Five unforgettable lessons from my solo trip to Italy

The past month has changed my life. A different creature than the one who flew off to celebrate turning seventy will disembark the plane in Bali. This trip has been as transforming as the one I took at sixty-two when I made the choice to leave Minnesota and set up permanent residence in Indonesia.

The difference has been in the speed and intensity of this mutation. The move to Bali was like slowly opening one cherished gift after another. The island just kept on giving. Praiano must have sensed the time was short. I’ve been zapped by successive lightning bolts of insight that have dazzled and humbled me.

What you’ve seen in my almost-daily posts as I navigated the heights and depths of Praiano, were descriptions in words and pictures. What I haven’t shown are the results of those lightning bolt revelations that have rearranged me from the inside out – the inner odyssey.

Come along…

1) A smile opens doors, but knowing the language gets you inside.

As much as I hate U.S. entitlement and strive not to be that person, I made an ignorant, arrogant assumption. I assumed that most people in the touristy Amalfi Coast area of Italy would speak English. I was wrong. Perhaps during high season it’s different. But right now I may be the only tourist in this small town and it’s a rare joy when I’m understood.

The locals treat me beautifully, but point and gesture is as good as it gets with communication. It’s insanely frustrating. Before I do an extended trip again, I’ll learn the basics of my host country’s language.

2) Always be willing to change what you think you know about yourself.

This is big. If you tell yourself anything long enough, you’ll start believing it. And when you believe it, it becomes your reality and shapes your life. While I’ve been here I’ve experienced seismic shifts in the stories I’ve told myself for years. One catalyst that inspired change was a book that just ‘happened’ to be on the shelf. Another surprising insight came as a result of my daily posts to this blog. A third became clear as I spent significant time alone.

My goal for this trip, other than a septuagenarian celebration, was to gain clarity for the future. That intention provided fertile ground for inspiration and revelation to germinate. I was receptive to receiving and the Universe delivered, as she always does to the willing seeker.

3) It’s essential to tell yourself the truth and then live it.

The truth can be a very confusing idea. But our perception of truth goes hand-in-hand with the stories we tell ourselves. So how do you know if you’re telling yourself the truth? What does your life look like? Is there any area of your existence where you’re miserable, dissatisfied, unhealthy, bitter, angry, or whatever other negative response is possible? Isolate that part then ask, What am I telling myself about this circumstance that’s causing distress? You may believe that what you’ve been telling yourself is true. My guess is that it’s not.

I’ve always been very good at hiding my feelings. I’d do anything to keep the peace. I perceived myself as diplomatic, self-controlled, level-headed, composed, but in truth, confrontation terrified me. Not being liked wasn’t an option. As a result, nobody really knew me and I was okay with that, until now. Turning seventy flipped a switch. All of a sudden, being known feels more important than being liked. Maybe the grumpy old man, crotchety old woman thing is just the point in life when we become real. Look out! I’ve arrived.

4) Expect the unexpected, anything can happen.

When I left for Italy, I didn’t expect that over the course of one month the world would be thrown into a state of panic. That a virus would leap international boundaries and rip through countries with unprecedented ferocity. I personally don’t tend to imagine worst case scenarios. A flight delay, luggage lost – that’s as far as I go with ‘what ifs’. I don’t buy travel insurance. Ever. To me it feels like betting on disasters which as yet, in seventy years, haven’t happened to me. There have been flight delays and my luggage has arrived several days late a few times, but that’s it.

As the numbers of infected persons worldwide continued to rise, and the possibility of restricted air travel became reality for some areas, I entertained the idea of cutting my trip short. I bought into the overarching anxiety for about half a day. Then I caught myself. No. Why should I run scared? I have the funds to extend my stay if that becomes necessary. This began as an adventure and has become an even greater adventure. It’s a huge lesson in flexibility, in trust, in dealing with what comes in a sane and sensible, way. I have a friend battling cancer. That alone puts everything else in perspective.

5) Your mind is your ally only if you can control your thoughts.

I said I bought into anxiety for about half a day. When fear-energy amasses on a global scale, it’s necessary to take an intentional stand against it or it will play games with the mind. I was being sucked into that energy.

I’ve employed several ways of dealing with unwanted emotions that are working effectively for me.

  • Movement is number one. Getting outside for a walk, doing a yoga routine, even sweeping or vacuuming the house helps. Then I meditate.
  • Meditation makes a huge difference. I use a soundtrack in the background and concentrate on the notes, the mantras, the rise and fall of volume, anything other than what’s inside my head. I also focus on gratitude, all the things in this amazing life I’m grateful for.
  • Information gathering, assembling those facts that apply to my situation and screening out the rest is essential to keeping anxiety in check.
  • Distraction may seem like a negative but in the case of monkey-mind, when I can’t seem to stop myself from thinking about something that there’s nothing I can do anything about, it’s necessary to divert attention elsewhere. For me, writing, reading a good book, watching a movie or documentary, researching music I haven’t listened to before, all work well as diversionary tactics. I’m finding that preparing and eating a healthy meal for breakfast, lunch, and dinner is soothing as well. Good nutrition helps regulate moods.
  • Self-talk is ultra important. The story I tell myself must be true or I won’t believe it. I also want it to enable me to continue to enjoy this beautiful town, its kind people, the extraordinary view, and my last few days here. The key is to remain grounded in the present moment and not extrapolate what might happen. In the case of COVID-19, even the experts can’t accurately predict the outcome. So my truth is that in this moment I’m fine. I have empathy for the suffering this epidemic is causing and will continue to cause for an unknown period of time. But I will not contribute to fear.

Nothing excites me more than the boundless potential for human evolution. If we’re open to expanding self-awareness, intuition, compassion, understanding, knowledge, and become active participants in our own growth, there’s no limit to where it can take us. It isn’t always a comfortable ride, and sometimes to get there we have to take ourselves, alone, to parts unknown, so lightning can zap us.

Look what just appeared outside my window! After lightning bolts, a rainbow!

10 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Anonymous
    Mar 04, 2020 @ 00:32:52

    Well said, well lived! I’m also just being and enjoying without worrying these last few days. sl

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  2. stevecastley
    Mar 04, 2020 @ 02:44:20

    Thanks for sharing this post and all the ones before it. They have shown a great journey. Congratulations. Steve

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  3. Kate
    Mar 04, 2020 @ 03:43:39

    Sherry, it’s been a joy and an honor to come only on your mental and physical journey this last month! I adore that you wrapped up Italy for us in your ‘take aways,’ fully knowing these are the Cliff Notes. I believe that as we get older, we are open to more and ready for those zappers! We don’t have the luxury of endless musings. Enjoy your re-entry to your beautiful Bali!

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

    • writingforselfdiscovery
      Mar 04, 2020 @ 04:25:47

      Cliff notes – you’ve got that right! But that’s the beauty of The Story isn’t it? We get to tell whatever parts we want in whatever way we choose. The nitty-gritty is in my journal and that would make extremely dull reading HAHAHA!

      Like

      Reply

  4. shanemac
    Mar 04, 2020 @ 07:12:00

    As always you inspire me to reach deeper into who I am and to face me with more courage, light, and honesty. Your wisdom is one of the things I’m thankful for in my life.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

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