up to this celebration of love and light, it felt somehow fitting that I visited Auschwitz today, reflecting on humanity’s capacity for darkness. It impacted me more than I could have anticipated. It was as though I could feel tiny waves of the suffering echoing there. Seeing the potential for such madness still alive in some corners of our globe today motivates me all the more to share widely the love I feel so clearly.

This is what brings me to writing now. This is what I wish to express from most deeply within. On what has become very much a circuit of visiting friends (and unfortunately missing out on catching up with several others), I can see my core drive at work – sharing love. This is all I want to do here in this life. I hope you can take a moment to stop and breathe it in. 🙂 It is here in abundance, if only we can allow ourselves to feel it amidst everything else that so easily captures our attention. It is so vital to prioritize this love, this peace within, thus strengthening and enabling us to share it more freely in the world. We are capable of creating a unified, loving world, but if we fall blind to our role in this process of co-creation, fear can take control and sweep us up in dreams of division – nightmares of us and them. Understanding our true ground is a clear path to radiating peace in the world around us. We cannot try to control much beyond that. I pray we have the courage to lean out love anyhow and trust its transformative power.

I suppose I will sign off there. I could go on. But silence has far more to say than I could ever put into words, so I will return there for now, from where I came. 🙂

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Rainbow Gathering Theme.

ps…I will likely be offline for a couple of weeks while I am camping in the woods. I look forward to catching up with you once I return! Until then, be kind – to yourself and others! 😉 

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Last Word from the Road (for now…)

It has been a great last week (and change) here in Europe. I have been blessed to reconnect with a number of good friends up in Munich and Salzburg, then rolling back to my European home base in Tuscany for a few days. Now I am down in Napoli, one of my favourite cities, and I just felt like one final post here before my wee European jaunt draws to a close. I will be home for Christmas in two days now! I doubt I will have any better chance to put up a quick blog post.

I connected with eight different friends up in the very Christmas-y land of Munich and Salzburg. ‘One’ of those friends was a family of five…so it was actually twelve old friends that I got to spend time with. I was very happy to enjoy their company and catch up. I even had the chance to ride my old bike (the one that carried me nearly 7500 km around Europe a few years ago). My friend, Johanna, who now owns Yoshimi (the bike), loaned her to me for a day and I loved zipping around Munich on this familiar old friend. It felt so natural. She has hardly changed. Many warm memories flooded back.

I also got to spend time with Tiago, who I first bumped into in Madrid, at the beginning of my first European adventure. He then lived with me at Ebbio for almost two months as I rested and healed in the Tuscan hills. We grew close there. Though we only hung out for a day we had a great catch-up. Within moments of reconnecting, we were juggling and playing a harmonica (he juggling, I on the mouth harp) in the crowded Munich Central Station. We earned a few coins before heading off to a nice little Indian restaurant. He stayed with me at my good friend Robert’s place. He and I always get on well. He hosted me for three nights in all. It was fun to introduce him to Tiago. I like seeing friends from different parts of my journey connect.

I also got to introduce Bart and Felix, two friends that I met at very different points in my journey. After staying three days with Bart in a beautiful village outside of Munich, Felix picked me up and we spent two days together. He is always very interesting company.

I was also very happy to catch up with dear friends in Salzburg. Our time was brief but meaningful. I even met Krampus, Santa’s Austrian side-kick, who frightens (and maybe even beats?) the kids who have been naughty. It is a lot worse than just a lump of coal. I will include a picture below.

Salzburg seems such a natural setting for Christmas. I spent a Christmas there while I was traveling a few years ago and just wandering through the Christmas markets last week with the backdrop of mountains felt about right for the season (even though no snow had yet fallen).

After my ten days or so up north, I dipped back to the farm in Tuscany for a few days to gather my gear and get ready to head home. But I couldn’t rightly leave Italy without a little visit to Napoli. Naples is such an incredible city. There is an authenticity here which seems to attract me. The city isn’t trying to impress anyone. It is raw, dirty and very gritty. But there is such beauty. You have to watch your ass (or wherever you keep your wallet) but somehow this alertness can open you to appreciate other surprises.

This morning I noticed a lot of love in the air; couples kissing at cafes; families holding hands and window-shopping; street musicians sharing their gifts. I even bumped into a spontaneous choir singing ‘So This is Christmas’ in a large Plaza. There were a lot of cameras (pretty decent ones, from what I could tell) and I wonder if it will soon be posted somewhere online.

After perhaps the finest pizza of my life, I strolled one of my old favourite paths through the bustling city, down via Toledo toward the sea. I sat in the surprisingly warm sun on the seaside and enjoyed the scenery floating by. It has been a delightful day.

Now I am catching up on ‘housecleaning’, doing various things online that needed attention, and preparing to head home. I am off to Rome tomorrow morning and will spend a day roaming about before flying Tuesday morning.

It has been a great adventure here in Italy (with a brief jaunt north) and I feel so blessed to be alive. What a gift life is. So simple. I have surely experienced what it can be like when we complicate it…but even in the midst of our dreams and drama, life remains what it is…a beautiful invitation into our hearts.

This has felt like a very quick, tumbling, rather journaly blog post, but I hope it can bring a smile. Wherever you are and whatever you are doing, I wish you all a wonderful Christmas season and I hope you can find a pause once in a while to breathe in deeply and appreciate the simple gift of existence.

Here is a scattered array of photos from the past week or so:

🙂

Even Atheists Believe In Rainbows

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I have always loved rainbows. I can recall staring out of a car window at a massive rainbow painting itself on the landscape during a long family drive through the countryside. As a youngster, rainbows completely amazed me (as is likely true for all kids). I always wanted to get closer to them. I wanted to touch them. I wanted the colours to spread themselves across my skin. This was before I knew about so-called Leprechauns (as far as I can recall). I didn’t care about any pot of gold, or any supposed prize at either end of the rainbow. I just wanted to touch it, to hold it, to know it.

My fascination may have faded as I grew older, but it never died, and any time a rainbow spread itself across the sky, it reignited the wonder of my childhood, awakening my innate sense of awe. I can’t imagine anyone growing tired of rainbows. I love to see adults regard them with the same child-like glimmer in their eye that they so often used to see the world through. It’s as if a rainbow can cleanse and renew us, freeing our sight, allowing us to look at life through a more magical lens. It doesn’t mean that we should curb our curiosity and instinct to understand, but perhaps we could leave enough room to absorb a rainbow’s unspoken majesty before digesting it into blocks of knowledge, distinct units of colour and symbols or stories. Look at the blurred lines binding the colours together and see how fluid they all are. Try to suspend your storytelling and analyzing for a moment and just be bowled over by its incomprehensible beauty.

Aside from their grace and charm, rainbows can bring people together. Taking in a shared rainbow can strengthen bonds between people, adding a hint of mystery to the moment. On the day of the mighty rainbow in Istanbul (which I mentioned in last week’s post), I saw countless people stopping and staring together, smiling and commenting to those around them, making momentary companions of previously complete strangers. For days after the rainbow it was a topic of conversation, people sharing their excitement and experiences of it. I met a number of people in book shops and cafes still talking about it throughout the week. And as much of a shared experience as a rainbow can be, it is also perfectly personal.

Nobody looks at the same rainbow. It is a matter of perspective. Moving either to the left or the right changes the rainbow. Every set of eyes gazing up in wonder at these astounding displays of light and colour is observing their very own rainbow. I began considering this interesting quality of light as I was traveling through Italy. As I watched the sun setting over Lago di Garda (just west of Verona) I marvelled at the movement of the light, playing on waves, rolling itself out to me, inviting me, as I sauntered along the shore. I realized that everybody looking at this sunset had their own direct slice of light unfolding across the water, dancing, shimmering and playing on the subtle waves. Its never-ending nature humbled me. It just kept on pouring over us, feeding us its abundant energy. I couldn’t help but be grateful. I felt as though the light were speaking to the light within me, warming, softening and nudging me toward further growth. I sat on a bench and pulled out my journal to scribble a bit of verse, or whatever else might come through me in the moment.

The light slips through cracks in our consciousness. Conspiring to gather again, to mingle among itself. To grow and spread. Some allow its flow constantly, others grab and grasp, but just fall short of holding on. We cannot contain or frame. Even as the blood flows through our veins. Our vines. Forever moving. In the mind, knives align, design and slice. But boxing up in sizes can never hold for ever and all, nor water in blocks of ice.

I rambled on even less coherently after that, but had approached an interesting pivot point – the paradoxical notion of light’s fleeting and endless flow. It is both ephemeral and constant. I loved it. A couple of weeks later in the south of Italy, I was moved by the subtle wisp of a rainbow hinted in the mist of the sea spraying up from the rocks along the shore. The light played upon the tiny droplets of water, and I sensed a kinship. With each wave rolling in and crashing upon the rocks, a new rainbow would emerge in the mist, whispering itself to my heart and fading away. I suddenly loved that a rainbow could never be proven. I no longer wanted to capture it, but just wanted to admire it for as long as it would let me.

That evening I met a Polish physicist and we got talking at length about light and energy, and the wonder of rainbows. We spoke also of faith and how so many scientific minds require hard evidence before permitting belief in anything. While I could understand this, I also felt that there was something inside me, inside all of us, that could not be proven – something before knowledge. The rainbow and its endless source of light seemed an apt analogy. A phrase was born in my mind; ‘Even atheists believe in rainbows’. It seemed to say that even apparent disbelievers are capable of belief. As I saw it, even expectation of the sunrise is taken on faith. Probability does not guarantee it, despite its strong likelihood based on past experience.

As I was leaving the seaside town of Salerno, I caught a subtle sense of the spectrum of colour glimmering in a dark grey cloud. It was just about to rain, and as the heavy, grey cloud approached, I could see the whole rainbow hiding inside of it (though only ever in my peripheral vision). It stirred up even more wonder in me. How incredible, that even in darkness light and life is all-pervasive, that rich colours can dance in the most dense and dark clouds. I was positively buoyant as I left Salerno.

I don’t know that there is any clear point to this rambling, but maybe it can serve to remind us of the miracle of life that is always all around us. It can remind us to look up into the sky once in a while without a feeling of ‘knowing’ what everything is, and just allowing ourselves to wonder. We need not be dragged into seeing life through a mundane lens. Just look at a cloud and see if you can watch it without reinforcing your regular ‘cloud-related’ concepts. Watch sunlight cut through clouds and splay itself out in all directions, as though the rays of light had found a new source to broadcast their pure energy from.

Maybe we can be such vessels, emptying ourselves of clutter and allowing light to move through us toward others. Every rainbow is a reminder that life and light are free and ever-available – never departing and never arriving, just enjoying the journey. It doesn’t have to make sense. It’s OK to be stunned and catch ourselves without answers once in a while. After all, there’s no need to know how. We can only ever know now.

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By the way, perhaps it’s time to listen to Rainbow Connection again.  🙂

Thanks for reading!  Tune in again next week for something a little bit less hippie-dippy, I think.