That’s an interesting choice

Wayne was headed home from work on my birthday, and I found a flight that I would land within a few hours of him right at Gatwick, so we thought, why not? Why not ‘run to London’ for a weekend? We had a little bit of site-seeing in mind, dinner and show (The Lion King) to officially celebrate my birthday and back home within four days. Well, I’ll be damned if the skies weren’t shut down IMG_4429due to the Iceland volcano within 24 hours of us meeting at Gatwick.

At first we really paid no attention thinking that of course it will be cleared up within a day or two, surely they wouldn’t shut down all air traffic for that long? How could they – we’re talking London here. Well they did and they could, six full days to be precise. We were living in what will turn out to be an historic event; the longest UK airspace was shut down since WWII. Our original flight was cancelled, then the rebook was cancelled and eventually we made it home five days later than we planned.

IMG_4727 We had two choices: 1) get angry, upset and demanding or 2) roll with the adventure. We chose to roll with the adventure because that’s why we are here anyways, isn’t it? And getting angry and upset doesn’t change a thing and only adds to the negative group consciousness. Plus, it takes hours away from happiness that I will never get back. (I did have a bit of a pout because the airline we were with was refusing all assistance but luckily Wayne was very easy-going about the whole situation and managed to pull me out of the foot stomping once or twice.)

It’s times like this I become crystal-clear-aware of how fortunate I am and how splendid my life truly has become. IMG_4506We didn’t have a job we had to get back to in fear of losing wages, we didn’t have young children to fuss about, we didn’t have any pressing matters to attend to back in Spain, as well as we have the funds to shrug our shoulders and go with the flow. Plus, we had the wherewithal to both believe there was something we needed to understand and once that reason clears up, our flights will be un-blocked and we will move on.

London is so much more than little fancy pubs on every corner.   My favourite hobby, people watching, was in full glory in London. I would venture to say that London inhabitants are much more interesting than New Yorker’s. New Yorker’s tend to be more businesslike, trendy and uptight about it all. Londoners are much freer to be themselves. If you can’t find it in London, it simply does not exist.

I observed people in all different situations; the theatre district (we accidently walked into a gay pub that specialized in transvestites but that’s another blog completely), Convent Gardens, in a multi-cultural area, a business area, touristy area and a small town. Riding The Tube was an eye-opener in itself (unless it was packed solid) and I enjoyed the entertainment of different people along the way. IMG_4623Wayne and I were the perfect team; it was so satisfying to sit at the corner pub window and he was happy to join me to simply observe the street life. I would order one large wine (250ml – there’s my 3 glasses per bottle theory) and he would order one beer, then another and we would be finished at the same time. Happy days!

I soon found myself judging people. I wasn’t comfortable with this as I don’t like to be judged myself. Judging brings down my vibe somewhat and has a negative feel. Reaching for another way to frame my observations, I happily arrived at my new motto, “That’s an interesting choice.”  IMG_4405Soon, everything was tagged with ‘That’s an interesting choice’ including their hairstyles, clothing, partners, newspaper headlines, people’s reactions to the air disruptions, hotel room decorations and so on. It wasn’t in judgement at all; it opened my mind and started me thinking about the choices people make and wondering why they make those choices. Soon I was turning it inwards, why was I making the choices I am making? Am I in self judgement or objectively making choices that bring me to my goal of happiness?

I originally thought the reason the universe is arranging for our stay a little longer in London was to make the trek to Stonehenge, a tour we put off because of our short trip this time. Once the week opened up to us, we jumped on the opportunity to take a special tour that allowed you to walk within the stones. Surely there is some deep mystical, life changing reason we must see this ancient site of megaliths. IMG_5215Alas, as wonderful as the stones are (they have what we call the Mona Lisa syndrome – smaller than you think) and we are grateful for opportunity to walk among a wonder of the world, we both agreed nothing really stirred us, nothing shifted.

On the encouragement of one of Wayne’s colleagues, we bought tickets for ‘Blood Brothers’, the longest running show in London. I thought it was fabulous, by the time the play ended something definitely shifted within me and something was stirred. The premise of the show starts with a life changing choice – a single mother chooses to separate her newborn twins as she doesn’t believe she has the money to raise both of them. One is raised with her in poverty and one is raised by a very wealthy family. Now, the creators of the show may have had a completely different motive for writing the play (I think the message was regarding the class barriers in the UK but since I have no life reference to class difference, I made up my significance.) I was so attentive to the choices that were being made by the characters throughout the play. A very interesting observation of my viewpoint, I thought.

IMG_4565London eventually had a strong message for me, one that coincided with my birthday and will hopefully bond with me for the whole birth year until my next birthday and beyond. And that message is a strong reminder that I am in complete control of my choices. For instance, I can complain about my weight or I can make a choice to exercise daily and be aware of every bite that passes my lips. I can complain about being lonely or I can go out and meet people. I can choose to absorb everything around me or I can filter and make up my mind about what is happening. I can continue writing my book or I can complain I am bored. I can choose in every moment, in every instance. Wow – how’s that for a proper birthday present?

I always knew this, we all know this, but like most people we tend to beat the drum of what is; it seems on the surface to simply be easier. We complain that this isn’t perfect; I don’t have this or that; or they have all the luck and poor little me. We choose to smoke, drink too much, eat too much (or not enough), gossip, judge, buy too much, remain in a constant state of stress, and ignore our heart urgings and intuition. We prefer not to choose a different way; we close our eyes to the option that moves us towards what we truly want. And isn’t that an interesting choice?

All photos are my own and cannot be used without express written permission.

Put Your Fork Down, Walk Away

Colourful building

 

It was already past 2:00 p.m. and I was hungry. I found one of those little hole-in-the-wall types of bistros that are never listed in any tourist books but loaded with locals; I took a seat in the so-called non-smoking and ordered a vino tinto. I honestly don’t mind wandering alone as it gives me time to pursue my other favourite interest; people watching.  

And there she was, at a table of 7 other people. Eat, eat, eat, chat, chat, chat, eat – and without warning – SHE PUT HER FORK DOWN. She took a sip of wine, laugh, laugh, laugh and her fork was – gasp – exactly where she left it. Nobody took it away! Nobody stole her food! She calmly picked the fork up and continued to eat. And – AND – she did this more than once during the same meal. I was left speechless. Who knew?  

In North America, we don’t eat. We feed. Whatever we can get, as fast as we can get it and the most we can fit in all at once because only God knows, in the land of abundance, where our next meal will come from. It might actually be 10 minutes late and we would find ourselves starving to death. I’m sure I don’t have to point out the proliferation of fast food outlets but I may have to point out the hundreds of ‘quick cooking’ cookbooks and/or shows on the Food Network that encourages a gourmet meal in 30 minutes or less. Cooking and eating an inconvenience we must rush through and not an opportunity for pleasure, connection and time for us. Time for us to linger. There are actually courses now on how to eat like a family.  

Old town Calpe

 

Ask any North American about the wait service in Europe and you will hear moans and groans about how terrible it is. How s-l-o-w they are. Many countries will not bring you your bill until you specifically ask for it; they never assume you are finished, nor are you rushed to get out until you tell them you are complete. And complete mostly includes lengthy conversation with the people you are enjoying your meal with and the wait staff would never consider interrupting that connection time. Nobody from North America assumes the fast service is wrong, we think the Europeans have it wrong with their ‘crappy service’. How mistaken we really are. In Europe, lunches and suppers are given sacred time and take at least an hour and a half, if not more. In Spain, everything shuts down from 2-5 so that a long leisurely lunch is enjoyed. Most stores in Europe are closed by 6 pm so that the shop owners can be home to enjoy supper with their family. Eating is enjoyment and not something you ‘stop for’ but rather look ‘forward to’.  

Beach in Calpe

 

Food as pleasure is intertwined with body as well. For what I can tell, no one here has a ‘body image’ problem. Many languages don´t have a translation or concept of “body image”. On the beach I can tell you that bikinis rule in Europe. Big and small, young and old, mostly everyone wears a bikini and with absolute confidence. Men wear Speedos and some, thongs. And trust me, not everyone is svelte and toned. Nor hair free. They are at the beach to soak up some Vitamin D and enjoy themselves and if you don’t like what they look like, don’t look. Females of all ages and sizes have no trouble topless sunbathing and from what I can see have no awkwardness whatsoever. I for one could not imagine tanning topless around my two adult children and I’m sure they would be equally horrified. Sitting at the beach is for pleasure, connection and time for you to recharge and everyone respects that.  

The first thing that springs to my mind is how did it we get all so screwed up? Did not most of us come from European stock? How did food and pleasure and body image get all turned upside down and inside out? When did food become something we fight? We measure, we control, we judge? When did our body become something we fight? We measure, we control, we judge? And how are the two connected?  

Just my theory and I may be totally way off base but I summarize the European eating and body culture as akin to the wise Queen, she is confident in her ways, her authority and her presence. She rushes for no one or nothing. She has become and is becoming. She asks no one for permission but is also not permissive. She is aware of the wisdom that has arrived with her age and uses it to her advantage. The food culture, for the most part, has remained in calm order and overall her Queendom is happy and content.  

North American eating and body culture, however, is the Princess; attention seeking, navel gazing and reliant on her looks and using her looks, for power. Although she doesn’t like to admit it, nothing matters to her more than how she is perceived by others. (Young, skinny, sexy advertising.) She has so much ‘to do’ she has time for nothing. (Busy, busy, busy.) She can’t be thin enough or young enough for her Prince. (Gyms, workout equipment, diet food.) She wants everyone to be just like her for her own security. (Best selling diet books, Oprah phenomenon, judgement) Unfortunately, she is well aware of the coming end to her Princess age and is trying to control everything and fighting it all the way, (plastic surgery, Botox, superficial body changes) which can also show up as fighting with others to release the anger. None of this has worked well for the masses and now there is a mess of things. (Obesity epidemic, 23 year olds with 10 plastic surgeries in one day, diet mentality, family breakdown.)  

But we know; we remember. When there is a special occasion, holiday, or celebration, what do we naturally gravitate towards? Loved ones and food. We give our inner Queens room to take control shine through. We prepare, we dress up and meet. Whether as a family, friends or date and have a special meal either at home or in a restaurant. We break bread, as it were, we eat. We linger, we laugh, we smile. We know how to do this, we have just lost our way, that’s all. 

A few years ago concerned about my health and particularly some weight I gained, I saw a Chinese doctor and I mentioned to him that I was trying to lose some weight but nothing was helping. I asked him for some suggestions and as he began to speak I was sure he was going to transmit some ancient Chinese secret for a long life in my skinny jeans. Listening intensively, on the edge of my seat, all he said was, “Put your fork down, walk away.”  

I’m taking that advice now – except for the walking away part. I’m going to let go of my North American Princess manners around food and body image, develop into the natural progression of things and be my own Queen, more confident in my journey and in my wisdom. And receive pleasure from my food. And connect. And enjoy. And slow down, linger and relax about it all. I’m going to put my fork down and stay.