3 Best Things I Brought Back from Italy
It’s the summer of travel – as I learned firsthand on a recent trip to Italy. According to a recent survey, 90% of Americans have traveled in the last three months, and 62% of us have budgeted for more.
As you can imagine, this shift away from the lull of recent summers has pros and cons. While the cons are more obvious (be sure to reserve activities and restaurants well ahead!), I wanted to focus on the top takeaways from 3-weeks of travel from Venice to Tuscany to Rome to a week in Rhode Island before returning home.
Having visited Venice and Rome many years ago, memory couldn’t do justice to awe-inspiring reality, but in the end, I fell in love with Tuscany. It wasn’t love at first sight though. While I loved the beauty of the rolling hills, the quiet of the natural surroundings and charm of the ancient villages, I wondered what, aside from drink and eat, do people do here? And since we were spending the next five days, I got busy planning enough excursions to make the most of every minute.
3 days and several botched excursions later, I finally let go and relaxed into the present. I let myself tune into the slower pace of life, the rich and rolling terrain, the colors and sounds of the countryside and the warmth of the people; all of which were reflected through the sharing of food and conversation happening all around me. I felt myself finally unwinding from places I didn’t even realize I was holding tension.
The extent of this experience continued to unfold over the days that followed, but it wasn’t until returning home that I was able to articulate it. As someone who loves food and experimenting with new cuisine, I was initially excited by the recipes, books and small collection of jarred truffle sauces I crammed into my suitcase.
But the big takeaways for me gradually unfolded both during and following the experience. And as I reflect a week later, I wanted to share three lessons from Tuscany you too may want more of in your everyday life:
- Renewed appreciation for the value of community – the café/bakeries on every corner filled every weekday with local people cheerfully chatting, the group of old guys engaged in loud, lively discussion, possibly fueled by all the espresso, the grandparents comfortably mingling in small groups of friends, eyes tracking busy toddlers and playful dogs.
While the typical Italian village is a far cry from my local downtown experience, it did inspire me to invite friends over for my own version of Tuscan cuisine, using one of my new truffle sauces. I made it a point to avoid the temptation to mind-wander into details like whether the sauce was a hit (it was!) and to stay more present, listen more attentively and connect more authentically.
As Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk explains in The Body Keeps the Score “restoring relationships and community is essential to restoring well-being”, and the vibrant Tuscany community inspired me to make it a focus.
- A deeper understanding of the term ‘soul food’ (and why mindful eating and indulgence belong in the same sentence).
The satisfaction of experiencing all five senses through a beautiful plate of homemade ravioli served simply with local olive oil, oven-roasted tomato, and fragrant fresh basil.
The connection to the seasons reflected in the local cuisine and the care and tradition shared through each meal.
The melding of food with a rich sense of place enhances the pleasure in savoring each bite. I’m so excited to bring more of this into my own cooking, and finding more ways to share it with others.
- A deeper ability to let go and get present. As I returned to my normal routine back home, I noticed the subtle ways stress was beginning to seep into my system. While I was taking my dog for an early morning walk, I noticed my focus was not on the beauty of the morning. Instead, I was listing the things I needed to prepare to teach classes the following day while rolling my eyes at the slow driving in front of me.
But I noticed and made it a point to let it go, to shift into mindful appreciation for the rest of the morning. We all get swept up in what we’re doing, but when every activity moves toward overdrive, a mindful breathing practice is a great way to reset focus.
While traveling is enriching and delightful, instead of helping you to unwind, it can also keep you in whatever state of overload you may have arrived in. The trick for me was the stark contrast that a visit to Tuscany is from my regular life. It was enough to shake me awake and inspire me to stay present. It kept inviting me to look deeper and eventually reevaluate how I was spending my time and the things I was focused on.
Fortunately, you don’t need to go anywhere to step out of your everyday patterns long enough to reevaluate them.
When we notice the habits and choices that take us out of community, away from life’s simple pleasures, and caught up in negative thinking patterns, we can recognize the opportunity to make a change.
I wanted to share these takeaways as an invitation to notice your own habits and unconscious choices wherever you are because, by increasing self-awareness, we gain the perspective we need to inspire real and lasting change.
If you’re ready to discover the mindful path to lasting change, I would love to chat with you about whether working with a coach can help you reach your personal or professional goals. Schedule a complimentary 20-minute meet and greet here.