Dear Betsey, Reflections from Almost Home

Dear Betsey,

Airline food has a distinctive smell. Do you know it? You probably do, given the fact that you’ve been on a number of long flights—in particular, over the past couple years of traveling for work and retreats. The smell makes me think of vegetables that have been nuked of all their flavor; mushy mass of starch-meets-sauce; unevenly heated “entrees” where half is scorching hot and half is lukewarm. And how is it that airborne proteins seem to unfailingly pale in comparison to their earthly counterparts?! A few of our flights on non-US based airlines served decent meals, but now that we’re back on Delta, making the long haul from Hong Kong to Seattle, I’ve gone back to surrendering in resignation to food that ranges from mediocre to totally lame.

I think of this, in contrast with the food we normally share with you at our family gatherings. This year, for the holidays, I choose the above Nuked Flavorless Mess instead of opting for a magnificent home-cooked meal?! Okay, that’s slightly reductionist. We did have many stunning meals while traveling. But it was strange to be apart from you during Christmas season, a time that feels inseparable from gatherings with you and your family. Over the past month, traditions were decidedly out of whack. My parents and sisters and I created memories that weren’t interwoven with yours. We spent Christmas outside, accompanied by the blazing heat of the sun, rather than inside, accompanied by the blazing heat of your fireplace.

I understand there’s inevitable fluctuation, in the rhythms of nature, and time, and tradition. Much has changed since we began our conjoined, bi-annual holiday festivities in the Pacific Northwest, over 20 (?!) years ago. And I’m so glad we had a mighty Thanksgiving gathering this year–not in lieu of Christmas, but especially sweet because of my family’s upcoming travels. Most importantly: I hope you know you weren’t as far from us in “spirit miles” as you were in physical ones. You were in our hearts and minds–and sometimes, ears and eyes too–as Solstice turned to days of Christmas turned to Epiphany, and we experienced so much.

As my time away from home draws to a close, I am in deep reflection of the past month. I don’t have enough distance yet to identify highlights, or my “favorite” parts. I can, however, begin to see a view overarching themes.

One comes in light of a podcast I listened to early in the trip: an episode on The One You Feed with a woman who spoke about 8 primary types of nourishment. I listened while stretched out on my back in the yard of our Airbnb, an electric fence-ringed premises that protected us from the danger beyond its walls–managing also to be beautiful, spacious, and serene. The 8 types of nourishment spoken of were as follows:

“Worldly” (a pursuit of what we really love/what our passion is)

I resonate deeply with the idea that nourishment is much more than simply physical care; that I need to feel fulfilled in all of the above areas to feel balanced and harmonious, content and at ease. For me, in that moment of listening, identifying ways that I could help myself feel supported over the next month of travels–without the fixtures of my Portland life, which I have carefully built and configured to impart all that nourishment on a regular basis–was tremendously helpful. Emotionally, how could I listen respectfully to my emotional terrain, rather than shutting down feelings that I found unpleasant? Intellectually, how could I engage in conversations that stimulated and excited my brain? Creatively, how could I use writing as an outlet to express? And could my words also be used to provide “worldly” nourishment–keep me in alignment with a deep connectivity and generosity and service that is my modus operandi?

And I didn’t do any (err, all?) of these things perfectly. Never once did I attend a full-length yoga class, or do more than 15 or so minutes of stretching in a day, or dance like a maniac–all things that I know make me feel physically fulfilled. I didn’t always meet my, or other people’s, emotions with loving-kindness and compassion (ha, and that’s putting it lightly…). I was an imperfect communicator, and sometimes stirred social friction rather than friendliness. I missed a few days of writing, and felt the imbalance that arose accordingly. And there were many times that I didn’t create or facilitate opportunities to express my deep passions, or connect with the spiritual facets of my journeying. Still, having these tenets of nourishment as guides served me well, particularly when I was well-nourished physically but feeling some sort of void.

And much of the time, there was no void to be found. We were most often immersed in adventures and explorations of some type: city tours, hikes, drives, conversations, meals, sunrises or sunsets, bearing witness to astounding animals in the wild. There was simply too much happening to feel a lack of nourishment. I hope you sensed that, Bets, from your vantage point peeking out over my shoulder.

Societal values: that’s another thing that arose as a theme of my trip, and that I’d like to reflect on more in the upcoming weeks and months. Each country we visited had a distinctive set of values, traditions, and priorities, which I’ve only scratched the surface at beginning to understand. There were some aspects that were blatantly obvious: cultural emphasis on inclusivity, for example, or the pace at which things occurred (the Seychelles was probably most notably slowest and most relaxed, with things unfolding with no rapidity or hurry; Hong Kong undeniably won the race, with tremendous value placed on things being completed with lightning speed and breathless efficiency). Race relations varied widely across the five countries, as did gender equality–both areas profoundly important to me. We encountered dramatically different approaches to eating, working, and socializing; making money and making music. We saw, and spent time with, the richest of the richest and the poorest of the poor. All of these are things that interest me, that ignite me, that pique my curiosity and make me excited to explore further: both through considering my trip, and also considering where my own values lie. Where I am content with how things are, and where I am ready to activate and change.

In light of the above, here’s something I’ve been thinking about: statements about order that could be made by the different countries we visited. Reductionist, but representative, based on my experiences:

Hong Kong: “Without order, there is nothing. But there’s a tolerance for disorder when it’s coming from people of different cultures who don’t know any better.”

South Africa: “There’s order yes, but it’s built from/steeped in years of inequality and oppression, so there’s still much to be worked through.”

Botswana: “Okay, we’ll do order. Especially if the tourists ask us to. But we’d rather think about natural order than man-made; the order of the earth and the sun and the seasons.”

Seychelles: “Order? You mean you want to place an order? Okay, no problem, you betcha, I’ll have someone come over in 25 minutes. Wait, you’re hungry now? But you just sat down!”

Sri Lanka: “Order? What’s this foreign thing you speak of?!”

Dearest Bets, I can’t wait to share more stories and catch up. Thank you for traveling with us in spirit, despite being so distant in miles. A part of you was there to experience the abundance, the giddy excitement, the delicious food, the laughter. And count yourself lucky, as you could just flit your spirit away anytime conflict and tension and pain and tears came up. Only those of us physically there were stuck dealing with the repercussions and challenging parts of traveling abroad with others 😉

I love you!

PS Today’s cover photo is a shot taken from the air of the Hong Kong islands. Pretty spectacular, even from above!

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