Denver to Chicago, Chicago to Rome, train on to Spoleto, and speeding taxi to Poreta – I arrived at the small Umbrian village where eight of us shared our mats, meditating and practicing yoga (Savor the Practice with Jeanie Manchester). We were steeped in Italian culture, luscious food, wine, and history surrounded by blossoming olive trees, mint leaves decorating their roots. The layers of history date back thousands of years to early Greeks and Romans embedded in astounding architecture buried below and above ground reminding us of the layers within ourselves. Exploring internally we experienced both the light of the soft grassy groves and the darkness of the deep forest boundary. We were forever trying to find the yogic balance through our postures and the challenging dance between the Italian culture, the group culture of eight, and the ever-changing culture within. My limited Italian allowed for simple graciousness with our shop owners, cooks, and guides – gestures, smiles, and brief hugs connecting our worlds.
My morning runs taught me that our “roots” and the branches we trip on going in to the forest become the ones we learn to step over on our return becoming stronger as the days passed.
Olive oil was in the air softening our skin, allowing for more vulnerability. We had the honor of arriving early in the season when the olive harvest created a peppery spicy oil. A nearby winery produced a pure organic wine from the grapes to the processing; being mindful to never rush through steps of creation, but extend each stage with time and discipline. A rushed wine will leave bitterness on our lips. Goodness comes from patience as we respect differences without bias – red skins crushed in the process, white skins pulled away from the tiny pulp within. Our plates were full – pastas and pizzas, sausage and cheese, fresh vegetables and herbs, truffles abound – our plates were full and my eyes round.
The town of Assisi brought the story of Francisco and Clare, early vestiges of mindful practice, generosity, and simplicity in the catholic church of the 12th century. Clare was a young woman who changed history, devoting her life to finding the power of a woman’s soul at a time when men ruled. She was fiercely independent and rebelled against the order of the time living a monastic life previously observed by only men. History alludes to a spiritual anorexia that kept her confined to her bed for years as she documented her voice on the page, re-writing Catholic doctrine to fit the needs of women in addition to those of men. Her deprivation may have been her way to manage her guilt about her power and expansiveness. Her internal conflict still sings in a variety of forms for so many. Yet Italy allowed us to fall in love with newfound aspects of ourselves and one another.
Sipping wine and café with dark chocolate torte on the last evening brought the tears and laughter of goodbye to a little village that felt like home. One of us sat quietly at the head of the table. Cotton balls soaked in warm olive oil pressed against her ears softening symptoms of a bad cold. The moment spoke to us as a reminder to no longer listen to the external voices of our past that hold us back, instead hear the gentle, yet strong voice of our hearts that flourished in the beauty of the Umbrian olive grove.
This essay was first published in Elephant Journal.