Apr 19, 2010

I Once Was Lost

“Not all those who wander are lost.” J. R. R. Tolkien

We’ve spent much of the last two weeks getting lost. Of course. We make one wrong turn down a cobblestone street and find ourselves in a labyrinth of French and Dutch-named streets. If we are wandering without a destination, we cannot get lost. It is only when we are keeping to some schedule, especially before we figured out how to get a European cell phone and couldn’t call to say we would be late, that we find ourselves panicking and frustrated. We spread open the map and argue about which direction is north.

But if we are not worried about here or there, right or wrong, then we are free to wander pleasantly through the alleys. We see every detail. We see the smiling baby waving at us and the grandmother eating an ice cream cone. Here is our destination. Always. Here is where we are supposed to be.

David and I had been reading The Tao of Pooh over and over again like a mantra for the last nine months. In preparation for the transformative journey, we knew that the biggest threat was the need to be in control. I am guilty of this sin every day. I hungrily seek control over every situation. I want to know what is going to happen. I don’t like surprises or accidents. I am solid like the stones that I continue to trip over.

When I was fourteen, I learned how to ride a horse. Well, not exactly a horse. It was a pony. A big pony named Lady, which she was not. Lady hadn’t been ridden much and was not trained very well. I learned how to ride at the same time as learning how to train. The most important thing I learned about horseback riding was how to listen with my body. If I felt what the Lady was doing, I would know when she was afraid. I would feel when she was about to run me into a low-hanging tree branch. I could move with her if I was relaxed and aware.

It was my first lesson in listening. Being aware. Going with the natural flow of things. I didn’t need to be in control because control was an illusion anyways. But I could be at peace because I would be soft and pliable. I would be like a dirt path instead of a cobblestone sidewalk.

Couchsurfing.com has provided us with the means to live in this way. The members are all people who are welcoming and open to connecting with others. The generosity and hospitality is reminiscent to those hippie followers of Jesus in the Book of Acts. All for One and One for All. Couchsurfing.com is about giving others a home, a place to relax when one is traveling. This lifestyle rings true with me.

One of our fellow couchsurfers said it simply. She’s a French-speaking Belgian with a very good knowledge of English. In her favorite bar near Place Flagey, a dark place where a gnome on the counter grins at you when you order your Kriek, she told us that her new word to live by was: Easy. If something is too difficult, you need to stop. Listen. Breathe. Life is easy when you learn how to let go. Be more like Winnie the Pooh.

Letting go is a process. It can take many forms. David finds that he lets go of much while he’s boxing or working out. I let go when I walk through a quiet park and feel the tree branches above my head. Both of us find this place of letting go through the process of creation. All anger, frustration, stress, and heartache are transformed with each movement of the paintbrush or key stroke.

The calm of this lifestyle has created a place—a room of my own—where characters begin breathing and moving. I am free of the daily grind, the mundane stress of work, work, work. Meaningless work where every minute counted only towards paying bills.

Here, I am free to play god. I can write without distraction. I disappear into the background. I am the cobalt sky, the crooked sidewalk, the illuminated lamppost. I am free to pour past failures and dark conflict into the characters, bringing the story to life.

Yesterday, we rode the elevator to the top of Parking Garage 58, just steps away from St. Catherine’s. It is the best free view of Brussels. We could see the Atomium from there. We surveyed the steeples and rooftops and traffic jams and we saw that it was good.

On top of the parking garage, I imagined how Jesus felt when the devil took him to a high place. Like Jesus, the devil tempts us with his twisted offering. “All this could be yours…if only…” That “if only” binds us in chains of sleepless nights and mental exhaustion. We think that if only we had that perfect career, that perfect marriage, that perfect outfit, we would have it all. But it already is ours and the devil has nothing to offer. When you don’t own anything, you have everything. When you give it all away, it is all yours.

Of course, I am still afraid. But I have been in the presence of freedom. When our hosts gave us—strangers with tattoos and piercings—keys to their lovely apartment. “Come and go as you please.” We were given the gift of trust. I am still afraid but fear has an enemy. I will not let fear keep me caged. It may feel against my nature to let go, but letting go is what my nature truly yearns for.

Couchsurfing.com is part of this redemptive process: the letting go of that which is not important. We find healing and restoration in the simple sharing of blankets and towels, early morning hellos, and the offering of much-needed coffee.

In this place of vulnerability, we are not lost. We are home.

(For photos, check out my other blog or facebook.)

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