I find myself here in Bordeaux, writing at an airy cafe and cinema space called Utopia. I accidentally ordered a ham, cheese, and stewed tomato sandwich for lunch, and so I paid my respects to the pig as I gingerly tasted ham for the first time in ages. I have chanced upon the very type of cafe I like — the kind I’d sit at for hours in San Francisco, drinking tea, coding, writing, scheduling lunch and afternoon dates. This is a happy and peaceful moment in Utopia.
This morning, I noticed fear in my body, arising as discomfort and a busy-ness of the mind (how curious that busi-ness — business — is an actual English word!). It was a lack of settling, an attempt to find refuge outside of the self: in the purchase of a beautiful new straw tote, in fizzy lemonade, in the quiet of a church.
It is a good place to be, this noticing of fear. As I settle into my wooden bench seat, I get cozy with the fear.
What are you afraid of, Melanie?
When the question is asked, images rush to my mind, as if they were simply waiting to be acknowledged. Having my passport or phone stolen. Not having a place to sleep tomorrow. Bed bugs, tics, and the common mosquito. My feet not holding up and not being able to walk on the Camino. Not even knowing how to start walking the Camino. Not being able to speak French or knowing my way around this town.
The fears are plentiful: some arise from being a traveler in a foreign land, without a clean home of my own or English speakers to converse with. Others are about my ability to walk the Camino, to find my way. Still others are about money and my desiring mind. I take a deep breath. The question arises of how to create home for myself in each moment, to let go of any attempts to find refuge outside of myself.
How can I create home for myself wherever I am?
Listening to my body and caring for my basic needs — bandaids for my bug bites, food and water at meal times, toilet, clean or braided hair, adequate sleep — this is a good start. And then the art of creating space comes in. Home feels to me like the absence of hurry, the space to learn and explore at my own pace, without pressure or judgment when things take time. I can remind myself that I am not in a rush, despite what others may say. I can wander, rest in churches, call my parents, just sit in this cafe writing; I do not need to be on my way to see another landmark or even to start walking the Camino.
My journey does not begin when I start walking the designated pilgrimage to Santiago; the true journey is now and each moment is an opportunity to walk with grace and love.
A few days ago, I wrote some calligraphy about why I am walking, and I’ve transcribed it below (with a few edits):
- To develop deep intimacy with my body and understand how to care for it in each moment
- To understand what is necessary for physical and emotional well-being; and to see greed as a response to my fear of insufficiency
- To let go of attainment and focus on the moment by moment journey
- To practice with silence and with company —and to know when either is needed
- To see my own EDGES; and to be with myself in discomfort and not knowing
- To be with myself fully
- To cultivate discipline and bravery
I walk for my ancestors, my parents, my brothers, my friends, my future descendants, and all I may meet.
I must remind myself that the adventure and practice I seek on the Camino is available in each moment here in Bordeaux. For each moment is ripe with not knowing, with being in my body, with being hungry or tired or sick. Each moment is an opportunity to be with my intentions for walking.
The act of embracing the present is to recognize home in each moment
The dharma name I was given when I took the basic Buddhist precepts was: Peaceful Embracing of the Heart. I’ve always seen it as encouragement for me to embrace my own heart, but after the deeply nourishing 21-day retreat at Plum Village, I have new perspective. Now, I see how there is no actor doing the embracing: I see how my embracing of the moment is met by the entire universe (and all of the causes and conditions that have given rise to this iteration of the universe). I could not be in this moment without everything else. It is a beautiful realization that enables me to embody the last line from Thich Nhat Hanh’s song about home. The lyrics are:
I have arrived, I am home,
In the here and in the now.
I am solid, I am free.
In the ultimate I dwell.
I understand more fully what it means to dwell in the ultimate: it is to come home to the present moment, knowing that it is meeting me with an infinitude of conditions that create the experience I am living.
Each moment is an opportunity to be home, no matter where I am.
I write knowing that the act of writing has transformed the energy of fear in my body into something more spacious, more gentle and at peace. Both are good, for this surrender has arisen out of that fear.
I hope this note finds you well, my friend. I send my love and peaceful energy from Utopia (Cafe).
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