Our sabbatical is beginning with three short stays in England as we head to Ireland for our first house exchange. We started with eight days in London at a friend’s flat. We are currently partway through seven days with friends in southwest England, and on Saturday we leave for a week traveling across the south of Wales to St David’s (staying in B&Bs) before sailing to Ireland. We travel with three suitcases (two check-ons; one carry-on) and a rolling briefcase.
Because we are not settled in a single location, I have been reminded that people who have diametrically opposed approaches to packing, also (no surprise here) tend to have diametrically opposed approaches to unpacking. And, if you are traveling with the same companion(s) for a lengthy period, this can engender some lively conversations. [I use the word lightly.]
My personal approach to being on journey is to leave everything in its carefully organized capsule, unzipping the suitcase only for the few seconds necessary to take out fresh underwear. I am a strong proponent of the ‘one out, one in’ rule: if these slacks come out today, yesterday’s slacks go back in, carefully rolled to fit neatly in the place today’s slacks were resting before I removed them. I get a little itchy psychologically if I have more than one outfit visible in the room. My (hard-won) experience is that once I take everything out of the suitcase, the brilliantly complex puzzle I have created in my initial packing is never to be seen again. You may have noticed that given space to breathe, every single item (in fact) expands just enough to make repacking impossible.
Before you wonder how well my approach works in practice, let me tell you that where we were staying our first week looked (to my eyes, at least) like someone took each suitcase we brought and squished it hard in the middle until it erupted, scattering every single item on the packing list (and a bunch of things that snuck in at the last minute) from one end of the flat to the other. In fact, traveling with my husband and/or husband and daughter for just under thirty years now has always looked like this. Which doesn’t stop me from thinking that someday, my travel space will be effortlessly pristine with only two or three tastefully displayed toiletries on the edge of the sink which need to be replaced in my toiletry kit before I calmly close the suitcase for the last time and head for the next point of call.
So three nights ago after a particularly extended eye-rolling session (mine in response to the every-item-out-of-the-suitcase situation), my husband remarked, “If you don’t mind my saying so, the way you pack and unpack is a metaphor for your life.” Excuse me? I actually do mind. First, it doesn’t feel like it is a metaphor for my life, it feels like it is a metaphor for his life – because my life is calm, controlled, and neatly rolled up in my suitcase…or would be if he would stop needing things like clothes or a razor, and then leaving them out for tomorrow when he will need them again. Second, if it is a metaphor for my life (and to give him the benefit of the doubt, I am willing to consider that possibility), it requires more unpacking (no pun intended) than I am quite sure I want to do at this point.
But since the point of this exercise is not to emerge looking perfect – a good thing, you are probably thinking – but to open myself to the risk of transformation, it is undoubtedly worth the discomfort to ponder what is going on and to ask a few questions.
In common with the symbolism in dreams, my guess is that the symbolism in metaphor is very personal. There are some over-arching themes and some commonality, but the nuance can be quite different depending on life experience. So, the shape, color, texture, and weight of my images (and questions) may not resonate for you at all…but I offer them in the hope that they might spark some interesting exploration in your life as Imbolc draws to an end and Beltane arrives with vacations and the opportunity for you to do some annual packing and unpacking of your own.
So: I find myself wondering whether I resist unpacking fully because I am afraid of losing something precious, leaving something behind, forgotten in a drawer or closet. I have left actual physical objects in hotel rooms before, but I suspect I have also left behind other, less tangible things: ideas, emotions, dreams, and roles that I was not quite ready to abandon consciously. I wonder if there is emotional or spiritual or psychological baggage that I am concerned about unrolling or unfolding because I am aware that it will never fit back in its place quite as smoothly once I’ve allowed it the freedom to breathe. And (I have to admit) I am also wondering how my life might be richer, deeper, more challenging (but also more blessed) if I unpacked completely at every stop on my way. Deciding what goes back in the suitcase in what order is its own exercise in spiritual discernment. Might I carry less if I unpacked every item every time? Might I carry different things?
I think I’ll try walking the questions into a couple of labyrinths and see what that reveals. I may even try unzipping the suitcases all the way and see how that goes.
Meanwhile, I offer this small poem-prayer.
welcome me to unpack my life
in the ever-present home you provide here, now, everywhere, everywhen.
Nudge me to unroll my heart,
unfold my mind,
expand to fill the space:
unzipping the secret compartments
where I have tucked the salvaged feathers of broken dreams,
the small round stones of unanswered questions,
the shiny treasures that caught my eye.
Let there be light on the crumbs of long-gone nourishment
and the lint of past comfort.
Let me empty the backpack, the suitcase, the trunk,
and rest just here, just now.
Let me breathe and rest.
Text © 2015, Andrea La Sonde Anastos
Photos © 2015, 2014 Immram Chara, LLC