Irish weather is no longer soft, but at this moment, there is a softness in my soul (if I have a soul anyway, it's transforming into the soft kind). A new sort of gentle accepting awareness.
I'm starting this post from Lochlann's living room in the outskirts of Dublin. His futon is the ideal cross between sitting on the floor (which I'm generally inclined to do) and relaxing on a couch (which takes far more persuasion). I have a cup of tea made of Burren plants and mint from Ritchie's (Hanne's roommate) garden, and far too much about which to write.
The colors are rust reds, antique orangeish browns, tan and eggshell. Green and yellow peep through the red drapes. The room feels well loved.
I contacted Lochlann on Tuesday night and asked if it would be all right to arrive Thursday evening as opposed to Wednesday. Upon reading the expected "that's just fine," I contacted Hanne to tell her I'd be waiting for her at Doolin Hostel at 1:00 -- and that I was tremendously excited for our Burren adventure to commence. After clicking "send", I tiptoed to the kitchen to clean my coffee cup and chanced upon four other girls from Colorado chatting in the kitchen. I believe I dumped on them everything I've learned about long term travel in the whole of twenty minutes. Head reeling and mouth flagging, I washed my stained cup and climbed into my top bunk.
*BEEP, BEEP, BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP!!!!*
My eyes popped open in panic as the fire alarm went off.
*BEEP, BEEP, BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP!!!!*
It's just the alarm, I thought in annoyance. Someone will take care of it. I rolled over and pulled my sleeping bag up around my ears. Someone will take care of it? What are you thinking, moron? This isn't a drill. This is a real situation and something could be seriously wrong. Someone else will take care of it. Christ.
So I crawled out of bed, adjusting my sleeping sarong and softly opening the door -- not that my hostelmates weren't already awake -- they were just doing their best to let someone else take care of it.
And someone else did take care of it. I climbed the ladder to my bunk with a disgruntled sigh.
"False alarm," I told my someone-else-will-take-care-of-it hostelmates before I closed my eyes again.
I waited for Hanne at the Doolin Hostel, sipping a latte, editing photos, and writing a blog. She whirled in a few minutes before one and whisked me away to her Doolin paradise. After showing me around the gorgeous yard and hilarious, peaceful home, she made a salad for our lunch with fresh picked vegetables from the garden. God, I'm so happy to be here... so happy I stayed.
"The Burren is a manmade monument," Hanne commented through the Irish music on which the car seemed to run. "Farmers took away the trees when the cleared the land for crops, and then the earth eroded to leave the limestone."
"I love that," my "don't mess with the earth" side was shocked to hear myself say. "It's one of those things that demonstrates the futility of value judgements. If all the environmentalists back in the day had gotten upset and protested moving the trees, the Burren would still be hidden. We never know to what outcome our actions lead, so how can we judge them good or bad?"
"Shall we follow the coastal road and stay near the ocean because it is so hot, or shall we go to Mullaghmore? The heart of the Burren?"
The sounds in the name Mullaghmore sent electricity up my spine. "After all of yesterday's stories about Mullaghmore, I feel we ought to go there. " Hanne's stories about the "Great Summit" had been riveting and I wanted to experience the mountain whose wildness many people had been willing to put their homes at risk to preserve. The tourism industry wanted to build a visitor's center and a car park at the base of the karst hill. After over a decade of dedicated defense, those who wanted to keep Mullaghmore wild celebrated a victory and the car park and sewage system were removed, leaving nothing but a good road to the foot of the monument.
I had nightmares as a child. Severe nightmares that terrified me so much I spent many years manipulating my sleep. I'd set the stage for my dreams, plan them out in intricate detail, and focus, focus, FOCUS until what played in my conscious fell into my subconscious.
When this was too hard, I'd simply refuse to fall asleep.
I'd wait until I fell unconscious instead.
Being unconscious was safer. It was empty. There were no demons or devils to be found in the nothingness. Demons played a large part in my childhood. I read all the ancient stories about possession in the bible and I heard all the "real life" possession stories at church.
"The devil is looking for a house," a well-meaning religious leader would tell me. "If you don't have Jesus inside, he'll find his way in."
And I was afraid. I'd accepted Jesus when I was nine years old at a particularly religious, evangelical children's camp. I'd accepted Jesus, but I never really thought that he'd hang around -- not unless I spent all my time thinking about him and praying to him and wearing those damn bracelets. I was especially afraid of that moment of stillness before sleep. What follows is a bit I wrote into my play about children and their nightmares:
It’s easy. Not dreaming. I imagine a blackness -- a place where there isn’t anything. I fall asleep inside the blackness and then I disappear. Everything goes numb. It’s like a frostbite inside my head. A frostbite that won’t thaw and start to hurt. A frostbite that just keeps me from feeling things.
But sometimes I can’t fall into my blackness. It all depends on that brief moment when you’re not really asleep and you’re not really awake. The moment when your breathing slows, your muscles relax, and the rate of your heart beat starts to drop. That’s the moment that matters most. It’s when I’m standing at the edge of the cliff, waiting to see which way the wind blows me over -- just aware enough to know I have no control. If I’m at the right angle, the wind blows me into my nothingness. If my feet are cocked one degree in the wrong direction, I’m sucked into hell instead.
This play was written in order for me to sort out how our nightmares affect our waking lives and how our waking lives affect our nightmares. I thought that the demons from church drove my dreams and that the fear of dreams ruined my sleep and made me lethargic and afraid and unable to think clearly throughout the day. I thought that my nightmares served to isolate me from my family -- what happened in that moment of stillness was terror from which no one could rescue me. I was alone.
I was so afraid of stillness that I filled it or avoided it. I made a point to never allow myself to fall into the vulnerability of stillness, so I planned my days the way I planned my nights, waking up early to journal my day to death. I tried to have every moment accounted for.
A date without a check list of things to do underneath was one of the most frightening things in the world.
"Aimee, you need to get out of the way of life. Surrender to it."
Walking through Mullaghmore was like eating a fine French dinner. I'd pick up my journal, write a few lines, and stuff the little red notebook back into my flimsy pocket. But no sooner had my hand left it than I'd be broadsided by another revelation my fingers tingled to scribble out. I politely put away my journal after each revelation the way a French diner properly places their cutlery back on the table after each bite.
The ideas of "here" and "there" were the entree of my Burren epiphanies.
it is only when I compare "here" against a hypothetical "there" that I become unhappy. I think "I could be doing something better with my life," or "I should be working harder to get to point B", when point B and something better are both irrelevant to me because they don't exist. The only relevant thing to me is here. If I'm here, it's what I'm supposed to be doing. Here is right because Here is happening.
If there is no comparison, there is no bitterness, disappointment, or unhappiness.
Only when we let go of identity can we truly be ourselves, I mulled over Hanne's words.When people ask what I do, what can I say? I don't want to say, "I'm a traveler, a yoga teacher, a gardener, a..." an anything. I want to say, "I'm Aimee and I'm here."
"Aimee, see if you can listen and let life happen."
Dreams come softly. Be here to receive them.
Don't be forcing dreams of "there" that you forget all life is "here".
Feeling the hot, jagged limestone through the soles of my barefoot shoes, I followed Hanne back to t he car. She turned the key, inserted a CD, and we left Mullaghmore behind.
"We will find a beach now," she smiled. "We have earned a swim."
We continued to talk, my sense of peace continued to grow, and when I crawled into bed that night (after another delicious salad), I smiled to myself and thought, "I'm here."
I've spent so much time with foreigners that I haven't really noticed a lot of Irish national pride.
None today. From my list, anyway.
I did see Father Ted's house on the way to Mullaghmore. That was pretty special.