I am coming to the end of The Artist’s Way, a creative self help book by Julia Cameron. There is a part of me that does not want to finish it. I get that way with books, feeling attached to them like a person, not wanting the relationship to be over. I remember reading The Lord of the Rings trilogy as a child wanting so badly to know the end, but not quite ready to say good-bye to the characters. Those last pages go so fast, and before you know it, the story is finished. The Artist’s Way is not a novel but a book to help you explore and embrace your creative potential, and while there are no characters to say good-bye to, ending this book is kind of like saying good-bye to myself as it is the story of my creative journey that will soon be coming to an end. I started reading this book after my travels in Europe, the recommendation of a young Irish woman about my age that I met at Dzogchen Beara Buddhist retreat center. Each week, the book contains reflections and tasks to be done to help you on “a spiritual path to higher creativity.” My weeks looked more like months, and I adapted the exercises to my own schedule pulling away from the book and returning to it as I felt drawn, but it always seemed that when I did come back to The Artist’s Way I found myself in a section that fit my current experiences perfectly giving me new insights. Reading this book was a spiritual journey for me of looking at my life and experiences honestly so that I could learn from them and get rid of the road blocks I had placed around me. I tapped into an unknown creative resource, drawing, and found that my writing opportunities blossomed as well. Most importantly though I realized that “discovering and recovering” my “creative self” was more than just an artistic experience but a spiritual path to healing and self love, an opportunity to forgive myself and those who had hurt me and let all the bitterness seep away. Part of the process towards the end of the book is rereading the daily “morning pages,” stream of consciousness writings done every day upon waking. Looking back on them, I am forced to come to terms with feelings and thoughts easily forgotten or left behind when traveling, but in reading them, I also come to realize how my travels have transformed me and helped me along the way as well helping me see things clearer and faster. I find myself wanting to return to Dzogchen Beara to send a thank you to this magical place and the people who inspired me there, especially the one who introduced such a wonderful source of growth and inspiration into my life. The Artist’s Way has become my daily companion, and I do not think ending the book will be the end of our relationship. I am sure this book will continue to encourage and shape me as I refer back to it and write my morning pages in the years to come.
Two years ago, I would not have thought that my life would take me where I am now. I am nursing, not as a career, but as a volunteer, writing professionally and creatively, living in Honduras, speaking in Spanish more than English, and all together, living a more fulfilling and enjoyable life. Want to learn how to quit your own job and travel the world for a year while pursuing your dreams? Check out the first of a series of my articles on traveling the world for a year without a job at Endless Trek Magazine.
I have been doing a lot of thinking about my travels this past year as it is almost my one year anniversary after leaving my job in the states to start a new path within my life journey. I wrote this poem before my travels contemplating the duality and complexity we create as humans that makes everything so muddy. Clarity seems to come when we finally decide to sit still and let the mud settle to the bottom, an image I will always remember from meditations at Dzogchen Beara in Ireland. I have come back to daily yoga and meditation practice, and it is amazing how much it helps me focus myself in such a way that life just flows easier allowing me to see things as they come together instead of separate. In life, humans are constantly defining and categorizing things, myself included, all in an attempt to better understand them, but it is interesting how this black and white way of looking at the world that is supposed to provide clarity only actually does if things fit into the black and white mold. When they don’t, people get upset because they don’t feel they have the tools to understand these foreign models of life that don’t mirror what life is supposed to look like. As a result, instead of reaching beyond the black and white, people have a tendency to dismiss what they can’t understand based on their standards of right and wrong. Whether the standards of black and white and right or wrong are religious, race related, familial, cultural, political, or superstitious, they very apparently separate people from understanding the truth and beauty in those people and things they cannot understand or define. It becomes very clear to me that desire to have everything fit into a mold is one of the biggest factors in our suffering as human beings.
The Obvious Choice
“He was unacceptable to the infinite bright blankness, the clarity without edge which only selfishness fears.” ~ Lanark
Restless in calm stability
Confused amongst endless possibility
Is freedom to choose
Only a barrier to simple truth
Is the obvious choice
Really the right one
What makes it obvious?
If I am restless,
It is obvious I must free myself from that which holds me back.
If I am confused,
It is obvious I must ground myself.
Perhaps, I should do the opposite
Obvious choice is subjective to situation
Will going against the flow
Choosing what appears less obvious
Will the less obvious become obvious once the path is chosen?
Perhaps, I am restless because I am confused
I am confused because I am restless
The dissatisfaction comes from the desire to be satisfied
Are they not all one
How do I choose an obvious path when indeed it is not obvious?
Laughable this life we try to lead
The complexity we create out of simplicity
The grass is always greener.
The beauty will be found when it can be seen in the ugly
Peace will find us when we can see it waiting amongst the war within
Destiny is found when choice becomes fate
The obvious choice becomes the less obvious.
I recently was discussing with a friend in Copan the word culture and how we both thought it was often misused to make excuses for unacceptable treatment of women and children. Until she had brought it up, I didn’t realize that I myself had used it as an excuse in my writing and conversation. The word “machismo” could very easily be exchanged for the American idiom “boys will be boys,” both placing the unacceptable acts of men in the category of “culture.” When these words are used, somehow rape, domestic violence, and cheating become more acceptable because they are part of the “culture.”
I am frequently asked by friends and family, how can you live in Honduras where men treat women like they do? This question makes me upset when people ask it, and for some time, I did not understand why. I now see that the root of my irritation is that not so long ago America’s “culture” was one of female oppression, and the phrase “children should be seen and not heard” was used frequently to ignore the voices of the innocent.
It was strong people, that’s right, PEOPLE, not just women, who helped make the freedoms of women and children possible in the U.S. Americans seem to forget that this change only really happened in the last 100 years, and we lived in a similar world as women and children do here. While the unacceptable behaviours of men in Honduras are ignored on a regular basis, and that is termed machismo, I believe that way of thinking is changing, not just here, but in the world.
I see strong children and females all around me. I am reminded, that while many battles have been won, it is an on-going war to change the mindset of a world that has been primarily patriarchal, with women and children seen as possessions, not human beings of equal standing, for most of its history.
I look at the male children around me, and I ask myself where and how can they learn to be different than their fathers? How will they learn to be champions of women and children and call themselves feminists too? So often, I see men pushed to the side in the feminist movement, but they can be just as much a part of it and are necessary to it’s progress. They can show what true culture is.
By definition, culture is “the arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively.” True culture is when people come together with all their knowledge, wisdom, experience, and history to create a statement of who they are as a people and what they have achieved together. As a cultural statement of the world, I hope someday at the base of all our achievements will be equality and respect.
I left Dzogchen Beara with a mother and daughter, who felt very much like family at the end of my stay at the retreat center. They were kind enough to drive me to Cork where I got a bus to Galway. I was welcomed to Galway with an amazing multi-course meal provided by a last minute couch surfer. She and all her friends were wonderfully kind and represented all parts of the world. It was awesome to see so much diversity in one room. Enjoying the company of this lovely lady and her flatmates was very comfortable. We had some good laughs and encouraging conversations. She introduced me to pickle-backs which are shots of whiskey chased by pickle juice; I was quite sceptical, but who knew that something that sounds so revolting might actually be somewhat good?
From Galway, I ventured to the Burren, Cliffs of Moher, and Aran Islands, the lanscapes of which are bizarre and mystical. There was a real sense of connection to my surroundings and a desire to be silent as though listening for whispers of ancient secrets. On the Aran Islands, there are forts and ruins that date back to the Iron Ages. In many areas, life became timeless, and I felt I was experiencing places not of this world. The limestone rock that tops hills is eerily stacked as though placed there with hands, and yet, it is from the earth and has peaks of lush grass surrounding it, almost strategically, in rows. Rock walls, many built by starving farmers during the potato famine, seem haunted by the dying men who built them. They often lead to nowhere and appear to have no purpose, just endless piles of rock caging in rocky surfaces. When one looks out upon these ageless stone walls leading to the edge of sharp ocean cliffs, one wonders if those who built them fell into madness, plunging to their deaths in the violent waters below.
Inspiration comes naturally when you are looking over a cliff and faced with your own death but welcome it. I could not think of a better way to become one with the world again than diving into a raging sea of passion, beating down the roaring rocks of history. Their battlecries melding into a painful force of green foaming mist and the shrapnel of shattered stone. How long has this war been raging between water and land? The sea relentless in its pursuit. The land resilient to the persistant force. The power of movement and stability combined into an endless ebb and flow that we call earth.
Vast is this gray, green emptiness. I feel closer to this horse, this land, this sea than human beings. They speak without words. I feel in them full-bodied emotion not hidden by endless chatter. Silence comes easy here. I welcome it in and feel whole. I like this island of seclusion. It is satisfying to sit with myself quietly. I am so social in my everyday life. Now, I realize how tired I am. I do not crave companionship unless it listens to what is. I want to share this moment, but if another human being was here with me, we would feel a need to break this holy silence, and the experience would be lost. As the sun’s rays touch the sea before the ocean devours its light, I feel god reaching to me, and I feel warm despite the biting cold around me. In a minute, it will rain. I can taste the moisture in the air. But I welcome the wet that will soon become the ocean.
Thanks to my lovely friend back home, I found out about this amazing Buddhist retreat center overlooking the ocean. Here I met new friends, had heart-centered conversations, finished reading The Power of Now and Utopia, found peace in being still, ventured down cliffs to the sea, cuddled with orange fluffy Buddha kitties and donkeys, sat on a grassy knoll below a castle and ancient ruins reading with sound individuals, ate gourmet food by an Austrian chef, and was greeted each morning by the sun’s warmth and comforted at night by the moon’s gentle glow amongst sparkling stars.
My Ireland hitching adventure began in Skibbereen waiting…and waiting. After an hour or two of giving drivers a thumbs up, the woman living in the house behind me took pity and asked I come in for coffee and biscuits. She and her family were so incredibly kind, offering to take me to the bus station since my hitching attempts seemed a bust. While I was there, the next-door neighbor came over and was told of my plight. He was excited to meet me and hear about my travels and was earnest that I must meet his son, who he made sure I knew was very available, with a twinkle in his eyes. He then had an Aha! moment and said perhaps his son could drive me to Bantry, halfway to my destination, this very day. And that is how I got my first ride. Turns out his son and I actually had a lot in common as far as interests go, and I enjoyed swapping stories about traveling, music, culture, and family. He turned out to be as sweet and friendly as his dad; I enjoyed his company very much so and was rather sad the exchange was so short.
In Bantry, I was quickly picked up by a French man who moved here because of his love for the beautiful landscape. I agreed that it drew me in as well. Our interaction was very brief, but he left me at a better intersection so I would have more luck getting a ride.
I stould outside an ice cream shop for about a half hour and had a couple people stop, but none going my direction. At one point a bicyclist rode by, and we connected with smiles. Once he passed, I contemplated an ice cream break. But no sooner was I walking in the direction of sweet, cold creamy goodness than the very bicyclist I had just seen pulled up in his car and offered me a ride. He was German and moved here to enjoy the lovely outdoors by bike and find rest and relaxation in the green hills overlooking seascapes. He was jovial and told me of his family back home, of his deep connection to Ireland and how he had always been drawn here even before he physically came to the country.
My last ride was a sheep farmer born and raised in Glengarriff, and we shared wonderful banter as he drove me towards Dzogchen Beara, the Buddhist retreat center that was my destination. Along the way, he stopped several times to make deliveries, always leaving the keys in the car with the motor running. I was amazed at how trusting he was of a complete stranger. He offered to take me on a tour of the Beara Peninsula instead of Dzogchen Beara that night and wanted me to stay in Glengarriff at his cousin’s bed and breakfast so he could show me his town he loved so much the next day. How could I say no? The hairpin curves separating verdant undulations and turbulant swells were endless and thrilling. We finished the evening back in Glengarriff enjoying live Irish music over ciders and beers. Everyone knew each other in this small village, and I felt warmly received and was excited to meet other traveling Americans at the pub, the first I had seen since coming to Ireland. He left me at his cousin’s bed and breakfast to sleep and returned in the morning to take me for a boat ride out to Garinish Island, where an Italian-style mansion and gardens of exotic beauty are preserved. When we said our good-byes at the Buddhist retreat center, I felt blessed to meet this generous soul who loves his country so much that he wanted a stranger to love it as well.
I will never forget this journey and will consider it one of my best. Never has it been more apparent to me that human beings can be truly good, that when you believe and trust in their goodness they will give you so much more than you could have ever expected.