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#9 The Spanish Butterfly Blog: Mother Nature

Barcelona has a love for the natural world. Nestled between the mountains and the Mediterranean sea, its tree-lined streets and boulevards lead inevitably to green or blue. In our short visit, we saw tributes to nature everywhere, from the seaside aquarium to the music hall’s presentation of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. But it is in the works of Barcelona’s patron architect, Antoni Gaudi, where nature’s praises are sung the loudest.

The towers of Guadi’s masterpiece, “The Basilica de La Sagrada Familia,” are capped in colorful fruit, and above its doors of bronze leaves stands a green cypress tree. Once inside the sanctuary, the magnificent stone trunks rise to the sky supporting a light-filled canopy of branching arches. This awe-inspiring sacred interior, known as “The Forest,’ is surrounded by stained glass and in the afternoon glows in sunset hues of red, yellow and orange.

It feels Ironic that in a concrete jungle I felt so inspired by nature. It seems our innate appreciation for nature – its shapes, colors, textures and sounds – require us to seek it out. There is something about glimpses of nature that are both familiar and reassuring. Because, of course, we are not really separate from nature, we are nature, a link in the interdependent web of the whole.

Guadi saw nature as a portal to the Divine, to that which is greater than ourselves. And I think for all of us there is a way in which nature is expansive, helping us feel part of a much greater whole. We are drawn to nature even as an infant is drawn to its mother – comforted, soothed. But perhaps most of all, in the hard geometry of our cities, we are drawn to nature because we become part of a larger whole, and in this, we know that we are not alone.

#8 The Spanish Butterfly Blog: Inner Landscape

My time in France has been less about rolling lavender fields, romantic rivers and the rising Pyrenees and more about inner landscape – silence, reverence, and connection. I went on two pilgrimages, one guided by Eastern traditions and the other by Western. Both have revived my awareness of the vertical dimension and what it means to be part of something more. Both have filled my heart.

Inspired by chanting Sanskrit mantras, I sat in meditation with twenty-two other earnest souls, each of us investigating how our own psychological baggage interferes with our inner peace. Amidst the artistic backdrop of Buddhist luminaries such as Green Tara and the Buddha himself, we stilled our minds and let our spirits soar, joined in our desire for inner expansion and peace in a world full of sorrow and stress.

In this state of deep calm, I arrived in Lourdes unaware of what was coming. Daniel and I went out in search of a late dinner but instead found ourselves moving downhill toward the Sanctuary with throngs of people holding candles. There, in front of the glittering and magnificent Basilica of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, we were engulfed in the nightly Marian candlelit procession where a thousand pilgrims joined voices in song. The experience was mesmerizing.

At the very base of this Basilica lies the famous grotto where, in 1858, the Virgin Mary allegedly appeared eighteen times to a peasant girl, now Saint Bernadette. I watched as silent pilgrims from all corners of the globe entered the shallow cave with both humility and awe. I participated too, rubbing my hand across the moist rock worn smooth from 170 years of constant touch. Here, as in my meditations, I moved across the inner landscape, the shared experience of ‘something more.’  Touched, I bowed my head in both Om and Hail Mary, grateful for the grace all around us.

#7 The Spanish Butterfly Blog: Joie de Vivre

After a full day’s travel, we find ourselves north of the Spanish Pyrenees – in the small town of Perigueux in Southern France. We were met by cool temperatures and rain but on this Saturday morning, the slate sky shifted to cerulean blue and rays of sunshine showered the town. Right in the center of the old village, a farmer’s market was bursting with life.

Such weekly farmer’s markets have been held in this square for centuries, maybe millenia. The bounty of May is everywhere – white asparagus, bright pink peonies, the ripest of strawberries, fresh goat cheese, and heavenly baguettes. People of all ages bustle about with baskets, filling them with bright abundance. Separate in my lack of language, I wander about breathing in the festive air and observing the friendly social interactions.

The square is surrounded by cafes where people sit in rattan chairs lingering over cafe au lait and espresso. Daniel and I wedge our way to a table next to a group of women all chatting amiably. Suddenly, as we order coffee, the women erupt with chuckles and guffaws. Our language barrier gives way to the universal language of laughter and we too begin to giggle. The hilarity beside us is so contagious that we find our mood buoyed as they continue laughing, almost nonstop, for the next thirty minutes.

The joie de vivre – joy of living –  is found in the simplest moments when amusement creates a social bond between strangers. Laughter is known to be a potent endorphin releaser, a natural antidepressant, a balm for the soul. Joy, it turns out, is not so much about place or product, but rather is found in precious, often giddy moments. Laughter is the medicine of mirth. We left the market with more than a basket of bread and berries, we left also with delight, our hearts full.

#6 The Spanish Butterfly Blog: Holy Toledo!

“Holy Toledo!” – Illuminated on the distant wall was El Greco’s famous painting, “The Disrobing of Christ.” My jaw literally dropped open – the striking reds and yellows, the luminous expressions, and, most powerful, his use of light. I could feel the light coming through. With every brush stroke, El Greco expressed his inner vision, an outer light reflecting his inner light.

Housed in a gorgeous chapel of La Catedral, this masterpiece is a gem in “The City of the Three Cultures.” For centuries, Toledo was a model for religious acceptance, a place where Catholics, Jews, and Muslims lived in harmony. Perhaps it was this accepting atmosphere that convinced El Greco (originally from Greece as his name implies), a controversial painter ahead of his time, to settle in Toledo in 1577. It is said that before he painted, he was often found contemplating in a darkened room because the light of day disturbed access to his ‘inner light’.

El Greco’s inner light translated to an amazing transcendent quality in his paintings. For him, a devout Catholic, he no doubt understood this light as the spark of Divinity within his soul. And yet, ‘inner light’ has a much broader symbolism that transcends religion. It refers to the good within each of us, the seed of love and kindness and generosity that both connects us as humans and points to a good greater than ourselves. The real magic to inner light is that everyone has it, every single person.

As I stood at the foot of the massive, glowing canvas, I pondered my own inner light. How have the ‘darkened rooms’ of my life led to illumination? How have I shared my light, not as a painter but as a therapist and a writer and a singer? I long to be a more regular ambassador of my inner light, by beaming it through smiles and kindness and presence throughout my day. Many days I fail, but on other days I intentionally spread a little light and I watch as others meet me with their own.

#5 The Spanish Butterfly Blog: Tex-Mex

We are on a train north to Toledo, the chosen home of the artist, El Greco. Leaving the vibrancy of southern Spain’s Andulucia, we travel toward the land of Cervantes’ famous Don Quixote, a landscape now peppered with stainless steel windmills. I love the easy sway of the train, its clattering sounds on the track. Out the window, I can see mountains rising in the distance.

I find myself reflecting on our last weekend on the southern coast. I was mesmerized by the gorgeous seaside Roman ruins in Bolonia and awestruck to gaze on Morocco across the Strait of Gibraltar. In Tarifa, where Africa and Europe once touched, there is a jetty that marks the meeting of the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. Walking back through Tarifa’s white washed citiscape, I saw, on a moorish facade, a sign for “Tex-Mex Burgers.” Spanish Tex-Mex? I thought, I should call my father.

My father was a Texan through and through – a tall man who told tall tales. And, he loved all things Tex-Mex. We used to love sharing cheese enchiladas at “El Fenix” in Dallas. He passed away six months ago in my sister’s home under her loving care. The urge to reach out to him was so visceral, to share with him that there is a Tex-Mex burger joint in Andalucia! He would have gotten such a kick out of it. But it quickly hit me that he was not there to receive my call.

The jolt of sorrow that so many of us experience upon re-remembering our loved one’s death can feel fresh. The love – from me to my father, from him to me – is imprinted within me. As I sit here on the train, the missing, the longing to pick up the phone is solid in my chest. Staring out at the setting sun, blinking back a tear, I whisper, “Hey dad, I saw Tex-Mex in Spain and thought of you.” I’d like to believe that he can hear me.