Back from a recent trip to visit family half way across the world, my feels foggy headed from jet lag, as if it has been stuffed with cotton. There were many things I hoped to do today, but my mind was half asleep, or wanted to be. It’s difficult to travel between worlds. During my recent trip, I traveled between many worlds as we visited different friend and family member’s homes, slipping into their lives, conversations and way of living for a few days or hours. Indeed, there are many worlds inside of this world.
Currently, I’m reading William Dalrymple’s From the Holy Mountain, where he travels through the Middle East, exploring and explaining the remnants of Byzantium. In one section, Dalrymple explains how Gregory the Great was known to recommend making the sign of the cross over lettuce leaves so you wouldn’t swallow a demon who happened to be perching there. (p. 55) In that comment, it struck me how different that world, with its belief in demons, is from my own. Dalrymple mentions how across the Mediterranean today, the role of the priest as a “prize-fighter against Devil minions” is still important. My husband’s father, whose parents came from Calabria in southern Italy had a belief in these minions. Once, for example, one of his grandsons fell from a table, and he explained there was a demon who made him do it. Salt should be scattered at the door to keep them way. A ceramic pot my husband made had a lid that looked like a fox head, and my father-in-law turned it upside down because he thought it was a demon. This unseen world, was definitely alive for him.
This way of thinking is different than my own, and of a mind from a different world. The demon of my world is the lack of time to do the many things I want to do during any particular day. It’s a demon of my own mind, a demon that wants, nevertheless, to control my mind and make me think that life is a river of things that need to be accomplished, rather than an experience to be savored. While visiting friends in the LA area recently, we were walking around Puddingstone Lake, and I became aware that I was not at all thinking about the list of things that needed to be done, I was simply walking in the late afternoon light, enjoying the way it turned the trees half golden. I was looking at the lake, breathing, and feeling completely whole without having to do anything. I felt the way I did as a child when walking through the dry yellow grass on the hills behind my house, climbing on boulders to lie back and stare at the clouds and feel my body absorb the heat from the stone beneath me–where time was a lake to go swimming in, not a clock with seconds that ticked by, click, click, counting out every moment. It was a world of being rather than doing, and that world is difficult to get back to. The path gets grown over by the grass and shrubbery of obligations, but it is a world I want to visit more often.
As an expatriate, I’m used to moving back and forth between worlds, to belonging to several worlds, and feeling they are home. Actually, many places are simultaneously home and not home. I’m reminded of the words to the song, “This world is not my home, I’m just passing through. My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue…” Home is a state of mind, as well as a place. I feel at home in myself, and therefore feel at home in many places. What I want is to visit more, though, the world where time flows, and to do that, I need to purposefully walk down the path, open the gate and enter that place. The gate could look like quietness, or a walk out of doors, like a book I want to read, like singing and music, or like the face of friends and voices of loved ones. “Love is a place,” as E. E. Cummings says, and if we want to experience the awareness of love we must put aside the press of obligations.
love is a place
& through this place of
(with brightness of peace)
yes is a world
& in this world of
We see often, what we allow ourselves to see, what we set our gaze on. We grow toward and become what we spend time with. All day long I’ve heard the whine of train whistles in the distance, a reminder of the relentless motion of time moving down a fixed track in a busy city. If I want to live in a world where being is important, however, I must get off the train and go to that other world.
What do most of us want most in this world but to know we are loved? Love is a place we create as well as a place that is found, a place we come home to. There are many things I don’t understand about how to live fully, but if I want to learn, I must enter the gate that leads me there. That means time out from the schedule, some time each day to remember who I am, where I come home to myself, where I allow myself to enter the world of love.
As a writer, I know that giving myself a rule or a regular practice of writing can strengthen my work. This is the time of Lent. I didn’t grow up practicing Lent, but I’ve been thinking about what that might mean for me. Traditionally, it is a time of prayer, giving alms to others, fasting and/or giving something up–a practice of some kind of self-denial. Giving up a bit of the idea that I have control over everything, and that if I just keep working harder I will accomplish everything I think I should might be a good thing. If I accomplish everything on the list. But if I do, then what? Does that make me feel more whole? Will I simply add on to the to-do list? How long can a person keep doing that?
Perhaps there is a wisdom in the ancient traditions and practices that I can’t know because they aren’t part of my life. Maybe you have to give up some things, like always having too many things to do, to find other things– like a deeper, more meaningful and satisfying life.