At a mindfulness yoga retreat I attended a while ago, I was instructed to shake my body for fifteen minutes and then dance for fifteen minutes–all to help prepare for breath work that would follow after.
I closed my eyes and found solitude even though I was surrounded by the other women who were doing the same thing. Just a few minutes into this bizarre but radical shaking, I wanted to give into the ridiculousness of it and sit it out, but an inside-of-me voice said, “Just shake. All you need to do RIGHT NOW is shake!”
And so I shook. I gave myself permission to just be there, shaking my arms, shoulders up and down, legs in motion. I was waking all of the space inside of me, inviting body-mind-spirit to meet in one place. My body was moving in this tremendous, medicinal-healing way, while I noticed its capabilities and boldly declared in my heart, “You are powerful. You are strength. You are beauty.”
Next we breathed deeply, lying on our backs with mouths open and jaws aching all the while. In and out. Heavy. Noisy. Breath became thought and rhythm: Holy Spirit/within me. In and out. Holy Spirit/within me. In and out. The yogini came over with calming burnt sage, and while resting her hands momentarily in the space above my heart, she whispered, “You are doing a good job.”
As she walked away, I tried to accept her motherly words, tried to take them in with my breath. “I am doing a good job.” But I wasn’t convinced. Months later, with the day quickly approaching that we will once again uproot our little family after three years in Qatar and stick our feet back in American soil, I feel regret. You see, I didn’t do a very good job as an expat at first. I was so eager to wish it all away and kept looking forward to the day we’d move back to our familiar place. But then I learned to notice–the ordinary and the vibrancy of life–and to put down roots and find sources of water.
Now I’ve supported other new expats, reassuring them of how they too will fall for this place. I’ve said to those women, “Notice how strong you are and notice those small victories. Tell yourself regularly, ‘I am doing a good job.’ Notice what is in your everyday that you will never have outside of the Middle East.”
I am also reassuring myself, especially in these last days. When you begin to leave a place, you see these things and capture them to store in that space of your mind labeled, what-I-took-for-granted-when-I-lived-here-day-in-and-day-out. You begin to take great care to notice what you’ve come to love:
Noticing: My everyday contains the soothing hues of Filipino skin, Turkish eyes, Dutch fairness, the fluidity of the black abaya, multilingual children, and normalcy.
Noticing: Tamil on the tongue, labor camps and families who live countries apart.
Noticing: The aroma of turmeric and za’atar, karak and exotic incense.
Noticing: The beauty in the cream, sandy colors in our part of the world, pierced with the brilliant blues of saris, the sacred covers of black, patterned dashiki of rich purple worn on Fridays, the holy day.
Noticing: The most stunning of life’s mysteries witnessed in the form of my two small littles growing out from baby and toddler into thinking, independent children in all of the grace and sweetness that offers those who abide in this mystery.
Noticing: The friendships that were unexpected, healing, and that gave me belonging; and those I’d wish to have known deeper. The regret of depth missed in using this place to draw nearer to God, who shows up, even in the desert.
There is weight and beauty in the noticing.
And I am getting ready for movement again. Not the kind of shaking to prepare for breath work, but the kind of physical tiredness one goes through to move their family halfway around the world. In this move, I go with my packed little heart full of all that I’ve noticed. I go with my, “you are doing a good job” valediction. I go with thankfulness in feeling torn to leave this place.
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Lisa Collier moved from Pittsburgh in 2012 and is currently an expat living in Doha, Qatar as a lucky trailing spouse. Her husband, two girls and dog make this place a home. Lisa took on the challenging but wonderful experience of homeschooling this past year. Lisa has traveled quite a bit, but the view from inside the train on the way from Milan to Zurich was one of the most breathtaking scenes. Read more at www.onceyouarereal.com.
Colorful incense: Photographed by Lisa Collier at Souq Waqif, Doha, Qatar.