From the South of France to the Cradle of Ancient Civilization: In Search of Balance
I love France. I first visited in the summer of 1995 with my best friend's class from Memorial High School in Manchester, NH. We spent a week in Paris. With the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, the pastries, the coffee, the sounds of the French language, I just loved it. I knew I'd be going back. And I have, many times, France is a touchstone for me. With various reasons for my time spent there over the years, when you spend enough time in a place, it becomes part of you. It becomes a #homeawayfromhome. With each visit, I am brought back to old memories of times spent here; of ways, in the past, that I've connected with the people and culture, particularly in those challenging moments that travel undoubtedly presents. But despite the nostalgia of these journeys, I can still feel my foreignness. And to the side of me that really appreciates home, sometimes that can feel very unsettling and uprooting.
My ability to communicate in French with a level of complexity is limited. It was very hot in France. I missed my car (that I sold!) with AC. I was missing pancakes and scrambled eggs with my family in NH. I was missing the Cascades, those beautiful snow-capped mountains seen from Portland and Bend.
I stayed with a lovely French couple in the town of Mouans-Sartoux. They were kind and welcoming to me, inviting me for a French seafood dinner, speaking English to me so I didn't need to struggle. The woman took me to Cannes on the 14th of July, or Bastille Day as we know it in the US, to watch the fireworks! It was the perfect place to stay - a bit of a #homeawayfromhome. If you've ever lived or traveled some place other than where you were born and raised, I'm guessing you can relate. At a certain point, we miss having what we know. We miss home, in the sense of that physical space where all things are familiar and comfortable. But so long as we continue to seek an understanding of what we need to feel safe and healthy, we become better equipped to truly relax and embrace life and the new surroundings we may find ourselves in. Maybe we can start to consider the idea of home as a place that exists within ourselves, always available to us so long as we know how to access it.
I visited the International Museum of Perfumery in Grasse. It was fascinating and inspiring. I spent hours in this museum (partially because it had AC!) and was delighted to discover components of Chinese medicine were present in France, Italy, and Greece during the Middle Ages. Perfume and Chinese herbal medicine are opposite sides of the same coin. Not only was this a discovered similarity between the perfume industry and my chosen profession, but it was a display of appreciation on behalf of the people who lived hundreds of years ago in south-central Europe for the ways and methods of the Far East. A two-for-one!
So I ask myself, when things feel more foreign than exciting and new, when they are uncomfortable, when we feel alone, when we are missing home, how can we shift our perspective? I think it's all about seeking balance and an understanding of what that means to us as individuals, fully recognizing that it changes over time. Life looks different for everyone. But no matter what it looks like, sometimes learning what we need on a basic level to feel just comfortable enough, and honoring these needs so that we can remain open and appreciative, can create a greater sense of balance in our own lives as well as during our interactions with others.
Last week, I traveled to Thessaloniki, Greece. Transition weeks between Airbnbs, countries, and experiences are challenging. I haven't felt particularly balanced during these moments. I often need to dig deep, to draw on what I know to be true. I need to keep it simple, make sure I'm eating and sleeping well and moving slowly through space so I don't miss important pieces of information. I need to make sure the basics are covered. During these transition points, it's more important for me to draw on the familiar than it is to seek the new and exciting components of the culture I'm in. With that said, I also need to adjust my expectations. Greece has a more old world feel to it than other parts of Western Europe. At times, it's charming. At times, it's just plain uncomfortable. It's foreign. There are elements of home sprinkled about. But mostly, it is foreign to me. So I seek a bit more of the familiar now, knowing that in a week, I can seek more of the new and exciting. It's the ebb-and-flow of life.
I'm reminded of a line from Eat, Pray, Love when Elizabeth Gilbert was in Bali speaking with the old medicine man. I believe it was he who said, "To lose balance sometimes for love is part of living a balanced life." This love could be for another person as I think was intended in this quote, but it could also be a love for life, for authenticity, for yourself, etc. I realize this post may not feel so "balanced." It's partially because I don't feel so balanced right now! But perhaps that's ok. It's a moment in time. Perhaps it means I'm in the process of seeking a more balanced life and in the meantime, it feels a little challenging and off-balance. Let's hope so :)
This week, I start volunteering for Medical Volunteers International, treating refugees in their small clinic here in Thessaloniki. I'm looking forward to treating in-person again. I stepped away in December and am happy to feel the call back to practice.
Life is always changing. We all know the saying, "The only constant in life is change." No matter what types of changes we experience, how do we stay grounded in ourselves? We may be seeking the answers to some big questions in life. How do we not panic and be sure that we are staying present with where we are currently at in this moment? How do we trust that things will work out for the best? If I have learned anything, it is to always come back to the basics.
I'll share with you what I've learned I need in my day-to-day life within my current lifestyle:
1. Strong, reliable wi-fi
2. Air Conditioning (in a hot climate)
3. A "home" space that provides me with a reasonably familiar, quiet, clean place to sleep and rest, that fits my budget..not always easy to find!
4. 8-9 hours of sleep per night
5. Chinese herbs, supplements to help me maintain my health when I don't feel so stable. Both https://www.classicalpearls.org and https://www.standardprocess.com are life savers!!
6. Access to healthy food and the ability to prepare my own food.
7. The space to create, to write, to digest what is happening in and around me.
8. The skills I've learned through meditation to stay present so I don't worry too much about tomorrow. (Thoughtful planning and anticipation can be helpful when the time is right. Phrenetic worry and anxiety is not!)
9. Access to public transportation
I will be in Greece for at least 6 weeks, possibly 2 months. 3 days per week, I will be using acupuncture to treat refugees who are mainly from Afghanistan. It took me a week, but I think I now have what I need to stay balanced and healthy to create a meaningful experience for myself and for those with whom I'm working and treating. I'm ready, Greece!
If any of this sounds familiar to you, please reach out! I 'd like for us to learn from each other about what balance looks like in real life. What are your basics that need to be met to create a sense of groundedness, so that you can show up with your whole self to create the experience you were meant to have? Please share in the comments or reply to this post on Facebook or LinkedIn.
Thanks for reading. And as always, this is my personal story that I hope can help you in some way. This blog is not meant to serve as or replace medical advice from your doctor. Please contact me or your medical doctor if you have further specific questions about your health. I'm available via telehealth if you'd like to dig deeper into how to create a more resilient sense of balance in your life through Chinese medicine, functional nutrition, and mindfulness practices. Send me an email if you're interested: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Happy first week of August! Let's use the light, bright energy of the Chinese element of fire of the remaining weeks of summer to create more balance in our lives.