Sunday, July 26, 2009

Dreams Do Come True - And Then What?

"Are you happier in France?" a visiting American friend once asked as we strolled along the banks of the Rhone River in Lyon.

I had to laugh, because my life in France was anything but dreamy, despite my expectation that I would indeed be happier once settled on French soil.

"Actually," I replied, "what I've learned is that I'm really good at being unhappy wherever I go!"

This should have come as no surprise to me; I've moved so many times in my life that I know well that the initial excitement eventually wears off. And yet, I'd continued to cultivate the fantasy that relocating to France and moving in with my boyfriend would mark the end to most of my troubles.

Surprisingly (for me at least), this is not what happened. I did leave some problems behind, but many new ones emerged, as they will.

At dinner the other night with a few other Anglophone expatriates, we talked about how pervasive that French fantasy is, and how people back home often tell us how lucky we are. Yet we still have to go to work, do the shopping, cook and clean and do all the other mundane things we did back in our own countries, but now in a context that can be quite confusing and alienating. It's no accident that many of my friends are expats, despite my initial determination to seek out French friendships. I think we develop a fellowship over shared trials and tribulations, of constantly dealing with things that make no sense and having to negotiate our cross-cultural relationships. We compare notes about our French partners, and often end up saying “Oh, I thought it was just him, but maybe it’s a French thing!”

What do you do once the fantasy fades, when your dream comes true but it's not at all what you expected? How do you deal with the reality of daily life in France, which is frustrating and downright infuriating more often than it is blissful and beautiful?

We agreed that we do get so caught up in our everyday routine that we take for granted living in a country so many people dream of. And we concluded that we could appreciate where we are a little more, even naming some of the things we liked best about Lyon. In fact, this blog is part of my effort to keep that sense of appreciation going, because it's true there are so many things to love about this city and this country.

But ultimately, for me it’s not just about appreciating France; it's about being in the present moment, wherever I am. I know I have a tendency to search outside of myself for solutions to my dissatisfaction, and to move on when things get either rough or boring. Now that I’ve been in France for 3 years and the doldrums have set in, it would be so tempting to pine after another fantasy destination. If I were single, I'm sure I would already have left in search of greener pastures.

But my partner is here, and needs to be in Lyon for at least 2 more years. So for now my life is here too. What's a restless soul to do?

This is where my mindfulness practice comes in (see sidebar if you haven't already). I’m beginning to understand that part of living mindfully is also being present where I am; seeing the beauty around me instead of fantasizing about other places or getting caught up in all that bothers me here. So from now on my goal is to bring my practice to where I live, so that I can learn to love where I am, moment by moment.

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