Throughout the month of August, I’ll be sharing with you stories of my own journeys, both past and yet to come. Over the past year as I’ve thought about how best to share my journeys and experiences with others in my work with A Sacred Journey, I’ve come to realize that telling them in story form really helps to translate my experience into something meaningful – the desire, the challenges, and the realizations – for both others and myself as I look back.
This week and next I’ll be sharing snippets from journeys over the past many years, and in the second half of August I’ll share some of my experience at the Taizé Community, as well as an interview with a monk I met there, Brother Emile. At the end of the month I’ll be sharing my thoughts and preparations for an upcoming journey, but you’ll have to wait until then to find out what it is!
First up, one of my favorite places: London.
“When do you feel your very best?” my therapist asked me. “When do you feel most like yourself? Where is the place that you feel most alive? What are you doing? Give me a scenario.”
“Well, I feel most like myself when I’m on my own, and most alive when I have a day free to explore whatever I want,” I replied. “I remember being in London, riding on the bus, and just hopping off on a whim because I had seen something I wanted to explore. I would get off the bus to peruse a bookstore, or pop into the National Gallery, just to find one painting.”
I spent my last semester in college studying abroad in London. Ironically, the UK had been my very first stamp in my passport when I was 8 years old, and there I was, 12 years later, on a journey of autonomy and self-discovery. Just like any place in which we struggle, learn, and find comfort, London became like a home to me, and I will forever count it as such. The delight I felt in London remained as an imprint in my mind, yet I struggled to attain that feeling again in everyday life.
“Just like any place in which we struggle, learn, and find comfort,
London became like a home to me, and I will forever count it as such.”
Last fall my husband and I embarked upon a six-week pilgrimage across Europe. We were traveling to many sacred places, both traditional ones and places that we held sacred in our hearts. But what I most looked forward to on our trip was our week in London. It felt as if I would be returning home, both in my surroundings and in my bones.
I had it all planned out: when we arrived in London, we’d head straight to Tea, a tea shop and café in St. Paul’s Churchyard that I visited weekly during my time there. From there we’d take my favorite walk in all of London: from St. Paul’s across the Millennium Bridge, west along South Bank, across Westminster Bridge to Trafalgar Square, and down the Mall, finishing at Buckingham Palace and Green Park. Along the way we would simply stroll, stopping in wherever we pleased. I would feel my very best. I would feel the most like myself. And I would feel the most alive. Again – finally.
However, we arrived at Tea to discover it was closed – closed closed, with only stray tables and dishes remaining inside. And then it rained. Not typical London “rainy” rain, but rain rain – sopping wet, walking-in-puddles rain. When we returned to our hostel for solace, we found that it had been taken over by a group of French preteens. While I struggled to emulate the ideal scenario I had imagined, these French preteens were kind enough to help me experience my worst imaginable scenario: loud rap music at breakfast time.
Needless to say, I was in a funk. I spent my days trying to give Kyle the “London Experience” and my nights popping Tylenol PM. Nothing was as I had expected, and it didn’t feel like home. I wished the week away, unable to bear the pain of acknowledging my disappointment.
On our final day there, I made one last attempt at recapturing the sense of delight and autonomy I had experienced years ago. We headed to the National Gallery, where my heart had been drawing me all along. I was still in my funk, and we had a fight in the lobby. I couldn’t seem to translate the complex feelings I had inside into words. We decided to part ways for an hour, and my husband left the Gallery for his own pursuits.
I headed into the café for tea, cake, and some much-needed reflection. As I began to translate a week’s worth of frustrated feelings into words, I realized my Sacred mission was right in front of me: I needed to re-enact my ideal scenario. Here I was in the National Gallery, already on the path of the journey that had served as my touchstone of delight and autonomy – the talisman of my true self – for the past few years. While I was still in my funk, I knew that choosing to intentionally participate in the re-enactment of my ideal scenario would honor and call forth those feelings of freedom that were etched in my memory. It was a ritual, and the next step was to find that painting.
In her amazing book, Dance of the Dissident Daughter, Sue Monk Kidd writes:
“[R]ituals performed consciously can be powerful catalysts of change.
They can be moments of integration, making something suddenly clear,
making us stronger inside, opening up unknown places within us
and imbuing new meaning.”
As I left the café, I had all of those things in mind.
At this point, I only had fifteen minutes left until I was meant to meet my husband again, and I knew this was something I needed to do on my own, so I had to hurry. I checked a map to find where the painting was located and headed in that direction. When I finally reached the painting, I stood still in front of it, welling up with emotion – not because of the painting’s beauty (while famous, it’s not that moving, really), but rather by what the ritual I had just re-enacted represented: a conscious and readily-available choice to seek to know and delight in my essential self. Despite the circumstances and the disappointment of the week, in that moment I felt at my very best, I felt most like myself, and I felt most alive.
As the time to meet my husband again drew near, I crossed myself – in honor of that Sacred moment – and made one final stop in the bookstore. There I bought a postcard-sized print of the painting that has come to represent so much more. Today it hangs in my studio as a reminder that in the midst of the chaos of the everyday or the darkest funk, I can still connect with my essential self if I choose to with intention. My ideal scenario isn’t so unattainable after all.
“In the midst of the chaos of the everyday or the darkest funk,
I can still connect with my essential self if I choose to with intention.”
When do you feel your best? Do you have a “touchstone” you use to help return you to that feeling?