How fast this summer has flown. I’ve been delayed in getting my blog out because I’ve been traveling quite a bit: 12 days spent on the east coast and another 12 days in Palm Desert. I’ve only had a few days in between to get back to a normal routine, if there’s anything normal in my routine now that retirement has made me a free bird. I come and go as I please but when family calls, I try to be there for them.
I am a bit of a reluctant traveler. I love seeing new places but it involves airports, delays, crowds, frenzied hustle and bustle, all which is part and parcel of getting from here to there. My nervous system gets jostled but since I have friends on the east coast whom I hadn’t seen in eight years, I decided it was time to visit them; thus, I gave myself a retirement gift of a 12 day trip to Boston, Cape Cod, and Long Island Sound.
When I arrived at the door of my childhood friend, it was as if eight years never happened, and we simply started from where we left off. Good friendships are like that. I don’t consciously choose to keep time and distance between me and those I love, but life gets in the way. Plus, for the last seven years, my travel has been devoted to flying back and forth between San Francisco and Palm Springs to visit my retired husband.
I carried a book with me hoping to fill quiet moments with some solid reading. Little did I know that I had picked up a rather difficult tome and sad to say, I didn’t get that far into the book when I decided to donate it to a friend’s bookshelf devoted to yoga esoterica. There it will have a perfect home. I must chime in now and say that I don’t like easy books either—I want to be challenged and to my disappointment, I find much of popular modern literature to be akin to pablum, with “sound bite” chapters that cater to a modern species who can’t sustain focus past five minutes. Jane Austen, Leo Tolstoy and Charles Dickens would have a hard time getting published in this day and age. So would 1930’s British journalist Paul Brunton, the author of the book that I carried.
I had recently read Brunton’s “A Search in Secret India” and loved it even though it was written in a lofty and flowery language that is currently out of date. I got so much out of it, so I picked up another book written by Brunton, but it turned out to not be a good fit for my particular journey. It required periods of silence and concentration to absorb the philosophical gems of yogic wisdom that Brunton was imparting. Such luxury of time I did not have on my trip where I was on the go every single day.
However, one line stood out in the beginning of the book, like a radiant, jeweled lotus pushing up from muddy darkness to greet the luminous light of day:
“When heart speaks to heart, what is there left to say?”
Those words were spoken by an Indian sage to the journalist Brunton. In effect, the sage was saying: “You and I don’t have to say much to each other, for what we know and feel is written in our hearts already.”
That really struck me on so many levels and came at a time when I was renewing old friendships and finding out that I didn’t need to say much – what was most powerful in our hearts was almost unutterable, because deep feelings are like that. More often than not, they are too profound to express.
So after my seven night visit when I was ready to say goodbye to my high school chum whom I had met 50 years ago when we were both 14, tears of gratitude pooled in my eyes. My friend is and has always been the consummate host, always keeping the feelings of her guests uppermost in her heart and mind. She’s also quite the cook and I heartily enjoy every concoction she dreams up. Whether it’s a simple pasta with fresh out of the garden tomatoes and herbs, or baked french toast with fresh from the bush blueberries, my friend knows how to weave culinary magic. I don’t even know what I said or why I cried as she dropped me off at the train station so I could take a three hour train ride to my next destination. I just know a few words poured out from my heart, trying to express the love and gratitude I felt for her long abiding and faithful friendship.
We had wonderful conversations; no TV, no interference from fear mongering mass media; simply hearts speaking to hearts, sharing our experiences of the last eight years and coming up to speed.
As I sat on the train, I had a lot of time to think. I thought about the morning spent with my friend scouring the Cape Cod Beach for heart shaped rocks. I received an education as to what rocks qualified and which did not cut mustard. No kidney shapes allowed. Sadly, I didn’t find a heart shaped rock on Cape Cod but instead found a little dead shark! I hadn’t even seen it as I was so focused on finding a perfect heart-shaped rock; my keen eyed. observant friend spotted it. Fortunately, a heart shaped rock would find me on the next leg of my journey.
The theme of the first leg of my journey revolved around hearts, conversations, avoiding mass media, and exploring the nature of anxiety. We went to my friend’s parish – the Cape Cod Church, and were inspired by the music and the sharing. The minister talked about making an effort to have interesting conversations, making space for God, and finding rapport, camaraderie and a meeting of minds in small groups. If we can somehow get along in small groups, might we transfer that ability on a wider planetary basis? I think we can – as a member of Alanon (a world wide fellowship that convenes in small groups to heal, share from the heart, and connect with a higher power), I understood the minister’s words well. He was speaking my language and I wasn’t even a member of the denomination; yet, I could take what I liked and leave the rest.
As I sat on the train, I also thought about all the rainy weather that greeted my days of leisure, and interrupted our plans to take a ferry to Martha’s Vineyard. I asked my friend if there was a museum we could visit and she gave me two choices. I opted for a grand estate that was just minutes away – a lovely manor owned once upon a time by a prominent family and eventually restored by a caring group of locals and turned into a museum to showcase the work of local artists.
We arrived to find a tour in progress, led by a young and hardy New England man who was expounding on something we couldn’t quite understand so we walked in a different direction. I was hoping to ride on the coattails of this tour, concealing a silent wish to learn something new that perhaps I would never have learned had Massachusetts skies decided not to pour out rain that day. I would not be disappointed! We continued on our merry way, winding through different rooms showcasing Japanese inspired prints, and then we climbed the stairs and found ourselves looking at some very interesting ceramic sculptures. A couple of the smaller sculptures floated in the air via help from magnets. We were in awe staring in amazement. And then we banged up against that tour group again. This time we hung around to eavesdrop and it turned out that the young man leading the tour was the creator of the floating sculptures and tagging along was another artist who was helping narrate and answer questions. She walked toward a fascinating piece of what looked like a glob of 500 fish glued together and began to chat about the inspiration for the piece.
The artist shared and I paraphrase: “My son was the inspiration for this piece called Fish Bait Ball, as he says it’s his belief that the prevailing emotion of modern life is anxiety. I thought about the extreme anxiety that a school of fish must experience when a predator hovers near by ready to descend and pounce, and the reaction of the fish is to gather into a protective ball, but as they do, they find themselves vulnerable at the same time to the predator who’s attracted to the silvery mass.”
We did end up taking that ferry to Martha’s Vineyard on an incredibly, beautiful sunny day that was picture perfect, as if it had been saved up just for us, and to prove to me – the visitor- that July in Cape Cod was not filled with back-to-back overcast and rainy days. Once on land, we walked by quaint little gingerbread cottages and I stopped in front of one to gaze at a painting that featured swarms of swimming fish. Look, I said, it’s the bait ball!
The artist came out of the cottage and we struck up a conversation with this native Yankee whose family went way back and had founded an east coast town I can’t remember the name of (I should have taken notes!). To our utter surprise and delight, he invited us into his home and showed us around and we talked about his wonderfully stoic but bright colored folk art on display, inspired by New England life, boats, water, fishermen, birds, cottages, and lots and lots of fish!
As I sat on the train, gazing at gray skies, rain clouds, mist and pure white cranes perched in a tree outside my window in Mystic, CT, I thought how serendipitous it had been to be given the opportunity to continue the theme of the trip on Martha’s Vineyard: heart-to-heart interesting conversations. I could have never orchestrated such a scenario all by myself. I was just a wide-eyed bystander to the wonderful vignettes that life/higher power unfolded one by one for my complete enjoyment and delight.
Well, that is a description of the first part of my trip and it’s enough to pass on for now. But before I depart, I do wish to share a story about the limo driver that came to take me from Stamford, CT to JFK because it ties in the zeitgeist of anxiety. I told him I was a nervous traveler and that opened an opportunity for him to share his life philosophies. He encouraged me to focus on the positive and promised everything would be okay. He shared something of his life which elicited immediate feelings of compassion. He had been laid off by an engineering company during the 2008 financial crisis, and he had a lot of good ideas about how to make the world a better place. He started citing statistics and math equations and asked me to calculate the answer. Yep, he had been an engineer! I stood tough and said, “It’s too early to do math. You do the math!” 😂. He also shared that even as a limo driver and engineer, he didn’t rely on GPS navigation; instead he relied on his interior GPS. I had been checking highway conditions on my phone and it showed a a big “red” delay on the route to JFK. I panicked and asked my driver if we would get to the airport on time. I should have guessed his response: “See, what benefit is that app giving you? It’s giving you anxiety. Don’t worry, I am going to get you to the airport and everything is going to be okay. I’ve got inner GPS!” And he did get me there with time to spare. As we parted I said “Have a good life.” And he responded “stay steady.” I liked that and thanked him, and then I entered the chaos that is JFK.
I found my boarding gate after a stressful security processing where TSA pre-check did not exist. I found a seat at my gate and soon discovered that horrible discordant sounds were being broadcasted into my ear. These were not pleasant sounds. As I turned to find the origin of the monstrous howling, it turns out they emanated from a television above me (big surprise) and the news was all about terror, death, destruction, stabbings. I changed my seat. I was already nervous about traveling; did I really need fear porn from mainstream media? No, I did not.
I am fortunate to be cognizant of what jostles my nervous system and I have tools to deal with it, whether it’s deep breathing, yoga, meditation, or 12 steps. I make it a point of centering myself and finding, to the best of my ability, a quiet place within to rest and regroup.
So as I close this out, I don’t think I need to remind my friends and readers that there is an unforgivable amount of noise pollution to which television and mass media contribute to so heavily. Look around – there’s tv’s at the gas pump, at the gym, in restaurants. Our senses are on overload and we no longer know quietude.
We have become the fish bait ball — feverishly churning, twirling, swirling, circling faster and faster not knowing where we’ve been, nor where we are going. Except into the mouth of the predator. But there’s a few of us who have awakened to the insanity and chaos of modern life and refused to become part of the bait ball. We’ve changed our seats at the airport and we have struck up heart-to-heart conversations with a stranger behind a wheel. We put our phones down in restaurants and have real conversations with our loved ones. It takes considerable effort to bypass the urge to be connected to technology every moment, but as the limo driver wisely intoned: tune into your own inner GPS, and you will be okay!
“Lock yourself up in your room or go out in the woods where you can be alone. When you are alone, the universe talks to you in flashes of inspiration.”
– Walter Russell
May your flashes of inspiration flow unimpeded, and may your moments of inner grace be frequent. It’s not easy finding the time, but the payoff in serenity, peace and self knowledge is so worth the effort in creating a quiet space for yourself. Try it and report back, please🙏 .
And if you happen to find a heart shaped rock on your travels, hoorah and more power to you!