Just Learn the Important Words

  
Rain has been my constant companion so far in the tiny powerhouse that is Switzerland. This morning I had planned to rise early, get myself together, stop for some coffee and get to the train station for my full day in Luzern or Lucerne, as it is translated. Why does it have to be translated? Anyway, I did all that, just much later.

Let me begin by saying I slept an unprecedented 10 hours – interrupted marginally, but miraculous nonetheless. My queen sized bed is just this side of sleeping on the floor and the pillows are foam, leaden with age. No problem. The secret cocktail? Exhaustion + dry red medicine + open window with rain pounding the ground and cool air caressing my forehead. Even after ten hours it was difficult to get going. But I did. It probably helped that there was no coffee here. Motivation. 

I began making friends at the train station. “Excuse me but how do I get a ticket to the flughafen?” It took a little finesse but the 30 something man with round glasses and a waxed bag holding a pastry just procured at the well-placed gluten kiosk behind me, got me straightened out just in time for his train. Confident that I knew where I was going I found the secret passageway to the other track, just to be informed by a nice Swiss lady who works for the transit system that I should indeed go back where I came from. Meaning the other track of course. 

Finally in my seat, I still had the airport train station to master. Here a billette operator escorted me to a kiosk where he encouraged me, like a young child learning times tables, through selecting and purchasing my own ticket to the beautiful little lake town of Luzern. 

 New friends are everywhere. 

On the train I chose to perch myself on the upper level for a better view. About the third of five stops in a woman in her sixties or older hawked up a few words of something that sounded German and ended with a question mark. I nodded and smiled politely not entirely certain what I was agreeing to but it seemed the seat across from me was her request. We stared out the window in polite silence until I asked her if she spoke English. We’re now best friends. Not really but we did have a lovely conversation. 

Her parents lived in Arizona for a while but she was born in Luzern and lives there now. It’s beautiful, she says, except now the Chinese are moving in and people from India. Wait, what? They come in big groups apparently and if they like it they let everyone they know, know. 

Redirect.

“I just love the water and all the photos I’ve seen are beautiful.” She took the cue and pointed out a small town just before Luzern that has a lovely long lake that people walk around, and in the summer there are ‘rowing races’. 

“Do you like your American president?” This is the starter gun shot to a little game I like to call “defending your passport” that I don’t much like playing. In all honesty I’d much rather hear her thoughts so I play it semi-safe by saying, “the US is pretty divided right now.” That’s enough of an opening for her to walk through with both barrels loaded. And it doesn’t stop with him, apparently the leader of Switzerland is no good either, and there are others. She mercifully wraps it up with, “the good people just don’t run for office.” A universal truth perhaps.

It’s our stop. She tells me she will show me where to start my self-guided walking tour. She takes me to the large arches that welcome travelers to both the train station and the city, and points diagonally left. Thank you, says I, have a nice time, says she and we part.

Once alone, I am pulled by architecture, water, green hills rising from the lake and disappearing into the clouds. Swans swim nearby and people are plentiful but it’s not yet crowded. Rain is helpful that way. I wander aimlessly. Truly. I pass stores and restaurants, somehow end up in a mostly modern office building hive. I meander past a huge church where I am stopped by a British Indian family seeking directions. My mutt ancestry allows me to take on the persona of any cold weather European. I am surprisingly able to help them find their way to the train station. Onward I go. I notice the other side of the river (that is actually the lake) has intriguing buildings high in the hills dotted with what appear chimneys but are really low hanging clouds, and I wonder how I might get there. Try as I might I can’t seem to crack the code. I walk up what feels like hundreds of time worn, uneven stone steps, follow narrow alleyways and well-trod paths only to end up walking down a hill back to the water. Whatever mysteries are hidden in the turreted buildings on the hill will have to remain that way for now. 

I’m hungry. I mean really hungry and I have to pee. Time to find some lunch. There are many restaurants along the banks of the lake and their prices reflect their location. And some of the offerings frighten me. I may be able to muster courage for many things, but foodie I am not. I find the perfect restaurant in a hotel but they are closed until six. It’s three. I will not succumb to American fast food. Instead I pay way too much to eat Italian food on the Swiss riviera. I did sample some dry red Swiss wine though, so I’m not a total food loser. 

I’m done. It’s time to meander back to Zurich. The rain has picked up and I’m wet. 

I find my train. This is getting easier. I don’t have to know all the words, just the important ones. This train does not go all the way back to the airport, it goes to Zurich’s version of grand central. That was a fun segue. Art, fancy shops, grocery stores, thousands of fresh off work for the weekend folks and lots of soldiers in fatigues. It took everything I could  NOT to ask them if they were carrying knives. Get it? Swiss. Army. Knives. 

Anyway.

The rest of the rail hopping is a confusing blur of misreads, double-checks and finally landing at the right station. Which, it turns out is a lot closer if I don’t swing by Starbucks first. 

Oh, did I mention self check-out at the grocery store? In the big scary train station? In Switzerland? For some reason I thought, well I didn’t think, I just operated on a time crunch and instinct. I mean a barcode is a barcode in any language right? You’d think. There was an English language option so I chose it to pay for my coconut water and chocolate (balance, don’t judge). Everything was going just fine until it got to the end. I inserted my credit card, agreed to the amount and the conversion and probably sneaky conversion fees. Then I was met with a split screen. On the left side of the screen some important question or action appeared in Swiss in red with another button resembling “no” in red beneath it. On the right, a giant green exclamation point with a button that I assumed said “yes” beneath it. No matter how many times I hammered the EN button, the Swiss or German refused to budge. I switched to French. I could decipher the word receipt on the left which gave me confidence to press oui on the right. A receipt was spat out and I was on my way.

Wonder where I will be led tomorrow? Feeling a boat trip and an embarrassing run through the Lindt chocolate factory outlet store maybe in order. 

I repeat: Lindt. Chocolate. Factory. Outlet.

Lone Wanderer

  
Today after a 12 hour journey or so I landed in the gray and rainy Swiss metropolis of Zurich.  During those long hours on a couple of flights I somehow relaxed enough for all the stress I had been so valiantly suppressing to  gush forward in the form of a perpetually running faucet of a nose. No matter.
Upon arriving at the airport I was to find my way to the Stadelhofen train station. Ok, was my response, I’ll figure it out. And I did. I have come to learn that the bonus side of my sometimes troublesome curiosity is awareness.

I. Notice. Everything. 

I dutifully followed signs to train/bahn, then found the info lady and finally the ticket man. I guessed at the right track 4, asked a woman who only spoke Portuguese a question she did not understand, therefor couldn’t answer about the train currently idling on the track and took my chances hopping through the open door, while swiping at my nose. I confirmed with a suspected heroin addict that this particular train went in the direction I intended and took a seat. 

Four stops later I was spat out into the wet, cool air. My Airbnb host was there awaiting me and even took my bag. A carry-on only if I may boast. For two weeks. We walked a few blocks, took an elevator better suited for one small child with a chihuahua to the fourth floor and entered the apartment.

Spacious, comfortable, on a park and a fraction of even the least expensive hostel. Switzerland is pricey. He showed me around then left. 

I arranged a few things, poked around the kitchen then fell into bed with the windows open and the rain pounding away outside. An hour later I was refreshed enough to cross the street to the grocery store. I wanted to explore more but the rain and this annoying sieve of a nose caused me to pump the brakes. For an hour or so. 

As I was getting ready to leave again, I heard the familiar sound of pedals striking strings. Piano music was seeping through the walls giving me that delicious feeling of being part of something. Life was happening here. Cities have always been my comfort zone, I like the idea of knowing there are stories happening all around me simultaneously and maybe even intertwined. We are all connected after all.

As I made my way down the wide concrete stairs that belonged more to a 1930’s office building than a 5 story apartment building, I noticed other bits of stories. The occupant directly below me had two umbrellas leaning again the wall next to their door, a little further down one occupant had placed a big lace heart on their door and finally at the bottom, a chiropractic office.

Outside more than a dozen bikes sat in a row unlocked and unconcerned. The park was glistening bright green and a mother stood by while her child rode a hobby horse even in the rain.

I wandered to Starbucks. I know, but it’s a little bit of grounding that feels like a permission slip to explore freely. After that I took any side street that interested me with the intention of making my way to the water. I watched the good citizens of Zurich for traffic and street crossing clues, wished I had an umbrella and took note of stores and restaurants to explore later. 

The waterfront was beautiful and mystical shrouded in low hanging clouds. Solitary joggers and residents on bikes passed me by on the walkway arcaded with these magical trees. Occasionally a pair of friends would stroll by peeking outfrom under  their umbrellas to be sure the other understood the point they were trying to make.

There was a bridge in the near distance that was pulling me but I had to resist. I had to get into dry clothes and blow my nose. I had to check my powers of observation and recall to see if I could find my way back without soaking my phone to check Google maps. I did. No problem. Even managed to duck into a different grocery store for a medicinal bottle of wine.

Day 1 in the books. Tomorrow promises the same weather but I think I may find my way to Lake Lucerne. Back to the train platform to the train station to navigate farther south then hoof it around the sweet lake town. But we’ll see.

White Space

IMG_6678

I have become a bit obsessed with stuff.

The mountain of papers, journals and other bits of detritus left behind by my mother has me wondering what compels people to keep what they do.

Both my husband and I have spaces in antique shops. His is full of books, lots and lots of books, as well as cool old ads and a few chatchkes. Mine is the result of some of my mother’s stuff. Nothing really of much value, but I couldn’t just toss it. In truth, most of her things ended up staying in her apartment for her neighbor or at a thrift store close to her home. What was left that didn’t occupy a sweet spot in my history went to the antique store.

To furnish these spaces we often attend estate sales and sometimes garage sales. I can tell a lot about the owners of these collections of things. What’s important to them, what fads they succumbed to, how old they likely are, where in the world they have been and of course their personal taste.

And I often wonder why they kept what they did. And why they bought it or how they got it.

What makes our stuff so important to us?

Every antique store I have been in has been stuffed to the rafters with memories left behind. Yet we are still manufacturing stuff at an alarming rate. Furniture is no longer meant to last longer than the trend that created it. Appliances and technology have built in obsolescence. There is no restaurant without a to-go option that usually requires materials that never bio-degrade. And everything needs accessories now.

It’s all just too much stuff.

Part of this year was to be about counting my things and releasing what I didn’t need or no longer used. I was hoping to get to a sort of baseline of things. X number of shirts and shoes, the perfect amount and blend of furniture, only books that are used for reference or are waiting to be read, nothing other than holiday decorations in storage. And even those are to be pared.

I don’t know that I’m truly up to the task. It all just makes me so tired.

My intentions are solid, but my resolve waivers from time to time. Part of the process I guess. I hope.

I don’t want to leave behind cryptic notes and journals filled with repetitive and never resolved thoughts, but I’m afraid I’ve already failed on the journal task.

When I travel abroad, I often stay in Airbnb apartments. Recently I rented a tiny two bedroom flat in Madrid. It was done entirely in Ikea with the exception of the rustic wood doors that covered the French doors. Everything was white with clean lines. There were maybe 8 “things” that served no real purpose, otherwise a small sofa, a tiny table and two chairs, a TV stand, a lamp. That was kind of it. It may sound more like a cell than an apartment but to me it was refreshing.

It was breathing space. Room to think. It helped tremendously that I was six time zones away from my stuff and the projects that await me, but it was also a glimmer into the way things could kinda-sorta be. To not have that tug that I should be doing something or something else other than what I’m doing. Just this. Just space.

Now whenever I am confronted by a box, or a pile of papers or even the garage (THE GARAGE!) I close my eyes and let my mind rest on all that clean, white, simple space.

It helps. The work continues.

Travel Enlightenment

IMG_6916

Aaaaannnd, we’re back!

Not that I actually ever left, but there were many distractions and disruptions that led me physically,  mentally and emotionally away for a bit. Now that I have returned I am ready to pick up where I left off and maybe start over a little on some things.

My time away (I led a yoga retreat to India for two weeks and took a week for fun in Spain) revealed a few things to me. It always does, this is why travel is so important to me. (If travel is your thing too, you can read about my wanderings here: allisonswanderland.)

A few nuggets for my own consideration:

Whenever I’m in India I eat completely, 100% vegetarian. And I feel great. I have “been” vegan, vegetarian, paleo, and every other named dietary follower before. And I never truly stick with any one thing for long, but I have learned a lot about my tendencies, likes, dislikes and what my body appreciates.

Conclusion: I am going 95% vegetarian for the summer. Why not 100%? Because one of the things I’ve learned about my body is it doesn’t process legumes well and it loves protein, so eggs, yogurt and a bit of cheese will be my primary sources, not beans. If I get lethargic I’ll need to add a bit of meat for medicinal purposes. [Please note: there was no intention of sarcasm in that medicinal comment. I truly believe that almost any food when eliminated can be added back in, in small doses as a benefit to the body.]

Traveling also always reveals to me that I have an irrepressible need to be outside and to walk. I love to walk. Walking in cities fills me with wonder and purpose. I have also learned through my travels that I can stop in the afternoon for a pick-me-up of a fully-loaded cappuccino and half a creme brulee and still lose 10 pounds. From walking. About 10 miles a day.

But Florida’s summer heat makes me edgy and lazy and the lack of hills makes me a little sad. So I’ve crafted a plan to walk to the gym (about 1.5 miles one way) every morning super early, walk the hills on a treadmill for 30 minutes then walk home all sweaty. By the way I will be passing a Starbucks and a Panera so… can you say incentive? Maybe some days I’ll even strap my laptop to my back and stop at one of the aforementioned places on my way home to pound out a few blogs. Who can say for sure?

I cannot control anything, [insert eye-rolling emoji here] except my reaction. I ALREADY KNEW THIS, but it has been thrown in my face over and over and over again with unnatural force recently. What I continually attempt to control is my environment. I want my house to be certain way, have structure, be organized. I want the same for my office and the studio (I own a yoga studio with two other magical ladies). This is important to me, not for the unexpected visit from Elle Decor, but so I can have head space to be creative. If there is stuff everywhere I feel so tired and uninspired.

Having just acquired most of my mother’s belongings, there is nothing if not a lack of structure in my home. Getting upset about it only hinders the process and there’s so much to learn in the process.

Organizing things, sorting, compartmentalizing and yes, purging, all make me very happy. It’s this weird internal sense of things clicking into place, and it only works with tangible objects. I cannot feel satisfied by sorting through files on my computer. I have to touch and move actual stuff. The Universe has gifted me a tremendous opportunity to go to this happy place, I just need to see it as that and not the furniture and stuff shaped mound of frustration I’ve made it.

There was more wisdom imparted to me but this is plenty to work on and adopt so I’m sticking with these three. To review, I will:

  1. Eat a 95% + Vegetarian diet throughout the summer, which is about 6 months here.
  2. I will satisfy my need to wander through hill and dale (while not meandering abroad) by walking to the gym and climbing on equipment.
  3. I will take my time and practice mindfulness while organizing and continuing to purge stuff from my various environments.

I am also still deeply committed to minimizing my personal carbon footprint by reducing my trash and carefully considering all purchases.

It feels good to have a plan, some structure and goals. As soon as I finish integrating whatever I am keeping from my mother’s gifts I will resume, and in some cases restart, counting all my objects.

It was actually quite therapeutic.

Lovable

Deer IMG_6942

About a week ago I was up at my ashram for a yoga teacher reunion. It was little more than 24 hours, arriving at noon on Tuesday and leaving around the same time Wednesday, in which we reconnected with each other, did some yoga and made a couple new friends.

The treat in going to the ashram is being in the presence of Yogi Amrit Desai. Wednesday morning, after yoga, we had that opportunity. During trainings, and even between trainings, Gurudev – our term of endearment for him – leads philosophical, spiritual talks called darshan. He shares his thoughts about many things in the yoga world and reminds us of a few universal truths, but most of his talks circle back to consciousness. This morning was no different. This is the reason I am here.

Today he is talking about how we feel we need to do things, be something and act in certain ways to be lovable. He was giving examples and making us nod in agreement and laugh at ourselves. I would drift in and out of engagement as usual, doodling in the margins of my journal, writing the big ideas down, then I heard it.

When we hear the same word over and over again, especially in our own language, in our own accent, it sometimes loses power, or at the very least, impact. He was saying lovable repeatedly. Only in his Indian accent he was pronouncing it love-able.

This completely reframed things for me. Lovable – Love-uh-bull – sounds to me like I have to add things to me to make myself presentable to another to be loved. I have to primp and preen, be smart, make money, have nice things, not be myself. I have to behave. To be loved.

Love-able makes me feel as if I have to strip away pretense, wash my face, take off my nail polish and open my raw authentic self up in order to love another.

One sounds desperate and seeking, the other scary and exciting.

Maybe I’m the only one who sees it this way, but I don’t think so. It tracks with what we’ve been told: In order to love another you must first love yourself. In order to love yourself, you have to accept yourself AS YOU ARE and that is knowing who you are underneath it all.

Acceptance of self = Self love = Lovable. Able to love.

[Photo: Young orphaned buck that was cared for across the street from the ashram. He now comes over to visit and receive love.]

Soft Reboot

Ganges IMG_5647

I have been home from India for nearly a month now. It’s time I come back. The process becomes slower and slower with each trip. I leave a little more of myself behind so I can carry more of India home with me. The integration is only painful when I have to suddenly be somewhere incongruous with this process – a conference call, listening to someone gossip or accidentally catching a newsbite.

In the almost four weeks since my return I have been writing a lot. And loving it. I have been going through my photos of India and taking new photos of undiscovered (by me) places near my home. Frustrated with my lack of perfection on this one. And generally just ‘being.’

I have been working, yes, but not with the urgency I had before the cleansing of my spirit. There is so much to do that I WANT to do, but those memory-rich corners of my mind have not allowed the organizational part of my brain access to the data necessary to be effective. We must come to a compromise.

It is blending the work, here and now, with the enchantment of the India experience. It’s called presence and I just need to remember that.

Time for a soft reboot. I will make lists. I’m good at lists – it’s the doing of the stuff on them that sometimes eludes me. Here’s my first: My list of the lists I need to make.

1. Make a list of tasks that need my semi-immediate attention (taxes, newsletter for work, blog page for the Sacred India tour group, etc.)

2. Make a list of business and personal goals (really these are all personal, just some relate to the businesses I personally own)

3. Take a look at current food and lifestyle choices – adjust accordingly (same old, same old – cleanse, eat clean, move more)

4. Prioritize the items within each list then take a walk to let it all settle into my cells. Take my camera – just in case.

Just making this list makes me a little sad, but if I want to go back to India, grow as a human, I have to learn to integrate it all. I have eased back into this American life as slowly as I could. I will hold in my heart the images of Indians napping in their rickshaws in the middle of the day, the visits to temples any time for a quick spiritual refresher and the overall feeling of being held by a force so omnipresent and so unconditionally loving that I must infuse my everyday life with its essence.

I will continue to be present in everything I DO so that I may simultaneously BE.

PHOTO: In Rishikesh, up near the Himalayas, the Ganges is pristine and beautiful. Here I am near a cave that many have come to meditate in, including Swami Satchidananda. This is the Ganga Ma – the mother Ganges – just outside the cave.  I have blogged about my entire trip – From London for three days to India for 18 at http://www.allisonswanderland.com.