More Than Enough

I wrote two weeks ago about sea changes, and I suspect now that the deeper, more essential Laurel had already begun to reconfigure my thinking in ways it would take a while for my conscious self to catch up with. ”There’s something going on here,” I have been telling myself, noticing this and that post over the last months that reflect glimmerings of the direction my guiding self is pointing.

Sleepless one night a few days ago, that pleasant semi-wakefulness where it is okay not to be asleep because one is so relaxed that powerful thoughts have a chance to surface, I had a rush of clarity about what I want to do with the rest of 2022.  I saw that the person who committed to another full year of cruising is not the person who is now in January of that year. 

The forced grounding of Covid had two stages for me, the first being in San Diego without opportunities to travel, and the second in Victoria, where Covid restrictions forced me to stay put for a year. Both were valuable experiences, because the first stretch caused me to understand that I could not see my way forward in San Diego.  I had been gone so much not just because I love to travel but because, despite having deep personal ties there,  I was restless and unsatisfied with my life. 

The second stretch, when I moved to Victoria, unlocked thrilling opportunities for growth.  Yes, I was excited when the opportunity arose to travel on my own in the Adriatic and then to resume cruising last fall, but I noted a wistfulness about leaving Victoria that surprised me. I wasn’t ready yet to stop having the experiences I was reveling in there. 

Theologian Huston Smith summarized the Hindu concept of Samsara (often translated as Illusion) as a process of discovering that “we can never get enough of what we don’t really want.” Through countless forms and lifetimes, the soul comes to realize that each of the desires it has pursued has not actually led to more than fleeting happiness. The brilliance in Smith’s remark is that the only way to move beyond what we desire is to get it. Only then can we recognize it as just another illusion, another thing we thought could satisfy us, but in the end doesn’t. 

I wrote previously here about how the pile-on of solo travel last fall was a bit too much, too long, too hectic, but it had to be more than I wanted in order to learn the lesson in it. Likewise cruising. I was excited about resuming it, but not giddily so, as I might have been if I hadn’t done so much of it already, but I was ready to go, and very excited about living on ships for several months.  I was excited about an extended stay in the Caribbean, relaxing into a lifestyle of swimming, boating, snorkeling and perfect, beautiful sunny warmth. 

Well, I got it. More than enough, as it turns out. I am so ready to be done, although I am looking forward to the last two weeks, on another ship with a different itinerary in a part of the Caribbean I have never visited. Then, home to Victoria. 

Home. That is quite a statement coming from me. And here’s where the sea change is apparent.  Lying awake the other night, it came to me in a flood of thought. I don’t really want what I had planned. I have had enough. The next morning I canceled my summer cruise assignment in the Mediterranean. I wrote to the lovely people who own the place I was renting in Victoria and committed to stay through the end of 2022. Stay put for a while, I told myself. Less is more. See what will emerge from this greater stillness. See what you have been missing.  Release the Laurel who is struggling inside you to become who she needs to be right now. I can’t wait to go back to Victoria to meet myself. 


Can I?

I have a lot of questions right now. They aren’t my usual questions, like “is it lunchtime yet,” or “did I put on sunscreen?’ or “where did I put my room key?”  These are weightier ones, prompted by the passing yesterday of Zen Master Thích Nhất Hạnh.

Can I spend less time dwelling on petty thoughts? Can I notice them, and move on? Better yet, can I figure out what they are really about and think productively about that? Am I mad at someone because of how they behave, or because something they did made me feel slighted, foolish, duped, or taken advantage of?  Can I offload that pettiness into a serious discussion with myself about why I feel that way? Can I not leap so quickly to confirmation bias, seeing everything through the lens of what I have already decided about a person? Can I see my petty thoughts as a form of cheap entertainment?  Can I see them as burdens dragging down my spirit?

Can I look at an individual and ask “what do the people who love this person hope will happen in this moment?”  Can I ask, “What would I do if I loved this person?” Really it is the same question. Can I smile at her on behalf of her mother, or say hello to him for his sister, or stop for a moment to acknowledge her presence for her grandmother because right now all these people worry that that person in front of me, that person they love, is all alone, far away. They don’t know what is happening. They worry. Perhaps they know that times are hard for those they love. Perhaps they are harder than they know. Can I be an emissary for them? Will someone today be an emissary for me to those I love?

Can I ask, “How do I fit in here?” a little more often? Can I work a little harder to remember that each individual is the star of his or her autobiography?  How can I be part of the good in their story?  How can I help? Can I grow into the compassion that asks, “How can I love you better?”

I can feel it when I become burdened by the negative. I don’t feel it quite as easily when I am weighed down  by indifference. Can I get better at recognizing both more quickly?

Thích Nhất Hạnh told his followers that he, like everything else, can never be gone, but is always present in the cycling of everything.  Look for him in a flower, or a butterfly drying its wings, or in a crocodile zeroing in on its prey, or in the ugly actions of those who cannot yet be compassionate. Look for him also, I think, in the sudden urge I now have to think about things I have long neglected. Yes, I do think he is still here. 

So smile to me and take my hand and wave good-bye. Tomorrow we shall meet again or even before. We shall always be meeting again at the true source. Always meeting again on the myriad paths of life.”


Sea Changes

Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange. 

These words, spoken by Ariel in Shakespeare’s  The Tempest are a beautiful way of describing the profound opportunities for transformation that time offers. A broken bottle to sea glass, a tiny polyp to a forest of coral, a cave carved by the force of the waves, a human changed by new insight and experiences. 

It seems particularly apt for me that Ariel describes change this way, because much of what has changed me in the last decade has come from having spent so much time traveling by sea. Not everything—throwing my life to the winds and moving sight unseen to Canada was perhaps the most transformative thing I have done in recent memory—but much of who I am now compared to ten years ago is tied to what cruising has offered me.

 I wrote the other day about Geoff DiVito,  my fellow speaker onboard, and the question he asked us in his latest talk: Why do we travel?  He said the most common answer is to experience other cultures. I have been thinking about that, and I find my conclusions rather dismaying. Yes, I have been a lot of places, but truly I haven’t experienced very much of other cultures except carefully orchestrated visits to semblances of the real deal. What else can one expect when one goes ashore after breakfast and is back at sea by dinnertime? 

I have chosen recently to say I have “set foot in” rather than truly visited many places I have been.  Don’t get me wrong—it’s been fantastic, but authentic?  Not that often.  I feel a special affinity for the ports without much tourist infrastructure, the ones where the shops are for the people who live there, not for people just stopping in for the day. Towns where you could buy new underwear or socks but forget finding a souvenir t-shirt or fridge magnet. Towns where the traffic jam is caused by people picking up their children from school rather than a clog of taxis and tour buses.  Places that won’t take my dollars or Euros. I love being ignored by shop keepers who converse with each outside their stores, to whom I am all but invisible because they aren’t selling anything I am likely to want. The kind of town so many people seem to think is  a waste of a day in port. Nothing much here, they say.  Nothing to hold one’s interest. You mean like Diamonds International, or duty free this or that?  I’ll pass, thanks.

 I was a little surprised that experiencing other cultures was the most common answer people gave to why they travel. As James Michener once wrote, “If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay home.“  I’ve been in ports where people on the shuttle going into the town just stayed on the bus and went straight back to the ship. I must confess, I have done that once or twice too, but not for the reasons Michener identifies. Once I recall, it was blistering hot somewhere in Southeast Asia, and where we were dropped off was a honky tonk beach with no shade. Back I went. Nothing to gain from staying. 

I’ve been on tours where the judgmental attitudes I overheard were heartbreaking. Too dirty, too poor, too ramshackle, too—different.  But some of my most profound insights about people have come from making my way through admittedly hygiene-challenged food markets, or along the streets even a little removed from the tourist zone, where people are more their authentic selves and what you see is a better reflection of their lives. 

Authenticity is hard to come by on cruise stops, but it can be done, and I am trying harder to seek it out. It’s these experiences that have the potential to make travel add up to more than a list of places I’ve been. It’s seeing an old man with burn scars in Vietnam and thinking I can guess how he got them, or seeing piles of plastic trash in a country where food was brought home in banana leaves that were thrown behind the house to decompose, and now the habit is hard to break. It’s realizing that people were wanting a photo with me because blonde hair was still a rarity in some places and I was the exotic one. It’s seeing little offerings to the gods outside houses every morning because that’s just how to start the day. it’s seeing signs that say “our children are not your photo op.”  It’s seeing an entire family on a motor scooter with children wedged around the parents because they are doing their best with the resources they have, however unsafe it may seem to western eyes. 

Even a quick travel stop can give one glimpses of all these things. And then, building on what is authentic, we find over time that we have changed.  A sea change, rich and strange. Through looking for authenticity outside ourselves, we begin to find our own. 


Why I Travel

I sometimes joke that the main reason I love having more than one speaker onboard is that I don’t learn a thing from my own talks.  I am fortunate that now I have a colleague and friend, Geoff DeVito, onboard Seabourn Odyssey, and even more fortunate that his talks are so thought provoking. 

Yesterday his subject was the future of travel. At one point he asked those of us in the audience to think about why we travel. My first thought was that I travel to experience for myself things that I had only seen or read about in books. Often setting foot in a place moves me to tears because I never thought I would find a way to get there.  Places I have cried include Red Square in Moscow, L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland, and in the presence of giant reclining Buddhas in Yangon and Bangkok. 

Anyone my age grew up with the threat of annihilation in a nuclear war.  Standing in Red Square, I was in the belly of the beast, the place where the military might of a sworn enemy was paraded. What I had seen in black and white—both literally and figuratively—was now before me in the dazzling full color of St. Basil’s cathedral.  I cried because the world had changed so much, and that it was better than I imagined on both a global and a personal scale.

L’Anse aux Meadows is the site where archeologists firmly established the Viking presence in North America centuries before Columbus. The history buff in me ached to see it, but when I looked on a map. I had little hope I would ever be able to travel to such a remote spot. I have now been there twice.  

Photographs of giant reclining Buddhas were part of textbooks I used in my World Religions classes, but realistically I was unlikely to have the resources to take a trip to that part of the world.  Speaking on cruise ships, the world opened before me, and I have seen and done so many things I never thought I would. I have set foot on every continent except Antarctica.  I have been at least briefly in well over a hundred countries. I have heard the call to prayer in numerous Muslim countries, smelled the incense in countless temples, dodged cars in dozens of cities, and worn the soles of many pairs of shoes on ancient stone roads and beautiful paths through breathtaking natural beauty. 

Geoff then went on to tie our reasons for traveling to what the future might hold for us in a changing world. As he spoke, I realized that a big reason I travel is to complete the past, to turn my dreams into reality. That’s been wonderful, and I hope to do more of it, but the big question for me now is how traveling can take me into a richer, more rewarding future. What do I do with what I have seen and learned?  I can continue to grow my collection of cities, historical sites and magnificent vistas, but the question now is how I will change, how I will move forward by doing so, and I don’t have an answer to that. 

I am in a very enjoyable holding pattern right now, but I know myself well enough to recognize when I am no longer on a growth trajectory, which is usually the precursor to a shakeup in my life. I can’t imagine stopping traveling.  It is one of my great joys. But maybe I will change how I travel.  Maybe I will start using the freedom I granted myself by uprooting my life to go live for longer periods in new places. Maybe I  need to make outward travel a source for deeper inward travel. Maybe that means staying put for a while once I return to Victoria. Maybe I am avoiding something by being always on the move. Maybe something else Is growing restless inside me and wants to be heard. 

My second immediate thought when Geoff asked why we travel was that I want to grow personally. I want to be the biggest person I can be, then I want to be bigger. Perhaps the next step in that path is to grow smaller, as oxymoronic as that may sound. But then again, I haven’t seen Istanbul yet, or Japan, or Easter Island, and so many other places that still call to me. For now, I will once again enjoy the experience of observing myself as I figure out where I am headed. 



Cruise Colleagues

I meet a lot of people on cruises. A subset of those are other speakers, but there are surprisingly few. There is a formula I don’t entirely understand by which the number of sea days or short stops in ports are calculated so that they have the right number of speakers to fill the time available. Because most itineraries are port-intensive, I am probably three quarters of the time the only speaker on board.

There are exceptions. I have sat in the audience to listen to retired astronauts, astronomers, FBI agents, movie executives, admirals, baseball players and even the florist to the Queen. I must say that, sadly, I have rarely met another woman in my role. Pretty inexcusable, and I don’t know what to attribute it to. 

I always go to the talks, even to the speakers who are less than compelling, unless they drive me away. There was one who managed to work into each of his talks that he “hadn’t had the time” to go to mine. When he got even basic facts wrong in his talks, and then, apparently was dismissive of my expertise privately to guests, I decided  I was too busy to attend his talks also.  There was one who was clearly loaded when he arrived and ended up giving what sounded like the same talk over and over again. Something about galaxies, and stars, and…I forget.  

And the florist to the Queen?   I just couldn’t manage to care over the course of four talks exactly what massive arrangements he had delivered to which royal, and where. The baseball guy—well, I went to every one of his talks because I love baseball, but apparently fewer than a dozen others  did. 

i have sat through a number of total snoozers and a few that had me riveted every minute. It’s  been a long time, though,  since a speaker made me feel as if I was in the presence of someone who had lived an utterly awesome life. Today I had one of those moments. The speaker, David Mackay, was a man who had a long career as a music producer and then as a television producer of the theme music for a number of British sit coms. 

I am not star struck by whomever he may have been on a first name basis with. I have never given a damn about celebrities because fame isn’t enough to make you interesting. Also his career was long enough ago and so rooted in England that I didn’t recognize many of the shows or stars he worked with, but that didn’t matter to what I took from having listened to him.

Here was someone who knew where the men’s rooms are in the studios at Abbey Road. Not that he told us that, but my point is that he was ensconced in a place where music history was being made. He interacted or directly worked with many artists that are iconic to me. He talked about the era when first stereo and then 8-track recording were the biggest thing in ages, and how the business has evolved since then. He was there at an amazing time and can tell the story. As I chatted today with him at lunch today, I was looking into the face of someone who has had a truly remarkable life. 

I can say the same for so many of the people I have shared a stage with. Maybe they feel the same about me, maybe not, but I don’t care. Hearing about other people’s lives is wonderful, but I come away affirming that my story is big enough for me. 


The Grouchies, Caribbean Style

I wake up almost every day ready to paint a happy face on it.  When I don’t feel that way, I keep it to myself. Today, I am going to do something different. I am going to admit that I feel grouchy. 

The Caribbean is fun for a while, but it is not different enough from place to place to hold my interest. The snorkeling, except for Bonaire, has been disappointing. The “sailing adventures,’” again except for Bonaire, have been motor cruises on a sailboat.  I don’t think putting up just the jib counts, especially when it’s not even trimmed. The rum punch and the sea air are pretty darn fun though. 

I haven’t done much of anything ashore for a week on this New Year’s cruise, my last on Odyssey. We missed one port because we weren’t allowed to dock, then today only those on excursions can go ashore (I don’t have one, so here I am in my room).  The onboard programming has been thinned out due to concerns about social distancing, and I am traveling alone, so I don’t have the impetus of another person to get me out and about. 

I am still having fun with some very amusing people. The ambiance of music on the pool deck and balmy evening meals al fresco are enough to rapidly adjust my attitude back to a measure of bliss. I am fine where I am. I always am, with a few exceptions I must have blocked from my memory at the moment. 

The reason I’m writing this is not to complain but to share something that occurred to me while I was ‘owning” my grouchiness.  I realized I also have to own the responsibility for not being grouchy. Yes, there is absolutely nothing on today’s schedule, which only means it’s up to me to fill the day. 

So I started casting through my mind for what might be good things to do. I could write a blog post (doing that!). I could do the laundry (on it!).  I can go out on my nearly private sun deck a few steps from my room and enjoy an unusually cool Caribbean morning while listening to my latest audiobook (going there now—see photo).

  I can do some prep for upcoming talks and have that off my mind. That should take me to lunch. Then, since I don’t have a talk today, I can have a little wine with lunch. In the afternoon, I could indulge myself with the one calorie-bomb drink I allow myself per cruise (one of the rules that keeps my pants buttoned). Pina colada? Mai Tai?  Hmm… I’m pretty certain that will lead to a nap, and then, voila! It’s late afternoon. I am getting over the grouchies just thinking about it. 

So the moral here is, it’s not the Caribbean’s fault I am bored. It’s not the ship’s fault I am restless. It’s not COVID’s fault that restrictions frustrate me. It’s all on me. I am lucky enough to be able to choose what kind of day I will have.  Funny, I feel like going out with my happy face again. It’s a good day after all!.  


Sea Day

Sometimes I sit down with a blank screen and no focus for my thoughts and just see what pops out. This is one of those times. It feels like I might have something to say but damned if I know what it is!

Day 2 of 2022.  I am at sea on a surprisingly  cool day just trying to pass some time until the pace picks up with lunch and a talk to give this afternoon. I’m at sea instead of poking around Gustavia, St. Bart’s because the authorities there denied us permission to land. We have had a smattering of cases over the last week, none serious that I know of, and these little islands with limited resources to handle outbreaks among their own people simply aren’t taking any chances. 

Every guest I have chatted with is okay with this change in itinerary, but I suspect we won’t be landing in Virgin Gorda tomorrow either, since the British Virgin Islands folks have been among the strictest about turning ships away. Really feeling for the crew, who have to keep happy faces painted on, when they may soon start disappearing from many guests’ public presentations of themselves if this starts turning into a cruise to nowhere. 

I just focus on doing my job to the exacting standards I self-impose. That’s what keeps me grounded ( odd expression when at sea). However,  I am increasingly glad to go no further than my balcony, or to a small, practically secret sun deck  a few steps from my door. 

Well, it turns out I really don’t have much to say.  No finding of great meaning in any of this. That’s okay too. The year is still young. 

Happy New Year from Somewhere in the Caribbean!