I knew the Irish town of Lisdoonvarna was small when the bus drivers in Dublin hadn’t heard of it. With my heart set on West Ireland I found this town in my search for a work exchange (helpx.com). Needing the free accommodation and wanting the company, I volunteered for two weeks of undressing and dressing hostel beds in exchange for a bed to sleep in.
I grew nervous on the bus as we passed each stop without announcement. How would I know when to get off? I decided to ask the fellow across the aisle if he knew of this town.
“Going to get matched are ya?” he replied enthusiastically, making a quick glance at my naked ring finger. By this he meant was I going to find a husband in Lisdoonvarna at the Matchmaking Festival, a 150-year-old running Irish tradition. I didn’t know I’d signed up for this, nor did I imagine Lisdoonvarna to be smaller than Beaufort—a single crossroad in the countryside of County Clare!
Well no, I wasn’t planning on getting matched considering everyone at the festival had a good thirty to forty years on me. So if I wasn’t making beds with the other volunteers or drinking Guinness and hard cider in the dark Roadside Tavern amongst a jubilant mob of Irishmen playing guitar and singing a cappella, heartfelt tunes of historical hardship, then I was exploring the countryside.
There was a shabby bike out behind the hostel, which I would sometimes borrow and cycle to Doolin, chancing the manic weather. Doolin is a small town on the coast at the foot of the Cliffs of Moher. I liked to watch the violent waves crash far up the black rock of green-roofed cliffs in the distance. Or, sometimes a girl from San Diego and I would hitchhike, picking wild flowers and blackberries along the side of the road until someone brought us to the next town.
Then one evening while I was baking oatmeal cookies at the hostel, I encountered an angel, a messenger. Yes, this is a bold profession, especially when it’s a guest from Sedona, Arizona with a long, salt-and-pepper-colored ponytail. Although he didn’t reveal his name at the time, Neil was biking around Ireland “feeling each hill of the land.” I mentioned my bike ride to Doolin that day, seeking clarity and finding only scenery. The smell of my burning cookies abruptly interrupted the conservation as I ran into the kitchen stocked full of billowing, grey cloud smoke.
The next morning I was cleaning the kitchen when Neil greeted me: “Hey! There’s something I want to talk to you about, about your approach.” Normally I would find this suggestion extremely odd, but I knew intuitively I had to hear whatever this stranger had to say. After my chores, I lead him to a bridge with passing water. The light filtered through the trees at an angle down upon us, and in the stillness of his spoken words my consciousness shifted, muddling waking life with lucid dreaming. This being had come to awaken my true nature of infinite oneness with the universe.
“Follow the heart,” he said. “Deconstruct the illusion of the intellectual mind, which feeds on our fears, desires and needs with thoughts of the past and future. The unknown path calls for courage, faith, hope, trust and love; but it will adhere to a path that follows one’s true nature. Your are loved. You will not end up on the streets starving because so. Live simply and your creative engine of inspiration will fashion.”
I trusted him – not him, but this prophecy of pursuing a creative life of love and light. My eyes flooded with water although I did not shed a tear, a little embarrassed. He told me all the things I needed to hear and no longer was I afraid of my future or society’s expectations.
Don’t be afraid to travel, especially by yourself, for this is when we find the space for direct experience, which reminds me of something Michael Chrichton once wrote:
“Western man is so bombarded by ideas, concepts and information structures of all sorts, that it becomes difficult to experience anything without the intervening filter of these structures. And the natural world—our traditional source of direct insight—is rapidly disappearing. It’s no wonder that people lose their bearings, that they lose track of who they really are, and what their lives are really about. So travel has helped me to have direct experiences. And to know more about myself.”