Refine My Heart: (Sunflowers & Trust) Part 2
When we showed up in Piobbico, I was overwhelmed by how different things were. The slowed down pace, the small town vibe. Honestly, I was wondering how I was going to lead this two week retreat without boredom and monotony settling in for both me and the students. What I didn't anticipate was that I would meet a family, some yogis and life long friends who would be the agents of transformation for my heart. I would fully see them and them me. I would learn the art of how to love.
" To be truly seen, in all of our innocence and glory is to be truly healed. What we salute in one another, we call forth in one another." - Marianne Williamson
Me and my friend Jess rolled up in Piobbico after a 4 hour drive from Napoli. We got off the plane, downed some pizza (as you must in the city that invented it) and made our way jet lagged and slightly delirious across the highways of Italy. I agreed to this trip under one condition, that I would not come home at a deficite. Money had been tight since deciding to take this new path in my life and as supportive as my husband was, there was no room for me galavanting through Europe spending our hard earned money on pasta and cute Italian leather shoes. Since I only had one full time registrant for the yoga program, my trip was covered but just that! There was not much wiggle room to play with. What we quickly discovered was that food is cheap in Italy and gas is NOT! Trying to cut costs on flights and do more driving was a novel idea in thought but was proving to rack up in euro. I was starting this adventure with a fear that I had made the wrong decision. That I was being too carefree and not "responsible" at all. I continued to breath as we embarked on the journey, trying to keep my anxieties at bay. I could feel myself losing trust in the greater plan at work here. How was this going to pull through? Why was I even here? Why did I say yes in the first place knowing I couldn't afford the time or money? The doubt was pouring in.
I had one expectation of Italy. To see lots and lots of sundlowers. They are my favorite flower and I didn't think it was too much to ask. As we drove I saw fields upon fields of sunflowers. Dead and withered sunflowers taunting me along the way. How do you go to the countryside of Italy and not see sunflowers? Doubt began to settle in again. I was in desperate need of some sort of a sign. We continued to wind up the mountain side until we reached the “city center” of Piobbico (which basically consisted of a pharmacy, post office, gas station and wifi bar). Upon arrival I noticed a tiny sunflower bush growing out of some rocks by a stream in town. I began to think that maybe there was a glimmer of hope. We were greeted by a sweet family who would host us in the apartment above their mother’s home (that's how they roll in Italy). “Nice to meet you” we said. They smiled back with no understanding of what we just said. Jess and I looked at each other and both gave an audible exhale. This was going to be an adjustment to say the least. They lead us up a winding road, past a family of stray cats and there we were in our home for the next two weeks. Modest to say the least. As we got situated I could smell something glorious making its way into our apartment. Graziella (the Nona downstairs) was preparing Sunday dinner for the family. “I'm going to invite us to dinner” I said surprising even myself by my forwardness. Within minutes Graziella was at our door to help turn on our stove. With a lot of hand gestures and the help from google translate, we had a dinner date for the next night at our soon to be Italian family's home.
The next morning we met the rest of the dancers and received a tour of the town from our lovely Italian coordinators. We checked out the winding cobblestone streets leading to the castle of Brancaleoni. We walked past my little sunflower bush which I would greet every morning on my way to get my cappuccino and cornetto at the neighborhood bar. Lastly, we went to see where we would be practicing yoga for our time there. We were ushered into a dimly lit gymnasium attached to the elementary school in town. “Here you are” our guide announced proudly. I was doing my best not to panic on the spot. I wanted to yell “are you serious!? We didn't fly all the way to Italy to do yoga in a gym!!!” But instead I took a deep breath and decided to make the best of it and stay open to the adventure. Much like parenting, its amazing how you have to stay calm on the outside as not to worry those you are leading. I brought my sage, candles, music, twinkle lights and ushered in the energy to create a sacred space. It would be two of us practicing that first day in the enormous gym, but I quickly remembered the scripture “where two or more are gathered, there I am in your midst” and kept it moving. "I was brough here for a reason, I was brought here for a reason" I kept chanting inwardly. I even sent out a panicked prayer request to a few friends and family to pray for - I don't even know what! Jess had trusted me on this crazy adventure. I was fearful to let her down. Class was about to begin and all of a sudden I see our landlord and his family pull up in their car to take class. Then another car rolls up and two more people walk in. I had forgotten that I mentioned the night before to my landlord that I was teaching yoga here in town and they were welcome to join (not thinking that they understood me let along would come). Within minutes we had a class of 7 people, 6 of them being Italilans who had no idea the day before that I was coming to teach yoga at all.
There were no previous advertisement in the town stating that I was coming. The yoga portion of the program was such a last minute add on. The Italians showed up through word of mouth (remember this is a tiny town). Many of the locals would ask me after class “why are you here?” My response often being “it's bigger than me. I guess I was brought here for a reason!” The people in this town were trusting me to take them on a journey. One of the women told me after class (via interpreter) that she felt as if she hadn’t taken a breath in years! She said that she can now breath again. Two very important words became the throughline of this experience: inalare (inhale)/ esalare (exhale). From day one the classes were multiplying. The family told a friend, who told her mother, who brought her cousin... By the end of the two weeks we ran out of yoga mats because there were so many people taking part! Many of them never had taken yoga before but they were all yogis at heart. Deeply connected to nature and an openness to receive and be vulnerable. Each class we would journey around the U. Suspending judgement, seeging with fresh eyes, letting go and recieving what's new and having the courage to live from that place of openness. On top of all of this, the Italians would pay me in cash (euros!) for class. I went from fear of breaking even to coming home with a surplus. Why couldn't I trust the process from the beginning? The whole thing was one big exercise in trust. Trusting that God had my back. Trusting that when I released expectations, anything could happen. Trusting that I would be lead down the right path if I continued to trust and have faith. Embodying the U.
" Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don't try to figure out everything on your own. Listen to God's voice in everything that you do, everywhere you go; he's the one who will keep you on track. Don't assume that you know it all." - Proverbs 3:5
After that first night we had dinner with the landlord and his family downstairs. It was everything that you could imagine. Homemade pasta and wine. Stuffed tomatos from the garden and meat from the local butcher. Melon and cheese and more wine. Limoncello and prosecco, and the list goes on and on. Their cousin and his girlfriend came to help translate for the family and we ended the night at the local bar laughing and translating my writings from class. What I didnt know was that the landlord's wife had been praying for a miracle in her life for a while. She felt deeply the exact same thing that I had written in our first class. (" What is life, but a journey through change. A joining of the past, the present and the future...") Without understanding the words I was saying, she felt a shift. A deep transformation take place. A miracle. I came to Italy to heal my heart, but maybe the key to unlocking it was realizing that I had to give the love that I was so desperately in search of? The fact that God could use someone broken like me to heal the hurt in someone else is beyond me and also what I'm coming to find is the whole reason for us being here. As Bob Marley so perfectly put it, "could you BE love, and beloved."
Throughout the next two weeks we would practice yoga in the mountains, on hikes, by streams, in conversations, through tears, over food laughing and drinking. Yoga is a life open and available to be used by something greater. Its showing up and then being still enough and quiet enough to know when to make the next move. A devine re-alignment. Sukah and stirah. The balance of effort and ease. The union of our will with the will of God. After a few classes in the gym, I spotted a gorgeous rooftop terrace outside of my bedroom window. I vowed that we would find out who lived there. I would wake up in the morning and open my large shutters and invision us practicing yoga at sunset overlooking the gorgeous landscape. I would meditate on it and believe that it was already done. Over dinner one night with our new found Italian friends, we asked “who lives in that beautiful house next door?” “its our cousin Nando’s!” They replied. Well lets just say that we never did return to the gymnasium.
Teaching on Nando's terrace at sunset