Five years ago this week, as I followed the chapters of my novel — and the trail of Eva Braun’s life — to their conclusion, I faced a long day of train travel. It would take me from the southern edge of Germany’s border with Austria nearly to the top of Germany.
The night before – the entire day before – I’d been riddled with anxiety. I had four train connections to make, and my mind was unhelpfully cataloging every single thing that could possibly go wrong.
This kind of turmoil eventually arises every time I travel alone for extended periods of time, and always for the same reason. After the dreamy honeymoon of my first few days, just the fact that I’m on my own in a place that’s out of my element triggers an inner myth that’s as unkind as it is false: I need to find some way to be in control, in order to be safe.
Since, deep down at the heart of truth, I recognize that I’m never going to be able to do that, this leads inevitably to a separated sense of aloneness that feels eternity-sized. I also know it’s an experience that’s universal, not one of us escapes it. Surely, this is what any addictive tendency seeks to squelch and suppress – anything but have to face it.
Reading a wonderful manuscript from a writer friend reminded me of the power question I’ll have ready next time this happens: “Is control something I ultimately even WANT?”
The night before that trip, I finally stumbled on some steadying words from Eckhart Tolle:
“Your life situation may be full of problems — most life situations are — but find out if you have any problem at this moment. Not tomorrow or in ten minutes, but now. Do you have a problem now?
“When you are full of problems, there is no room for anything new to enter, no room for a solution. So whenever you can, make some room, create some space, so that you find the life underneath your life situation.”
In that cozy Bavarian hotel room, I hadn’t a problem worth noting, other than my monkey mind. It was the eve of a holiday in Germany called St. Niklaus Tag, Dec. 6, and every aspect of the setting in which I found myself was idyllic, supportive, friendly and inviting. Yet I was depriving myself of the experience with every anxious moment.
So, relaxing into Tolle’s invitation, I remembered the spirit of this holiday, one of the first I experienced in my childhood, filled with warm, lovely memories.
Suddenly the thought popped up, as brightly and boldly as a child’s would: “I wonder whether, if I put my boots outside the door, they’ll be filled for St. Niklaus Tag?” It seemed silly, and it made me happy, and for the rest of the night, I enjoyed my hours and had a restful sleep.
The next morning, when I opened the door of my hotel room to wheel my luggage out and head for that first train, there in the middle of the floor outside was a red gift bag festooned with stars. Inside were a variety of seasonal treats, including a tall chocolate “Christmas Man”, an orange, apple, tiny ginger star cookies with icing, and 2 each in the shell of walnuts, almonds, and hazelnuts.
Exactly the contents that might fill a child’s shoes on St. Niklaus Tag.
I was so stunned, I wondered whether I’d only dreamed waking up and bundling myself out that door.
Surely they did this for all the guests? (There was a conference-worth of them staying.) But the bag outside my door was the only one I saw waiting in that hallway.
When I asked the woman at the desk about it as she checked me out, Bavarian-friendly but completely non-committal, she told me, “Oh, aren’t there always all kinds of nice surprises that can happen in a day? Have a good trip.”
As I munched my treats from south-to-north, I had so much fun watching the scenery, visiting with fellow travelers, and enjoying the journey, I forgot to worry about anything at all.
“ …make some room, create some space, so that you find the life underneath your life situation.” So that you can LIVE it.
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