Yearning for the Sensual Life
I started traveling the world with Phil from my couch about a year ago. I was a curious if somewhat cynical voyeur until Phil traveled to the Umbrian countryside in Italy. That episode ended with a gathering of friends sitting at a big outdoor table enjoying extraordinary food and companionship. At sunset, a vigorous Italian butcher who had grilled the evening’s meal quoted Dante. The wine was flowing. The mood was magical. Something in my heart cracked and tears started to flow. A deep yearning was born in me to go to Italy and live the sensual life. I didn’t want to see the Italy that most tourists see. I wanted the back-door experience that one finds in the homes of locals, and I wanted it with a passion that surprised me. I wanted to know what it was like to live as an Italian.
The Perfect Beginning
A few months later, Joe and I received an invitation to staff two workshops in Tuscany. I said yes with enthusiasm! Can you smell the magic unfolding? Let the sensual life begin!
We arrived as any fortunate travelers should in mid-September, just after the grape harvest. Perfect timing, as this was to be a harvesting for me as well. It was time to distill my wisdom into a very special vintage.
I felt the first brush with my Italian past when I got off the plane in Florence. The soft golden sunlight and the beauty of the land felt very familiar. When I visited Egypt three years prior, I had a similar feeling of remembrance and it was joyful. Now, I realized my Italian lifetimes had been hard ones.
Joe and I picked up our rental car, braved the Florence traffic, and drove several hours west to a little town called Montemerano. This 400 year-old medieval village was named as one of the most beautiful small towns in Italy, and for good reason.
Our AirBnB host took us up to our apartment, which was in the courtyard at the top of the village (right next to the wine cafe and the bell tower). We rode up in the bed of a small motorcycle/pick-up truck, bouncing along with our luggage, laughing hysterically as we bumped over the cobblestones and squeezed through ancient portas.
Our lovely apartment had a balcony with a view you would die for that overlooked the golden Tuscan countryside.
Our host gifted us with a fig torte (made by his Mama), a refrigerator full of food (including a platter of prosciutto, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and arugula with lemon dressing), a bowl of fruit, and a nice bottle of wine, so our first night in Italy was spent on the balcony, listening to the church bells, sipping and snacking away while the sunset turned our view into a postcard. It was a very beautiful and sensual beginning to our adventure.
Juicing the Grapes
A friend of mine who is a tour guide in Italy told me that she suspected many citizens of Siena kept reincarnating into the same district, or Contrada, so they could continue their competition with each other generation after generation.
After learning about the Palio di Siena, the bareback horse race in the main square, I believe her!
It did not take me long to realize that Italy is a land of paradoxes. The sunlight is soft and warm, and the land bucolic. Rural Italy seduces you with sensuous, gracious living; but this slow pace is punctuated by bursts of speed and power. Italians talk fast. Their body language is often assertive, and their driving is legendarily aggressive. Motorcyclists will fly between you and neighboring cars and then burn through a red light as if they have a death wish, and do it with Style (note the capital S).
Italian gentility is undergirded with authority. There are rules and expectations, and they are not always spoken. The influence of the Catholic Church is palpable. Italian men command respect. The old women you meet on the street corners are fierce. The young women are lionesses. Even the villas remind me of grand dames who are worn but timeless, and wise to their beauty and power.
Italy has a proud and elegant face, and a tough impatient one. You never know which side you will get. I find the animals here often mirror this. They can be charming and enjoy being petted, but they may bite you if you don’t do it the proper way.
Creating the Safe Space for Transformation
I had come to Italy for a personal renaissance. I wanted to distill all those diverse experiences into wisdom so I could trust myself again and open into an expanded life. Was I brave enough to let go of the identities I’d created to protect myself from past pain? Could I allow epic change?
It was no coincidence that the workshops we staffed in Italy were designed to facilitate freedom. The session days were intense and showed me just what I was clinging to and why. I spent most of my free time in reflection. This was not a typical tourist vacation, and I knew better than to fill my days with travels and distractions. There were, however, three places that called me: San Gimignano, Siena, and Assisi.
My first visit was to San Gimignano. I did not know the city’s history, nor my own past life experiences there, but when I entered the medieval walls I experienced a rush of terror and a great feeling of being trapped. I was one breath away from a full-blown panic attack, but once I named the feeling, honored it, and chose to go beyond it, my anxiety faded and I had a wonderful afternoon. Later, upon returning to the city for a second visit, I felt the fear rise again, though this time it was significantly muted.
I then read up on the city’s history and was not surprised to learn about the epic power games and infighting that took place there, and how the population was devastated by the black plague. Though I know no details, my human history in San Gimignano was truly horrifying, and I realized those experiences inspired a deep-seated fear of authority and a need for safety that had influenced my choices to this day.
It was time to call myself fully into the present moment and move beyond old fears.
My next visit was to Siena, where I had another past-life memory while in the Duomo.
I was looking at the Piccolomini Altarpiece containing sculptures by Michelangelo and I had a searing and rather droll recall of slaving away to create art under the control of the Catholic Church. I had been furious then about my lack of creative freedom and as a result had shut down my creativity. It was yet another lifetime that ended badly.
Prior to seeing this sculpture, I wondered why I wasn't interested in viewing the great Italian works of art. I majored in art after all, and had studied many of these pieces. Why had I no desire to see them in person? Standing before this altarpiece, I knew the answer. Creating such works of art had been a miserable experience. I’d honed my skill as an artisan, but I did not love myself enough to allow for free expression, so I remained shackled in anger.
I left Siena knowing it was time to release my anger and open again to my full creative potentials.
I had yet another flash of recall in Assisi. While visiting the churches connected to Saint Francis, with whom I’ve always felt an affinity, I sensed a very deep melancholy and regret. I realized that I once served the Franciscan order, and I sensed my experiences were filled with martyrdom, deprivation, and self-judgment. I was paying penance for crimes from other lifetimes and despaired of ever being worthy of forgiveness.
As I walked through the Basilicas of San Francesco and Santa Maria degli Angeli,
I could sense the lingering essence of St. Francis, and I wondered if the adoration and needs of millions held him in a deep and abiding pattern. I let my own essence shine for the being I once was who had prostrated himself before his God.
It was time now to honor my own divinity and stop projecting it externally.
Alchemy: Turning Wisdom Into Wine
All of those aspects were creating their experiences of separation. All that experience was being distilled into the great wisdom of my Soul. I had been trying to save those aspects, running their pain through my body, but their pain was never and will never be mine. All that is mine is that beautiful wisdom, now melding with the compassion in my pure and loving heart. This is who I Am.
With this, I bring my story full-circle.
As our time in Italy came to an end, we were invited to lunch by the owners of the villa where we were staying. Upon arriving I saw it was a gathering of old friends, people from different countries who had vacationed in Umbria, fell in love with the land and each other, and purchased second homes to savor the good life in community.
I found myself sitting at a table in a gazebo, eating pasta with pesto and vegetables fresh from the garden, enjoying a fine local fish with lemons from the orchard, eating a gorgeous simple salad, and reveling in a cake covered with peaches that were harvested that morning. We were all toasting each other, drinking wine the color of the golden Italian sun. We were sharing conversation in Italian, German, English, and body language.
I paused for a moment to take it all in and realization washed over me…I was having my I’ll Have What Phil’s Having moment!!! Here was my dream come to life…the one that brought me to tears and carried me all the way across the Atlantic Ocean. I choked on my wine. It was absolutely magical.
Now I confess, I didn’t see this creation coming. Short of saying "yes" to the invitation to come to Italy and following my intuition on where to stay, I had not taken any goal-oriented action steps toward making this dream a reality.
It came to me when I was distracted by my own integration after the workshops. It came camouflaged by my own crazy thoughts like, “I have a headache…do we really have to go have lunch with people we don’t know?” And "How will I understand the conversation, because I only speak English?” I felt tired and cranky and was out of my element, but it came despite my whining.
It came with a wave, a wink, and a smile, on messy human/angel wings, and it brought me a tremendous awareness: My gosh, if I can create this so effortlessly, I can create ANYTHING! I really AM a creator! Surely where I place the spark of my passion, something new will inevitably be born. (A renaissance, indeed.)
Granted, there was no Italian butcher present to quote Dante, so I guess that task is left to me. I leave you now with this:
Remember tonight…for it is the beginning of always.
— Dante Alighieri --