Posts tagged workaway
Le Moulin: The End

The energy shifts with every person that comes and goes. Two young women from London and a young man from America arrive.  We share everything and cook big dinners together.  We gather in the living room all day and night and the musically talented entertain us.  I lie with my eyes closed and soak it all in.

The meditations continue to push me out of my comfort zone.  One night we listen to heavy drum music and are told to go crazy.  The music bounces across the walls and everyone is screaming, flailing themselves across the room.  One woman crawls across the floor like a panther with her hair falling down her face.

I try to remember Wim's directions "Go more crazy.  If you catch yourself thinking just go more crazy."  I do what feels like an African drum dance.  I scream.  I shake my upper body like a belly dancer.  I want to go crazy but dancing comes most easily.


We finish with a standing jumping and breathing exercise, arms up, that seems to last forever.  We are all panting and sweating, stripped down to our bare essentials.  The song suddenly yells out "STOP" and we stop in our place to examine how we feel.

The exercise is meant to release tensions and negative energy we hold onto.  I'm grateful for it.  I hold so much in my body and carry it heavily.  Over the past few months I have become tense.  The worry lines on my forehead have thickened and I don't move as easily as I used to.

Later when we're all sitting in the living room one of the young women from London walks in, grabs her book, and storms out.  I can tell her energy is off and debate going after her.  Shortly after she comes back, sits beside me and lays her head on my shoulder.  There are tears in her eyes.  I ask her if she wants to stay there or go and talk.  "Let's go talk".

We carry hot cups of tea to my caravan and she's already calmer.  I see myself in her and tell her not to worry so much.  Nothing makes sense in your early twenties.  Does it ever?  I do my best to comfort her and we go back to the house to eat peanut butter and Nutella from the jar, our nightly ritual, before I go to sleep in the yoga room on my own.


During this time I fall in the habit of sleeping everywhere.  Some nights in the yoga room, other nights on the living room couches.  Some nights I fall asleep to people playing music.  I'm told I'm the most energetic and happy person until 10 p.m. when I wipe out.

I worry less and less about clothes or showering and wear a messy bun on top of my head and whatever clothes I can find.  I enjoy my time, my food, and the company of those around me.  I feel closer to myself.  My body feels soft and feminine and my thoughts feel stable and content.  One morning we sit in the busy kitchen and I look up and tell everyone "I'm going to miss constantly being around this big family we've created."  The room warms up immediately.


One night we blast music in the yoga room and dance as a group of women.  I run around the room and made ballet leaps.  We dance like gypsies.  Get low to some hip hop.  We drop all inhibitions and move in whatever way makes us feel good.  It is liberating to dance soberly and yet feel so free.

I feel good with these women.  There is only one time that I think about going home early.  It is near the end of my stay after a post-dinner walk in the fields.  I break into hives and can hardly breathe or keep my eyes open.  It turns out I have extreme hay fever, which in a way is a relief, as I have been having trouble breathing since I arrived in France.  I had assumed it was stress and tobacco.


I spend my last days drowsy on medication.  The drugs make me tired, but it is such a relief to breathe.  I have to give up painting a ceiling because I feel faint and find I'm better scrubbing tiles while listening to music.  I find the work meditative and have a few short, silent cries to myself when certain songs come on.  I am still working through a lot.


Somehow my last day arrives.  I'm on cooking duty.  I'm happiest in the kitchen and love cooking for such a large group.  I make a curried potato salad with corn, a lentil stew big enough to feed an army and a Greek salad.  I clean all afternoon and at night we plan a sauna, bonfire and slumber party in the yoga room for my farewell party.


When the night arrives I'm not much fun.  I go to the bonfire for a short moment and have to go to bed.  I know that it's partly the medication and partly my own exhaustion.  I've experienced so much and so many people in such a short period of time.  I'm tired.  Emotional.  Overwhelmed.

I wake up early the next morning and clean the dishes leftover from the bonfire.  I clear out my bedding from the yoga room, sweep my caravan, go for a run in the rain, take a long shower, and put on my clean clothes on.  I paint on a lick of mascara, let my hair dry naturally, and it is time to go.

Before I leave my German friend sings to me.  For someone so quiet she has a voice that fills the room and silences us all.  I sit with my eyes closed and they fill with tears.  We hug.  I hug everyone goodbye then hug her again.  I'm driven to the train station where I'm left on my own.  While I've been in France the whole time I feel like I've been in another world and have suddenly returned.

I'm at peace the whole train ride home. I fall in and out of sleep as we're rocked down South. When I arrive in Toulouse hours later I have an hour to burn.  I walk to a nearby bar, order a glass of wine, and roll a cigarette.  I think of Wim "Your body is not a trash can, but if you're going to do something, REALLY do it."

So I really enjoy my cigarette.  My wine.  The sound of French around me and the traffic in the street.  I'm back in France and ready for my next adventure.

Le Moulin: The Middle
We sleep in the yoga room on his last night.

It is just sleeping.  Like brother and sister.  By now our friendship has grown stronger and I realize how much he reminds me of Tatu, my wild Columbian friend who fell off a roof in Paris a few years ago and died.

They share the same joie de vivre.  This incredible sense of living life to the fullest.  Loving women, food, pushing their limits fearlessly.  Like Tatu, I admire my new Estonian friend and have a sort of unconditional love for him.  I don't want to be with him, or even always be around him. I just like who he is.  We lie beside each other as man and woman and feel no need to do anything more than sleep.  Enjoying the feeling of each others breath, arms, and hands to hold.


In the morning he eats his cereal and climbs into a car with a big group of others.  We exchange a simple goodbye and a warm hug.  He is hitchhiking to a big hippie gathering in the South of France.

While I sit in the kitchen and tiredly smother rice cakes in peanut butter and chocolate spread Leila walks in.  She is a beautiful young girl from America with half Middle Eastern blood and long dark curls that fall over her shoulders.  Sometimes I want to call her Lolita.  We are both feeling down.  We mourn the departure of so many people and decide we'll allow ourselves to be sad for the day before we move on.  It is the start of a wonderful friendship.

Over the next few days we grow closer and make each other big salads, share raw vegetable plates, exchange massages on the couch, roar over some of the obscenities and cultural differences we have experienced, dip our spoons into jars of peanut butter and tahini, and talk about different ways of living.


There is a lot of talk about "the system" here.  I'm told I've been a part of it and Leila is questioned for her studies at university and expensive computer.  We wonder how fair this is.  Why there should be anything wrong with doing work that interests you and gaining money in exchange for it.  While we love so much of this hippie lifestyle and relate to it on a deep level we wonder if one has to follow the all or nothing approach.

One day a girl from Australia arrives with long blonde dreadlocks and rainbow coloured clothes.  As we lie on picnic tables with our shirts hiked up and the sun beaming down us us she tells us that she divides her life into pre and post hippie.  She says that after trying LSD her whole world changed.  She found that she could be herself, to relax and get lost in trance music with a subculture of people who don't judge each other on appearance but want to talk about the universe.

On Saturday, my one day off during my stay, a group of us girls walk to the nearest small town.  I celebrate by buying us all a round of coffee and juice at the bar.  We sit outside talking about the importance of touch and a Deutsch woman who is older than me says that her mother never hugged her.  That touch is still strange to her.  We all vow to embrace her as much as possible while she is here.


While we wait for the grocery store to open we lie in the grass and listen to music.  I am always playing music, my phone in my pocket, sound blasting out.  I think it's one form of escape I'm able to hold onto while I'm here.  The Deutsch woman starts to cry.  She tells us about her losses and it breaks my heart.  No one should have to lose their job, partner, and child in such a short space of time.  She curls into me and I hold her.  She could be my best friend or my lover.  I stroke her arm.  I am grateful that we're in a space that has allows us to be so open with each other.

When the song ends I play a guided oneness meditation and we all lie in the grass with our palms facing the sky.  When it ends we slowly get up and go buy groceries.  By the time we start our walk back to the Moulin we are all a little closer.  Maybe it's the meditation, maybe it's that we're all women in transition, maybe it's the summer sun.  Maybe it's that we all know we are here together for a reason.

A couple of days later it is time for Leila to go.  Again I feel sad to lose someone I've started to love as a friend.  She leaves a letter in my caravan that lets me know the connection I felt was mutual.  She tells me "You reassure me that you can be amazingly adaptable while maintaining a strong sense of self."  My insecurities melt into the soil and I am grateful.

At the end of the day, we all need to be held, to be appreciated, to feel like we have a purpose.
I never expected to find so much of that here.
Le Moulin: The Beginning

"Are you nervous?"  The morning sun pours over the country road and my mother is beaming in the back seat of our friend's car.

"No, not really."  I answer, wondering if that's really true.  We are driving to the train station where I'll start my five hour journey up North.  Two months ago I wrote to a couple converting an old water mill into a yoga retreat with the help of volunteers. They responded promptly and I took it as a sign to go for it.

I feel content on the train ride up North.  As I watch the scenery change I feel more like myself.  It's only when I arrive in the small town after travelling all day that my sense of calm drops.  I walk around with my backpack and duffel bag while I wait for the bus and realize how vulnerable I feel.  Rain clouds start to form and raindrops fall down my bare legs.

When it's time to catch the bus it's not there.  The ticket vendor comes out and tells me the bus doesn't come for another two hours on Saturdays, even though the owner of the mill had told me in an email that I had a seat reserved.  I call The Moulin and a man with a German accent answers the phone.  He doesn't know where the owners are, where The Moulin is located, or what to tell me.  I hear lots of people having a good time in the background and tell him I'll figure it out.

After picking up some groceries and having a picnic in the park I board a small bus.  I still have no reservation, but the driver agrees to let me on and says he'll try to find the mill.  After an hour of twisting and turning down country roads we are greeted by three beautiful fresh faced young girls at the side of the road.  We slow down and one chants "Welcome!  We're going for a walk, see you soon."

The driver drops me at the top of a long driveway and I collect my bags and thank him.  I walk down the gravel path and wonder where to go.  There are three separate buildings.  I see light from a kitchen and decide this is the main home.

I enter nervously and introduce myself to a group of people standing in the kitchen.  A tall blonde German with dreadlocks gives me a big hug.  No one seems to be expecting me, but no one is surprised to see me either. I dip into the living room and find a blissed out group all sitting closely together on the couch.  To my surprise no one is French, but there is an Austrian, an Israeli, an Estonian, and a mix of German, British and American.

I sit down in the kitchen to drink some tea and one of the British girls sits down in front of me to pick at a big salad with her hands.  She tells me she's a hippie, that she loves nature and is "quite the botanist". She seems so young but I envy how in tune with herself and nature she seems.

When the owners arrive home I find out they are a young Deutsch couple.  Wim is bald and Patricia is tall with long dreadlocks. They both hug me warmly and tell me they weren't expecting me.  They must have forgotten to write down my dates.

I'm shown the caravan where I'll be sleeping and go to bed early while a group dances to trance on a picnic table outside.  I realize that for the first time in a long time I am going to have to sit with my emotions.  I have no way to numb myself.  I feel old and tired, more worn down than I expected.  I'm terrified of the idea of staying here.  I write in my journal "You can do this.  Two weeks.  I dare you."


I wake up right before morning meditation feeling heavy.  I can hear the roosters crowing.  I check my reflection in my small hand mirror and find  my worry lines more apparent in the soft morning light.  I don't have a lick of foundation to hide under.  I throw on some jeans and a t-shirt and walk up to the house where everyone is finishing their breakfasts and laughing.  I do my best to smile and go to the kitchen to search for coffee.


I skip breakfast out of lack of time and appetite and join the group in the living room where everyone piles onto sofas, hugging and sitting closely to each other.  "Who is doing introduction?"  Chants Wim happily.  A young American girl does a funny dance and then everyone introduces themselves in a name game.  Somehow my name reminds a girl of a chocolate brand and I earn the nickname "Hot chocolate", or "HC".  It makes me laugh.  We are assigned our jobs for the day and I'm told I'll be plastering the new kitchen.


 Before we get to work I'm shown the stock of leftover clothes and work shoes used by volunteers.  I grab an old pair of jeans, a men's dress shirt and heavy working boots for the day as I'm warned the plaster will never come off.  We work hard all day, stop for tea and a hot lunch, and every so often a meditation bell is rung and everyone stops for a moment of silence.

I quickly ease into this routine and enjoy the aches of physical labour.  We work hard but we relax a lot.  In the evening we dine simply on feasts of bread, rice cakes, sweet spreads, cheese and hummus.  The work makes us all hungry and we slather thick layers of peanut butter and Nutella on everything we can find.


Some nights we all lie around and some play board games, or music, and the quieter types work on their computers.  Other nights a group goes down to sweat naked in a homemade sauna by the river.  There is yoga every two or three nights.  Like the sauna, it is not for the shy or reserved.  To my surprise the yoga is kundalini and tantra yoga.  While it's not the hot sexy stuff that comes to mind when you think of the word "tantra", it is still an intimate experience.  In my first class we all put on blindfolds and feel each others faces and bodies.  Wim says in his thick Deutsch accent "You are the buddha.  They are the buddah."  And tells us to live like heaven is on earth.


One night an Estonian unicycler who is always singing "Always look on the bright side of life," asks me if I can help him with something.  I hesitate, but he is kind with trustworthy eyes so I agree.  I follow him up to the main road.

"I need you to climb on my shoulders."  He says.  "I want to practice riding my unicycle with someone balanced there."  I tell him there's no way in hell.  I don't even like getting on peoples shoulders in the first place and he's the same size as me.

But then something in me trusts him.  I get on his shoulders.  At first I cling to his head tightly and it makes it difficult.  He tells me to relax like I'm sitting in a chair.  The sun is setting and we're crossing a small bridge.  I imagine I'm sitting in a chair.  I relax.  He pulls it off and even when he slips we both manage to land safely.  I realized I have laughed in fear's face and feel exhilarated.


To thank me he offers me to teach me to ride a bike.  I tell him I have faced enough fears for one evening but agree to start tomorrow.  I figure if anyone can teach me to ride a bike, it's the guy who rides a unicycle with someone on his shoulders.

The next night we pull out a bike from the garage and I'm practically trembling.  I get on the bike and fear pulses trough my body.  It doesn't make sense to me.  How can it stay balanced?  How come everyone else makes it look so easy and I'm a 26-year-old woman who can't ride a goddamn bike?  My thoughts overwhelm me and I keep getting off and sitting down on the curb.

"Don't be lazy," he says, "and don't waste my time."  He does it with kindness because he knows I need to be pushed.  It works.

For what feels like hours I get on and off.  I fall, lose balance, I struggle to get the bike moving at all.  He holds the back and eventually I make a little progress and stop swerving all over the street like a mad woman.  He tells me to stop thinking and I get on the bike and fly right down a hill and into a bed of stinging nettles.  I want to cry but I look up and see him standing there laughing.  So I laugh too.  We joke that I was taking Wim's advice in yoga of doing everything one hundred per cent.  "I thought if I was going to fall, I'd really fall, one hundred per cent, into stinging nettles."

I surprise myself by getting back on the bike to try again.  There is only one moment when I stop to cry.  Not because of the stings pulsing all over my face and body, but because I am overwhelmed by my feelings.  I realize I am facing years of shame, embarrassment and failure.  The simple act of riding a bike is so much more to me.  It is not feeling good enough.  It is my fear of driving, my failed relationships and insecurities.  It is everything that has held me back.

I take a deep breath and try again.  I accept the stings on my skin and those that go deeper.  I ride across the bridge without help and when I stop I'm beaming.

"There," he says, "you are alive and glowing."