prepare for liftoff: culture shock

In 2010, I spent three weeks in Puebla, Mexico to finish up my master’s program in ESL. Amid ancient cathedrals and extensive teaching units and luxurious welcomes and late-night plaza dancing and studious students and chocolaty mole dishes and open air markets, I found myself–in the air conditioned safety of my hotel room–having a meltdown. My skin crawled. I was overwhelmed with exhaustion. My brain was tangled between two languages. My body felt like it was walking in the twilight zone. My heart ached for home… for comfort, for ease, for freedom from having to work so damn hard to understand the mere basics of life.

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Culture shock.

I can’t help but reflect on that experience as we prepare to move 5,769 miles south to Brazil.

Like the naive American expat I am, I have been predicting the layers of culture shock and in what order they will fall.

  • First: school culture. One of the reasons I am changing student demographics is because over the last ten years teaching, I have felt my pedagogical craft dwindle more and more into the realm of motivational therapy. In each of the three schools I have taught, I have spent the first year there working my way into the hearts and trust of students; if not, there would be no learning. And though that is exactly where I want to dwell, and also where students remain forever with me, it is utterly exhausting to pour the entire contents of your identity out over and over and over and over, just hoping it will stick. (And of course, I do not in anyway blame the students. I blame their trauma and the system, but that is another post.) When interviewing for my new job, one of the questions the superintendent asked me was: “What are you most nervous about?” To which, I responded: “Having to win over another group of students.” He looked at me, quizzically, and then followed with a statement: “Oh, you won’t have to worry about that; Brazilians are so warm and welcoming. They will love you from day one.” Talk about a foreign language. Huh? Additionally, I have spent the last ten years convincing students what they can do: overcome society’s low expectations, overcome their neighborhood’s low expectations, overcome the school’s low expectations, overcome their own low expectations. Now, I wonder how much of my job is going to be convincing students of what they do not have to do: be perfect, pile it on, extend their resumes from two to three pages, add one more club, avoid mistakes, look a certain way, do it all. I have felt my calling the last ten years as one of inspiration; and now, I think it will be more aligned with the archaic definition: giving students the space to breath.
  • Second, city culture. This feels even more poignant as I have spent the last couple of weeks before departing the country in the country. In the mornings, we sit on the porch and watch the circus-squirrels fly from tree to tree and comically climb up (or fall down) a slinky to get to the bird feeder. We sit on the porch and listen to the echo of morning doves and the call of cardinals and the squelch of black birds. We sit on the porch and watch the sunlight dance in and out of shade. We sit on the porch and feel the caress of the wind. We sit on the porch and rest in the peace of nature. We did that in Evergreen, too. And now, we are moving to the straight. up. city. High rises and traffic and airports and favelas and exhaust and pigeon poop and sirens and constant lights… well, I don’t know what else, because we’ve never done it before.
  • Then, third, Brazilian culture. In Mexico, I could manage the language. But Portuguese? And what am I going to wear on a very-liberal-almost-naked beach? How do I pay in a currency I can barely pronounce? Am I going to be just another fat American? How do I get my prescriptions refilled? How do I follow along in a foreign workout class? Am I going to stick out like a sore thumb? What if I cling my forks on the plate in a restaurant? What other faux pas am I going to commit before I even realize what a faux pas is? (And how do you say that? And is there a word for that in Portuguese?) How do I find someone reliable to wax my privates? What if we can’t even find our way out of the airport? What if they think my anxiety-reducing-poop-provoking-magnesium-powder is crack? The more question marks I type, the more I think this actually might be the first after all.

If I’ve learned anything from my meditation practice, it is that 1, what we avoid, expands and 2, by naming it, something loses its grip. And so, this post.

I will welcome culture shock by its name, a guest to the party of adventure.

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dynamic

Yesterday, Dave and I–along with our best friends the Boyds–explored Glacier National Park. A short jaunt around John’s Lake ended alongside the “dynamic McDonald Falls,” as described by some hiking guru’s map we bought for $11.95 at the gift shop. I imagined loud, obnoxious, energetic water motion–kinda like when I call myself a dynamic teacher. Upon arrival, that was exactly what we encountered. However, when our friends mentioned that the last time they were at these very same falls “it was merely a trickle,” realization dawned on me as to how Jake-the-hiking-guru was actually using the word dynamic:

dynamic: marked by usually continuous and productivity of activity or change

And sitting in meditation beside the dynamic McDonald Falls, I could not help but reflect on our lives. Sometimes still like John’s lake, sometimes a trickle like the McDonald Falls of the Boyds’ first trip, and sometimes–as in now–the powerful and overwhelming current of change forcefully charging downstream.

dynamic: marked by usually continuous and productivity of activity or change

As we are currently homeless and bound for Brazildynamic now holds deeper meaning for us. On July 22nd, we will depart the country and abandon everything that has been familiar in exchange for new lives as expats. Dave will not work. I will work in a completely different environment. And we will live in the city, gasp. And just as the raging current shapes storied-alcoves out of rocks, something new will form in us.

Something mysterious.

Something beautiful.

A new story formed by the dynamic watery wheels of change.

meditations on the sea

It is vast against the horizon. So much so…it IS the horizon. It shifts the sand beneath my cold toes, and still further dizzies my eyes with its periphery-dancing. Yet the sea does not dread the distances, calculating arrivals and departures, lost in the abyss of so-whats and then-whats.

It is buoyant despite emotional spasms. At one rock outcropping–battered knuckles of stone rising against the blue–there is anger. Foam churns, one million crashes in a busy liquid intersection. It is violent, destructive. Just five rock-knuckles down, small children and grown men laugh in the surf, their bodies caressed by the gentle tide. Here, there is joy: a playground for the young at heart. Yet, the sea does not worry about its vacillating waves of ups and downs, giggles and groans.

It is storied. An infinite amount of narratives are surrounded by its borders. There is no place on earth not footnoted by its boundaries. Beneath its surface another language exists: tall tales of ferocious hunters and tiny fables of minuscule plants. Yet, the sea is at peace in its own identity, authentic and brave and beautiful.

It is inconstant. The only thing that stays the same is that it changes. Fluid, flexible and fluctuating because nothing is in its control; it bows to the moods of the moon and the pollution of the people. Always unsure of who it was or who it will be, the sea just is.

It is frightening. Dangers lurk beneath it and above it and beside it. Fear multiplies like grains of sand: storms and tsunamis and sharks and stings and sunburn; currents and cancer and career changes and crashes. Yet, though drowning in a million anxieties, the sea is not anxious.


 

 

building a prayer

It has been a rough couple of months in the Davenport household. In January, news from Dave’s work of impending “changes” resulted in insecurity. In February, I made the heartbreaking decision to resign from the school that has formed me for the last five years. So many questions plagued us: will we have jobs? will we take pay cuts? will we have to sell a car? will we have to move? will our lifestyle have to change? These weights, compiled with other disappointments, had me in daily meltdowns for nearly a month.

But, alas, things have worked out for us. As they always do.

As they always do.

And I find myself now overwhelmed–not by stress–but by gratitude. At another time, I will share the decision I made to change my perspective…and how that created light where there was none. But for now, I want to share how we honored the many blessings in our lives as of late.

In the shadow of an ancient volcano eruption–looming walls bloodied by fire–we constructed a cairn. In the cool shade of a giant ponderous–branches tangled and blossoming–we partook in a sacred ceremony of craft. Stone by stone, we declared our blessings. We built a prayer.

 

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eroding into beauty

With the death of my Mom, my anxiety found new life. Like any parasite from a host, it crept into my veins and fed off my sanity, growing in strength while I grew in weakness.

Memories from this time flash all too slowly, too stubbornly, before my eyes. I remember the endless car ride back to her hospital in Chicago, racing against the clock of her pulse. Trapped in the suffocating space of my own mobile powerlessness, I physically felt death in my own body: heart racing, shortness of breath, uncontrollable fits of weeping, tremors that rocked my very foundation. I remember my terrorized eyes, next to my Mom’s closed eyes, near my sister’s side, looking up at my Mom’s kind doctor, asking for drugs to calm me down; anxiety now made me her only living patient in that room. I remember the feel of the bed that night, of the fuzzy blankets that to this day envelope me in the presence of my Mom, and the numb release those drugs brought me for a few hours of sleep…of denial. I remember months later, talking about these moments of anxiety along with the endless trail of ugly ducklings that ensue, my therapist’s words:

What if you imagined your body, your life, as an object, which like any other object, will inherently decay with time?

His question was designed to assuage the irrational fears that ate away at my sanity: I have cancer. I am riddled with tumors. I’m having a stroke. I have an aneurysm. I am dying.

I thought about the power of erosion as I lingered on the edge of the vast and majestic and overwhelming and wondrous and complex and gorgeous Grand Canyon. Layers of ocher shade into ebonies blur into grays cut against the hazy blue dome above. Horizontal lines on some ridges play tic tac toe with vertical striations on other towers. Ivory artery paths cut across plateaus and dip diagonally down canyon sides. And then the origin of this glory, the Colorado River: a mud-green snake, wide as a football field and a mile beneath, slithered in and out of sight, arching its back in white caps and bending around all red-rock obstacles.

Here is beauty. Here is destruction. There cannot be one without the other.

I cannot see this glory were there not the horror. I cannot be this wonder were there not the eroding.

Millions of years, billions of raindrop-tears rolling down the sides of the River’s face. Tons of rocks, sons and daughters of crumbling grief racing into the Abyss. Echoes of raging winds, let-gos and let-downs dancing into Destruction. Gravity carving without levity, cravings eroding into the Center.

Here is beauty. Here is destruction. There cannot be one without the other.

What if you imagined your body, your life, as an object, which like any other object, will inherently decay with time?

My Mom’s hands were like the Grand Canyon. Speckled russet from the sun. Gorged from the work ethic of West Virginia hills. Gnarled from the pain of so many Midwestern storms. Weathered from the weight of so many unmet norms. Twisted on themselves from the giver’s turning. Rooted in so many defeats and repeats and remembers and benders and whatevers and winners. One gold band, a circled audience, standing witness.

I miss those hands.

What if you imagined your body, your life, as an object, which like any other object, will inherently decay with time?

Here is beauty. Here is destruction. There cannot be one without the other.

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photo essay: joy from this weekend

When you look for joy, you will find joy. When you find joy, you will look for joy.

This morning I practiced yoga with over 3000 other yogis in the beautiful Denver Sunken Garden Park at Yoga Rocks the Park. And under the warm embrace of the sun, atop the prickly green of the earth, I could not help but thinking:

I am blessed.

Here are some pictures of today’s joys…

A glorious day for outdoor yoga!

A glorious day for outdoor yoga!

Colleagues and friends.

Colleagues and friends.

We love Fabletics!

We love Fabletics!

Rooted in friendship.

Rooted in friendship.

Rooted in friendship.

Rooted in friendship.

The collective breaths of over 3000.

The collective breaths of over 3000.

Upside down.

Upside down.

Upside down.

Upside down.

Sunshine selfie.

Sunshine selfie.

Twist.

Twist.

The joy continues at home. As I sit on my beautiful back porch, looking at the lush green woods, I see my husband and my best friend napping…

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The epitome of peace.

Though I was inside yesterday, I also experienced joy. My bestest friend in the whole wide world is moving here, into our place, in less than one week. The lives that we have lived from a distance will now be woven together in the most common of daily activities. It was joy to prepare a space for her…

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Welcome.

My weekend joy began with horse therapy as I spent some time riding Bruno. Just he and I, alone, working and breathing and sweating in the quiet of an indoor arena, while rain anointed the barn roof. Heavenly joy…

An earlier picture of Bruno and I.

An earlier picture of Bruno and I.

And all these are what occurred within the last 72 hours. It’s not even counting the joy of Thursday night happy hour with my husband, good-bye hugs for seniors at our luncheon, and our amazing trip to Portland.

I am blessed.

When you look for joy, you will find joy. When you find joy, you will look for joy.

Campsite: A Morning Benediction

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Rise, you steam from pottery-mug of dark roast,

curl your other-world whispers up and away.

 

Shine, you golden-fingers of sunlight,

forge your fractured path through the labyrinth-forest

and dew-drop-mirrors.

 

Dance, you moths or flies or nymphs,

whatever your magic is,

sprinkle joy in in the morning-air like cloud-confetti.

 

Play on, you liquid-symphony-stream,

raise your rushing flurry of applause, confident and

ceaseless.

 

Tease on, you fuzzy acrobat-squirrels,

cluck and chirp and rattle us in your mockery of ducks and birds and snakes,

safe in the playground of secret-branches.

 

Testify, you living-mosaic of God,

blanketing me under a glory-quilt,

breathing into all my senses,

reminding me of your indisputable Presence.

 

 

a guided sanctuary tour: collapsing the boundaries between the sacred and the secular

And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst. –Exodus 25

This Scripture has crawled into my heart and taken a seat for the last week. For much of my life, I have made clear distinctions between the sacred and secular. When I wanted to meet with the Divine, it most likely entailed quiet times and church meetings. But the more I’ve lived life, the deeper my conviction has become to collapse the boundary between the sacred and secular. If God is ALL, then He, by nature, is encompassed in both those extremes…as well as in all the subtle shades sandwiched between.

These leads me to ponder what sanctuaries I build, seek out, and/or honor… in other words, where do I meet with God? Where does my heart encounter the Divine?

  • The Outdoors. This has always been true in my life, and it is what has led Dave and I to Colorado. I know the immense of amount of suffering and injustice in the world is enough at times to make me question the existence of God, but often, all it takes for me to surrender in worship is: sitting on the swing in my backyard, listening to the wind’s conversation with the earth as interpreted through wind chimes; or hiking a local trail with Spooner frolicking off leash; or taking a moment to look up at the multitude of stars over my head like a glittering roof; or the moment I crest Genessee on I70 and see the Divide; or the sunrise creeping over the ridge across the street; or the angelic songs of birds; or the sacred bow of a horse to someone he loves; or the way the light filters through a canopy of trees overhead; or the golden ribbon of autumn’s aspens on a mountainside; or…
  • My Mat. Yoga literally translates to union. And long before it was the popular workout to get dressed up for, it was an attempt to unite with the Divine–unnameable and unspeakable, yet undeniably bigger than the self. On my mat, I send my energy to others; I intercede. On my mat, I thank God for all my body is capable of; I praise. On my mat, I pause and remember my strengths and weaknesses; I reflect. On my mat, I give up what I cannot control… and perhaps what I can; I surrender. On my mat, I feel victory and joy; I worship. On my mat, I breath with others; I connect. On my mat, I am kind; I extend and accept grace.
  • My Classroom. I am one of those blessed people who feels my calling and my career line up. God made me to be a teacher, and when I teach–with heart, with skill, with passion, with gratitude, with social justice, with humility, with joy, with rigor, with conviction–I am 100% aligned with God’s heart for me. That is a moment of worship like none other… and I can do it daily!

These are a few of my sanctuaries…I’d love to know some of yours!

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an ocean poem

“beach glass: or what I found on the beach”

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the sea is a turquoise heart

pulsating with life

ever filtering, ever glittering

with each wave, pumping lifeblood

into a million liquid heartbeat

stories of salt.

I, too, am heart.

 

the sea is a pillowey breath

inhaling and exhaling

from our collective lungs

sometimes deep crashing

sometimes tranquil bobbing

a rhythmic circle of

give & take, claim & release

liquid surrender

to the storied sands of time.

I, too, am breath.

 

God, The Anchor

My dear friend Pam, who is inspiring me with her courageous adventure of sailing the seas with her family, was kind enough to guest blog with me, a landlocked friend with no sea legs or sense, about anchors. (The bold font is my own emphasis.)

What is the purpose of an anchor?

The purpose of an anchor is to hold a boat/floating vehicle in a general area. It is used so that the boat does not float with the tidal or current motion of the water it is in.

How does an anchor work?

An anchor works by digging the pointy ends (flukes) into the sea floor. The flukes of a well set anchor should be barely visible- mostly buried in the sand. To achieve this, most small boats (I have no idea how commercial boats do this) drop an anchor off the bow (front) of the boat and let out enough anchor chain or rope (rode) so that the anchor flips slightly on the sea floor and catches. As the flukes catch and dig into the sea floor, more chain or rope is let out. Generally, a last pull on the anchor by putting the boat in full reverse is usually necessary- which digs the flukes deeply into the sand. In the Bahamas, yachtsman can “dive” their anchor after it has been set- meaning- they get in the water, dive down and have a chat with the anchor to make sure it is set correctly.

How does knowing you have an anchor aboard change your state of mind when sailing?

Having an anchor is a given when you are sailing. Without one, you have to tie up to a dock- which means you always have to get to a dock (and pay to dock). At first, we were very nervous about having an anchor. We stayed up all night wondering if the anchor would come out of the sea floor and we would float away (this only happened once- and not at night.). We had a special alarm that we set at night that would tell us if the boat was drifting. Eventually, however, we stopped using the alarm- and slept well at anchor. I would say that the anchor really means that you can go almost anywhere. You don’t need civilization with an anchor- just the right depth and protection from the wind.

How does using the anchor change your mind when you are… anchored?

“Anchoring” is an art in itself. It is the source of tension for many boating couples…Generally, one person is on the bow of the boat controlling the anchor and one person is at the helm (steering wheel), controlling the boat. Arguments arise about where to anchor, which direction to anchor, whether you are anchored too close to another boat, what signals the person on the bow is giving to the person at the helm and vice versa.

Anything else about an anchor a land-woman should know?

I remember not being able to sleep one night, thinking about anchoring. I thought- we are just floating here on this relatively small piece of metal (our 10,000 lb boat required a 35 lb anchor) and it’s all just a game we’re playing with nature. I felt better about anchoring, the more we sailed, however. In fact, being tied to a dock in a marina became strange vs. anchoring in a bay.

All this anchor contemplation came up last weekend, while swinging on my chipping-green-painted swing in the backyard, warmed by the setting sun streaming through the forest canopy. Then and there, I read “Santa Teresa’s Book-Mark.” 10261981_10152442385612813_4765116571285244382_n

I am grateful that many pieces of my life are falling into place right now. I am healthy, we are happy, my job both brings me fulfillment and results in success, and financially, thanks to my Mom, we are more than secure. But of course, the insidious toxicity in my mind does not allow me to be content here; rather, I am perpetually, fearfully, waiting for the shoe to drop, for crisis to hit, for cancer’s diagnosis, for epic failure to humble me, for change, etc…

But I realized, after reading this poem, I am dropping the wrong “anchor.” If my anchor is my situations and context and blessings, then of course I am going to be insecure–they do not last. “All things are passing.”

So this blog post is my way of “diving my anchor”–heading down to the depths and having a chat with my Anchor.

Such a chat reminds me:

  • Life is traveling at sea. The wind is always moving, even when still. The water beneath is full of life and death and change. The journey is just as important…if not more important…than the destination. As my yoga instructors say: “The transitions themselves are as important as the postures” and “It’s all about the moving in, and the moving out.” Knowing I have The Anchor aboard my vessel allows me to tip my neck towards the sun’s watchful eye and lose myself in the magical silver reflections on the water’s surface…and just be there, then.
  • With The Anchor aboard my vessel, I don’t need the structure of civilization or the permanence of a dock. In other words, I don’t need security. Rather, Security is a constant companion aboard, in the midst of the insecurity. I–we–can go anywhere.
  • Anchoring is an art. This means attention, practice, conversation, reflection. I would imaging were Pam and Ty to ignore the anchor, their would be detrimental effects (Pam, correct me if I’m wrong). My soul Anchor needs attention, practice, conversation, reflection. And not legalistic “quiet times,” but authentic moments of connection that fosters trust, so that the more I dive my anchor, the more I can sleep soundly. No matter how busy I am sailing, I cannot neglect the anchor. No matter how busy I am living, I cannot neglect The Anchor.

I am grateful that in good times, in bad times; in health and in sickness; in constancy and in change; in the posture and in the transition; in stormy waters or on still liquid glass; in wealthy and in poverty; and in all the subtle moments in between these extremes, He is there–The Anchor.

Picture Props to Virden Fam

Picture Props to the Virden Family

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