Tag Archives: lovepat

20 Life Lessons from My Morning Walk

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 “To live in the present moment is a miracle. The miracle is not to walk on water. The miracle is to walk on the green Earth, in the present moment, to enjoy the peace and beauty that are available now.”
–Thich Nhat Hanh in Touching Peace: Practicing the Art of Mindful Living

When I was eight months pregnant, we moved to this little German-speaking village in northern Italy, not far from the Austrian border. My husband and I had been living separately for over a year, because he’d found his first job as a specialist just outside the commuting area of the house we’d bought four years before.  I worked as a contractor for the US military in Vicenza where I taught violence prevention, guided relaxation techniques, stress management and Covey’s 7 Habits of Effective Families.  Imagine my surprise when I found myself stressed, angry and ineffective after the reality of full-time, homemaking and first-time parenting set in.

I found myself unable to enjoy anything –motherhood, coupledom, the astounding nature and fascinating community around me. I resented walking the dogs, cooking meals, and all things domestic. I ruminated about how to get out of the life I’d unintentionally and naively created for myself.  I was waiting for Godot.  After all, he’d promised me we’d be able to go back to England where our married life began. In my mind, everything would be better then; I couldn’t settle.  I didn’t want to settle.

But, everything shifted when I decided to put my feet (and stroller tires) on the ground and be in the life I was living.

When my son was a little over a year old, a friend and I began The Morning Walk. Our motivations were simple: lose weight, break up the long days alone with the baby, and vent. We live in a valley between the foothills of the Alps, down a steep hill from the village center. We both pushed strollers up the curving incline to the center of town. Our muscles grew along with our kids.

Preschool began; we dropped the strollers and went higher and steeper, using the time to support each other and gain perspective from our parallel “love-pat” lives. Over the years, we’ve changed routes, pushing ourselves in different directions, and inspired each other when energy was low. Routines changed, but we continued with or without the other. It is deep in our bones now, a habit that be can’t broken.

It’s six years later and this Morning Walk has changed me mentally, physically, emotionally, and creatively.  I no longer feel invisible and ineffective.  I will never be stuck like I was before.  This practice has led me to unexpected joys (like singing jazz standards with a 20-piece big band) and a groundedness I never thought I would experience outside my country of origin.

I walk for different reasons now. The stamina and strength is there, as is the bond of those toughening years pushing strollers together. I walk in consciousness and awareness of my breath and surroundings. I walk to awaken my senses and center myself. I walk to be a part of the changing seasons, to notice the tiny transformations in nature and the townspeople. Mornings, walking together, are not as frequent these days and, in turn, relished.

Sometimes, I use the time to treat myself to a favorite inspirational podcast. Other times, I practice loving kindness meditation to the rhythm of my breath and step.  On days where my thoughts become tiny tornadoes, I whisper “just” (step) “this” (step), all the way up the hill.  The time is mine; it becomes what I need it to be.


Walking Mindfully

I fell upon this life-changing practice organically but, as it turns out, it’s been around for, oh…thousands of years.  From the websites of contemporary Buddhist Zen master, Thich Nhat Hanh to the integrative specialist, Dr. Andrew Weil, there are literally MILLIONS of articles on Google, alone, in support of my personal experience.

Mindful Walking, that is walking with awareness of step, sensation, and breath, connects us to our environment, our body, and the present moment. It gets us out of our head, slows us down, and increases our ability to concentrate. It is free, available, and accessible to those who are able.

Walking expands our circle of control when we feel like everything is out of control. There are countless other proven and assumed benefits to walking meditation, mindful walking, and walking with others (including four-legged others).

But, it is the walk itself that teaches us everything we need to know:

  1. Day breaks so we can wake up.
  2. Just for today, put one foot in front of the other.
  3. You just have to start.
  4. Focus on the moment;  the destination will come.
  5. Just go as far as you feel like the first time, no judgement, no expectations.
  6. Breathe.
  7. See what the universe wants to show you.
  8. You don’t have to walk up a mountain, but you can.
  9. It doesn’t have to happen with a struggle.
  10. There is no rush. Stop and relish the spectacular and simple graces.
  11. When it burns, inhale. Notice the scents around you. Feel the weather on your face and the ground beneath your feet.  Exhale and Listen.
  12. Keep going; it is worth it!
  13. Rain gives new perspective.
  14. Follow signs to center.
  15. Every thing, every one is changing all the time; nothing stays the same. Change. Is. Normal…uncomfortable…beautiful.
  16. Your perspective will change the closer you get to where you want to be; re-evaluate and make adjustments accordingly.
  17. Notice how far you’ve come and celebrate!
  18. Buds don’t bloom overnight; they withstand rain, hail, cold, heat, and predators, but they make it through and you will too.
  19. It is time to bloom where you are planted.
  20. Everyday, we get to begin again.

I wonder what shift could take place, if the entire world started their day off the way I start mine.  I know that’s fanciful, but we all brush our teeth in the morning, don’t we?  It’s just another habit that shows we care about ourselves.  When we care about ourselves, we can care for others better.  Join me.




How Do You Name a Journey?

Anyone’s journey is as unique and valuable as anyone else’s journey.
iPEC coaching principle #21
I thought about this a lot while attending the Families in Global Transition conference in Amsterdam last March. The expat “sectors” represented included missions, education, corporate, diplomatic, Non-Government Organizations, arts, entrepreneurs, and a few members military families.  I was among Third Culture Kids (TCK), Adult Third Culture Kids (ATCK), Cross-Cultural Kids (CCK), Romantic Expats (Lovepats), Missionary Kids (MK), Third Culture Adults, Third Culture Parents, Accompanying Partners, and service providers.
I thought about how I’ve lived all these years as an “expat”, but never identified that way. I moved to England to be with the man I loved.  It was our “third culture”.  A place where we both could be professionally successful.  Later, when we were moved to Italy, my husband’s home country, I became a “civilian employee” and then a “contractor working overseas”. For some reason “expat” had never been part of my story; I hadn’t thought of myself as leaving my country, but of moving toward life and love.
Not until I found myself among this dynamic, talented, intelligent, organized, creative group of “expats”, did I feel like I needed a label.  I played around with expat and lovepat, bi-lingual household, mother of a TCK (wrong), and expat transition coach. What am I anyway??
At first, I really felt like I’d found my long-lost tribe:  stories of brief romantic encounters, long distance relationships, and then the struggle of raising kids outside a home country with an unfamiliar, overbearing extended family and a language barrier. Stories MUCH more challenging than mine, some heartbreaking and still fresh and unfolding, some totally triumphant: language fluency, financial independence, thriving husbands and wives.
Later in the weekend, there were discussions about how women must preserve their fiscal independence, identify and use their assets, and then the disgust and disdain around the term”trailing spouse”.  I’ve never been called that, but I did do that; I left my career, my assets, my financial independence, language-dependent hobbies, and social network to follow my husband’s career opportunities in a places where I didn’t speak the language.  I’d followed him three times for his career advancements, each place with a different dominant language.
No one called me a trailing spouse OR an accompanying partner, so I didn’t feel the stigma nor the indignation.  Instead, I was la moglie americana–the American wife. Somehow, that doesn’t seem much better.  There was no recognition that I’d arrived, one way or the other. No welcome center, no coach or mentor helping me through the transition, no women’s club.  But, at the time, I wasn’t expecting that.  I dove in, an optimist, proud of my husband’s accomplishments and new job, excited for the next chapter of our lives as parents.
Was my face red, when at the conference, I confidently introduced myself as the “mother of a TCK”, thinking I’d gotten a handle on the lingo, but was told by a distinguished participant that she didn’t think of my child as a TCK.  Turns out, according to the program glossary, I’m a mother of a CCK–a Cross-Cultural Kid–because he has two passports and has lived most of his short life in one place.  I’d thought a 3rd culture kid was someone whose parents came from two different cultures and were raising their family in yet a 3rd culture.  It made sense to me, but I should have studied up a bit. I went from feeling like I’d found my tribe to feeling like maybe I’d missed the memo.
One person told me she didn’t think of someone like me as an expat because I was “settled” in one country, implying that staying in one place is somehow easier.  I certainly hadn’t felt settled.  I’d never planned on staying in Italy.  It wasn’t what I’d agreed to when I left it all for love.  I thought we’d move back to England after his “five years” in Italy, where at least I wouldn’t have to struggle with the language or credential conversion.  In fact, I spent those years in Verona, waiting and imagining.  It was the thought of moving again, that allowed me to stay.   At the time, living in limbo was much more desirable than the thought of staying in Italy for the rest of my life.
When preschool started (8 years an expat), I felt the urge to “go back to work”, but the opportunities in my career field were zilch. My language skills hadn’t progressed. I was not able to earn a comparable wage and my credentials were not valid in Italy.  Even if I could have returned to work, in the traditional sense, there was no childcare in my town that would have supported this agenda.  Most women with children in my town spend their days cooking, cleaning, and shuttling their kids to and from school.  School gets out at 12:30 most days.  The system does not support the idea of a financially independent wife and mother.
About four years ago, it all caved in one morning after watching the Oscars on SKY TV.  I woke up and realized this could be it.  We might never return to England, or the US.  This life could be for the rest of my life, not a cultural experience,  a global adventure, or even a romance at this point.  So, yes, technically, on paper, I have settled, an accidental immigrant who followed her heart.
It brought to mind this question:  What is the difference between “settled” and “settling” for something?
Words and labels are important sociologically, for research and academic purposes, but in our every day lives I sometimes wonder if by focusing our energy there, we lose sight of the essence of the issue. After all, when it comes to terms like “trailing spouse”, we know it’s not the label, but the story behind it that’s really where the pain is.  It’s about feeling degraded, undervalued, disrespected, unseen, and sacrificed.  It’s about feeling a lack of control, acknowledgement, and competence.   It’s about wanting more, and being more than we appear to be on paper.  Fascinating, how important words become. They tell whether or not you belong. They package assumption and make us think we understand each other.
The FIGT conference was wonderful, mind-expanding, friendly, rich, inspiring; I will go back to learn and share more….AND this experience with labels piqued my curiosity. This Accidental Immigrant-Lovepat-Accompanying Spouse-3rd Culture Parent/Adult-Mom of a CCK-Child Life Specialist-Expat Health Care Creativity Coach wonders…When we are struggling to feel at home, do we become more sensitive to differences rather than our commonalities?  Of course each sector has its unique advantages and challenges, but the CORE of our issues are absolutely the same.  Where do I belong?  Who are my people?  Where is home?  Are my core values in alignment with my lifestyle or the culture around me?  What will happen when it all changes?  How can I stay/When should I go?  How can I live up to my own expectations of what it means to be a “good” spouse, child, parent?  What do I need and want? How will I be able to do the work I came into the world to do?  
We are all traveling, “settled” or not.   The journey to belonging doesn’t have a name.
Anyone’s journey is as unique and as valuable as anyone else’s journey.