Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Under the Tuscan Sky

"Recognize the tremendous courage you show every moment of every day, with each breath, you reaffirm your decision to embrace and learn from your own challenges. Within that recognition, you will find your soul." -Your Soul's Plan by Robert Schwartz
This journey we are on is about love. We are here to learn to love ourselves and others. It's hard when we are deep in grief or fear has us paralyzed in its grip or when we think we can't possibly try again. Maybe then, we can let out a sigh that helps us let go of what is and inhale and try once again.  If we  accept life as it is, we might see the energy that is weaving us all together like one beautiful tapestry. Allowing it all to be without judgment helps us to see our life lessons that can be less painful when we breathe deeply into this presence that lives through us and around us in every moment of our living. When we meet the outer world with our inner world, our heart prevents us from collapsing and we are very much in control of what we can be. We learn to be more resilient as the pain of life moves through us.
Being in Italy is truly a romantic backdrop for falling in love. It's definitely a place to find yourself in the arms of beauty that exists all around. The sculptures, the paintings, the cobble stone streets, the ruins that are around every corner, especially in Rome, captivates you. Everywhere I look, I am in awe of the massive buildings, the cypress and umbrella trees. It's busy with cars and people from all nations as one gets caught up in being a tourist. So much to see and take in as I walk the streets or drive through the countryside.  It's all magical and in some ways it feels surreal. It's like stepping into another world, so different than the one I am used to living in.

As I sit under the arbor, overlooking the valley, here at the Villa Stefano in Tuscany, I enter inside with my breath as the beauty of the outside brings me to a sigh. It's the comfort of fully being here within myself as I take in the peace that nature gives so freely. In this silence within me, my senses heighten and the sweet music of the birds, the sounds of insects flying near as the breeze wraps itself around me, I drop into the familiar place of connection. It doesn't matter where I am, I come inward so that the awareness of all that is,  gives me that feeling like no other. It's like meeting an old friend, where there is no distance or time when we live in the heart. It's just comfortable to be right here amidst this world that spins around with so much information and movement. I feel like being still is like winning a most treasured gift. It's not like I am running away from life, I just come inside to find that sweet spot where the divine meets my humanity. It's always there waiting for my return and when I do take reprieve from my busy world, I am rewarded. I feel I see the world with a deeper connection and I love more deeply. I would say that mindfully I have chosen to live from the inside out and then this world becomes my constant companion and there is less struggle because I realize everything is perfectly unfolding.

Tuscany by Frannie Hoffman
artwork by Frannie
A week ago, just starting off my vacation in Tuscany at the Villa where my boyfriend Robert brings tours to experience living in Italy, I fell down the stairs and sprained my foot. Off to the doctors to get X-rays and a walking cast. This was definitely not in my plan. There was no time to feel sorry for myself because obviously the moment before my fall, I wasn't as present as I could have been and how grateful I was it wasn't worse. It happens so quickly and life as we know it changes.

So for a year you think about this month long retreat away and all of your imaginings truly can't ever do it justice. It's just beautiful arriving here and walking or limping for me on the ancient roads and seeing the cathedrals and museums of exquisite art. Everywhere you walk is a picture worthy of taking and the food is such a big part of the experience of Italy. Robert is the ultimate host and all of his planning comes together so naturally  as each person begins to make their home this villa. Nothing to do but enjoy being taken care of as drivers and guides take you on the tours and when you arrive back to your villa home, a 5 to 7 course meal awaits. Robert has a young chef, Alessia,who is from the area and cooks all of the recipes from all around Italy and with Roberts passion of cooking, the food is nothing less then perfect. Every course is like going into the best restaurant and what is so great is the love that is poured into every dish. You learn about the history of these dishes and sitting under the stars and moon we enjoy conversation, food and delicious wines around the table where friendships grow deeper. Maria and her daughter Diana serve and clean up and there is nothing you need to do but receive the relaxation of this beautiful place.

So, I am reminded again, that it is not the experiences that form us but it is the way we respond to it. As I sit in this stillness of a beautiful afternoon, I see with a greater awareness that when I don't push against what is, there is a freedom to experience what is here. There is no distractions as I allow myself the luxury to sit on the patio and feel the exquisite beauty of being right here inside myself. After letting go of my disappointment that I could not go on the walking tour with my friends, I was here, in this magnificent experience that brought me into the stillness that for me is heaven on earth. I was so happy to know that my friends were enjoying Sienna and shopping in Florence and viewing the David at the Academia. The joy was right here making a way for me to let go a little more of my plans and trust that healing was happening because I did not stay stuck in the loss. Yes, even when you fall and you can't walk, you grieve a little because we have such expectations with our thought out plans. I know Robert had thoughts of me  walking down to the river or climbing up the hills through the vineyards. Yet, to realize that this moment is all you have, you can create a deeper union with spirit and let your eyes open wide and appreciate all that is existing. I take in a breath of fresh air and watch the breeze move through the olive trees as the sun warms my heart. Getting lost in the moment, I look up at the clear blue sky.

As a writer and an artist, it is the stillness that becomes my workplace. This is where I take in the world and all of it's impressions and when I sit still and come inward, the words or brush strokes, express the feelings and thoughts of what life has brought me. I love to share it in this way and how beautiful it is to put an experience onto a clear canvas or even my tablet. I just get fed, just like eating all the delicious food that has been put on my plate.
Seeing all of the paintings of the Renaissance time or sculptures of the masters, I am inspired just with my eyes as I observe it all and it brings an energy that weaves it all together. I can feel inspired to draw or paint even though my skills are so simple, I can look at these masterpieces and be taken into a world of creation and get lost in the silent mind that just receives its beauty. Sitting inside this quiet place I sigh with relief that even if I do nothing but receive this moment, I can be renewed and full of life once again.

So whether I travel to far away places or just happen to pull myself away from all of the distractions like cell phones, YouTube, Facebook, and emails, I can journey inside to a inner landscape and be brave enough to allow myself to face the inner parts hidden underneath all of those questions and ideas. I can welcome it all until  I am unveiled and nothing keeps me from the joy of being right here. The voices become quiet and the body softens and my heart expands to love this world a little more. This amplifies the experience of life as I walk with or without crutches to bring the calm into this ordinary world filled with commotion.
I look out over the valley and the same sky that hours ago brought me here, looks even brighter.

Ciao Bella,