Do you remember when you first took the step into the great unknown of the Expat Life? When everything was new, shiny and weird (and a tad frustrating – I have to do what with the bin bags? What colour? Who sells them? Really? Under the counter like a strange drug exchange?). After a number of years in the same location, life slides from exciting experiences to a comfortable life, then into boring stagnation. Then we wonder why we feel so sad, down, anxious and lethargic. My invitation to you, at this point in the turning of the wheel of the year, is to Begin Again.
In most Tarot Card decks, the Fool is the first card of the pack, the absolute Zero of everything. The card usually depicts a young man, who is totally distracted and dreaming. In his distraction he is cheerfully about to walk off a cliff! The cliff, of course, is not literal. It symbolises the journey that we undertake in life, bravely (and naively) stepping out into the unknown. We did this same thing when we moved here: we walked up to the edge of the cliff and, as a result, our lives completely changed. Many within the expat community keep this crazy cliff walk going, as they begin again, in country after country, school after school.
But what of those of us who are left behind? We became used to the challenges of our new homes. We became experts in the demands of negotiating the strange rituals of recycling collection, weighing our fruit, vegetables and even buffet lunches as well as looking everyone in the eye whilst toasting (and not spilling our drinks in the process!). We developed our daily routines, moulded our habits and established regular places that we visit and activities we do. This may seem like success! Yet it can also turn into a form of calcification. We are in danger of drifting through the years on autopilot: numb and unsatisfied with life, asking silently: now what? Stop. Begin again.
Let us start with the small things in our lives, those automatic actions and habits. Do you always walk/drive to the shops following a certain route? Experiment with walking on the opposite side of the street or taking an entirely different street or neighbourhood. Do you always shop in a certain supermarket? Try shopping in a different location, and buy strange new things (then go on to the expat Facebook groups and ask how on earth to cook it!). Be open to new experiences as much as you are comfortable with, and beyond if possible. Keep nudging yourself out of your comfort zone.
Take a different route to the coffee shop to see what you can see and hear. When we get in a routine, we can become zombie-like and shut down. It’s about discipline. You have to push yourself. – Tori Amos (songwriter, singer)
What about your personal routine? For example, look at how you brush your teeth! If you are right handed, I guess that you hold your toothbrush in your right hand to brush your teeth. What would happen if you used your left hand? This may sound utterly ridiculous, but it has been proven that such small changes will actually help grow and expand your brain, as it handles new events. And yes, even something as simple as switching which hand you use to brush your teeth will have an effect.
Life begins at the end of your comfort zone – Neale Donald Walsch
Begin Again is also a mindset change. We think we know the world and how it works. Yet when we hold on to such mental positions we fail to see the world as it truly is, and instead, we see the world as we believe it to be. This creates mental stagnation. What if, just for a few moments a day, we tried to live without all the beliefs that reinforce our feeling that “we know how this goes.” Can we go back to the mindset of discovery, the nativity of the Fool, when everything is new and unknown? What would we see with our fresh new eyes? We would be forcing our beautiful brains out of the shortcuts they have created to navigate daily life, and would wake ourselves out of automation.
Play with life, be adventurous in the daily, experiment, mix it up, and experience life with open eyes and an open mind.
When you walk to the edge of all the light you have and take that first step into the darkness of the unknown, you must believe that one of two things will happen. There will be something solid for you to stand upon or you will be taught to fly. – Patrick Overton, in The leaning tree: [poems]
By Tammy Furey
Tammy eases the expat parenting experience through coaching and teaching throughout Switzerland. She also writes, blogs, runs workshops, gives talks, and, of course, parents (her daughter)!
Find out more at www.fureycoaching.com.
Illustration by Albina Nogueira
Albina Nogueira has been a primary school teacher since 1992, and a writer and illustrator since 2006. She currently lives in Switzerland, but her homeland is Portugal. She is also the author of Letters to Grandparents and Hairdresser. To find out more, like her on Facebook or find her books in Amazon.