My husband Peter and I just came back from a trip to France. We did the usual things tourists are supposed to do in Paris, visited a friend in a village called Pontigny, then hiked in the Alps in Chamonix. Driving back to Paris, I felt sort of guilty for taking 21/2 weeks off. That’s a long time to not contribute something to the world and just do whatever you selfishly want. I did appreciate ignoring the news, living in the moment, and learning something new every day. BUT…what is it good for?
I didn’t find the answer until I took the time to dwell inside a mystery. Why, when I stood in front of certain paintings by Corot, did I well up in tears? Why did I have the same mysterious tears hearing mass in Notre Dame when I’m not Catholic and don’t understand French anyway? And why did the glaciers of the Mt. Blanc massif have the same effect on me? What do these three things have in common?
When I check inside, I can still feel the space created by these experiences. There is an emergent movement inside this quiet space. It’s like being present at Creation. Glaciers carve our landscape; a painter leaves part of his soul on a canvas and generations later, you can still feel his presence. (You don’t get this from a reproduction.) And finally, the cathedrals and abbeys we visited–despite being tourist attractions which can have a theme-park atmosphere, Notre Dame and the Basilica of the Sacred Heart flooded me with a message I couldn’t miss.
I’m glad they don’t allow you to take photos inside Sacre Coeur, or I’d be tempted to try to show you. It’s better not to see a picture, because it won’t render the experience. There’s a gigantic image of Christ with his arms outspread, not in crucifixion, but in open-armed welcome. Because the ceiling is a dome, he looks like he’s about to engulf you in a hug . The gesture says, “Welcome, you are loved, you are loved unconditionally, so come.” If you stand in a certain spot directly under his face and look up, it looks as if he’s looking straight into your eyes. And here’s the kicker: he’s not smiling; he’s not “nice;” he’s dead serious. He’s saying, “You are so deeply loved that that’s all there is to it, so cut the shit.”
No more whiney self-criticism. No more wallowing in any feelings of unworthiness that may show up. No more believing that anything I do that is not coming from a heart-based place has any purpose or meaning. And no more thinking that I’m not enough. No more “what’s the point of a vacation?”
The point of this vacation is to remember that quiet, creative, loving space that brings something new into the world and to live from there. What if every day could hold a brand new experience? What if every time I am with a client, I can approach the interaction with the same awe and mystery as I experienced with great art, immense glaciers and sacred spaces hundreds of years old? Okay, now I know. When I get caught in turmoil about the state of the world, I know how to proceed with life.
If that weren’t enough, our last day in Paris held a surprise. The guidebooks tell you to visit the Places des Abbesses in Montmarte, but they don’t tell you about the Wall of Love. Here, you can meet and connect with people from all over the planet and say “I love you” to them in whatever language they speak, because the Wall is covered with those words in every alphabet you can imagine (and some you’ve never seen before). It’s a pleasure to wait there for the next visitors to show up, discover the place, find their language, and share it with you. I don’t know if the artists who created this installation knew they were creating an instant united nations, but it’s an amazing place to hang out. Cultural barriers disappear; people communicate and wish each other well; love reigns.
I’m back home now, recovering from jet lag and remembering how to fit into this life. Vacation put me in that “each day is a new day” mode. I think I’ll keep it.