Lessons in London

By Lara Foster

I never crossed the Atlantic before, nor the Pacific for that matter.  I learned a lot of ways to survive in my life, but somehow what I learned never quite taught me how to thrive and go past the edges of my perceived limits.

I stayed home.  Things were easier that way.  I didn’t have to learn anything new.  I could just do what I’d always done, survive.

About 15 years ago is when the dull pull of survival turned into a screaming nightmare and I’ve been working to unwind the conditioned reasons of why I thought I needed to survive so that I could ultimately learn how to thrive.

In December of 2016 the work paid off tenfold.  I was presented with an opportunity to travel to London with my partner Gretchen and her work companions.  2 weeks to explore a new country on a new continent across the great wide Atlantic.  I was IN.

London was so fun to explore!  Victoria Station stood in as our centralized location for this first venture in the United Kingdom.  This gave us walking routes and tube routes to see all the impeccable sites. Walking maps are placed around the city giving one an idea of the transit time to landmarks, popular streets and areas that must be seen.  Really, the the dedication and care London puts into making their visitor’s feel welcome and able to move about felt just as inviting as a trip through Disneyland.  Honestly it really was that easy to move about as if London has geared itself to the familiar markings of a theme park.

Buckingham Palace, the infamed residence where the Royal Queen herself lives, is just a hop, skip, and a jump away from Victoria Station.  Even in the short radius around the heart of London from this area one can venture into Westminster Abbey, Houses of Parliament (Big Ben), The Tate Modern, Trafalgar Square, The National Gallery, and so much more.

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Buckingham Palace in the evening.

The city just really felt so full of life.  Traveler’s, families and business professionals blended throughout the streets and one ultimately realizes that being amongst a crowd is just a major factor of being on the streets of London.  I found that going with the flow of traffic turned out to be more of a jig or dance as the sidewalks are kind of a free for all.

Challenged movements and actions provide a gap for mindfulness.

As a westerner, I constantly had to remember that Londoner’s drive on the left side of the street.  Which is of great importance to know when crossing streets by foot!  It can be downright confusing and send a jitter of held breath through the veins at times, but London has done a great job of reminding their visitors the safest way to cross a street by painting it on the ground.

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LOOK RIGHT –>  Words and arrows painted on the edge of every street.

One never realizes how naturally ingrained a movement can be until it’s challenged.  As a kid in the U.S. we’re pummeled with a “stop, and look both ways” mantra before we cross any street.  But which way do we look first?  We look LEFT.  In our world as cars travel on the right hand side of the street the quickest way to see if one is coming at you is to look left and then to look right.  But in London it’s the opposite.

Look Right, then Left.

I can’t tell you how many times I saw people get nearly taken out by a vehicle after making this simple mistake, myself included.

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The Double Decker on the left was about 6″ from the railing and my tourist photo taking arm was a good foot over the railing into the street.  Bout lost that arm because this was my first day walking in London and I hadn’t quite learned the ‘Look Right first’ trick yet!

Being in London for the first time felt like a great transition step for an internationally untravelled westerner such as myself to get a subtle feel for the differences of natural movement and rhythms in different parts of the world.

What I noticed the most is that it helped to provide a canvas where I could practice engaging in and challenging my naturally ingrained habits.  Even something as small as crossing the street made me stop my actions for a moment and be more mindful.  Everytime I looked left first, and then was reminded “they drive on the other side of the street”, to then look right helped me gain some new perspectives on whether “that’s just the way things are” or “that’s just how I am” and realizing that maybe just maybe some of the things I am doing in my life and how I naturally move is something that I learned along the way related to where I grew up, how I was raised, and the culture that surrounded me during those formative years.

When I have a realization that something I do is something I learned it means that I Can Change It.

I Love the opening that learning provides.  Because when I have a realization that something I do is something I learned it means that I Can Change It.  I now have a choice to really look at what is going on, and see what would really work best in the current moment before taking an action that may be derived from learned attitudes or motions of the past.  This new gentle approach to each day is really starting to blossom some flowers into my own personal life garden.  The hope is that as the flowers grow, others see, notice, and feel it too.  Inspiration.

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Back to London, I simply learned to cross streets with mindfulness and this mindfulness provided a gap in my repetitive thought patterns, habits and actions.  After I made the first mistake of almost getting taken out by a Double Decker a little trepidation at the edges of sidewalks did flow through me.  However I allowed this uncomfortable feeling to turn into a gentle reminder.  At every street I was able to take a breath, and observe my body/mind lead me to look left first, like literally without thinking my head would just turn left, but then through noticing I began to direct new actions by gently correcting the first movement and then reminding myself to look Right, then Left.

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Marble Arch after 10 miles of walking and doing the double take at every sidewalk edge.

Even with the very easily painted signs on the ground of every sidewalk edge as reminders of which way to look I was constantly challenged by my ingrained habits.  Believe me, I saw the signs, I tried to remember, and pretty much for the entire trip I continued looking left first.

So.  Many.  Times!!!

A few times it even triggered frustration over “not being able to get it”.  My lesson happened to be in the grace of watching this ingrained action happen over and over, and learning how to be gentle with myself instead of beating myself up for “doing it wrong again”.

Ultimately, through the gentle grace that I was providing myself to learn this new movement the trepidation on sidewalk edges subsided, even though I continued looking left first, and then did a double take to look right, I realized that as long as I didn’t start crossing the street until I thoroughly assessed both directions around me that I’d always be fine.

What I really learned was how to be more gentle with myself amidst the process of learning.

As I finished this piece of writing I intentionally thought the lesson I wanted to share was going to be about the new movements I was able to learn through walking around London and all the challenges I had in learning to ‘look Right first’.  But, it turns out, that while the movement was a catalyst for this new learning, what I really learned was how to be more gentle with myself amidst the process of learning.  Honestly, I’ve been SO HARD on myself at times for not getting things, or not getting it quicker, it was really a nice change of pace to allow myself to watch how the gentleness and grace allowed me to move so much more freely without strict and rigid barriers.

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“Mind the Gap”

The discovery and exploration in London taught me a lot about culture, preconceived notions, and conditioned habit patterns.  But it also taught me about the space that self cultivated gentleness and mindfulness provides.  And that’s what I’m taking home with me.

 

 

 

 

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