A vacation – inside and out.

Last week, David and I took advantage of a week off and took a cruise to the Bahamas to celebrate his birthday. David has never been on a cruise and even though I knew floating along in a vessel packed with hundreds of strangers was unlikely to be his ideal trip, we agreed everyone should experience this floating resort type of travel at least once. The sailing date and the timing was perfect for us, which made it a practical choice for our short sabbatical.  

As expected, we enjoyed our time together surrounded by water, sunsets and breezes. We read and slept and listened to violin players every afternoon and ate a four-course lobster dinner with wine pairings that felt indulgent and romantic. We went to the comedy club a few times, laughing at the crass standup acts, admiring the boldness required to crossed politically correct barriers. We especially loved an excursion to snorkel and sail. We held hands while floating in the cold seawater, watching a squid for the longest time. The world slipped away as we viewed coral reefs and watched brilliantly colored fish silently going about their business. We purchased souvenirs from outdoor vendors in colorful tents, trying to support the locals as we struck up conversations to learn about their lives in the Bahamas.  


But despite these lovely moments, we experienced dissatisfaction too, and we agree we are unlikely to choose such a vacation again because we are quiet people and a cruise of this nature is filled with people and partying and activity that we find more overstimulating than soothing. Perhaps we are getting old, but the kids running around, intoxicated spring breakers working too hard to impress, and the loud announcements and even louder patrons on the boat was a bit much. Luckily, the activity going on around us was not enough to disturb what was going on within us, which was taking a pause from our day to day life to just spend time together. We no doubt appeared a dull, older couple to others, but the thrill of exterior amusements or a need to be entertained has long since passed us in this “seasoned” stage of life.

At Freeport, we took an excursion to see the Garden of the Groves, a tropical garden. David and I always try to see regional gardens when traveling. In Ireland, our favorite moments were visiting the Japanese gardens or the garden of exotic trees from around the world. We were as delighted and enthralled by Ireland’s overgrown hedges that span the edges of roads miles on end and the rolling hills of deep, lush green as we were by castles, museums, or pubs. We both agreed that exploring gardens was the favorite part of that vacation.

As gardeners and nature lovers we enjoy seeing different designs and displays of gardens and we are fascinated by the unique flora and fauna of different regions. I am always jealous when I see thriving plants I cannot grow myself in Florida, and I deeply appreciate the fountains, waterfalls and other majestic landscaping of great gardens that supersede anything we can do with our meek budget.

The gardens in the Bahamas, however, were not very exciting to us, mostly because the islands share the basic growing climate and soil type of Florida. The gardens were filled with the very same plants we have all around Heartwood, and frankly, ours are better maintained.  Our conversation turned to what we would do to improve the garden, rather than appreciating the attraction’s accomplishment or creativity. We didn’t want to say it out loud, but both of us thought the simple, barely groomed garden barely qualified as an “attraction” compared to others we have visited.

Then, in the midst of this mishmash of bromeliads and tropical palms, there was a labyrinth. This perked me up quite a bit. I am always fascinated to find labyrinths. I like to see how organizations set them up, what they are made of, and how people respond to them. Our guide tried to explain what a labyrinth is and how one walks the path to find peace, but she didn’t know much about the practice or history. I caught eyes with David, and his look reminded me that the proper thing to do was to not hijack the tour to give my own lecture about labyrinths. So, I kept my labyrinth knowledge to myself, silently giving my own lecture to the group in my head.

We were not afforded time to walk the path, but I didn’t feel a need to. I just liked knowing someone had bothered to raise money and organize the effort required to build a labyrinth in a quiet garden that otherwise, was not very original. There was a large statue plaque nearby carved with the names of the many patrons who had contributed to the project.  David’s one comment was, “Do you see how many people paid money to build this thing? And to think, we did ours by ourselves.”  

 Naturally, we began comparing this labyrinth to our own. The size was the same. Both are copies of the 11 circuit Chartres Cathedral in France. We are planning to redo our labyrinth soon because the design is getting weathered and worn, so we checked to see how this well-funded project affixed the design to the concrete slab. We touched the surface, kicked a bit at the edges, and contemplated what materials were used in case we could follow suit. This slid into the typical judgmental conversation about whether or not the landscaping around the labyrinth was all it could be, and we ended with a bit of self-congratulations on just how lovely our own lowly labyrinth, made by our own hands with little resources, stood up to this one.

Heartwood Labyrinth
Heartwood Labyrinth

Funny, how we (meaning people in general) do that. We see something, pausing because we admire the basic element of it’s existence. Then we start comparing that person, place or thing to our own experience or state. Our gut reaction is a glimmer of competitiveness because we all want to meet, or exceed, the standard set by others. So, instead of enjoying external things, we automatically start to measure up, contemplating whether we are better or worse. We wonder if we should up our game if we feel slacking by comparison, or in some cases, we feel validated if, in our assessment, we are in the “lead” of the unspoken competition. Of course, if what we encounter is way beyond our reach, we don’t feel the pull of competition. In that case, we chalk up the vast distance between us and them as “inspiration”. These grand people, places or things show us what is possible “if only” (we had the luck, resources, money or time).  Perhaps competition is a good thing. Witnessing greater possibilities  certainly keeps us on our toes, striving to evolve and grow. But constantly trying to one up others distracts as well, keeping us feeling as if we are in an endless race against an invisible opponent.

My deep appreciation for yoga hinges on the awareness I’ve developed, not because yoga makes me so profoundly enlightened that I don’t feel or think in ways that are rooted in my “small selfish self.” Of course, I still get urges of competitiveness or judgement as most people do, but when I feel these urges, the witness within recognized them for what they are. I can then do the personal work necessary to tamp down any drives to behave in less than a respectful or honorable way to others (or self or planet.) I can recognize  and fight off ego or intimidation or attitude, and any other energy that stands in the way of feeling balanced and in harmony with the world beyond my skin.

Yoga doesn’t make any of us perfect. But is sure does allow us to see ourselves more clearly. Thanks to yoga I recognize that I may not like a cruise today as much as yesterday due to my age and changing energies (rather than blaming the cruise line or the patrons on the cruise because I am attached to some expectation of what my time off should look and feel like and how dare others ruin it for me!) Thanks to yoga, I can see a garden that doesn’t excite me, and rather than think of this little swatch of nature as a lousy garden, I recognize that this garden is simply too similar to my own for me to feel that deep awe I might feel at a garden that is filled with a different ambiance. If I see a labyrinth and I start comparing this path to my own, I recognize that my competitive streak is pushing to the surface, and I have to watch that baby, for she interferes with me living in a state of acceptance and harmony with others. My own inner peace would certainly be upset if I allowed myself to feel “less than” what I can or should be every time I came across any person, place, or thing and believed a gauntlet had been thrown at my feet demanding I prove my own worth.

Thanks to yoga, I can say my vacation was perfect in every way. Not only did I relax and enjoy time with my husband, but each experience, whether the moment was what I expected or something I was not hoping for, gave me opportunity to flex my yoga muscles (NOT the ones used for postures, I’m talking about the yoga of the mind) because all the different emotions and reactions unfolding at each leg of the trip provided me with a chance to explore how I am wired. This journey of self-knowing is by far a more exciting adventure than any place a plane, boat or car can take me. In this way, my vacation was a meaningful trip inward, as well as outward.

I came home grateful for the change of pace, but also grateful for the lessons infused in every experience. Each hour of our lives is a precious blank slate onto which we can ponder, write about, and embrace softly the world with the open ideals of yoga. And what we learn gives life a new, positive perspective, no matter how things unfold around us.

Let go and let be

In my forties, I decided to reinvent my life to carve out more time for things that were meaningful. I was over saturated with the stress of parenting, working, running a business, keeping a home, and living with a partner who was perpetually discontent with all of the above. I sold my business and my home to fund an early retirement and set off on the grand adventure of a lifetime. We were going to live an organic, simple lifestyle in the mountains where, at long last, those I lived with would be happy, fulfilled and grateful for our abundant life. Anyone who knows my story knows that the plan didn’t turn out well. I lost everything in my attempt to gain something. But the story has a happy ending, because while I set off to reinvent my life in a way I thought I could control, I actually ended up reinventing my life through a totally unexpected series of choices and events that would fall under the category of “the best I could do under the circumstances.”

The road was not easy or fun but led me to that coveted reinvented life. My world is now filled with all the things that have meaning to me, such as deeper connections to the world and self, work that has profound purpose and fulfillment, and a partner who is fulfilled and deeply happy with our business, home, grand-parenting and most importantly, me.  I actually did get everything I was aiming for when I began seeking change. It just came in a package different than I had imagined.

For everything lost, something is gained, and the reverse is also true. For everything gained, something must be retired or left behind to make room for whatever abundance you are making space for. You just can’t keep adding to a life indefinitely and not eventually drown in the layers of responsibilities that come with having, being, or doing “more”.  The law of diminishing returns isn’t just a business construct, but a theory that applies to all of life.

One of the things I mourned losing when I moved away from Georgia and my 50-acre dream, was my newfound relationship to the land. My time in the garden, exploring animal husbandry, and just spending time in nature was blissful and fed my soul in profound ways. When I moved back to Florida out of practical necessity, I found myself trying to hang on to some of the wondrous joy I found in farming, caring for livestock, walking the mountains and exploring nature. The fact that bad choices had forced me to return to the suburban life I originally left was devastating, because returning to my old life felt like a setback, spiritually and personally. I had been changed from my mountain adventure and assuming life could go back to what once was, clearly was impossible. In subtle ways I began preserving what little I could of my Georgia lifestyle, just to prove to myself that what I had learned and loved in my brief stint of freedom in Georgia was still a part of me.

I began my life recovery (and my financial recovery) in a small apartment. Though I had no lawn to walk barefoot in, I visited local farmer’s markets and dragged home flats of strawberries. I filled my kitchen with dozens of jars of organic, homemade jam even though I no longer had a family to feed them to.  Once life got a bit more stable, I moved to a small house, and I started growing herbs and tomatoes in the backyard. Eventually, as my business prospered, I moved to 7 acres to begin the journey of Heartwood. In the first five years, while planting yoga roots to develop a business, My new husband and I also planted a chakra garden and a permaculture garden filled with tropical produce. We now grow papayas, starfruit, oranges and limes, herbs and other eatables. I’ve had over 100 chickens here too. Before even moving in, I ordered chicks from a poultry company, so excited was I to own agricultural land again. I raised a crop of chicks, decided they were too much work and sold them, then bought more chicks (which meant David had to build us a better chicken house) but then decided the flock was too much work and sold them again, only to buy some fancy chicks the next season and, as you might guess, months later, decided to let them go. I am now presently chickenless.

Let go and let be

Adjusting to change is never easy, and often, we do so in stages. It took time, but eventually I came to understand that I wanted chickens for the wrong reasons. I was attached to them for what they symbolized (I lost the farm but wanted to prove that I could keep the joy of farming in my life) rather than for the fact that they added pleasure, entertainment, or meaning to my life now. I loved chickens in Georgia because they were a part of the grand adventure of building a more intimate relationship with nature, but they are not a good fit for me as owner of a retreat center in steamy hot Florida. In Georgia, taking care of the land was the only work I had on my agenda other than raising a family and writing. Chickens were a part of my country education. Now my work is teaching and running a business again, (plus caring for a family, and writing when and if I can possibly carve out time) so taking care of chickens demands time that might be better allocated in the new configuration of my world. Florida is filled with opportunity to explore life in new ways intellectually and experientially. Here, the act of keeping chickens isn’t as stimulating. Actually, it pales in comparison to the many opportunities for growth and entertainment available in my holistic, creative community. If I want the freedom to step away from Heartwood for occasional trips or have a day off that doesn’t include the drudgery of chicken maintenance or if I just want time to devote to a new interest, I have to let the chicken responsibility go.

Learning to let go is a process and one I been working on a great deal of late. It took several years for me to let go of teaching dance totally because being engaged in music, movement and choreography was a part of my identity and I didn’t know how to redefine myself without dance humming in the background of my life.  But Oh, how freeing it was to let go and retire that engrossing role. Not that I don’t miss dance. I do. But I realize that what was a perfect fit for me for the first 50 years of life, is now meant to be something I can be grateful to have had (past tense), rather than something I must cling to because I am unable or unwilling to admit that time and circumstance changes your relationship to all things, even the art you’ve devoted your life to.

All things change. Life changes. I change. The world changes. Being adaptable and flowing with change is necessary to live in harmony with the ever-unfolding shifts of our world.  This simple truth is easy to grasp intellectually, but practicing non-attachment is much harder, not because of our unwillingness to do so, but because we are so often blind to our own patterns and the deep levels of conditioning life designs. Chickens are a good start, but I plan to continue flexing my “letting go muscles” to build the strength required to be liberated from the boundaries of mind, habit, and self-identity in this, and every, stage of life. As space opens up from the removal of each non-serving element, I feel the thrill of new beginnings.