Since opening up my life to others with this website in 2006, I’ve received countless comments about how wonderful my life must be living in paradise. Ha!
Excuse me while I wipe off the cappuccino I just spit onto my screen.
I do love the life I’m creating, and I continue to choose to live in a corner of the world I love not only for its breathtaking beauty and warmth (literally most of the year and figuratively almost always) but also for the deep connection I feel with the terra, the land my ancestors walked, farmed, and lived from. I’ve always had a strong sense of place, of physical location, being particularly drawn to certain areas; I suppose I took that to a whole new level by moving here.
I’m proud, humbled, and grateful that over the past eight years I’ve had the opportunity to deepen my connection here by adopting a lifestyle as simple and uncomplicated as I can make it while making a living doing what I love and staying in contact with the outside world.
But Italy? Well, she’s hardly made it easy.
Getting to simple is the most difficult thing I’ve ever done.
Leaving your entire support network an ocean behind is always going to require some adjustment, to put it mildly. It becomes an even more questionable decision when completing an allegedly simple task takes days/weeks/months because of a language barrier that feels as wide as the aforementioned ocean, because you just don’t know how things work, or because, hey, that’s just how Italy rolls.
As I’ve written before, living in rural southern Italy has in many ways meant learning an entirely new way of life from the way bills are paid to knowing where to sit at a table in the campagna. Hint: around here, the women usually sit at one end and the men at the other. And of course none of this touches the everyday Italy expat frustrations of mail delivery (or lack thereof), telephone and electric company services, etc.
In case you had any doubts, let me spell this out:
There’s nothing magical about Italy that makes the annoyances of daily life less frustrating.
As anyone — absolutely anyone — who has ever lived in Italy for even a short period of time can tell you: life here is far from “la dolce vita” on many if not most days. Life here is just life, or as I call it in the title of this post “agrodolce”: bittersweet.
For all of Italy’s wonderful qualities from the freshness of the fruits and vegetables to universal health care, there are accompanying frustrations and disappointments for the average expat in Italy, not the least of which is missing out on the daily lives and important occasions of our friends and family in our home countries. Sometimes that realization alone can be overwhelming if I think about it too much.
But I love it here — and more importantly, I love me, here.
Many of us have certain locations in which we find it easier to be calm and relaxed whether it’s at the beach or in a particular room in our houses . . . somewhere we just feel at ease, ourselves, “home” if you will. By moving here, I put myself in an environment that has enabled and enriched my personal search for identity, tranquility, and simplicity, but it’s important to remember that our well-being and happiness doesn’t necessarily depend on where we’re located. Why? Because of one simple truth:
Paradise is not a place; it’s a state of mind.
We don’t always have the opportunity to be in our ideal physical location, so the quest for internal peace begins with recognizing and appreciating both the bitter and the sweet in life, which we all have. My work toward this goal has included striving to be more deliberate and mindful in my choices, live in each moment, be grateful for both simple and grand pleasures, and seek out inspiration in even the most mundane of activities such as cleaning up goat berries or waiting in line for three hours at the post office.
If you can locate and focus on the good, it just may make the bad seem — at the very least — less bad.
I’m not going to lie; I’m not always successful in this mission. I’ve had my rants, and I’ll surely have more. I’m still nowhere near Zen, especially where mail delivery is concerned, but I’ve noticed my frustrations have become fewer and farther between over the years. It also takes me much longer to anger or become annoyed than it used to. My breaking point has shifted in a huge way as has my patience level, both in the right directions, all a result of changing my own way of dealing with stress along with understanding Italy more.
These changes are hard to quantify, but I know how I feel inside, particularly in comparison to how I used to feel, and that’s what matters most to me. Living here has absolutely helped me reach this point — I can’t possibly put into words how much I’ve learned and grown from this experience of living abroad — but I am confident that the positive habits I’ve developed are with me to stay, no matter where I live.
My mind doesn’t live in perpetual paradise by any means, but by embracing the sweet and giving less power to the bitter, I do hope to approach that elusive intersection where all three meet as often as possible.
What does paradise mean to you?