As many of you know, I spent the past month of April in the south of France. Most of that time, I was by myself with a friend joining me halfway through for 2 ½ weeks. I had planned this last spring when I realized that I needed time away . . . away from my usual routine, schedules, work, family and friends – time away to rest, but also to write.
My destination evolved from the time I made the decision to take the whole month of April off. Thought about Mexico, Guatemala, Vancouver Island, but through a friend in one of my classes, I was introduced to the idea of spending that time in a small village, Pepieux, France, a place where they have a vacation home. The more we talked about it, the more I felt it was right. And, so I went.
When I arrived, I was tired. I thought I was just physically tired, but it turned out I was also mentally tired. I had burned out. I slept, ate, read, and walked. Each day, I ventured out in the afternoon to explore a place not far from Pepieux. Mostly, I was just enjoying being alone, the quiet, time to do whatever came to mind. Writing was my travel blog and morning pages. That was as much as I was able to accomplish, plus the outline for my book.
What Was Different
My routine was totally shaken up as well. In the morning, rather than get up and stay in PJ’s to have breakfast and coffee, I showered and dressed first. Primarily because in France, they close the shutters at night from the outside, plus it was cold inside the house – no central heating. After I got dressed, I went downstairs, went outside to open the shutters, put on the space heater to get warm, and then had breakfast.
For me, not a morning person, by the time I was ready to venture out and explore, all the shops were closed. They closed at noon and opened again at 4:30. In the next village, there was a supermarket that was open until 7:00 – the only store. Even restaurants were closed after 2:30, so going for a walk to the next village, stopping for a drink (and washroom break) was out of the question. The length of my walks was then determined by my bladder as the public washrooms were unthinkable.
Laundry was different – I had a wash machine, but no dryer. Clothes were hung outside on a clothes rack to dry or propped in front of the space heater to dry overnight when it was raining outside or cool.
It was good to have my life turned around. There weren’t the usual distractions, people to call, familiar places to go – my whole lifestyle was different. No avoidance temptations. I was truly living as they live in France where values and priorities are different. Time, family, food – all have significance in their lives and they make sure there is time for each of them.
What I Learned
This shift makes one evaluate what is important in life. It shakes one out of the automatic way of living. It made me realize many things about myself, my life, how we live in North America, what we take for granted and see them in a new light. As I move back into my life now that I’m home, I’m consciously making shifts in my life that will create a more wholesome way to live.
You’d think that after all these years I’d have figured that out, especially after cancer. Well, I thought that as well. In fact, in many ways, I was living differently than more people here. But I realized there was more to the equation. More work had to be done.
In my alone time, I came face to face with myself. How often do we get that chance in our busy lives to actually stop and hear, feel and understand what is trying to come out from the inside. Meditation can do this at some level, but being by myself with no distractions made me finally realize what was necessary for me.
We’re all different. We have different wants, needs and desires. Our passions, interests, and skills are different. We are unique and many times, don’t fit into the cookie cutter lifestyle that circumstances often dictate. Our inner self is at odds with our outer self and sooner or later, it rebels. This is the stage when illness often appears, illness such as cancer.
One night near the end of the month, I heard my inner voice loud and clear. It was a night when now more rested and therefore restless, I felt totally at odds with myself. In that moment, what my inner self was trying to tell me came out in a torrent – I wrote and wrote – capturing it all. The insights have caused a major shift in my thinking and being. It was the defining moment of my sojourn in France – and I’m sure the reason why I went there in the first place.
Does a person always need to find this space away from home? I don’t know. I did. I needed to get totally away from all that was drawing me and calling for my attention at home. In this age of 24/7 accessibility, this becomes an issue. Where does one need to go to find quiet time long enough to give the inner self time to surface and be heard?
I’m reminded of Henry D. Thoreau’s book ‘On Walden Pond’ and Jane Dobisz’s book ‘One Hundred Days of Solitude’. Having read these books, I was taken to a different place – a simple approach to life and the importance of finding that inner peace which comes from knowing yourself.
There is much to be said for living a simple life. I’ve always been aware that there is much peace in a simple life and am drawn to stories of those who have given up the corporate life and busyness for one of meaning and simplicity. Life can be simple. There are many simple pleasures. I’ve known many and somehow had lost track of what is important to me and that sense of simplicity.
Moving forward, I challenge myself and also you, to find those joys of simple living, simple pleasures. What would that look like to you? I’m certainly aware now of what that will look like for me and I’m in pursuit of clearing out the clutter of my life to uncover the simple beneath the layers I’ve built. Not sure where this will lead, but the adventure has started. What about you?
To finding your Inner Self and Peace,