This story might be easier to write, might be simpler to read and digest, had I been writing all along about our experience living for a year in France. Had I written about the early stages of discovery, about the long settling into a different sort of Zen life (as I referred to it in my mind), then giving words to my current state might come more naturally.
But these last few days—with only weeks left before we leave what has become our home—have been filled with a question.
When does discovery become death?
We went for a hike as a family today, up a steep trail in the forest behind the town of Yzeron. The shade of the trees was welcome on this humid day. The kids gathered sticks to walk with, and Jessica and I pointed out flowers along the path. We came through clearings that held a sense of energy and mystery, and into a field of wheat that sloped down into the farthest distance, our home somewhere in between where we stood and the impossibly far-off horizon.
I yearned for a feeling of wonder and newness, and it seemed to be just within reach—yet was somehow wrapped in discontent. Instead of the sense of discovery I expected, there was the death of a sense of ease, an intruding sadness of a bitter goodbye.
Is this another experience of the home-leaving practice of Zen?
If it is, I don’t care for it.
It’s quite different than leaving for retreat. But then, of course, I always had the sense I would be coming back. In what way was I truly leaving? Was I—in the Zen sense—having my cake and eating, too?
When we first arrived in France, everything was new. The town, our home, the language, the kids’ school, the bus routes into the city. The light, the birdsong, the scents in the air. Each morning’s run was a new discovery, each visit to the marché, each conversation was an exploration. Each season was a chance to wonder what it would bring in this new home of ours.
After a time, of course, things became familiar—but the sense of discovery persisted in the act of settling. We were becoming part of a new fabric, and a simpler (if not always simple, being so far from what was familiar) life than what we had left aided the sense of discovery even after novelty receded from the surface. For most of eleven months, this carried me and contended me.
And then, recently, almost suddenly, it has changed. Things don’t feel as they should. Encountering a new place or a new word or tradition or story feels not like discovery, but like loss, becoming sadness at what we must soon leave behind. The same experience, instead of being embodied with a sense of discovery, feels somehow diminished. Somehow thinner.
Why should a sense of losing something diminish my ability to revel in its discovery?
I can hear the words of my teachers, those alive and from centuries of lineage. There are no shoulds, especially in how we feel. And this sense of loss, this discomforting, is no surprise. This is the life of a human being and the suffering that comes with change. This is dukkha. I try to let it come. I can’t change it, after all.
But still. I don’t want my dukkha here.
After our walk, we came home and planted flowers in the small raised beds, the ones up against the stone wall with terra-cotta shingles. We pulled weeds from the ground around the beds and smoothed the gravel.