I woke up hopeful, light, as if some mysterious presence had visited me during the nearly 12 hours I slept to reassure me that not only can I do this but I can do this well. The way I truly want to do this. To be in each moment, to savor.
The breakfast table this morning: A dark pink rose it’s petals slightly listing in a gentle gesture sits before me as I sip my coffee and I realize I failed to notice the other mornings what was right in front of my eyes.
I am here at Orly Airport, fitting because back when I was first learning French — age 12, as I recall – there was no Charles De Gaulle Airport and I was always so disappointed to have never had the opportunity to experience flying into or departing from Orly. The airport had assumed an aura of vagrancy in my consciousness and now I am here and it is a vital though an admittedly old-fashioned place with the distinct feel of much of Paris. Regal, almost frozen in time.
I have an hour before boarding for my flight. I have navigated myself despite language barriers to a seat near my gate. No small accomplishment as the driver dropped me off at the wrong terminal and I had to find my way to the shuttle and through security which is quite different from American airports. I kept sensing I was in the wrong place, mixed in with the people who were working their way out of the airport. The sense of panic which held me in its grip over the course of my three days in Paris reclaimed me until I arrived near the gate. I think perhaps I have grown too old for these international adventures! At least on my own.
But the uniqueness of the airport experience. At least here in Paris where everyone around me is speaking either French or Arabic and there are many people also traveling alone. I could be anyone. I wonder if they sense I am American. If they notice me at all.
For months I thought about this trip as something too monumental for me to accomplish. One of my biggest fears was losing my medication. And the thought of flying to Morocco on my own just seemed impossible. But I am sitting here now waiting for my flight to be called. I feel calm. Ready. It helps, of course, that I am going to be with a few people I already know on this retreat. One day we are going to a seaport town, 2 1/2 hours from Marrakesh to sightsee and ride camels on the beach. I have already been on a camel once. I have no desire to ride a camel again.
I am in Africa. I can’t find the words to describe the feeling I had when I looked out the window and realized I was actually flying over Africa.
And then to land and this enormous line to pass through customs with me forgetting to fill out the requisite form and the driver not being outside and arriving 45 minutes late with people around me in the humid heat speaking Arabic and French. It was a little terrifying.
So far there have been two calls to prayer. This truly is another world.
We ate dinner in this outdoor roof top restaurant as a dramatic storm came in, wide belts of lightning and roars of thunder. The rain drops were huge and warm. I don’t recall the last time I walked in the rain with just the clothes on my back. Through the Medina. I just can’t wait to explore it tomorrow.
Tonight at dinner, there were four of us: the teacher and another women from New Mexico are about 45 and the other girl was 22! I feel ancient. I don’t know what I will have in common with this group – there will be 12 of us by Saturday – but I will just show up and try to just be in each moment.
I am poolside at the day spa where we have spent the entire day. Had this body scrub they are apparently famous for here where you literally lose all the dead outer layer if your skin.
So far things have gone well. I am a lot less anxious than I was alone in Paris that’s for sure. Most of the women don’t arrive until tomorrow when we go to the site of the retreat. Right now there are five of us and I think we will have 12 total .
The lobby is so ornate: animal skins on the floors and furniture, vibrantly colored sequined and jeweled tapestries, beads and necklaces, tin sculptures, trunks and tables.
Huge brass candelabras. Nothing matches yet taken together as one whole it works together splendidly.
Dinner ended late and I am already in my room In my pajamas. Just exhausted. The lobby is full with women finishing an art project.
When we returned from the museums, we had paint sets and two large pieces of paper to create watercolors front and back. I created two scenes to depict The Little Prince. One with his rose and the fox and the hat and him in the corner. The other of the plane. Then I did two for Proust: One of Combray with the tea and madeleine and the house, and the other with the Eiffel Tower and a swan and the books. Then we had to take our masterpieces and shred them into 106 (I think that is the number) cards.
Tonight we were supposed to write affirmations on the front and back.
I’m too tired to do that right now but one of mine is going to be “I believe in miracles “ and another will be “I am fearless”.
My friend Gail took a picture for me of a mention of Proust and another of the French translations of six of the series in the museum store
We had a giant thunderstorm with majestic bolts of lightening as we were eating dinner tonight. Tomorrow is yoga at 7:30 and shopping in the souks at 10. Another yoga when we return.
In my coffee cup this morning:
“I want you to look at yourself like you look at flowers and sunsets and animals and all the most beautiful natural things in the world.
You look at them without judgment or criticism and just appreciate them for what they are instead of wishing they were different.
You are natural and you were meant to look as you do. You are a magnificent, complex piece of art like all the other wonders of nature.
Start looking at every part of yourself with wonder and love.”
I came to the lobby soon after breakfast and just as ten of the thirteen women who are on this retreat left for the Medina for lunch and more shopping.
I went to my room and picked up my journal, wrote for about half an hour. Then went back to my room and created a small water color of my affirmations, which now number 21.
On the extreme right, I placed all the positive ones which I already possess and I believe about myself. I am authentic, sincere, artistic, a writer, imaginative, a romantic, sensitive, empathetic, passionate.
On the right beside the extreme right are I am lovable and I am recovered. The qualities I sometimes feel about myself but not with the certainty of the extreme right
On the extreme left, I had: I am beautiful. I love myself. The qualities I need to cultivate.
On the left beside the extreme left column, I placed I believe in miracles. I am in control and I am whole.
In the middle, I positioned I am powerful and brave.
I then put on my bathing suit and went for a swim. I haven’t swam in years and that shock one feels upon taking that final step into deep water. A gasp escapes and then suddenly you are fluid and moving and everything seems so effortless.
I took a shower and came to the lobby where my computer waited for me, fully charged.
The call to prayer.
All of the buildings and the rooms within are just so intricately yet elaborately designed as if each was curated as variations on a different Moroccan theme. Artwork, artifacts, luxurious wall paperings and drapes. Glitter and unusual blends of textures and patterns and colors. Each room a masterpiece.
Here is what I wrote this morning about the couch.
I sit on the room’s only couch, an ornate mattress hooded with a burlap-like red blanket woven through with grey and dark pink stripes. Three cylindrical cushions hug its honey colored backrest.
We are being called to lunch.
Camels in Essaouira
The women are off on the camel ride which I opted out of because I feel it is a form of animal abuse. I am sitting alone under an olive tree thinking about being a tourist and trespassing on the life of these people who live so close to the land. Who herd goats and sheep and ride donkeys for their sole means of transportation. Observing this through the sparkling white van windows, while the woman around me talked about their high power careers and seminars they take on promoting themselves, mindless to the stark reality outside their windows.
The call to prayer. A horse bays at its conclusion. How surreal that next week at this time I will be back home in my duplex in Sausalito with Pocket and my little problems, which always seem so huge to me when, if viewed through the lens of a wider angle, are mere pebbles barely registering as life flicks them across the expanse of my life.
Our group was divided into two vans for this long trip. As we neared town, we came upon two trees with goats standing up in the branches. It was a horrifying image, staged for tourists. Some of the goats were tied to the branches. The other van stopped but we drove on. Pulled over a ways up the road and waited for them to catch up. Upon arriving, one of the women from our van came back to us after seeing the women from the van which stopped and said everyone was radiant. The man at the goat trees had let them pose with a baby goat. They had no idea what was really going on. They were enchanted.
This distortion of reality, this fluctuation between what is perceived being so different depending on one’s perspective is so distilled here in a country which is so poor . I have been trying to find the words to describe the feeling of stepping into and participating as a tourist in their reality: terms that come to mind include shame, embarrassment. Life is so raw, so “authentic”. The goats sandwiched into a passing van, their inquisitive eyes peering over the top of the vehicle’s siding, the man riding a donkey along the side of the highway in bare feet talking on a cell phone, the Yellow veiled Muslim woman running with her daughter towards the concrete dusty school … I am not doing this justice. I only know there is something much more elemental than I have ever experienced. What is horrifying to me is merely part of daily life. So what is real? What really matters?
The retreat leader arrives for the camel ride and pulls a shocking pink robe and matching headdress out of her aubergine REI backpack. The other woman wait patiently in line to have their heads wrapped in brilliantly patterned scarves for their hour long trek out to the beach.
We left early this morning to hike up to the waterfalls in the Atlas Mountains. It was a very intense experience for a 67 year old. The guide had to help me almost continuously on the way down, the trail was so steep and slippery. Dangerous. I was terrified at times. At one point all of the younger women had reached the bottom of the most difficult patch where I had someone on both sides of me and someone in front. And when I got safely to a flat surface two of the woman were crying and several cheered. They thought I was amazing. I was shaking.
All afternoon one by one they would come and say things about how inspiring it was. How powerful I was. How amazing. At my age. What an accomplishment. One of the women who was crying said she had filmed the whole thing and the determination and strength in my face was something she had never seen before.
The call to prayer.
But the truth of it is if someone has told me, if I could have foreseen what was in front of me, I wouldn’t have ventured forward.
And that is so true for so many things in life. Sometimes something is just too difficult for you to complete on your own.
Tonight we have the fire and tea ceremony where we symbolically shed all the negative introjects and stories we tell ourselves.
Then we have our last yoga class tomorrow morning and one more trip to the Médina.
I am excited to get back to Paris Saturday.
I am just waking up in Paris. My suitcase did not come down that conveyor belt so there is a search underway to find it. I believe it may have been mistakenly put on an earlier flight to a different destination as I was dropped off the airport some 3 1/2 hours before departure. So upon arriving, I had to pick up some necessary items for at least overnight. It was wonderful walking around the city at dusk. I felt such a different individual than just two weeks ago. Stopped into several cafes for sparkling water and to eat dinner and felt so alive. So grateful to be here.
The most memorable event of this retreat?
Descending the mountain without a doubt. Having to place my safety in the hands of strangers. Feeling the terror of being in over my head and having to trust that the guides knew this mountain and knew how to help transport me to safety. I realized on the plane that the experience was much more like scaling a mountain or rock climbing than hiking. I’ve hiked before but never done anything like this. So, of course, it didn’t help that I had been told wearing Birkenstock sandals was fine. I would have certainly been significantly more sure-footed had I worn my workout sneakers.
My mind kept wanting to look forward, to anticipate what was to come (Had I already traversed through the worst? When would I reach a resting place?) and realized that to do so would assuredly mean that I would fall. Because necessity predicated I be in total awareness, be totally in the moment. There wasn’t anything mystical or magical about this presence. But it was a powerful learning experience. Primal. Quite a metaphor for life.
Those first days were the best. Just a few of us staying in the Medina. Lovely Moroccan dinners with comfortable conversations in exotic and beautiful restaurants with exquisite food and wonderful settling in conversations.
When we arrived at the retreat center, when all of the women arrived, after the initial acquaintances, well, the situation shifted and became cliques of people who knew each other beforehand, some in person, others via social media. I fell silent a good deal of the time. Can’t say that I really met anyone I resonated with. These are all women who are very much into their perceived power, working on how to successfully brand themselves and their business. As Gail said it was often like being on a vogue photo shoot. Like Camden, they have worked so hard at it they are no longer able to step out of the role. They are their brand.
On the last night, we had hors d’oeuvres and a henna artist in the lobby, a belly dancer between courses at dinner, and a fire-eater poolside before bed. These extravagances and the endless shopping were just so over the top and confirmed my initial misgivings about the type of retreat I had signed up for.
I also take away from this retreat a commitment to actually assimilate the most valuable lesson I learned here. Perhaps the crux of the matter: I need to, finally, abandon my negative default setting. This, I know, is going to be a real challenge. But I so totally experienced how all encompassing this is and how it interferes with my being able to be in the present. Things like not believing my passport is in the bag where I placed it ten minutes ago. Fearing I will not be able to figure out how to open the door of a bathroom and be stranded there forever because no one speaks English. How if I turn my back to look at the wares in a souk, I will be left behind with no resources to help me find my way back to the hotel. In short, this fear, these cortisol rushes, accompanies most everything I do. Every day. Back home, it is fear that Pocket will lunge at another dog or bark at a stranger. That I will not be careful enough in changing lanes on the freeway and have a horrendous accident. That I will forget to take my medicine and become quite ill. How something I texted to someone was inappropriate, void out the relationship entirely. I even feel this way with my own daughter
The work with the affirmations was really powerful for me. Particularly when I laid them out and painted that picture. I could see clearly where I wanted to go and what I needed to tap into to get there.
Gail said last night that my next retreat should be to Kripalu, a retreat center on the east coast which is totally dedicated to yoga and meditation. Beautiful with no frills. She said it was important that I have a new destination in mind when I return home, something to look forward to. I like her idea.
This has been my second visit to a country in the developing world, the first being my trip to Peru. The poverty there is also widespread and the natives live close to the earth. Both experiences had enough of a western influence so as to not feel totally disoriented. I almost feel ready now to visit someplace I’ve always wanted to, like lndia, Bangladesh, or Uganda. But it would definitely have to be with a group and a group of people who I have much more in common with.
Some days I felt as if I could write forever, as if some creative part of me which had been dormant for some time, was kicking fast and furious to open the floodgates. There was almost a sense that such a torrent of trapped creativity would be unleashed that I could disappear into writing for whole days.
Writing in my journal, I found myself utilizing my old editing tools, the writing process as I first knew it. I felt continuously on the verge of a poem. Started writing in a poetic style, breaking my lines up so that they flowed effortlessly one into the next, like stanzas in a song.