Tag Archives: New Orleans

Chalon Dans La Rue

23 Jul

It feels like a beautiful fall day here in Dennevy, France.  Except, of course, that it is the middle of summer.  I am not complaining mind you.  The sun is shining and there is fresh cool breeze in the air.  I remain, after living in New Orleans for over ten years, a tropical climate body and I have to laugh at myself as I walk around in France in July wearing fleece and… I hesitantly admit.. a scarf.  It feels good to be tucked up and warm.

I took an outing away from the land of Les Battees last week.  My first excursion on my own since arriving in France.  It wasn’t totally on my own as I “hitched” a ride with my host and his girlfriend to Chalon sur Saone for the street theater festival, Chalon Dan La Rue.  After months in the shelter of the mostly English speaking Les Battees and the company and companionship of Roy’s mum, Marina and Roy as well… I was, shall we say, hesitant to strike out in the land of French on my own.  I was like a little baby bird being kicked out of the next.  It was time.

The three of us arrived in Chalon and I was escorted to the tourists office.  I was armed with a map, a bus schedule and a schedule of the events for the street theater.  I looked at Roy with the eyes of an abandoned child and left to allow them some privacy for their date.  I jokingly said in departure… “If I never see you again… it was nice knowing you…”  Sometimes my nervousness strikes in me without my permission, and there it was as I left on my own for the day.  The best cure for that?  Practice.  So I set out to enjoy my day in Chalon.

Listening to Roy’s advice I headed towards the center of town and followed the people.  It was a coolish rainy day as I wandered around a bit seeking the best direction.  I saw a few colorful characters that reminded me of my days and times living in New Orleans.  And then, while walking around in the center of the city square it seemed that someone was following me… It was a woman… and when I moved to the left… she moved to the left.  When I moved to the right… she moved to the right.  Yes, she is following me, I thought with my suspicions protective lens.  So I decided to test her and made a sudden u-turn in the square only to greet her friendly french face and discover… that she was… part of the festival…a mime of sorts.  And she was following me.  She handed me a harmless red foam square and did her best to explain her project to me in her modest English.  It seemed they were handing out the red squares to people and inviting them to leave them in a public space… anywhere… and take a picture of it and then send the picture and why they placed it there  to their website.  Harmless.

Following my nose and the crowds led me to a small stage just outside of the center of town.  A band was setting up so I settled in, ate a little lunch and waited for them to perform.  They were a “young” group, likely in their early twenties, all dressed up in funky band uniforms.  They called themselves the Pullup Orchestra and when they started playing my mind, my body and my spirit were met with some relief.  Their funky sounds and playful performance put some of my nervousness at rest.  They were from Switzerland and surprisingly fun.  They had a brass band sound but also added kind of a hip-hop feel.   Here is a little sample of what I heard!

Using what I now see are basically remnants of French from my studies in High School, I was able to handle the basics in French in my day.  I got directions to the bank.  I bought myself some food and I found a bathroom!

Walking through the streets, I stumbled to the next “act” driving down the road on a coach of sorts pedaled by one of the lovely performers.  It was three women dressed in costume, the woman at the lead was singing opera with a beautiful comical air.  It was in French so I did not understand what they were saying, but watching I was entertained just the same.  They brought their carriage to a halt and engaged in an amusing display.  The lead was singing and taunting, with their “cyclist” dismounting the carriage to apparently select men for the lead actress.  It was a quite a routine, the men being sprayed with what I can only assume was some sort of “love potion” by the woman fetching men while the men were serenaded and seduced by the lead on the carriage.  When their business was done, they saddled back up and peddled away to their new destination and I went to look for mine.

I had a schedule for the day which was in French, but I was able to fend my way through it.  I caught a show on the other side of town that just blew me away!  The group was called Urbaphonix. It was such great street theater, a collection of youngish men arriving in suits with some urgency, exploring the landscape around them until finding a perfect spot.  They attached some sort of electrical device to that and other spots… and began to play.  Balconies, bicycles and street signs were transformed into music instruments.  It was so “smart” and their performance so engaging, it was really a fresh experience.  Here is a little sample.

I stumbled upon a few more acts for the day, all of which were really excellent in a way that impressed me, and then began to make my way to the bus station.  Relying on my map to point me in the right direction, I easily found the station and my bus back to Les Battees.  One Euro fifty cents later, I was on the bus and on my way.

I arrived back at Les Battees with the house to myself for a little bit, enjoyed a dinner of leftovers and a movie accompanied by the companionship of Picsou the dog and the day was complete.

For today it looks like a fresh easy day at Les Battees.  We have guests upstairs at the Chambres d’Hotes staying for a few days, which means we can rest a bit.  I am hanging out in my room newly accompanied by my venus flytrap plant… an offering from Roy to aid in reducing the number of flies wandering around my room.  It is a good day for just chilling out and listening to the roar of the fall-like summer wind.

Photo of the traveling serenading carriage at Chalon Dans La Rue.

Leaving Wettenbostel

15 May

Well, it happened. I left Wettenbostel. I know it is true because… I am in France! I am doing a new help exchange and have connected with a small bed and breakfast in Burgundy area of France through the website helpx.net.

There was a time I thought I might not leave Wettenbostel. Like somehow it was my cosmic fate to be forever entwined amongst its potato fields. Even a week before I was scheduled to leave for France… I was not still totally confident it would happen. But here I am. I have left. And so it seems to cosmos has opened the gate to what is next.

The last few days in Wettenobstel were full and hearty for me. We had a seminar all weekend filled with the usual demands… mostly assisting with preparing meals and cleaning up after. In typical fashion these work weekends stretched me to my max demanding that I take a closer look at myself… is there something more than I can do? Can I look at this another way? It also continued to challenge me in the space of living and working in community and the balance of caring and honoring myself in the midst of much work to be done. Still a wobbly act and a skill that I have not quite mastered. But alas, I continue to grow.

The last evening in Wettenbostel was spent in typical Seminar Haus fashion. The hot tub was filled up and we were joined for the evening by regular faces of the Seminar Haus tribe. We gathered from around 5pm into the evening, hanging out in the hot tub, sharing a farewell toast, and giving and receiving words of thanks and completion. My departure was not a solo act as my new Candadian friends too have left. In a way it was a relief to me to share the departure spotlight with them. It was a joy to experience a little grace in the evening, sharing time with my hosts, the Canadians, my friend Dan from the States and other guests, until at last there was no more…and it was time to leave.

I am leaving a place that has been so colorful and lush decorating the landscape of my life. And yet it is clear that nearly a year to the date that I arrived, it is time for a new scene.

Traveling on the train to France, as I switched trains in Southern Germany to the French train it was like entering another world. I suddenly felt ill equipped not knowing which standard greeting to use… as I was still in Germany but on a French train. Do I say “hallo”… or now “bonjour”? The familiar business-like feeling of the German Deutsche Bahn was replaced by a sleek silver French train with plush lavender interior. As we arrived at each stop slowly getting closer to France I felt butterflies arise in my stomach. It is one thing to leave New Orleans and go spend a year in Germany. And its another thing to make plans to leave Germany and say you are going to France. But it is still yet another thing to actually GO to France.

And so here I am, I have arrived.  I am quietly settling into my new digs… diving into some of the familiarity of my small traveling world. Unpacking my suitcase. Finding my toothbrush. I have a simple but comfortable private room in the downstairs floor of the private quarters of the Bed and Breakfast.   I am surrounded by the gentle and friendly company of the owner and his visiting mother. So far there is an easy laid back attitude here inviting me to… relax a little bit. Maybe even exhale. Yes it is true…  I am in France.

Photo from the flowering gardens of the Seminar Haus, Wettenbostel.

New Beginnings

29 Apr

Well, it’s official.  My year of being in Europe is coming to a close and it looks like I have the pleasure of extending my time here.  Why is it official you ask?  Well, my flight back to the United States was on Tuesday, April 23 and… I wasn’t on the flight.  The strangest things about it is that not getting on that flight was… quite natural.  I took note of it… the day the flight was supposed to leave.  I paid special attention to my intuition the days before in case, for some reason, for my highest good, my insight demanded that I get on that plane.  But it didn’t happen.  I called to officially cancel my flight the morning of my flight, shared the news with one of our visiting Canadians, and then ate my oatmeal for breakfast.

As this year of travel is coming to a close it seems as if it is also a time… of new beginnings.  New beginnings in the space of not knowing what is next.  New beginnings in the space of being in Europe… without a ticket back to the States.  It is new ground for me… and on that ground I am growing.  I can see, imagine and feel what is next… without a deadline.  That door of returning to the States is always open to me, and I will take it when I feel the time is right… but in the meantime… so many other doors are open to me as well that feel oh so rich and inviting.

As I have spent most of my year in the expansive world of the Seminar Haus and Germany, it is still a thrill to me to look at another country… France perhaps… and consider the possibility of being there.  I am  somewhat of an “unexpected traveler”… making the decision to come to Europe at the last-minute in the face of many life changes… and so I am not a traveler with a lush traveling bank account.  Therefore, I am patient.  I keep it simple.  And I do my best to enjoy the time and lessons where I am.  And when the time and situation is right, I will head to a new destination to enjoy the time, experiences and lessons there.

From my time in the country in Wettenbostel I have learned that I really can do simple quite well.  It is not too startling or an upset to my psyche to be surrounded by potato fields and to have the plans for the evening to be a stroll in the flowering fields.  I don’t mind my neighbors being trees… and ponies…and goats… and a few people…or walking outside and more than anything hearing and feeling the silence and fresh air surrounding me.

I am grateful for my spiritual practices that are cornerstones for me and my time in Wettenbostel at the Seminar Haus.  Nearly daily, and some days twice a day, I make a visit to the altar of my yoga mat… greeting her with my breath and my patience.  Allowing myself to move and feel and being restored in that way.  Lately I feel pulled to spend more time doing yoga and bathing in its healing and nurturing impact on my body, mind and spirit.

It is hard for me to believe, but there was a time when I didn’t do yoga.  A time when yoga was foreign to me.  Raised in the suburbs of the mid-western United States, yoga was not something that I considered for myself.  I had a friend in New Orleans who grew up in Vermont and had been doing yoga since she was 18.  She knew I had challenges in my life and had often suggested yoga for me…  She would have a hard week at work and talk about her Saturday morning yoga class as returning to the love… or getting the love.  But at the time I just didn’t get it.  It wasn’t until the wake of  getting off of the anti-depressant Paxil that I seriously considered yoga.  And one day I did it… I just took the leap and committed myself to yoga starting with a class one day a week.  It was the place I went to find myself… to begin to unleash my pain and sorrow and surrender to something greater than myself.  And here I am 8 years later, still worshiping her.

It is a quiet Sunday night in Wettenbostel.  The crazy birds are outside my window singing their relentless sweet songs.  We had guests this weekend celebrating a 40th birthday.  They “took over” the whole compound, even the kitchen, and so mostly the staff here found ourselves dismissed for the weekend.  We would retreat from time to time to our hosts home up the street and share a little dinner prepared in his kitchen and watch a movie.  But mostly, we took it easy and laid low, which felt like a welcome respite.

Today as the party was coming to a close, my host and the visiting Canadians prepared themselves to head to Amsterdam to join in the celebration of Queens Day.  With the spirit of the trip being to party hard,  I chose to stay behind and enjoy the wake of stillness left in the space of the weekend party diminishing and their departure.  My porch companion Dan, too is gone for a few days as well as my hostess traveling for the week at a seminar.  So it is me here… to delight in the juicy peace that I need from time to time.

Enjoying the time alone, I am grateful for the fullness of the experiences of this past year and for some reason, somewhat relaxed at the possibility of the future.  The tulips are blooming in the garden and as May nearly creeps in, it is just starting to look like spring.  I can begin to feel the warmth of the sun, warming my heart, as I look forward… to big and little changes ahead, some things coming to a close and the promise of new beginnings.

Photo from the flowering gardens of the Seminar Haus.


10 Mar

The past few days I have been coming undone as the cloak of winter seems to have abandoned me. Spring has started showing her face in Wettenbostel.  Recently when talking with a friend back in the States on Skype, she shared her hesitancy for the end of winter.  She and I are in similar situations… both spending much time alone and both in transition.  She is in the rural Northeast after having lived many years in New Orleans… so the winter and solitude for her too has been an adjustment.  But like me, in some ways she found the forced solitude of winter was like a warm and comforting blanket.  She wondered if she would be ready for the change, the end of hibernation when the snow melted.  I can see what she means.

The good news about coming out of slumber is the beginning of feeling good.  Moving more…mentally, physically.  After being so still for so long.  Shivering in the cold.  And now, as the snow begins to melt and visitors and people speckle the world of the Seminar Haus, the shift for me is sometimes a little daunting.  I feel somewhat like a grumpy bear being woken from sleep.

That being said I see that I continue to grow.  Growth is such a funny thing… it brings one to a space of humility.  For me the humility lies in the fact that many simple things are challenging to me… and being with that and moving through it anyway.  Not stopping.  Taking another step.  And another.

The good news of this emerging spring is the development of strength.  Strength that starts in the physical but I can’t help but think it also extends to the mental, the emotional.  They are all connected.  Since the wake of my host bear from hibernation there has been an injection of energy and a request for more physical tasks to be done around Wettenbostel.  Recently he asked me to help with loading and unloading the lumber that was cut… even the “big” pieces.  And these past few days it has been digging up the garden from last year preparing it to be planted again.

I have to say that I am proud of the work I did these past two days in the garden.  For me, it was no small task.  There were three large patches of garden beds (big by my suburban eyes… not sure what my Canadian host in Germany would agree…) that I dug up and turned over the soil…with a shovel.  Step by step…until hours later … it was complete.  A few people stopped by to say hello while I was working and commented… did Michael (my host) help you out with some of that? Nope!  I said. I did it all by myself!

Being physical feels good right now and I think it is just what the doctor ordered.  But I am still mindful to be balanced and not push things too hard. I am finding my body is stiff and bristly in unexpected places and often my legs feels locked to the ground like led.  Digging in the dirt helps.

The benefits of my work and growth include simple things… like riding my bicycle down the street to visit my hosts and just feeling so good for that moment in my own skin.  And having that feeling ground and supersede any negative and toxic thought that wanted to brew in my mind.  And sometimes, that is enough.  Noticing these things is the gentle way that I love and nurture myself through my process of growth. The good days, but also the painful days. The awkward moments. Ah. Compassion.

So I am practicing the seeds of compassion with myself as I prepare the garden beds for the fertile grounds of Spring.  Happily receiving the gift of compassion from others here in Wettenbostel during some of the more challenging moments and days.  And… hesitantly… coming out of hibernation.

Photo by Michael Hartley

Nothing is Permanent

27 Feb

It is a quiet Monday with a morning-like feeling that has drifted into the early afternoon.  The business of the seminar weekend is over and so far today the only sound I hear around the seminar house is the birds chirping outside.

This past weekend we hosted a group that does Gestalt Therapy.  They are a regular group here at the Seminar Haus and long-time customers.  So, they were quite surprised when they received some news this weekend.  The Seminar Haus has decided to close.  I feel a sadness in me even as I write it, but after many long years of hard work and an unusually slow season the decision has been made.  It’s funny, even though I have only been here for a short while and understand the decision… I still find it hard to believe it is closing.  I guess as with everything, there is a time to stay or hang in there and there is a time to let go and move on.  Things come and go in our lives.  Nothing is permanent.

I have learned this lesson so well as much of my life and my world slipped through my fingers in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.  Today my relationships and my life is very different from before Hurricane Katrina.  The remnants of my belongings are kept in a small closet-like storage unit just outside of New Orleans… and even that I am conspiring with local friends to be rid of as I plan for future travels beyond my one year adventure.  As my belongings and many friendships and relationships have changed or fell away like sand drifting through my fingers, here in the midst of the latest change at the Seminar Haus, it seems for me there is still more to let go of.  It is not always clear to me what that is, but they live now in my life in the form of ideas, old attachments and resentments, my identity – who I think I am or who I think I should be.  In the ebb and flow of change, it continues to give way.

This seminar weekend was a little crazy for me.  Like a car sitting in the cold of winter for months without use, I found myself a little slow as I attempted to start my engine to shift from the silent pace of my winter life to the quickening of preparing the house and then working this weekend at the seminar.  A quick shift from months of quiet days with time to myself, I found it a stretch for me to extend myself and my energy to the more intense pace of a typical seminar weekend – a busy house-filled with guests, earlier mornings, full days assisting with preparation of food and cleaning up after meals.

Even amidst feeling somewhat frantic and squirrel-like in the activity of the weekend, I noticed and felt a shift within myself and my relationship to the participants of the seminar world.  In the past working the seminars I was nearly unseen in kind of shadow in the kitchen.   I now take heart in seeing, feeling and being more connected to the returning and new participants.  As the guests left this weekend I was grateful to receives hugs in departure.  It felt so good to be appreciated and to hold onto another human being, even for a moment, as they left on their way.

One participant asked me this weekend, “how long will you be here in Wettenbostel?  are you planning to stay?”  “We will see”  I respond as I am still exploring new places to be and visit.  I have to trust what is next for me will unfold even when I am uncertain…

My only defense in my changing world when it feels that things are slipping away beneath my feet it is to continue to practice being present.  This weekend a seminar guest, also a fan of Dan Millman, shared that Dan says we are all peaceful warriors in training.  I appreciate the in training part as I often notice my feelings and emotions darting from side to side.  Lately I find I need to exercise, go take a run just to allow some of its intensity to leave my body.

The weekend seminar has come to a close and I take a little time to feel my feet walking on the soft ground around the Seminar Haus.  Connecting to the earth and  the golden fields, I do my best to return to the only place that is now home to me.  The quietness of the moment.  And noticing the tenderness and strength of my own heart… even amidst what feels like an instability.  Alas, I see it is true.  Nothing is permanent.  And I do my best to soak in the moment and allow what is gone or is leaving to be on its way.

Graduation Part 1

16 Feb

Well, the snow is beginning to melt in Wettenbostel, although this morning the green grass is coated with a layer of frost.  Is this the beginning of the end of winter hibernation?  While there has been joy and satisfaction in my snowy, isolated winter escape, I must admit this extended period of time alone is starting to rattle me a bit.  I am exploring new places to be.  My inner voice reminds me to be patient even though I feel a sense of urgency within me.   Ah.  I breath in and out.  I try to ground myself in my body, feeling my feet in my slippers as I walk across the cold house floors.

I watched the movie Peaceful Warrior last night.  It is a film based on the book and true story of Dan Millman.  I was drawn to it as I am taking an on-line class of his through dailyom.com called the 4 minute workout.  What I like about the workout  so far is its careful attention to stretching and moving all parts of the body – even parts I had forgotten about!  The movie is based on the story of Dan, a talented college gymnast, who meets an unexpected spiritual teacher at a local gas station who can do things Dan can’t understand or even imagine.  After shattering his leg in a motorcycle accident, Dan relies on this teacher to help him reshape his thinking and his world.  The film is a good reminder of the art of being present.  A concept I will employ as I continue here in the quiet halls of the seminar haus.  As my Reiki teacher Elizabeth and Mr. Miyagi say, “wax on, wax off.”

The other day on Facebook I noticed a quote from spiritual teacher Iyanla Vanzant that caught my attention.  She said “There are times when we do not recognize it is the time to move forward.  When life is ready for us to move and we resist, life will move us by any means necessary.  What may feel like a disaster is actually a graduation.  Remain open to being guided, supported and protected by the universe.”  I really appreciated that in the face of the “disasters” in my life.  Reframing those situations, feeling them in my body and mind as a graduation feels like a useful shift in perception.

One of my life’s graduations happened about 6 years ago now… known by many of you as Hurricane Katrina.  When I was writing my last blog entry I described getting off of the drug Paxil as one of the hardest things I have ever had to go through… As I wrote that, there standing in the background begging for attention was yet another challenging time..the experience of Hurricane Katrina.

I was living in a ground floor apartment in New Orleans at the time.  On Carrollton Ave.  I had been off of Paxil for about 2 years and was still a little daunted from the journey.  I clung to the safety of my apartment and had just a small handful of people I allowed into my life.  I had recently taken my first degree Reiki class.  With it came development in my healing and a new  community of support.  I was living a very “bohemian” lifestyle.  I had no car and rode my bicycle everywhere, I read tarot cards in Jackson Square and had a part-time job selling kites at a local store in the French Quarter.  While there was much about this colorful and simple lifestyle that were dear to me, I screamed out for something that felt more secure.  Money was scarce.  I sometimes found myself digging for ten or twenty cents so I could buy myself a banana or two. I yearned for something that felt more stable.  “I want to live more civilized!”  I cried out to the universe.  And I guess she heard….

It was August 2005 and I was preparing to attend the Landmark Forum, a weekend seminar designed to help you transform your life.  I was inspired to attend by my friend Christian.  He invited me to an introduction to the Landmark Forum, and after attending I felt a little spark in my eyes that had long been in the shadows.  The only things that seemed to be in the way was… the money.  In the Landmark Forum, when registering you are encouraged to look at what is “stopping” you… as likely that same issue stops you in other areas of your life.  And they say that is when your Landmark Forum begins… during registration and the issues and challenges you face.  So there it was.  $400.  It looked like a mountain to me, someone who had been collecting change to buy bananas.  My friend Christian had contributed the initial $100 for me to register.  Now I needed the remaining $300.

It was mid-August and my Landmark weekend was just around the corner. The new owner of the home where I rented my apartment was an old friend of my Reiki teacher, Elizabeth.  And, as fate would have it, she used to be a seminar leader for Landmark Education.  Elizabeth suggested that I call her for advice.  Nervous and shy to reach out to others, I mustered a little courage and gave her a call.  And here is what she said.  She told me to make a list of all of the people I could borrow money from and then pick the last person I would ever ask and start with them.  I told her that I did not yet have my money for the next months rent and I was concerned about doing the Forum and coming up with rent.  That she advised me was my risk, my decision to make and she wished me good luck.  While we were still talking, my sister called in on the other line.  There she was, the last person I would ask for money.  I answered the line and took a leap and asked her for the money.  She and her husband responded in a most generous way and agreed to give me the total amount I needed to attend the seminar.  We made an agreement for me to do a little design work for her husband’s business in exchange.  Still not knowing how I would pay for my rent, I threw some caution to the wind, completed my registration and I was on my way!

The night before I was to leave for the Forum, Elizabeth, her husband Bob, Christian and my friend Mark gathered in the living room of my little apartment to see me off.  I was surprised at how nervous and emotional I was.  “I am just going away for the weekend” I thought.

The next day I rode in the carpool of folks driving from New Orleans to Houston, about a 6 hour drive.  I stayed in Houston with a Landmark Forum graduate, a friend of Christian’s.  Her name was Kess.  A sweet tender-hearted woman, her little apartment was the perfect place to stay.  It felt friendly and welcoming.

Attending the Landmark Forum was kind of an “outing” for me back into a more mainstream American society.  Tucked in the bohemian world of New Orleans, I had not been in high-rise buildings, intense central air-conditioning, flourescent lights, and square rooms with beige walls in at least two or three years.  I had not been in rooms filled with professionally dressed people and women wearing make-up and neatly done hair-dos.  It was a little startling at first, but little by little, I made my way.

It was Saturday of the Landmark Forum when they made the announcement that there was a category 5 hurricane heading straight for New Orleans.  In the context of the Landmark Forum they teach that we are “meaning making machines” and the stories of our lives have only the meaning that we assign to them.  So within the context of the course, I did my best to view the news in a positive light.  And the weekend course continued.

By the end of the Landmark Forum, I saw someone new and yet familiar when I looked in the mirror.  It was me.  Only somehow, it was me that I had not seen in a very, very long time.  My eyes looked focused and clear and there was even a glimmer, dare I say a spark of light in them.

My friend Mark had called.  He at first thought he might stay in New Orleans and ride out the storm, but then late on Saturday night he had a strong gut feeling to get the hell out of there.  So he packed up a few things, and grabbed his cat and his neighbor.  Next he went by my apartment and grabbed three things – my laptop, my cat Sophie and my guitar.  They made their way together through the grueling traffic-ridden evacuation on his way to meet me in Houston.

Mark and I had been friends in New Orleans for quite some time.  In the wake of getting off of antidepressants he was the first person who I felt I could relax with… exhale. And one of the few people I felt could actually understand what I was going through.  To say that Mark was “my boyfriend” were never words that felt quite right coming out of my mouth.  But he was someone I was connected to and could count on.

Mark and company arrived in Houston after being on the road for some 22 hours or so.  Kess was generous enough to welcome everyone into her home.  Me, Mark, his neighbor and the two cats – we all camped out in the living room of Kess’s one-bedroom apartment.  The hurricane came and went and it seemed perhaps the worst was over.  But then the flood waters started to flow.  Levees had broken and the water from Lake Pontchartrain began to fill the city.

Living in New Orleans, prior to Hurricane Katrina, you hear and you read that the city is a bowl.  New Orleans is below sea level, and shaped bowl-like surrounded by water.  We were always told, when “the big one” came the city would fill up and be flooded.   It was just a matter of time.  Secretly I thought we were exempt from that.  That it would never happen.  And there it was.  It was happening.  I have to admit, as the waters began to roll into New Orleans, I silently hoped it would give me a way out of my life and life circumstances.  There were so many things that I just wanted to wash away with the storm.

When it became clear that New Orleans was in the midst of something of disastrous proportions, we all began to plan and explore our next step from the bunkers of Kess’s living room.  Cell phone reception for New Orleanians was down which made it difficult to be in touch with people.  Mark and I had decided to see our way through this together and his neighbor was seeking a new place to find refuge.  In the wake of the Landmark Forum, I suggested that we look at this as an opportunity to create something that we really wanted.  It was apparent that for at least the short term going back to New Orleans would not be an option.  We did not want to stay in Houston.   I called my parents and heard that a college friend from Austin, TX had been in touch.  Her message was, “I just have this feeling… I know that Nancie needs to come to Austin.”  Mark and I agreed, Austin seemed like a good place to be for a little bit.

Mark and I did our best to be responsible and handle as many details as we could up front.  We made the smart decision of calling FEMA right away and filing an early claim.

Elizabeth and Bob had evacuated to Houston and we met at a Starbucks.  We sat with one another in a state of shock and disbelief.  It was good to be connected  even in the foreign territory of Houston with  its big, busy modern ways and landscape.

I called my friend in Austin.  Her name is Rita, a powerful little Indian woman and a force to be reckoned with.  She armed us with phone numbers from craigslist of Apartment complexes offering deals to Katrina “evacuees”.  She and her husband generously offered to put us up for a week in a hotel in Austin while we found a more stable place to be.  By the end of the week we departed Houston and made our way to Austin.

We arrived in Austin, wounded and weary, and met up with Rita and her husband at a local taco place.  Welcomed into the bosom of Austin, the owner of the restaurant treated us to a complimentary meal that evening and gave us free t-shirts from his place.  We spent that week in a hotel considering what was next.  Amazed, we found ourselves looked for apartments as we needed a place to stay.  Neither Mark or I had any money.  But within the week, with the blessing of a “Hurricane Katrina” special and a free first months rent, we found ourselves signing a 6 month lease.

I called Elizabeth from the new place.  In a state of shock I said to her, “…I think I live in Austin…”

The Road Less Paxil

10 Feb

Greetings from the frozen tundra of Wettenbostel.  Perhaps that is stating it a bit dramatically, but suffice to say it has been cold.  My litmus test for cold – my Canadian host, raised where it was so cold that a child once died walking to school, agrees… it is cold outside.  And so…it must be true.

It is the reality of hibernation here in Wettenbostel.  We have had no seminars since before the holidays. My painting project has progressed from the ceiling of the seminar room to the walls.  The adventure on the colder days consists of running, quickly from the main house to the Big Dojo where I am painting.  On bolder days, an afternoon stroll.  I must admit that the cold air feels fresh shooting through my body and is perhaps something that I have needed after thirteen years of living in the steamy heat among the bayous of New Orleans.  Even so, I feel like a pioneer living in the big house, feeding the fire that helps heat the house with coal like a mother feeds her child.  I walk briskly, scarf and mittens intact, scrambling from my comfortably heated room through the cold air of the hallways to find respite in the general warmth of the kitchen.  Even in the cold, I am grateful to have the sanctuary of the Seminar Haus to stay for a bit.

I have relocated to an upstairs room which does not regularly connect to the wifi on the seminar haus compound.  I find myself unwilling to leave the cocoon of my warm room.  So here  I am dangling into the bathroom connected to my room reaching and grabbing for a few internet bars.  So far so good.

I have had a visitor here for the week.  A young woman named Rachel visiting from Australia through helpx.net.  Generally, communication is not a problem between us as… for the most part… we speak the same language.  The city of Perth is her home and it heralds a warm climate.  She has spent at least half of her week here in the winter of Wettenbostel looking a little… blue… and not because she is sad, but because she is cold.  I have done my best to pass on my cold weather tips I have gathered… perpetual hot tea, wool socks on feet, scarf on neck, layers, and of course… wool, wool, wool!

The solitude and stillness of winter continues to feed time for exploration… I am exploring the possibility of teaching English as a second language here in Europe and also looking into my next place to visit for a bit (thinking sunny and warmer!).  Of course I am still tending to the fires of my personal healing and well-being.

As some of you may know from past posts, I was on the anti-depressant drug Paxil for about ten years.  I went through the challenge of getting off Paxil about 8 years ago and thought I should just leave that in the past.  But, as Iyanla Vanzant, spiritual author and teacher, says, you know that you have healed something from your past when you can talk about it without anymore anger, sting or trigger.  Me and Paxil – we are not there yet.  I thought perhaps it was best to be quiet about my challenges with Paxil, on and off the drug, and leave it in the past.  However, being quiet does not always set one free.  It can do just the opposite.  It can be suffocating.

Paxil, as some may know, is a popular anti-depressant prescribed for a whole host of things – OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), depression, social anxiety… and more…  I was put on it at the age of 22 in 1993 assured that in a few years I could stop taking it.  I was just to use it as a means to get me through a tough time. I was on Paxil for ten years because of its challenging withdrawal symptoms… As the title of one article about Paxil taunts, Paxil is Forever … As stated by an attorney representing a class action suit against the makers of Paxil, “the scariest part about this is that there are people out there trying to get off this drug who are experiencing these horrible withdrawal reactions. They think it’s because of something wrong with them, when it’s really the Paxil – – and then they take even more and further exacerbate the problem!”  Amen sister.  They’re singing my song.

After doing a little bit of internet research, I found and contacted a law firm that handled a class action suit of about 3000 people on Paxil around six years ago.  The suit was for non-disclosure of withdrawal symptoms.  They won the case and as a result the makers of  Paxil, Glaxo Smity Kline, now are required to make public the withdrawal symptoms and can no longer advertise that it is non-habit forming.  An ABC broadcast tells the story of how Paxil had found in their research that more than 21% of those taking the drug experienced withdrawal symptoms and the company hid that research.  These withdrawal symptoms, as they were with me, can be so severe it seems nearly impossible to get off the drug.  People have written their stories and programs for successfully getting off of Paxil and one non-profit called the Road Back even offers a series of vitamin supplements to assist in the process.

Just a little bit of research has shown me that there are thousands of Paxil and former Paxil users who either can’t get off of the drug or went through a life changing experience getting off of it.  It is almost of epidemic proportions.  For me getting off of Paxil was one of the most challenging things I have ever done in my life.  And if I had not been 100% no turning back committed, I am not sure I could have done it.  I wrote more about this experience in an earlier blog, Unburdening. For me, it helped having a period of time where I did not work.  I sold my car to cut down on expenses.  I started taking yoga.  I joined an on-line Paxil withdrawal support group. I bought a pill cutter to slowly wean myself off of it (liquid form is now available for that purpose…).  And when my mind and body felt like they were going to go astray, I kept the book Prospering Power of Love close at hand to focus on and read it like a mantra. Now, eight years after being off of the drug I can say I earnestly no longer have a physical or psychological desire to be back on it.  But there were many times even years after being off of it, I wondered if I could make it and my life and my being felt like they were turned inside out.

When I stopped taking Paxil I was about 32.  One of my motivations for getting off of Paxil was wondering, if I wanted to have children, what impact these drugs would have on an unborn child, marinated in Paxil for 9 months.   And sure enough, those instincts and, gosh, common sense really, were right.  The latest litigation against Paxil?  You guessed it – birth defects.  I also, of course, wondered what these drugs were doing to me and my brain long-term.  I have not yet found much research on that, but I am still suspicious that some of my current challenges are a result of long-term effects from taking Paxil for ten years.

In my reaching out recently I have been connected with quite a few resources regarding Paxil, getting off of Paxil, and antidepressants in general.  Great information to have upfront if you or someone you know is on Paxil and would like to get off of it.   Please keep in mind that I am not a medical doctor and I did not personally used these resources below when getting off Paxil. Here they are:

The Antidepressant Solution by Dr. Joseph Glenmullen helps safely guide you off of antidepressants like Paxil.

A man named Mr. Fiddaman wrote his own guide of how he got off of Paxil.  If you email him at fiddaman64@blueyonder.co.uk he will email it to you.  He also has a blog about it…http://fiddaman.blogspot.com/

The Road Back is a non-profit organization that has uses vitamins to assist through the withdrawal process.  The website is theroadback.org

And here is a site where you can report your side-effects to the FDA… http://www.fda.gov/Safety/MedWatch/HowToReport/default.htm.

quitpaxil.org is an on-line resource to support people getting off of Paxil.

And of course if you are experiencing challenges going off Paxil, you can always contact me.

I will continue to write in my blog about my adventures with Paxil.  And what about you?  Do you have any stories or experience to share about Paxil or other SSRI (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor) drugs?  Perhaps your own personal journey.  I’d love to hear from you.  Your challenges, triumphs or experiences, encouragement…  Please write!

Escape to Hannover

19 Jan

Well, after more than three weeks of much solitude in the havens of Wettenbostel… it was time.  Time to get out into the big world.  The opportunity was… Hannover.

It all started with an email from a friend… sharing innocently that New Orleans musician Theresa Andersson was going to be in Hannover on January 17 for a concert.  Hmmm… perhaps I could go!  This was exciting to me on a a number of levels.  I really appreciate Theresa as a musician and performer.  Plus I was ready for a little taste of New Orleans home.  Also, it was a chance to get out for a bit… do something different… so I explored the possibility that I might go.

Ever the budget traveler, I set out to get a ticket for free.  Not an impossible task in New Orleans.  The Big Easy is not so big, with an intimate network with maybe one or two degrees of separation.  With the good fortune of a friend’s connection, I was put on the guest list for the concert.  Hannover here I come.

Hannover is about an hour and a half away from Wettenbostel by train.  With an evening concert, I figured it made sense to go and spend the night there.  The best bet, I thought, was Couch Surfing.  Perhaps you have heard of it?  a somewhat notorious network of  travelers and generous hosts willing to offer a couch or bed for the evening.  It’s mission?  not just a free place to stay… but a network, an infrastructure for connecting to humanity… all over the world! I am a member, but had not yet successfully couch surfed while traveling.  I sent out a few requests through the website to some folks not too far from the concert and happily got a friendly and welcoming invite for a place to stay for the night.

The train to Hannover went quite smoothly.  I arrived in the main station, called in Germany the Hauptbahnhof, then found my way to the local trains to easily navigate my way towards my hosts home.  With just a short journey and a quick phone call to her, we soon connected and I found myself safe and sound for the night in Hannover.  The concert started at 8:00pm and I learned that Theresa was not the sole act, but the opening performer for a musician named Tommy Emmanuel, an Australian guitar player with apparently quite a following in Germany.  The show was at the Theater am Aegi.  I was not sure what sort of space to expect, coming from the experiences in New Orleans of often smokey rooms, open floors for dancing, and intimate settings.  What I found in the Theater am Aegi was a traditional theater complete with velvet seats and a balcony.  So we wouldn’t be jumpin up and gettin’ down I imagined.  I found my assigned seat and the concert began.

Theresa has created a unique style of performance for herself.  Armed with a gifted voice, talent on the fiddle and other instruments, and a sense of adventure Theresa trained herself to use pedals to record and then loop back as she sings and creates new sounds and rhythms.  Here is a sample of her performing the song Birds Fly Away recorded in her kitchen in New Orleans.  I just love it.  It gives me chills.  Theresa’s performance that night was short… just a half an hour… but still enough time to feel a little joy and lift my spirit.  My neighbors at the concert, a German couple there to see Tommy, had never heard of Theresa Andersson.  But they enjoyed her performance.  When I asked them what they thought they smiled and said, “she’s crazy!”… that’s funny, I thought.  She seems pretty normal to me.  Perhaps it is all that time I spent in New Orleans….

And next was… the main attraction.  The reason why hundreds of Germans came out on a cold Tuesday night… Tommy Emmanuel.  What I learned about Tommy through his performance was not only is he Australian, but an accomplished guitarist.  As he began playing an ease just came over me as he grooved on his guitar.  And the concert continued, original songs, cover songs… and one duet with Theresa Andersson.  Just beautiful. He shared a little about his adventure of meeting his idol, Chet Atkins, and the remarkable story of how, as an aspiring musician, he was invited to Nashville to visit him… and ultimately ended up cutting an album with him that I believe had him nominated for a Grammy. It was a great story! By the end of the night I felt a pleasant connection to Tommy Emmanual and while, not converted to a die-hard fan… I was glad I was there. After the concert, an easy and cold ride back to my couch surfing destination in what felt like the very safe city of Hannover.

The next morning, I was packed and ready to go for 9am as I departed back into the city with my host, Andrea.  She had a morning appointment, but she directed me into the center of town and we agreed to meet a little later for a coffee.  I began the morning with grabbing a little coffee and some warmth, then headed out for a bit to enjoy the cool sunny day.  Mostly just walking the streets, exploring a few stores and shops, I felt like a little kid.  It was fun to be out.  And fun to be on my own.  Seeing new places and enjoying the  fresh syncopation of a European city.  People on bicycles, old buildings.  Charm.  Good bus systems and public transportation.  Delighted, I met back up with Andrea and we traveled by bus to a near-bye neighborhood and enjoyed a breakfast together.

A mom who has raised her kids and now on her own, Andrea was a great couch surfing host and fresh for new experiences.  She recently traveled to India.  She looks forward to visiting her daughter in Africa and walking the Way of St. James, a spiritual pilgrimage in Spain.  She does yoga and she is exploring Archery!  Her enthusiastic spirit was really a breath of fresh air nicely partnered with her grounded stability.  After lunch, we parted ways on different busses… her to another appointment and me to see a little more of the city.  I was grateful for a wonderful time and nice balance of exploring someplace new on my own and having a friendly connection while there.

Eventually… I returned to Wettenbostel.  During my escape, I was glad to see that my aptitude and ease for negotiating the trains and trains stations had increased dramatically.  I connected later that evening with my Wettenbostel hosts in Lüneburg, a town not far from Wettenbostel.  I felt like a well-cared for child, finding warmth and refuge from the cold and the wind in the back seat of their station wagon.

This morning I woke up and deeply breathed in the fresh winter air of Wettenbostel.  Ah, feels good!  And wow, how nice it was for a little adventure in Hannover but also how nice it was now to be in the peace, solitude, space and natural surroundings of Wettenbostel.

Today, it was an afternoon of painting — the ceiling of the Big Dojo that is, one of the houses here at the Seminar Haus.  Slowly and easily.  Enjoying some tunes as it goes.  This weekend I head to Hamburg for the healing seminar lead by my friend Olaf.  A little excitement in my quiet winter life in Wettenbostel.

Words of Wisdom

6 Jan

Mmmm… content in the warmth of my room tonight in Wettenbostel.  The wind is blowing outside.  A little rough.  Some wind.  Some rain.  A door blown open now and then.  It is about 7:30pm, or should I say 19:30… and it is a time when generally and lately I have been at the Seminar Haus by myself.  The grounds itself are fairly big… enough to feel a little separate from the booming metropolis of Wettenbostel.. population I think 60 or something like that.  The wind blew in my hosts this evening with a little food.  Always a delight to see… my hosts… and the nourishment of course.  Some food for me.  Some food for our groups that is arriving sometime tomorrow evening.  I am told the group this weekend is a young Christian group… young as in 20 somethings.  A little different from the tone of seminars since I have been here… often intense groups and subjects.  Generally middle-aged and above diving through issues in Gestalt or couples therapy.  Sometimes yoga groups and then of course the is the Tantra group….but that is another story.  So this weekend should be a different tone from past seminars.

Tonight has been a pretty chill night.  My household chores are done and I have spent a little time musing on my computer.  I watched a little video on Ted.com by author Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the book Eat, Pray, Love.  I like her.  There is something about her as a writer, as a woman, that I find comforting.  Her presentation was on creativity.  It invited me in to consider… my own creativity.  And after that, I did a little chanting.  You know, my standard nam-myoho-regne-kyo plus the daily practice of reciting the Lotus Sutra.  These chants are the cornerstone of the practice of Nichiren Buddhism.

I was introduced to Nichiren Buddhism a little over a year ago by a friend, Lilly, who I know through my New Orleans Reiki group.  And then I was invited to their New Years 2010 celebration by my friend and Reiki Master, Elizabeth Ohmer Pellegrin.  It was an afternoon celebration of Nicherin Buddhism, chanting, and a wonderful, warm and social buffet lunch afterwards.  It is then I learned that Elizabeth had become a member and received what is called her Gohonzon, a scroll with Chinese and Sanscrit characters on it and the object of devotion in the practice.  She said she felt pulled to become a member and accept the Gohonzon.  She added that it gave her a breakthrough in her life in an area where she had been stuck for years.  Really, I thought.  “Should I do it?” I asked her. Wide-eyed, she nodded yes.  Ready to jump in, I leapt ahead and made an agreement to become a member of SGI on New Years day 2011 and within weeks I received my Gohonzon.

I received a book with the Lotus Sutra and a practice CD and quickly began to learn to chant the Sutra.  It was fun and I enjoyed having some place to put my attention, devotion and energy on a daily basis.  Lilly, a long-time Buddhist, was thrilled and an avid supporter.  She and her husband updated an alter they had for my Gohonzon and in a whirl of energy they delivered it to my home and prepared me for my practice.

I was encouraged to chant for what I wanted and situations I wanted to change in my life.  At the time I was selling gourmet mushrooms at the local farmers market in New Orleans.  “Chant for your mushroom sales, ” Lilly said. “I guarantee they will grow!”  So sure, I did it… and I have to say… that my mushroom sales went up.  In fact the doubled from what I was selling at the time.  So I kept chanting.

Mostly I was chanting for my healing.  My moving through my “whatever it is” that has been challenging me… most notably since my senior year in college.  Healing from life after ten years of the anti-depressent Paxil, the challenges of life after the drug, and the I wasn’t so sure that was troubling me beneath the surface.  So I chanted for that.  And chanted.  And I still chant for that.

Months after becoming a member everything in my life shifted and left me racing to find my bearings.  So many changes all at once…which opened the door for me to leave New Orleans and visit for a while here in Germany.  So I leapt.  I leapt in a space of enthusiasm and joy.  And I leapt in a space of uncertainty and discomfort in the face of the many challenges I still felt with myself.

I chanted for specific things as I prepared for my journey to Germany, piecing it together on virtually no budget and  a “wing and a prayer”.  I had bought a ticket to London through an online sale.  From there I needed to make arrangements to travel to Germany… and I wanted a place to stay in London for the night before I headed out on the next limb of my travel.  So I began to chant.  Chant specifically… for a free place to stay in London.  Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.  And with Lilly’s insistence, I didn’t give up.  Didn’t give up as the trip was nearing just weeks away and still no place to stay.

And then it happened.  It was a Monday night and I was heading to the Tulane University campus for a Landmark Education seminar.  I was “assisting” or helping out with the seminar.  On my way in, I saw a familiar face in a unfamiliar environment.  He was a seminar leader who lived in Austin, TX.  I knew him from my time living there and participating in Landmark Seminars post-Hurricane Katrina.  I did a double take and confirmed it was him and learned that he and a few other folks were visiting the seminar from Austin.

I arrived in the seminar room and greeted my friend and  “boss” for the evening who was leading the logistics for the seminar.  She knew about my upcoming travels and desire for a place to stay in London.  “You know” she said, referring to my friend and seminar leader from Austin, ” his mom lives in London and she hosts people sometimes when they come to town…”  What?!  I thought.  No way.  You have got to be kidding me!  I was so amazed and delighted and the wildness of events coming together… and my possible relief at fitting another piece of the details of my “miracle” journey… that is how to go to Europe with virtually no money. Later that night he and I chatted and with a little good fortune, we were able to arrange for me to stay with his mom for the night in London.  I was glad to offer her and her husband a little Reiki in gratitude.  And, as it turns out, his mom had practiced Nichiren Buddhism for about 15 years herself.  Interesting…

Nichiren Buddhism has been a lovely segment of my time here in Europe so far.  It is an international organization with groups that meet in villages, cities and towns all over the world.  Here in Wettenbostel, I have connected with an SGI group in Hamburg.  I have met many people there, visited with them and chanted with them in their homes.  I also have connected with Nichiren Buddhists closer to Wettenbostel in near-bye Lüneburg.

While visiting the Black Forest I was able to connect with two SGI different groups.  One in the lovely city of Karlsruhe and the other, an intimate gathering at a home in a village not far from Karlsruhe.  Both places brought me a little… I don’t know… peace.  There was something in me that just felt at ease… much-needed respites on my journeys.  Some care, some comfort and hospitality.  And the comfort of community… no matter where I am in the world.

So I continue to chant.  I chant for my healing, my life and my journey.  I chant for my friends and my family.  In this Buddhism they say the most important thing is to be happy.  And that is why we chant.  And I am learning from my time and practice that being happy isn’t about blissfully eating bonbons on a cloud.  It is meeting the challenges of my life as the unfold, doing my best to take responsibility for them, and continuing to move forward in my life and face them.  And not ever giving up.  So I chant, I chant for courage to face the challenges and discomfort with myself and my life.  I chant for healing.  I chant for inspiration.  I chant for love.  Ah, it is so good.  Nam-myoho-renge kyo, which literally means “I devote myself to the Lous Sutra.”  For me, true words of wisdom.


30 Dec

It is a warmish winter day here in Wettenbostel.  The quietness of my solo experience at the Seminar Haus is shifting as familiar and friendly faces begin to make their way back into my world.  Last night my friend Jörn made his appearance, returning to Wettenbostel after a three-week hiatus in near-bye Lüneburg.  And today, my American friend and former porch companion, Dan, will return with his friend Ulla to celebrate the New Year.

The sun is shining today.  A nice break from the wintry darkness that has been mostly filling my world for the past several weeks.  Days have gotten very short here in Northern Germany.  When I wake at 7:30 or 8am it is still dark outside and as the evening nears 4pm the day already feels like it is coming to a close, dark by about 5pm.  Days are getting longer, I am told by Christian, Wettenbostel regular and Seminar Haus electrician and general do-everything person.  He says that the 23 or 24th were the shortest days of the year… so slowly we begin to expand and creep out of the silent, darker days of winter.

The New Year is bright on my mind, taking time to consider and honor this year that is passing away, a quiet death making way for a new beginning.  And what a year it has been!  It seems that gratitude is the key for me… to the MANY people who have been there and touched my life this year.  My many friends and supporters in New Orleans and throughout the US, the international Reiki Community as well as the international SGI Community.  New friends, helpers and companions I have met on my travels.   My family. Without the inspiration and support, personal, spiritual and financial, from the many friends and family this year would not have happened, would not have been possible.  So it is with humility that I take note of all of them, young and old, and thank you for who are in the world and in my life.

The day is still very early by Wettenbostel standards…. particularly over the holidays.  It is around 10:30 am and so far I am the only being that is moving around the grounds of the Seminar Haus.  I am told Dan arrives sometimes today and I have heard a passing word of a spaghetti dinner for this evening.

A mostly quiet time intended for me for this New Years eve, known here as Silvester.  Honoring the old, the waking of the new and celebrating and laying the groundwork of good intentions, healing and prosperity for the year to come.  Good fortune to you as this year comes to a close and much fullness of life, love and richness in the New Year!

-Photo of sweatlodge constructed in the woods of the Seminar Haus, 2008, by Michael Hartley

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