Awake before the sun peeks over the horizon, to the sound of chirping birds. Eyes open, heart open, body a bit fatigued and rather confused. It thinks it is still five hours later since, for 10 days, where I was living, it was. Time can be a confounding and fascinating thing. At birth, we are given so many tick-tocks, that measure out our days. I ask myself all the time how I want to spend those moments. For much of my life, I have toggled back and forth between bravely leaning over the edge about to leap into the unknown and playing it safe with my feet firmly planted on familiar ground. Both have served me in some ways, and yet the second has certainly prevented me from living as fully as I would like to. As I am approaching 60, I decided to fulfill a long-term dream of traveling to Ireland. I have imagined that it is a past life connection which draws me to the people, culture, music, art, language, and land, since in this lifetime, to the best of my knowledge, I have no ancestry there. Irish accents melt me. I have two friends who grew up there and immigrated to the U.S. and they supported my dream of this birthday gift to myself. A typical pub tour wouldn’t have worked for me since I am a teetotaler. I then cast out a wish to the Universe, declaring that Spirit would be my tour guide and I would find the ideal circumstances.
This is what happened a few days later:
“Heeere we goooo…taking a big leap. I have wanted to travel to Ireland for as long as I can remember but was all tied up in knots over money. That has been my go-to ancestral fear, despite the fact that I have always been able to support myself. I mentioned a week or so ago that I planned to go for my 60th birthday which is in October. I asked Spirit to be my guide and true to form, She is. Back in 2003, I discovered a video called A Knock at the Door, created by Angi Sullins and her husband Silas Toball. I fell in love with it. Fast forward to a few weeks ago and Angi gets in touch with me for the first time, about the possibility of incorporating a piece of my writing into her work. Then this morning, I see that she is taking a group of folks on a tour to…wait for it…Ireland. A clutch of fear and then after talking to a few trusted friends and getting an unmistakable sign this morning, I called her and am all in! Totally committed.”
And so it was that I embarked on the Muse Juice Tour.
What I have learned is that once I make a decision to do something, events unfold, people show up, opportunities arise, feelings flow. Even though it was a few months away, the trip had already begun. Within a few weeks, a potential roadblock arose, as I found myself in the hospital with pneumonia, feeling as if I was drowning. Another exercise in trust as it brought with it, a challenge to allow myself to receive support from family and friends who visited both while I was there and once I returned home. They brought food, so I didn’t need to cook, some offered energy healing work, others gifts, but primarily the gift of their presence and love. I reluctantly, but necessarily breathed it all in. I have been on the offering end of all of these things, and yet, (not sure why), have resisted being on the receiving end. Call it control, not wanting to be vulnerable. That I certainly was, as each breath was sometimes hard won. To compound matters further, I coughed ribs out of place and a few days after discharge wound up back in the ER. Even though I knew I would heal, I still fretted over my condition and feared that I wouldn’t have the stamina to go on the trip. How would I keep up? I didn’t want to slow anyone else down. Another core issue came to the fore; not wanting to inconvenience anyone. I knew I needed to explore that one more deeply. Since our bodies are resilient, I bounced back slowly, taking time to both rest and re-build my strength, so I could easily trek about.
Another cosmic coincidence occurred that told me I was on the right track.
“Is Universe in synch, or what? My friend Erdinc Oktay just dropped by with food, some reading material and a few gifties. One was this notepad. I hadn’t noticed this little factoid until he was on his way home. Guess who designed it, Angi Sullins? I had told Ernie about my upcoming trip to Ireland and had begun to talk about Angi and her husband Silas who are leading the trip. Thank you for the swoop by TLC, my friend.”
As the time approached, that financial fear came back with intensity since I had missed two weeks of work as a therapist as I was recovering. How would I afford the trip and pay my bills since I would be away for another 10 days? My dear friend, surrogate mom, and mentor, Yvonne Kaye came up with an ingenious plan. She posted on my Facebook page that since my birthday was approaching and this trip of a lifetime was my gift to myself, that perhaps other people would like to contribute as a way of early celebration. I had several competing feelings about it. I was tearfully grateful that she would do that for me, embarrassed that I needed a boost, feared that no one would help out and questioned my worthiness to receive such generosity. I then took a deep breath and trusted. Money began to flow in, offered by some who have known me for decades and some I have never met face to face. I still shake my head in awe about those who stepped up and chipped in; some for whom it was a stretch to help out. I bless you and love you all.
My sweet son and daughter-in-law, Adam and Lauren paid for my airfare and gave me a vividly pink, (came to be known as a combo of bubble gum, Pepto Bismol, and Pink Panther) suitcase that was not only easy to spot on the baggage carousel as was the initial intention, but on the busses on which I rode).
I went into hyper-organization mode. That meant letting all my clients know I would be away, making sure that I had coverage for anyone who needed emergency care. It entailed packing for all four seasons since I was told that weather in Ireland is unpredictable. Passport..check, enough meds (cardiac)…check, bills paid in advance…check, writing deadlines met…check, bank and credit card notified that I would be away…check. I could feel those tasks overshadow the anticipation and delight of the trip. Once they were completed and I walked out of the office on the day before the flight, I sighed with relief and finally allowed myself to immerse in the bliss of it all. I kept saying to myself, “Holy shit, woman, you are actually fulfilling another dream. This really is your life. You planted these seeds and they are coming to fruition.”
The day arrived when I boarded the plane and settled back for a long leap across the pond. As much as I intended for the transportation to flow smoothly, sometimes glitches occur.
“As Divine Providence would have it, I missed my connecting flight to Dublin going through customs and met these two delightful women from Seattle named Mary and Nicole who are traveling to Dublin for a friend’s wedding. Because I got bumped to a later flight British Airways paid for breakfast. We must have trekked a few miles to the new terminal. Now flying Aer Lingus. Trusting the process and the pancakes with fruit and pumpkin seeds at a place called Wondertree.” We had hung out together for awhile and got separated and then, wonder of wonders, ended up seated next to each other in the restaurant!
I assured myself that I would still get there in plenty of time to settle in before the Muse Juice Tour officially began. The theme was ‘anam cara’, translated to ‘soul friend,’ and was made popular by writer and philosopher John O’Donohue. Angi beckoned us to befriend our own souls as we welcomed others. I have long loved John’s writings and the ideas he espoused. One of the places we stopped along the way, was his grave at the Creggagh Cemetery. The group sat in silence at first and then offered wishes and thoughts to this man who inspired the journey since he was a major influence for Angi.
Uncharacteristically, I didn’t feel compelled to write much, so I allowed photos to do the talking for me, as I took people along on the ride with me. Social media is a grand thing when it offers a window (or in this case, a doorway) into the lives of others. Journaling was part of the experience and Angi offered morning writing prompts to spark our inner explorations even as we explored sacred sites, ruins, landscape; saw sheep, horses, and cows (which may well outnumber people in Ireland- 4,803,748 as of 2018).
This rock was in the middle of a standing stone circle and it spoke to me quite clearly. My mother had always been the rock of the family on whom everyone leaned. I used to tell her that rocks crumbled, even as I came to take on that role. On this day, the boulder’s message was that I need not do that and that I could lean into her. I sprawled across her cool surface, embracing her and absorbing the energy she emitted. I then turned around and faced the sky as I stretched backward into her as if being absorbed.
On one of our final days there, we visited the Cliffs of Moher, initially viewed by boat and then from the top of the structure sculpted by wind and water over eons. I found out that two major movies Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, as well as one of my favorites, The Princess Bride were shot on location there.
The food for this near vegetarian was healthy and plentiful. This was an aubergine (eggplant), kale and pumpkin seed pie served at The Piemaker in Galway. Another time I found a lovely Indian/Nepalese restaurant. Excellent vegetable biryani and raita. My sinuses were really clear afterward and I drank nearly an entire pitcher of water.
One of my intentions was to hug my way through Ireland, which I had the joy of doing. Portable sign and open arms, I found people (with very few exceptions) willing to embrace this Love Ambassador as a friend had called me before my trip. These were buskers and their friend. The two men had just done Etta James proud with their rendition of At Last.
One of the most memorable people I met, was this young man who was blowing massive bubbles in Eyre Square in Galway. He told me that I came from the land of the purple marshmallow people since my hair was dyed that shade and I was wearing a vividly purple scarf. After the first round of hugs, I passed through the park again and he snagged me, rubbing his head against my shoulder and told me that he was spreading patchouli oil on me. How did he know that this tree hugging, crunchy granola hippie loved that scent?
Kylemore Abbey is one of the most visited sites in Ireland and is a shrine of sorts in tribute to a loving union. I was fascinated by the mirror image that called out to be photographed. That night, we were treated to an intimate concert (maybe 100 of us) in the chapel. The performer was one of my favorites, Irish musician Luka Bloom whose music I heard initially on WXPN. When I met him afterward and told him about the connection, his face lit up and he said, “Oh, World Cafe.” (One of the station’s signature shows that he was on).
Connemara ponies in the field. We were told that newborns are darkly colored and it isn’t for a few months that they gain their white coat.
This sweet pupster was my companion on a trek down a hill. I had hiked up with the other folks to the Burren green road and turned around to take a solo jaunt back to the visitors’ center. He was one of three I had met on the way up and as the trio greeted me on the return trip, the other two remained and he kept on going, playfully jumping up and grabbing my wrist. I encouraged him to back home and he encouraged me to let him stay. He won. He kept me company for nearly an hour as I waited for the others. I suspect that this angel in a fursuit was sent as a reminder to slow down and be more playful.
Kevin Clancy was our driver/guide for most of our time on what I have come to think of as ‘Further,’ which was the bus from the Tom Wolfe classic The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. We were indeed a band of Merry Pranksters. A seasoned guide and photojournalist in his previous professional incarnation, he took us to many places where tourists don’t normally go. I felt a kindred spirit connection with him as we chatted about life, the Universe and everything. He encouraged me to climb aboard a rope swing and once on it, I felt like I was flying. What a freeing experience!
These are the people with whom I have become family of choice as they challenged me to expand comfort zones, stretch physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. One of the things I realized as I got to know them is that each of us carried with us (as if packed in our luggage), losses, wounds, and traumas, that we safely unpacked in each others’ presence. I am convinced that people are called together for a higher purpose and to help each other heal. There was a sense of incredulous, “You too?” responses to certain conversations, many that were prompted by Angi’s morning emails and questions throughout the trip. She is genius at pulling the deep stuff out of people with her sometimes no filters/no holds barred/no limits expression. Silas is her balance; grounded and calm. He is a composer and artist with a deep appreciation for Gustav Mahler and a curiosity about the world. I found that we are all mirrors for each other, reflecting the beauty that exists within each of us, even if we are blind to it at times. Angi is aptly named as a Muse; with the heart of a wild child and the soul of an ancient elemental. I see myself in that description as well.
I was blown away by realizing the planning that goes into an experience like this. Months of research and reservations, carving out wondrous encounters, trusting that all will flow into place, allowing for flexibility and change of plans, infinite imagination, shepherding a group of strangers safely, creating the container for conversations that might not otherwise occur, beckoning us to stretch comfort zones while honoring our own needs. That is a gift that no amount of money can buy.
I feel as if I am between worlds at the moment, missing my tribe who are re-integrating back into their pre-trip lives, but I imagine, like me, are forever transmuted by the time in Ireland. I feel at home in both places.
“May you experience each day as a sacred gift woven around the heart of wonder.”-John O’Donohue