I have something terrible to relate. And it’s been hard to write with honesty and impossible to write without it. While I steel myself and continue to self-edit, I wanted to tell you something beautiful first instead.
This Summer I traveled to Morocco. A friend and I decided to take advantage of our kids being busy with their own lives, and we headed off for a spa break with a side of culture. I had a wonderful but surprisingly intimate hammam (similar to a Turkish bath where someone washes and scrubs you). I’ve had boyfriends who got less familiar with my bits. In the market, I was horrified as snakes and shackled monkeys were pushed in my face every time I so much as slowed my pace. It was an eventful trip – unsettling and soothing in the same long exhale of breath.
Our hotel was formed from five riads woven together, creating dozens of separate chambers and rooms within rooms. A riad, which comes from the Arabic word for garden, is a traditional home with rooms arranged around an interior courtyard or garden. Each area is no more than a few metres wide, creating a feeling of intimacy and seclusion in every part.
Our windowless bedroom opened onto a windowless courtyard, filled with lamps and flowers. Yet the light is not rationed; it is poured and sculpted, creating highlights and shadows. Light feels like magic here – as though it comes from within.
The spa pool was underground. Walking down to this stone chamber felt like descending into myself. I started to imagine the riad as my own multi-roomed psyche (a bit like that Jennifer Lopez movie or Sherlock Holmes’s mind palace). The interior felt safe and cool, and beautiful.
And I loved the idea that what is hidden at the heart may be made beautiful, may become the focus of everything, that all the other parts can face inwards. I have returned to that thought many times since then. Too often I am only concerned with how my life appears to others – I use all my energy on making the exterior look good enough.
In those moments of blessed calm I thought…
Retreat. Find out what is at the heart and tend to it. Make the centre of yourself a garden and glory in it. Stretch out in the cool air and feel safe. Embrace the light and the shadows that you make, and grow flowers there.