Author Archives: jocelyn

Finding “Enough” in Morocco

Tangier Turtle

Turtle on Tangier Rooftop (With Laundry & Abandoned Sandwich)

In my first post, I talked about how author Wayne Muller helped to inspire my concept of sabbatical, providing permission or even the requirement for me to “retreat” for a time. Six weeks later, I am re-reading his newest book, A Life of Being, Having and Doing Enough, where he guides us in reflecting on what it could look and feel like to find ongoing spaciousness, ease and sufficiency. This book has been an important companion for my (far from unique) struggle to make peace with what I can or can’t accomplish in a day or in my life, while trusting that I am loved and worthy regardless. I returned to it for a refresher on tools to help me listen for the “next right thing” when faced with the constant small decisions of what to do or not do, as I move closer to the end of my period of going more or less cold turkey from most of my prior commitments. What has spoken to me most so far though, on the second read, is the chapter that reminds us how there are “literally billions of children, families, and communities all over the world for whom the issue of enough is not a meditation but a daily challenge to their life and death.”

 

Here in Morocco, although the country is well-off compared to many in Africa, the gap between the resources and comfort of tourists like us and locals is still incredibly wide and frequently challenging. Our British host in Chefchaoen described it like this: when he meets and talks to a Moroccan, no matter how much both of them may want to fully see and connect to each other just as human beings, money creates an unavoidable barrier between them. This may become easier to cross after some days, weeks, years of knowing someone and living and working together, but it’s still there. I experienced this feeling to some extent when traveling in Mexico, Honduras and Haiti, but it was mitigated by being part of a group, having local hosts and translators, and participating in service learning. Here, I have less protection from the emotional exposure of having so much more than I need in so many ways while being confronted with others’ lack of enough.

 

I felt quite a bit different reading this sentence here than I did when I was in the comfort of my own home: “Twenty-five thousand children lose their lives every day for lack of clean drinking water, food or inexpensive medicines costing less than a dollar.” Similar was the description of what sufficiency means for those who are never sure when they wake each day whether they will find enough bread for themselves and their children, or “shade from the punishing midday sun…”As we moved farther into the desert, even into the actual dunes of the Sahara, I began to internalize the precious nature of shade as a resource. I’ve had the thought at times in my life that I am just not cut out for hot weather, but now I wonder whether that may be along the same lines as thinking that I am somehow different than “the poor.” Mr. Muller emphasizes that “no one is an especially blessed person for whom poverty isn’t as bone-weary, soul-crushingly hard for them as it would be for us.” When I see people here walking or riding a bike across what appears to be a vast distance in the middle of nowhere with hardly any shade in site, it has been instructive to consider that they might be just as overwhelmingly hot and tired as I would be.

 

This chapter presents us with two questions, hand in hand, of how to know when we personally have enough, and how to know what is enough for us “to do, to give, to contribute” in the face of injustice and suffering. Although some of what has driven my over-committed lifestyle has been an unfortunate tendency to attach my self-worth to my contributions, I know another component is regular wrestling with these twin dilemmas of having enough and doing enough. Finally, there is the truth that, “When people in debilitating, soul-crushing poverty do, at the end of the day, feel and know they have enough…[they] will, more than likely, become instantly generous with whatever small portion of anything they may have left over.” Although I am not here long enough and fully immersed enough to know the reality of people’s situations that I encounter, I have indeed seen and experienced an abundance of generosity, kindness, and joy. Many people ask us if this is our first time in Morocco, and hearing yes, share an enthusiastic “Welcome!” with a big a warm smile and a hand over the heart.

 

Here are some other things I have seen here:

  • Lots and lots of feral cats and kittens, ranging from skinny to emaciated, and some locals petting and feeding them.

  • A large majority of women wearing at least a full head covering, often paired with jeans instead of a robe, and sometimes driving a motorbike.

  • Olive trees, date trees, apricot trees, argan trees, and real oasis palm trees.

  • Road signs with just an exclamation point on them, which I like to think means, “Prepare to get very excited!”

My time here has also been shadowed by the death of my remarkable and inspiring grandmother, and she is much on my mind and heart as I reflect and write. So, this post is dedicated to Eleanor Elizabeth Saunders Furbush, 3/6/1919 – 5/27/2014, who helped to instill my belief in the inherent worth and dignity of every person, and who never doubted my own.

Sabbath and “Slow Travel”

From the grounds at the Dublin Modern Art Museum

From the grounds at the Dublin Modern Art Museum

Last summer Tom and I participated in a “sabbath circle” with the Leaven community that we’re part of, which involved reading Wayne Muller’s book Sabbath. It was through that experience, which spoke to my deep longing for rest, renewal and balance that I came to understand this trip we’ve now embarked on as a sabbatical. Previously, I hadn’t really made the connection between the term sabbatical and the concept of sabbath. In reading the book, I realized that reflective time away from the constant rush and pressure of endless impossible to-do lists and expectations was what I was looking forward to the most about extended travel. I’ve been describing it as a sabbatical ever since, which has opened some interesting conversations about what that means.

My first travel book to accompany me on my sabbatical is Carl Honore’s In Praise of Slowness. He covers various “Slow” movements around the world from Slow Food to Slow Medicine to Slow Schooling where people are seeking to reclaim some balance from the overwhelming speed we find in so much of life. The idea is not actually to be slow all the time, but to find the tempo giustothe right speed for the moment and circumstances – and through this, to live better and more wholesomely. Travel, even supposedly the “leisure” variety, is certainly not exempt from the cult of speed. I’ve been reminded more than once in the first few weeks of our trip how difficult it is suppress the instinct to do more, see more, experience more, even when you know it can be at the expense of fully savoring moments and simply being in the new and different environments that travel presents us with.

As Mr. Honore says, “When we rush, we skim the surface and fail to make real connections with the world or other people…All the things that bind us together and make life worth living – community, family, friendship– thrive on the one thing we never have enough of: time.” In some of the places and with some of the days where I thought that we had planned in an abundance of time, you won’t be surprised to learn how completely wrong I was. Of course some of the most enjoyable and memorable moments have not been planned activities, but simply having lunch on park bench by a lake, hanging out in a tea shop with a book, or wandering foreign city streets with no particular destination in mind. These are the kinds of things that I pictured myself doing before embarking on this journey, and it’s certainly how some of my time has been spent. So far though, it’s not nearly as much as I had led myself to believe would somehow happen naturally.

As someone with a regular meditation practice at home, I also imagined more meditating would be going on since I’m on vacation after all, or at least the same amount. I forgot how dependent my practice is on the routine and rhythm of my days, and there has been nothing even remotely resembling a routine in our travels yet. I know this is all an opportunity to be more present in the midst of change and uncertainty, and to notice the moments for resting in awareness as they come. I think I’m beginning to see them more often. Lately we’ve gotten in a number of hikes and ambles in lovely wild places that seem somehow both familiar and strange. Being in nature is always a reliable way to step into sabbath time, and foreign nature seems to have an especially awakening effect. Tomorrow we will arrive at the farm where we’ll be exchanging work for room and board, and I expect that the two weeks there will provide a chance to ease into some routine. I have been missing getting my hands in the garden, so we’ll see if the meditative quality of manual labor remains after five hours a day for five days in a row!

Another effect of describing and thinking of this time as a sabbatical has been to focus my attention and gratitude on the very real privilege of having this opportunity to travel and to retreat for such an unusually long time from the daily grind. Although it is an important value of ours that we are prioritizing and have worked to create, I know we’re both very aware that this just isn’t possible for everyone. In order to make the most of this privilege, my hope and goal is to use this time to gain greater clarity in my life direction, including ways to foster ongoing balance, ease and joy in life for myself and others. Wayne Muller, once again, is helping me keep this all in perspective with these lines from his website:

A retreat is no mere selfish indulgence; it is a radical act. By offering a fierce no to the relentless demands of the world, you claim a radical yes to more honorably sustain a potent, essential wholeness, and take hold of a deep, healing stillness, not only for ourselves, but for the frantic, desperate achings of those close to us, those we love.”

In this time and space away from daily routines, my quest is to listen for how best in the coming years to sustainably contribute my gifts from the heart. I have a feeling that part of this may indeed be sharing the blessings of stillness with others, and just helping us all to slow down a little bit.