Beautiful, Beautiful Mt. Rigi and Lucerne

The Boboli Gardens in Florence, Italy. The Cliffs of Moher in County Clare, Ireland. The Christmas Markets in Edinburgh, Scotland. Big Ben from West Minister Station in London, England. The summit of Mt. Rigi and Lucerne in Switzerland. I think of these places when I need to be reminded that the world is beautiful. I hate winter, but today I considered moving to the countryside so that I could be near Mt. Rigi and Lucerne. There is no better way to see these places than with your own eyes. In all these places feelings of peace, stillness, and gratitude overwhelm me. I can’t help, but thank God that these places were created.

In my favorite poem, Desiderata, the author writes, “Go placidly amid the noise and haste and remember what peace there maybe in silence.” In all these places, I’ve stood silently welcoming the sun to warm my face, the wind to chill my bones to reassure me that I’ve alive, and the rain to remind me that water is persistent and purifying. All of these beautiful places remind me that in stillness there is clarity and beauty. I desire to be nowhere else in those moments. Tears of unbridled joy fall from my eyes as I reflect on how blessed I am to have stood in these places and felt these emotions. These are feeling I hope to create wherever I am. I am willing to bet that they can be created anywhere in my life, even though it is something I’ve only felt in remote places.

As I prepared to leave for this trip, I hoped I would find a way to be more aware of what I feel, do, and think. I also wanted to be more aware of how I interact with others and how I treat myself. All of these things ultimately affect the relationships I have, the opportunities I pursue, and the work I will do in this world. Even now, as I listen to Ocean by John Butler, I can’t help but be at peace with what I’ve discovered while here. The things that I’ve desired for my life are simple – peace, service, spirituality, love, connection and discovery. All of these things have been part of my life in some way, shape or form, but have often fallen out of direct view for whatever reason. I am committed to living with these values as I look to the future with fresh eyes and clarity from these few short days. Life is beautiful.

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Swiss Adventure Blog 3: Today, I Rested.

One of the beautiful things about traveling alone is that you dictate nearly all of your schedule. You can fill each day hour by hour or you can embrace the journey as it comes. I would recommend finding balance between both. Today, I found it necessary to rest after two days filled with grand exploring, roaming the city, and visiting museums, lakes, and mountains. Traveling is tiresome. It requires a great deal of energy both mentally and physically, especially in a place where you do not speak the language and are unfamiliar with the cultural norms and geography. Traveling to an unfamiliar place demands intentionality. You will make decisions to feel a sense control, certainty, and direction, where there is little to be found.

The other aspect of intentionality is being aware of what you need to be at your best while on the go. Today, I needed simple, unplanned leisurely activity. My hostel is in located within a local community; it is part of a small neighborhood. Imagine my surprise when the hostel manager invited myself and two other mates to attend the neighborhood gathering that occurs periodically throughout the summer. It was truly reminiscent of my younger days when our neighborhood had block clubs and block parties during the summer months. Music, food, families, and the local school band and choir all gathering to enjoy the company of each other. I was delighted to have shared in such an authentic and joyful gathering with strangers who began to feel more like friends and family.

When I arrived, several hostel mates asked how long I intended to stay in Zurich. I mentioned that I would be here four days and they seemed shocked at first. After explaining my intention for this, they understood why I chose to stay “longer” than most people do that are traveling for a few weeks. I don’t ever want to rush from one place to another to check it off a list. In fact, I’ve spent the day within the community, in small cafes, and embracing the slow-moving, restful pace that I needed to recuperate from the first few days of being here and all the other days leading up to this trip. These are the experiences that I will never forget. Homemade pretzels from the “grandmother” of the neighborhood. The singing and dancing of families. The joyful expressions on everyone’s faces when the middle school band arrived for an exhibition. My own unyielding smile during the entire spectacle.

A great friend of mine, Lisa Hadden, once told me to “Do what feeds your soul.” So far this trip has been just that; finding a deep sense of peace in every decision I’ve made thus far.

Rest.jpgI’ve written this while sitting in the small hostel garden where the sun presses itself against the side of the building and there’s just enough foliage to find a cool sanctuary from the warm sun.

Swiss Adventure Blog 2: Settling into the Journey

To align my actions with the themes I mentioned in the first blog, I dove right in today. The process of getting here went well and on the plane I met two wonderful people who gave me advice and suggestions. One took it a step further and helped me get to the tram that would eventually take me to my hostel. On top of all of that her best friend/flatmate greeted us with flowers and a tremendous smile. Talk about being on Swiss soil and already feeling at home. If I stay too long, I might not come back *(just kidding mom and dad… for now). I digress.

Sail BoatIn the first blog, I mentioned that one of my ever burning passions is building connections across cultures. Well let me tell you, this is one of the most challenging places to do that. Not because the people are rude, unfriendly, or unwelcoming. The Swiss people are reserved and more private than Americans. However, with the help of a few new friends and a few Germany words and phrases, I found myself building small bridges within the Swiss community. (Sidebar – if you’re trying to build friendships with people all over the world, hostels are the way to go. As soon as I arrived, six more people arrived – two from England, one from Chicago, two from Germany, and one from Australia.)

Over the last few months, we (humanity) have witnessed or experienced things that may have caused us to lose faith in humanity. Trust me, becoming an expat is becoming a real option with the Trump situation (Not just trump, but all those who rally behind overt calls for violence, intolerance, sexism, racism, and the like. The list could go on, but I’m not here for that). If you’re looking to restore your faith in humanity, go somewhere that causes you to rely on others for support. Go a place where you ordering food properly depends on the help of others. (I order a pretzel and three beers (three beers unintentionally because I read a sign wrong and the cashier was pissed when I was surprised). Though it is difficult or scary at times, there is value in relying on others. Now for how things went without the help of others – preview bellow with the Bill Bryson quote.

Lake Zurich 4

“I can’t think of anything that excites a greater sense of childlike wonder than to be in a country where you are ignorant of almost everything. Suddenly you are fives years old again. You can’t read anything, you have only the most rudimentary sense of how things work, you can’t even reliably cross the street without endangering your life. Your whole existence becomes a series of interesting guesses.” Bill Bryson

As I sat on a boat in Lake Zurich, being lulled to sleep by the smooth waves gently rocking us all back and forth, I realized that I missed my stop while on the tour. The natural beautiful of Lake Zurich and the Alps was mesmerizing. So what happened? I ended up getting some sun and landed on the opposite side of Zurich with only my will and google maps to guide me. It resulted in the most solitary, scenic, and deeply reflective hourlong tram ride back to the city center and eventually to my hostel. Today, I intended to roam the city, get acclimated with the rail system, and embrace what would find me. I leave the first day of any trip unscheduled, except for accommodations (knowing where I’ll sleep for the evening). I do this because I don’t know what to fully expect when I arrive. I’ve read the blogs. I’ve checked out the top ten lists, and all I know is that in some places they are worth doing and in other places it’s part of the tourism economy – neither are bad or good by the way. If I could give any recommendation, it would be to settle into a place, breathe the air, roam the streets, make mistakes and own up to them, and then pick out the things you want to do as you go.

Lake Zurich 3

So far so good. This country is beautiful. PS though I wrote this one after the first one, I don’t intend to write one everyday. I want these posts to be authentic and a reflection of the experience as a whole. The first day just so happens to need its own blog.

Beginning Again – Swiss Adventure. Blog One

There are three people at the Windsor train station. It’s me and two employees for Via Rail. It’s quiet, as though there is a looming energy that is waiting fill the station. In reality, this place will see those who are simply passing through, leaving a place or returning home. I am one that is passing through. For the next three weeks, I will be exploring unfamiliar places, satiating curiosities, discovering more of who I am through interactions with others and personal reflection, and so much more. As I wrote in my personal journal, I love traveling because it removes me from my defaults and takes me off autopilot. It causes me to be intentional, more proactive about building new relationships and seeking out new opportunities to learn from unfamiliar people and experiences. It also allows me to become more of myself. Traveling allows me to peel back the layers of who I am expected to be and allows me to just be who I am at my core. By the end of my journey, I hope to be exhausted, reenergized, changed, more curious, thankful, truly authentic, and more present than ever.

I often return to two desires when I am tired, burned out, or drained – a want to build relationships across differences and opening a bread, cheese, and wine cafe in another country. Imagine if I focused my efforts on creating an environment for people to have cross-cultural dialogue and enjoy food and wine at the same time. These passions have sustained themselves over time and have constantly resurfaced year after year. When open to it and courageous enough to pursue it, the life I want is within my reach, which is a  privilege.

Traveling has given me a gift that I have been unable to receive through any other means. It has allowed me to return home with a willingness to do more for others, to care with greater depth, to challenge others to become their best selves, and to be as authentic as possible. Traveling takes me to a place of wonder and possibility. My old world collides with a new world, with different places and people. It challenges me to explore and discover and trust and be adaptable. Going places every few months, though a luxury, is something I need to do in order to hit the reset button. So I begin this journey with great zeal and curiosity paired with a sense of relief from the default. Cheers to adventures and all they encompass.

Journal 1.jpgTaken at the Windsor Train Station

The Institute – A Reflection on LeaderShape

How lucky I am to have shared such intimate moments with people who personify authenticity and act courageously. LeaderShape – noun meaning life-changing, inspiring, transformative, empowering, challenging, reflective, and ongoing. To spend six days with students seeking to discover the true desires of their hearts, while striving to positively influence the world with their actions is a privilege. To be challenged in the best ways and to be responsible for cultivating an environment for others to journey to their best selves is an honor.

Together, we explored uncertain places, asked questions with shrouded answers, and challenged one another to look at ourselves honestly. We revealed the truth of who we are. We were asked to determine whether or not we must change. Am I a good listener? Have I manipulated situations in my favor at the cost of other’s well-being? Am I blind to the experiences of others and if so, how can I make the world better if I don’t know how to help? What can I do? Who can I support? Who can support me? How do we solve issues that affect our world? What is my passion and how do I use it to make a just, caring, and thriving world?

The process was and will always be messy. It required us to stretch ourselves beyond what we believed possible. Inhibitors were removed by tiredness, authenticity, trust, community, direction, and intentional action. Day after day, our masks were wiped away in order for our truest selves to show up. Vulnerability. When we opened up, we invited others to do the same; not out of competition, but out of the great desire to discover what we truly feel, believe, know, understand, and question. The worry of judgment faded away as we genuinely shared who we are. After all the barriers disappeared, we became open to great change and self-exploration.

In past blogs, I’ve cited LeaderShape as a program that helped determined the trajectory of my life. The past week has reinforced this belief because I witnessed new ideas manifest into visions for a better world. One of the harmonious sounds projected by our collective voice is that the world MUST change for the better and that collective action will produce this change. I left more inspired to empower others to find their path. I left reinvigorated to make a specific difference in the world. I left humbled by the commitment to make positive change in our world. 120 students. 22 professional staff members. 1 mission – To create a more just, caring, and thriving world. Thank you to all who were part of this LeaderShape Institute experiences.

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