A Month Long Break

 “I want to vacation so long, I forget all my passwords.” – Unknown

            If America took a month long collective vacation, how would we function?  How would we exist?  Outside of the pandemic, when have you stepped into a town or country and seen that over 50% of businesses are closed for a span of three weeks to one month.  This is the case in France, or perhaps all of Europe.  This is my first summer living in France, and I heard Paris is empty in August.  But experiencing it is a different reality.  The streets have been empty.  There is no school, it seems as if nobody has been in the office, or the grocery stores have had limited selections.  Throughout this month, in my local neighborhood market, pharmacy, and Chinese takeaway the lights are out and signs grace the front door saying “Bon Vacances.”  Good vacation.

            For us Americans, this is unfathomable.  Stores shut down for an entire month.  Automatically the questions that arise are:

Don’t they have rent to afford?

Employees to pay? 

Money that could be made on all the visiting tourists?

Aren’t they losing out?

But are the French really losing out?  They aren’t working for an entire month, instead they are taking a much needed rest as a country.  People are making memories with their children, pets, partners, friends, or even solo travel.  Rest that is needed to rejuvenate them for the next year of work.  They work to live, not live to work.  This is something that I have been slowly unlearning since I have been here.  

Who am I if I am not an employee?  Who am I when I am not in the 9-5 job?  Who am I if I am not defined by my profession?  Can I enjoy my life without equating my worth as a human to the amount of productivity I can offer an organization? 

We need enough time off to ask ourselves these questions.  Two weeks off for an entire year does not suffice. Taking an entire month off repairs you.  Imagine if that occurred as a state or nation?  How would that impact our well being?    

Explore these questions, and see what arises.

“Vacations mean a change of pace, a gentleness with ourselves, a time of rest and renewal, and a time to stretch ourselves and encounter new people, new lands, new ways, and new options.” – Anne Wilson Schaef

                                               Imagining Another Life

         Why is it that anytime we travel to a new fabulous destination, we automatically wonder “could I live here?”  Or at least this is what I do.  I scope out the terrain, I look at the advertisements that frame the real estate offices on main street and ponder what life would be like if I was a local.  What coffee shop would I frequent, could I afford living here, where would I walk my dog, do I know anyone close by? 

         This was the case when I visited St. Malo this past week. It had many of the things I want in a town: walkable, affordable, good public transportation, scenic, relaxing vibe, but it was the nature that pulled me in. St. Malo is in the Bretagne region of France.  All I had heard previously about this place, was a good spa existed here.  I didn’t know the massive history this town held.  It was founded in the 1st Century, has Celtic influence, and has a wall that surrounds the entire city.  Although much of it was destroyed during World War II, renovations were completed to ensure it kept it’s charm.  What I found most fascinating was the seaside and the interplay of the low and hide tide which transforms access to Grand Be and Petit Be, two mini islands that one can generally walk to during daylight hours.  Yet, the path disappears when high tide approaches.  

         Although I also visited Mont St. Michel on this trip, the sacredness of this journey was lost due to the high number of tourists that flocked there that day.  What I was longing for was actually felt in St. Malo.  I couldn’t help but feel vastly connected to nature.  One could feel it was a living breathing entity, noticing how the land morphs every 12 hours.  During high tide, land several hundred meters away are islands.  During low tide, they are walkable, and in fact the beach you walk through was actually under water only hours ago.  This landscape’s beauty was captivating, and one couldn’t help but be mesmerized by it’s ever changing form. And at the same time, I felt like this aspect of Mother Nature could hold me, in adventure, entertainment, awe, and reflection.  It didn’t ask much of me or her other visitors.  It simply expected respect, and that was given.  She demonstrated her fierce power and playfulness.  Her dimensions morph, and I couldn’t help but be in reverence for all that she offered me.  

         So as I visit new cities in towns, I notice it is nature that I seek.  It’s not the crowds of the infamous structure in town, souvenir shops, or Michelin starred restaurants.  It’s nature I long for, which heals the busy-ness of my mind.  What has called out to you on your most recent trips?  

Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you. —Frank Lloyd Wright

Dying For Sex

“You needn’t die happy when your time comes, but you must die satisfied, for you have lived your life from the beginning to the end.”-Stephen King

Recently I binged on a six episode podcast in a span of 24 hours.  It was beautiful, poignant, and emotional, and I had to share this.  The series is called Dying for Sex.  It’s a conversation between two best friends, where one particular friend has stage 4 cancer, divorces her husband, and explores her sexuality with the time she has left.  It contains such beauty, humor, rawness, vulnerability, and inspiration.  It serves as reminder for one to think of how do you want to live your life, knowing that you will die. 

       How often do we forget that we are going to die?  That is the only certainty we have.  I’m not trying to be morbid or focus solely on the negative here, but it is true.  Yet, when we know this and can hold this in our hands, it reminds us of the preciousness of our lives.

       This is a foundational principle in Buddhism.  In fact in Bhutan, people remind themselves five times a day they are going to die to bring about their happiness.  If you have problems doing this, you can buy an app called “We Croak,” which will remind you.  I purchased this years ago, and try to remind myself how precious life is frequently.  

       When you know death is imminent, you cut out the crap, and live a life aligned to what is most important to you.  But the truth is none of us know when our time is.  What are we waiting for?  What do you need to do to live in alignment with your values?  What is on your bucket list? 

More info on the podcast : https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/dying-for-sex/id1495392900

Artist Date to Rodin

This past week, I took myself on an artist date to the Rodin Museum.  For those who aren’t familiar with artist dates, they are something Author Julia Cameron suggests we do weekly to deepen our creativity.  Basically we treat ourselves on a date, whether this is to a park, film, beach, or even the $1 store.  Often we wait for someone else to do activities with, but in this we treat ourselves, regardless how big or small.  This is a concept I love, and even used to recommend it to clients.  

I’ve been living in Paris for over seven months, and I had only been to this Rodin museum twice in those months.  It was a museum I fell in love with 18 years ago when I first visited Paris and one part of me thought I may spend my days here volunteering at the museum.  That didn’t happen, it was a beautiful warm (but not hot) day, and perfect moments to spend Rodin and his sculptures.  

Rodin’s works speak to me, as I felt he was one of the first artists to display in sculpture the intensity of our emotions.  This includes not just victory, but the suffering, longing, pain, ecstasy, wonder, and contemplation.  Although he’s most known for his piece The Thinker, there’s so much more depth to his pieces.  This is what calls out to me in his work.  I am someone who veers to the optimistic, perhaps in the past of demonstrating toxic positivity.  This blog is called It Only Takes A Smile, for gosh sake.  But over time, I have been learning the beauty that exists in suffering, complexity, and despair.  I am not idealizing these emotions, but they are part of our human existence and also part of our internal and collective shadow.  There’s a necessity to embrace the totality that life has to offer, and I appreciate the artists who can share humanity’s vulnerabilities (and sometimes their own). 

On a future artist date, go to a local museum and examine the versatility of the works available.  Embrace both the dark and the light.  See what stirs inside. 

“One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.”-Carl Jung