The Guest House

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Dear Keatsway,

I want you to encourage you as if it’s the most important task I’ve been given. You’ve been brave and adventurous, hopping continents and crossing borders, forging your career trajectory and becoming the most international person I know. All of which comes with a cost: leaving friends, meaningful work, and places you love behind. Of course, you are heartbroken and unsettled. You don’t know if you should prepare yourself for the next move or learn to love Amman. I don’t have easy answers.  I can only echo your broken heart.

Recently, I returned to America after living in England for sixteen months. In York, I fell in love with the city, the people, the lifestyle. I lived inside Roman walls, traded my car for a bicycle, bought my groceries at the year-round farmer’s market and grew to love the rain and the fog. I critiqued literature, translated foreign films, and learned how to read medieval maps. I went road tripping and hiking through the Yorkshire Moors, Scottish Highlands, the Lake District and Irish countryside. I traveled by train across Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, and Spain. I did daring things I had never done before: karaoke, bouldering, sensual bachata dancing, swimming in Loch Ness, clubbing until 3 am. I also wrote a thesis, fell in love, and started attending an Anglican church. I could write a book about everything I did in England but there is not enough space here yet for that.

A few months ago I unpacked my bags in a new place: a hamlet in southern Washington state. I am grateful for the hospitality of my cousins, and the chance they have given me to start anew in the Pacific Northwest. Nevertheless, I struggle to be fully here at times, as I imagine you are in Amman. My 16 months in England reels through my head reminding me of all the brilliant adventures and loves I have left behind. I want to return permanently, but I don’t know yet if that’s in the cards or as you say, Inshallah, if God wills it.

I agree with you Keatsway, we must write about our inner journeys. The highs and the lows. The joy of a discovering a new place and the ache that accompanies having your heart split across continents. What do you love about Amman? What do you miss about Kampala? What can you take with you from place to place to create a home regardless of where you lay your head?

I think we can choose to stay in a place and call it home. Even if we have to leave we can build our lives around returning. I don’t know yet if Amman is your city, but I do know that the last city I lived in felt like a place I wanted to stay.  I don’t know what it will take for Amman to feel like home for you. And if you are not sure about Amman, be excited about what the city has to reveal you. What the city expects of you. Maybe you will discover answers to Rilke’s questions or perhaps you will learn to carry them with grace and poise.

All that is yet unknown. As you learn to hold uncertainty with open hands, I leave you with this poem by Rumi. It offers solace for the expat whose heart is still halfway in Kampala or York.

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

— Jellaludin Rumi,
translation by Coleman Barks

So much love,

xoxo Brightstar

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Delayed

Dear Keatsway,

I sit in a black leather plushy chair of an oversized waiting room. I am not sure when I’ll be done but I imagine it will be soon. Until then I’ll pass the time writing you a letter.

I’m in a car dealership (for repairs, not car buying), but if I blink I could be back at my gate in O’Hare. Except here there is free coffee–arguably not as good as Starbucks–and there are cars instead of airplanes on display.

Three weeks ago, en route from Toronto, I sat on a leather stool next to a rain splattered window drinking Argo tea, pen and journal in hand, looking out at aircraft carriers. I wished the moment could last forever. Someday soon I hope to be waiting in an airport on my way to see you. I have not, however, always felt this way about delays or waiting itself.

I feel like I am always waiting –to find my next apartment, to pursue my dreams, for the workday to be over, for the weekend to come, and then for the next weekend. Waiting for the answers to my increasingly long list of questions about the meaning of life, and learning to be OK with the space in between. The space where I act out several possibilities to my question, or sit back and wonder what my next move should be.

Waiting in an airport has no clear starting or ending point. You just can’t predict when the delay will happen and you have to be prepared to change plans and be flexible. To remain undeterred by a detour and not waste energy being angry or frustrated. To become creative and spontaneous with your time and your new plan of action.

After a year of plane delays I have finally discovered the secret to not becoming discouraged by them–accepting them completely, and finding a pleasant way to wait it out. Sometimes it’s as simple as staying nourished with healthy food, finding a quiet place to rest, discovering a new perspective, and seizing the opportunity to work on cherished pastimes–like reading or writing. Always ready to pick up everything at a moment’s notice when the plane finally does depart, and practicing patience and fortitude when it doesn’t.

As I put my plans of graduate studies, and living abroad on hold, I am trying to apply the same lesson I learned here. To decide not to waste energy on discouragement or resisting reality. Instead accept it as a necessary part of the process, embody grace and peace, and be inventive and endlessly flexible.

Maybe this delay is reminding me that it’s the journey and not the destination that counts? Keatsway, how do you handle delays?

Yours with best wishes,

Brightstar

Ancora imparo / Yet, I am learning

Birdsinthesky

Dear Keatsway,

Thank-you so much for your letter of advice. It was timely, appropriate, and most of all it made me think deeply about my perception of time and the progress I am making. Inspired in part by your letter, I have embraced a new mantra, ancora imparo, Latin for yet, I am learning.

The Urban Dictionary captures it’s spirit perfectly:

A reminder that mistakes are a learning curve, that every first, second, third….time provides opportunity for improvement, that you are always ancora imparo.

Ancora imparo frees me from the crushing sadness and shame of failing yet again, replacing it with the realization that I learned something new this time around, and that however small it may feel, it’s progress. And in the absence of required perfection, mistakes allow us to grow.

And now for a short but true story to put this mantra and last paragraph in context. Recently, Keatsway I decided to embark into the dating world again. I had never deliberately decided to leave it, but opportunity struck and thus I became an active member again. I went on a variety of creative dates with someone I will only call L: from climbing the monkey bars at a playground to climbing a ladder to a rooftop at night to watch the city skyline to playing the demo of a video game in it’s very early stages, it was an exciting few weeks. However the very act of dating brought up a lot of past hurt and fears. Fear of love, fear of betrayal, fear of rejection, fear of being hurt again. Sometimes these feelings came on so strongly that I couldn’t fully process what was happening in the present. Every step of the way I second guessed myself, my feelings, the guy, and whether I would hear from him again, fearful that I was about to be dropped at any second. This prevented me in the end from being fully present.  Now, thanks to the maddeningly socially acceptable 21st century tradition of never returning a text or an email, as far as I know what never truly was is now behind me.  Therefore today I need something new to embrace, to keep me moving forward. So I have decided to embrace ancora imparo, yet, I am learning. And I am. Learning to let go, let it be, and be fully here now.

A fortnight ago, I felt encouraged by the heartbreaking, life affirming film, Now is GoodIn the film’s last few lines, 17-year-old cancer patient Tessa says perhaps the wisest words I’ve ever heard about embracing the present, and letting go:

Our life is a series of moments. 
Let them all go. 
Moments. 
All gathering
towards this one.

–Jenny Downham & Ol Parker (screenwriters), Now is Good

To be fully here now, I have to let go of what was and what will be, freeing myself to transform through the reality of constant change, letting go and breaking forth, the life cycle of death and rebirth. Someday soon I will not let these fears control me or thwart new possibilities. I will let them go, learning to trust myself and the process. I will lose my fear of failure, rejection, and vulnerability; no longer holding back and protecting myself so much that I cannot truly give. But until then, all I can do is repeat ancora imparo, yet, I am learning. The ground is tilled, a new bud is opening, and I can’t wait to see where this new knowledge will take me.

With love,

xo Brightstar

How to Move

Dear Brightstar,

I’ve reached Geneva, my new home for the subsequent months as I take up an internship here.

Two weeks ago I thought I would be prepared to suitably begin a life here with ease. I have traveled farther and to more difficult places than Europe, surely Geneva would be least problematic

The universe however, persists in seeking  balance.  I have found myself  subject to far greater culture shock here then any past travel in Asia, Africa or South America. A combination of jet lag, adjustment to city life and a fondness for home, hearth and the friends I left is making this adjustment  difficult.

It will take longer then expected to adjust and meet the pace of this city but I am still grateful that the issues that do come up are easily solved with  time and patience.

So even with this less then energetic start to my new life, I feel I can offer some lessons garnered from this transition.

My formula for keeping moving (whether to a new life or to keep your life in-motion) are:

Patience. Self-compassion. Flexibility.  Luck (take the chances given and keep a eye out for chance itself).

This advice holds the keys to all transitions. They are absolutely necessary and yet the most difficult to achieve in times of struggle and change. I recommend them to you my dear friend Brightstar as you deal with your Holy Tussle.

With the tools we are given we must try and change our worlds one patient, self-compassionate step at a time.

With good wishes and sincere love,

Keatsway

The Holy Tussle : Longing for England

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Dear Keatsway,

Lately I’ve been so busy I haven’t had time to write. I’ve started so many new projects this year (a small group based on Storyline, a church sermon, new presentations at work, a cooking frenzy) that I am worried I won’t finish the one project that matters the most: graduate school applications for England.  I feel like I am in the midst of the final struggle between almost finishing and not quite. I fear I’ll end up stuck in this in between zone, the holy tussle.

Transformation of any kind always exacts a kind of holy tussle.  The newborn butterfly struggles to open its wings so it can conjure up the strength to fly.  So, too, with artists, inventors, mystics and entrepreneurs. –Tama Kieves

What happens if a butterfly never masters the struggle to open its wings?
Does it lose its opportunity to transform?

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It took a lot of gumption three years ago to navigate all the major shifts in my life.  To graduate with my first Master’s, apply for an American job, move to America, start a new job, make new friends, orient myself to American culture. And now that I have a steady job and have settled into a routine, making a leap seems like a contradiction. Why move when I live in a nice city with good friends and full time employment?

I thrive on change and challenge, even though it terrifies me most of the time. Yet when I become too comfortable a ripple of restlessness runs through me. I am a nomad at heart, and my desire for travel and adventure take over. To make this crazy dream reality–to become an English graduate student– I have to  first overcome my own setbacks:  insecurity, procrastination, and uncertainty.

Until I send my application my life will feel out of focus. My situation could transform in an instant, but it’s blurry until I move past this transition phase.  I can’t see farther than the next step ahead of me, like a foggy landscape at dusk. I know there is a pink horizon on the other side, but for now all I see is white haze.

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Visions of a new continent, a new city, new challenges whirl past me, and I wonder if my dream to study English in a graduate program in the UK will someday become a reality. I admire you Keatsway for already making so many of your postgraduate dreams come true: working in Johannesburg and in a few days Geneva. I only hope I can use your successes as a springboard for my own.

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In the meantime, I’ll keep doing what I know how to do best. Attend my weekly yoga class and stay grounded.  Keep my shoulders back, my heart forward. Breathe deeper, reach further than I did a moment earlier. Maybe moving past the holy tussle is as easy as deciding to trust yourself. Trust that I know what the next step is,  that I’ve been here before, and I will eventually make it to the other side of this white fog to the bright clarity of a new horizon.

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Hoping this upbeat perspective lasts beyond my yoga class,

xo Brightstar