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The return

 

Sailing in the Tagus river, Lisbon, Portugal

As my return flight from Lisbon to the US took off leaving behind those beautiful red roofs mixed with clouds, it felt as if I had blinked my eyes and three months in Europe had elapsed like a dream. 13 weeks was an eternity. 13 weeks flew by as fast as feathers resting on a windy day. That chapter in my life was now already written, memories still raw, a multilayered sensorial journey packaged for storytelling, but there was so much processing to do. I had just lived one of the most remarkable moments of my life, one where I had given myself the gift of self-love by taking a career break to fulfill a childhood dream to travel for months at a time. I had intentionally created every part of my days in Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, Austria, Czech Republic and Malta, choosing destinations on the fly, guided by my soul compass and eventually by the weather. Those experiences indeed existed and were now forever etched under my skin, accessible within the switch of a thought to pump joy into my heart. There is something exquisitely powerful to be savored when you create space to step into your dreams, no matter how big or how small they may be.

Bittersweet was the one word that could describe the cocktail of feelings that kept me both joyfully smiling and heartbreakingly crying for 10 days post arrival. I was delighted to be home, and I was also grieving the loss of the Northern shores and breezes that sheltered my adventure. Those lands carried a version of me that felt free, empowered and aligned on a daily basis. I knew I could bring that woman to my domestic habitat, but I couldn’t translate those transoceanic settings into my home surroundings. Happiness and sadness co-existed within me in equal parts, and sadness is not an emotion I can to this day say I understand or accept. I made peace with anger a long time ago. I relate to fire more than I relate to ice. I’m now learning to let sadness move through me, I’m not pushing it away.

There was comfort in the familiarity of entering my home with that characteristic smell of old paint and wood that never seems to fade, in caressing my cat’s velvety fur, in reuniting with my husband. They both had lost weight in that span of 90 days. We all had gained pounds of insights in that hiatus. There was reacquaintance waiting for us on this side. In the first 10 days of re-entry past and present were intertwined. As I suckled oysters from Galveston Bay, my mind traveled to the oyster farms embraced by the silvery waters of Cap Ferret, France. As I joyfully drove my car, I saw myself in Gozo, Malta, driving for the first time on the left side of the road and making frequent stops on top of cliffs to soak in magnificent turquoise Mediterranean horizons. Buying white asparagus at my local grocery store sent me straight to a delicious lunch on the Danube river cruise in the Wachau Valley, Austria. I loved the spaciousness of my Texas home and longed for the view of the Grand Harbor in my Valletta apartment.
The view to the Grand Harbor from my apartment in Malta

On week two of re-entry, the intensity of the transition between being there and here had subsided. The recent memories were still waving at me with beauty and color, but there was a newfound lightness in my heart when they bubbled up to the surface. I was now adjusting to being home when so much had changed. Earlier this year I underwent a major surgery, quit my job and was on the road in Europe all within 30 days. Easing into the role of adventurer in faraway lands with doctor’s orders to pace myself felt a million times easier than the initial complexity of creating my days in my own house when I had peeled off a significant layer of my identity. The corporate career woman was no more, I neither had a job to go back to nor was emotionally ready to return to work. My original plan had always been to take the entire 2022 off, but I didn’t take long to dive into old mental patterns of harsh self-judgement, calling my plan over indulgent and selfish, and paying attention to the criticism of people I hardly even know. I was reliving a version of myself that I wished had hanged from the Charles bridge in Prague. Some parts of us are hard to die.

I re-injected breath into my soul by taking a closer look into the themes I had selected for my career break: Explore, which focuses mainly on traveling; Create, which relates to my artistic expression, primarily through writing; Connection to Self and Source, where I mindfully seek self-knowledge through my relationship with spirituality and the Divine; and Dolce Far Niente, which in Italian means the sweetness of doing nothing. With that framework in mind, I established a daily routine with morning meditation, a writer’s course where I re-ignited writings I started years ago, and an online spiritual workshop that brought me closer to God. I spent quality time with my husband, cooked healthy meals, played lots of tennis, reconnected with dear friends and my career break community. I filled most of my time with activities that felt meaningful, but a good chunk of my days was stuffed with meaningless busyness. I found that doing nothing for the sake of nothing has been the hardest theme of my break so far, still living under the influence of an old script that equates busyness with productivity. Even taking an innocent nap in the afternoon stirs up pangs of criticism. When I look back at my 90-day European trip, I realize that only a handful of times I was able to truly lie still.  

It was in one of those rare moments where I laid on the couch consuming nothingness that the desire to hit the road resurfaced. The summer had now warmed up the Adriatic, and I’ve been dreaming of bathing, sailing and floating in those waters since the beginning of the year. I initially tried to silent that desire: “You just came back, lady, now settle for a while” resounded the voice in my head. I was able to recognize that my fear of disappointing others was striking again, but I was able to stop it on its tracks. Empires are not built overnight and the same is true for self-love. I would remain truthful to my original plan where traveling was one of the main components of my break. And that’s how somewhere around week three of re-entry, I had completely planned Europe part 2. That continent keeps whispering songs of enchantment in my ears.

Under the spell of the magical Alhambra in Granada, Spain

My upcoming round of wanderings will be a different trip in many aspects. I’ll be gone for only a month, for I learned that three months was too long, even exhausting. Unlike my previous trip where I didn’t have a set itinerary, this time around each country, flight and accommodation has already been booked. I’m packing light. I know for sure that I’ll be meeting up with friends, for I love solo time but also need caring, familiar company (my husband has committed to join me later this year). My tours have a premeditated balance of urban sightseeing and nature breaks, because it’s in nature that I feel a closer connection to something greater than myself. There is plenty of space and intention to embrace dolce far niente. “Indulge, woman. You’ve earned your right” is the voice that now sends me off to the wilderness of my dreams.

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