Hello World, You've Taught Me So Much

Hello my friends. Today I am feeling a lot of gratitude for this journey and everything the world (or at least the corners of the world I have visited thus far) has taught me. I have to admit that over the past two weeks I have struggled and felt conflicted about posting updates on my travel. From the beginning, my blog was intended to draw people in towards love and encourage others to set themselves free of the ideas and beliefs society has placed upon us all in different ways. When you have your own blog it seems very self-aggrandized and that is exactly the opposite of what I wanted my messaging to be. Remember for a moment that I removed myself from social media for six months and the most difficult part of sharing my story with the world was knowing that I was going to have to subject myself again to the 'false reality' that social media represents. My intention was not to use story as a platform to flaunt my travels, consequently creating feelings of comparison or jealousy. My intention was to express vulnerability and authenticity and share with others my personal journey of self-discovery in order to encourage others to do the same. I want you to know that finding a path in life that makes you feel fulfilled and also spiritually connected with the world is possible, even when it feels like you are stuck. It doesn't have to be through travel or quitting your job or doing an intensive yoga teacher training and blogging about it like I have chosen to do; it could be anything that breathes life into YOUR soul and being.

So keeping this in mind, I want to gently encourage you to explore the areas of your life that you are restless in. I know that all the areas of my life that I feel most uncomfortable in are usually areas that I need to investigate further and dedicate more time to doing some inner-work in. Does the immediate gratification of getting a 'like' on Instagram or the distraction of having your phone attached to you add fulfillment to your day? Do you feel unhappy at work or feel like you are contributing a 'greater good' to society as a whole? If not, how can you incorporate something into your life (like a new hobby or volunteer opportunity) or take something away (like limiting your cell phone or social media usage) and replace it with something that authentically fits into your individual talents and the gifts you bring into the world? We all have talents and gifts that are meant to be shared with others. Even if you don't yet know what those gifts are, remove the possibility of searching externally for happiness and instead spend time observing yourself. I can promise you that it doesn't matter where you are in the world; if you are restless within your soul, you will remain in a state of unhappiness. Although my travels have many distractions and present new and exciting learning opportunities everyday, the majority of my trip has been time dedicated to self-exploration, reflection, and personal improvement. I have so much time at train stations and airports and buses to be in my own thoughts (which was something several months ago I was extremely afraid of) that I have had to relearn myself completely. I have had to learn how to love myself and forgive myself and let go of things I have no control over. I have tried looking at every challenge and suffering in my life as a ’teacher’ and an opportunity for personal growth. When we draw inwardly and strive for self-growth, the things, experiences, and people that make us feel connected to the world naturally fall into place and add to our overall happiness and sense of self-worth.

To continue this theme of self-discovery, I have learned that while social media is a double edged sword, I personally have to be careful of how and when I use and allow it in my life. I want to use it for the good and share with you what I’ve learned, with the hopes that it can change your heart the way it has changed mine. So here is a summary of what I’ve been up to over the past two weeks:

After departing Medjugorje, I hopped on a bus and headed back to Split, Croatia for a day where I took a biking tour by myself and enjoyed the afternoon eating sushi and an aqaci fruit bowl by the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. I bought a ticket for an overnight train that slept three people in a triple bunk ‘single sleeper.’ Fortunately, my sleeper had two other women in it and although they didn’t speak any English and I didn’t know a single word in Hungarian, we got along perfectly. Around 9pm they offered me a small glass of smooth Hungarian liquor. Although it went against my better judgment to accept drinks from strangers, it seemed appropriate for the tight space we were confined to for the next ten hours. I was glad that I did because sleeping on a train felt a bit like boot camp hazing. Around 4:00am, police officers woke us up with an evasive bang on the door and bright flashlights, checking passports at border control. I have to admit that regardless of the number of times I’ve had my passport stamped, there is always this ping of anxiety that creeps in while they are examining it. Fortunately I ‘passed’ and arrived in Budapest the next morning. After checking into my Air B&B, I spent the day venturing the streets of Budapest, visiting Europe’s largest Synagogue, the Jewish Historical Museum and took an evening ferry tour by myself on the river between Buda and Pest. Very few people (including myself before visiting) know that the river separates the two cities that were once at odds with one another. They served wine and champagne on the ferry and I ate dinner next to a lovely Australian couple that told me all about their travels.  Every interaction I have had with strangers has been absolutely amazing and opened my mind to different perspectives, possibilities, and views of the world. When you travel alone, you have to depend solely on the kindness and helpfulness of other people, which has taught me the universal language of love. Regardless of language barriers, if you ask for something kindly, people are mostly likely going to respond to you in a compassionate or helpful manner. It doesn’t mean that I can afford to be naive or unaware of my surroundings, but I think so many people are uncomfortable or fearful of the idea of traveling alone because they condemn the world as a dangerous place. I have come to learn that the world is not dangerous. There are only dangerous people who do not have peace within themselves that use fear as a tool to gain power. Acts of terror happen everywhere, in every country, and in every city. We cannot anticipate when they will happen and we have allowed this fear to shape our lives and perception of the world. What we can do to counteract this fear is choose to have peace within ourselves and pray for those who do not. Prayer can change the world. Peace within ourselves can change the hearts of others. And love conquers all. 

After spending the night in Budapest, I took a train the following morning to Frankfort, Germany, where I spent three fabulous days with my distant-relatives. Their names are Heidi and Dieter, and Heidi is my grandmother’s cousin. They visited the states twice when I was a child and I remembered their infectious enthusiasm and love they extended to me and my sister during their stay. When I arrived in Frankfort and saw them standing at the end of the platform, I felt like I was being reunited with grandparents I had grown up knowing all my life. They embraced me with kisses and hugs and I couldn’t help but cry tears of joy while they were assisting me with my roller bag suitcase. It was so authentic and such a loving embrace. On the metro back to their home I plainly stated that my birthday was the following day, not expecting them to have any idea. Much to my surprise, they said “Oh we know!” and proceeded to tell me all the plans they had made for my ‘special day’. My grandmother had told them weeks in advance and the following morning I woke up to a beautiful birthday breakfast and gentle knock on my door that accompanied a cup of coffee. Dieter proceeded to do this every morning throughout my stay, and I later learned that it was a daily ritual for him to bring his wife a cup of coffee before starting their day together. Heidi and Dieter were unable to have children, after Dieter miraculously recovered from polio as a child, and instead of dwelling on the life and family they could not have, they’ve spent many years of their retirement traveling all over the world. It was incredible to look at their pictures, hear their stories, and see the way they embraced with one another with constant sweetness and infectious laughter. I was astounded to learn that all of their family members has either died of old age or hadn’t survived the war, and was even more shocked to know that the only family that remained was my grandmother back in the states. I became very emotional after catching a glimpse of a Christmas card picture my family had sent them in 2008 that they chose to frame and hang up on an office space wall. In the room I was staying in, there were also two smaller picture frames of me and my sister as children. These people loved me like their own granddaughter, and throughout the weekend I starting called them Oma and Opa. I spent the next two days picking their brains and asking them for every piece of information they could share with me about our family tree, the war, and the history of Frankfort. My great-grandfather was Jewish, which is why he had to flee to America with my great-grandmother and grandmother. My grandmother was only five. For the beginning years of her life, she spent them living in the same apartment as her cousin Heidi, after hiding my great grandfather from the authorities. We visited their old home together, and Heidi pulled out a box of black and white photographs that we spent hours looking through together. On my last day with them, they presented me with a small prayer book that belonged to my great-great-great grandmother. It was the most beautiful and treasured gift they could have ever given me, and they promised to send me the box of black and white photographs containing our family’s history. I couldn’t believe that these people who hardly knew anything about me had not only welcomed me so willingly into their home, but also wanted to share their lives and legacy with me. I can’t explain what it was like parting ways with them, other then to tell you that a part of my heart remained in Germany with them. I now have a third set of grandparents and their love will always have a special place in my heart. 

They dropped me off at the Frankfort airport on July 2nd and I arrived in Barcelona for the start of my yoga teacher training. The course I am taking will last 28 days and certify me to teach hot or room temperature Vinyasa yoga. The reason I want to be a yoga teacher is to bring back the practice of yoga with a Christian focus and help others grow both physically and spiritually sound in mind & body. I recognize that there is a HUGE disconnect and gap between spirituality and the teachings of the church today, but contrary to most people’s beliefs, the yogi lifestyle has so many principles that closely align with Christianity. Yoga has been around for thousands and thousands of years and at its core it has rich history in spiritual exploration, philosophical reflection, and scientific experimentation. I think with all spiritual practices discernment is important, but I was shocked to discover that many people within my perish and other Catholic Churches across the United States demonize yoga as ‘dishonoring God’. The type of yoga I have chosen to study, which is a line of Ashtanga Yoga, is not derived from Hinduism or Buddhism, but rather ancient mantras or texts known as the ‘Vedas’, which were considered divine information that ancient sages in the Indus Valley received through mediation. You could compare it to the book of Psalms before the Era of Christ. From the Vedas, a set of guidelines known as the ‘Yamas’ and ‘Niyamas’ were created to help others interact with the outer world and purify their inner being. These practices are the foundation of Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga. According to one of the most fundamental practitioners, Patanjali, “Yoga is the ability to direct the mind exclusively towards the breath and sustain that direction without any distractions. When this state of concentration is reached, then the man will join God. The final aim of yoga is to achieve a stable mind in a healthy body. Yoga is not a religion. It is knowledge, a discipline, and experience that fits the circumstances.” I love this description of yoga because it is so essential for us to understand that yoga is not dishonoring God, but rather strives to draw closely to His presence and honor Him by living through principles of integrity. The highest and most revered Niyama is referred to as ‘Ishvarapranidhana’, which means complete surrender to (or worship of) God. All of us are tied together through our Creator and I don’t believe you can study yoga or reiki or religion of any kind without really understanding that God’s presence is involved in ALL of it. His presence is in all of us. And His greatest desire for us is to have peace within ourselves and with one another, thus creating a direct line of love that honors God himself. He is our only Judge and unless we begin to strive to achieve peace within ourselves and one another we will never enter His Kingdom. 

I am astounded by the things I am learning and how inner-connected everything is. It was all written by one hand. We are not so different then you think. I only want to continue sharing these teachings with you. I pray that peace is within your heart today, and if it is not, examine the parts of your life that are disturbing your peace. How can you change your heart for the good? Every day Mother Theresa asked our Blessed Mother Mary, "Replace my heart of stone with your Immaculate Heart." Thank you for taking the time to read this and opening yourself up to the possibility of love. 

-M.ELIZABETH