Building a New Life, Stone by Stone

Building a new life means recognizing you may have to lay new stones and tear out old ones.

This realization has been smacking me in the face again and again lately. Just when I think I’ve shaken off the slumber of a lifetime of conditioning, I find myself all too often in the jaws of a repetitious past. Trying to re-orchestrate my life with my move to Italy has shaken things up and challenged the status quo that remained hidden from my conscious awareness. I wanted change, and I got it in spades.

Bypassing the work and discomfort of changing one’s life just isn’t an option.

As I write this, I’m realizing that I should metaphorically duck the certain onslaught of rotten fruit and vegetables surely being hurled in my direction. Who am I to take the shine off of the nicely packaged ideas of moving to Italy or any similar major life change?

I’m one who continues to navigate the journey while discovering and stepping into the potholes of my conditioning. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t trade this for anything, but I wasn’t fully prepared for being pushed, actually shoved forcibly at times, out of my comfort zone.

A man building a cobblestone street taught me a few things.

Yesterday, wandering through our beautiful town, I came across several workers meticulously and artfully hammering cobblestones into place. As I studied the work of one man, it dawned on me that this was my life. We all receive messages from God, The Universe, or The Force, in different ways. My messages come most often through the lens of art.

What stands out to me in this photo? Well, this isn’t a new street. A large swath of the street had been torn out and new stones were being brought in. Old road work (my past, my conditioning) had to be removed first. Then, fresh cobblestones (new behaviors, new ways of viewing life) were being carefully placed in the beautiful fan work that characterizes so many Italian streets.

Yes, for me this was an appropriate visual metaphor for building a new life.

Now, let ask you some questions that I’ve been asking myself:

Can you approach your dream, your life change, with open hands?

Hands ready to receive what you can’t yet conceive? Don’t answer this too quickly like I did. We employ all sorts of self-trickery when we say that we’re open to the unknown. At our heart of hearts we humans want to be in control, and we certainly don’t want things to be messy or uncomfortable. More often than not, we hate surprises. This is understandable given all the stones of conditioning that have been hammered firmly into place. Those stones are our constant reference points. We say we’re open to new experiences, but really we mean we’re open as long as the new experiences aren’t too bumpy and soon manifest into our preconceived ideas of happiness.

What happens when life’s twists and turns are not in your plans?

Even with the best-laid plans and preparations for building a new life, there will be surprises and hurdles. If you’re not prepared for the unknown, if you’re not willing to bend and go with it, you could be in for a world of hurt.

Hollywood often helps light the fuse of the dream of living in Italy. But I’ve come across plenty of people, myself included, who arrived in Italy with scenes from movies like Under the Tuscan Sun playing in their minds. I can’t watch that particular movie now even though it does a stellar job of highlighting the beauty of Italy. For me, it sets up a very stilted and one-dimensional view of life in Italy, and it sets up the belief that in the end things will magically work out to similar Hollywood ending.

Do you even know what you want?

I thought I did. Some passions are clear as can be. Others? Not so much. Thank God my art is my constant beacon. But, in a broader sense, I’ve been shocked to realize just how many other people’s voices and beliefs have been hammered into my head. I’m discovering just how many of my wants instead are “shoulds”. Ouch.

Vonda Shepard, who wrote and performed much of the award-winning music on the long-running TV series, Ally McBeal, is incredibly gifted with her lyrics. In particular, her song “Mischief and Control” nails the basic dilemma that comes with building a new life and living authentically:

“There is a painter in all of us
She knows exactly which brush to choose
She knows exactly where to make a stroke
But there’s an army of voices
She might have to get through…” – Vonda Shepard, “Mischief and Control” from the album “It’s Good Eve”(buy it at

What about not living with a script in hand?

And what about not depending on the past to inform your future? Herein lies the invitation to step into the unknown.

For me, this has meant getting out of my head and making space for the unknown to come into my life––head and heart space for old stones of conditioning to be pried from their entrenchment while being replaced with new stones of behavior and being. It means dismantling old neural pathways that run our lives unconsciously and building new neural pathways that are in keeping with our true hearts’ desires.

Building a new life has potential to be immensely bigger and more gratifying if you’re willing to not insist on how it should be and then step into that scary place of saying “I don’t know what I don’t know.”

The crash-and-burn stories I’ve heard about people who’ve moved to Italy are usually of the ilk of people being miffed or frustrated that life in Italy didn’t turn out to be the easy fairytale vision they had of their new lives. Difficulties are labeled inconveniences rather than opportunities for learning and growing in a new culture.

The expats that I’ve seen thrive are those who roll with the punches, those who don’t stubbornly insist on life being equally as convenient and predictable as their former lives. They embrace stepping onto a path in a brand new land with surprises lying in wait. Sure, they’ve come armed with a compass for reference, and maybe a rough map, but ultimately they carry a recognition they’re in unchartered territory.

When it comes to building a new life, let your passion be your fuel.

Not your beliefs. Beliefs can be a cloak that seems to provide a sense of security and safety. Beliefs also can be a prison we build around ourselves. They can hold us back from real, expansive living. When you hone in on and set sail with your passions, watch out. Things happen.

“Passion is a rather frightening thing because if you have passion you don’t know where it will take you.”
― Jiddu KrishnamurtiFreedom from the Known

Finally, let there be space. Let there be stillness.

This invites the potential for the old, unhelpful patterns to fall away and for the unknown to start doing its magic. The benefit of stillness has been the hardest concept for me to get my head around simply because my head doesn’t know what to do with it. A mind that can’t explain something, much less control it, gets really cranky and starts jerking one’s metaphorical chain to get them back in line with what is known and familiar. Believe me, I’ve fought this part tooth and nail for a long time, but a mind run amuck without any real breathing room eventually burns out the throttle on one’s psyche.

For years I’ve been dragging my heels in regards to embracing meditation. Maybe it’s because one time, many, many years ago, I spent a full hour in an isolation tank (when they were all the rage). One hour alone with my mind left me practically running and screaming from anything that would again expose the chaos of my mind so blatantly.

I share this in case you have experienced anything similar and said: “Nope, not for me.” But here’s the big unlock for me, one that actually makes me laugh at myself. The mind hates being observed. So, initially, it resorts to turning up the volume. It throws up the threat of such deafening noise that it’s only natural to shut that door quickly and turn away. If you decide to persist, the mind’s second line of defense is turning it into yet another goal, another ideal, to which you certainly will measure yourself a dismal failure.

Don’t buy into this treachery.

Our minds don’t want us to reap the benefits of what’s on the other side of these snarling guard dogs. Our minds want our lives to be the same old thing.

I’ve recently adopted a regular meditation practice. Every person has to find what works best for them. Mine doesn’t include chanting, mantras or lighting candles in front of pictures of Jesus, prophets or sages. I pop on my headphones and play a variety of sounds from nature. In fact, I avoid anything that sounds human or mechanical. I harken to sounds that soothe my soul and slow down my heart and breathing. And when thoughts invariably want to use this as yet another playground for luring me into an endless loop of dialog with myself, I’ve learned to not chide myself. Instead, I gently lead myself back to my breath and the sounds of nature.

Meditation has several potential benefits. It reveals the theater of the mind. Living unconsciously means not being aware of our mind’s behaviors, leaving it to keep doing its thing unchecked while keeping us repeating our past and our conditioning. Secondly, meditation soothes the nervous system. Boy, have I needed that. I call it a bona fide vacation from myself. It starts balancing the scales of a psyche that has been out of whack.

Lastly, becoming still and inviting a deep and profound silence into your life on a regular basis allows the unknown to move and work. When we’re constantly sitting in the director’s chair, insisting on how everything must play out, the potential of the unknown remains sidelined.

Create space, be still, and the unknown will be at your side laying bricks of a new life.


By |2019-01-19T21:04:19+01:00March 21st, 2018|Personal musings|16 Comments

About the Author:

I’m an American expat living in Italy!


  1. Judy May 11, 2020 at 10:43 am - Reply

    Enjoy reading your posts Jed. Moved to Sicily last Aug and glad to have read your article on how to obtain the PDS. Can’ t agree more that watching Italian movies with English Subtitles help me with my oral Italian. Let’s hope things will get all settled down and we can go out freely and enjoy the beautiful Summer.

    • Jed May 13, 2020 at 9:43 pm - Reply

      Ciao, Judy. I imagine that Sicily is a beautiful place to be during this time of year (we might be vacationing there later in the summer if we’re able to travel a bit more freely). Hopefully, you have the ability to enjoy your surroundings adequately. I think we’re going to tackle another Italian film tonight. The copy we have doesn’t have English subtitles but I’m able to get the gist of it. Each time my brand clicks a little faster! Stay safe! Jed

  2. Chip Meeks March 23, 2018 at 10:56 am - Reply

    Thanks. “Life is what happens while you’re making other plans!” John Lennon.
    Have a great rest of your week!

    • Jed March 23, 2018 at 12:31 pm - Reply

      You too, Chip! Great quote from John Lennon.

  3. elizabeth wholey March 22, 2018 at 8:50 am - Reply

    Wonderful photo of the man laying the new stones. I’ve always wondered how they do it! And it’s a lovely metaphor for this blog. As I read, I thought I wonder if Jed is meditating, then you reveal that you are. You inspire me, and you’re probably going to start a trend.

    • Jed March 22, 2018 at 1:13 pm - Reply

      Ciao Elizabeth, it’s fascinating to watch the craft and the precision of this kind of work. It’s certainly not just laying down asphalt and then finishing it off with a steamroller.

      Yes, meditation is becoming an essential counterbalance to a brain that often works a little too hard.

      Hope to see you in April. I’ll be there a couple of times, including later in the month with my sister and her good friend. xoxox Jed

  4. Tia March 22, 2018 at 5:15 am - Reply

    Also love your paintings and photography, my mother was an artist and a photo-colorist, plus she retouched negatives. Very talented. I cannot draw a lick, but I can recognize good work when I see it and your photography is exceptional!

    • Jed March 22, 2018 at 1:10 pm - Reply

      Grazie! I remember “back in the day” and early in my career in advertising when there were no computers, no PHotoshop, and only conventional film. Retouching negatives was quite an art. I wish some of today’s “youngsters” could have an understanding of that craft and appreciate more fully how far technology has brought us!

  5. Tia March 21, 2018 at 4:46 pm - Reply

    I have you to thank and family that live in Italy to thank for what I hope to be a smoother path to moving to Italy. The only thing I can’t get behind is driving of a 70hp vehicle in the first year of driving in Italy since we are from the USA. Anyway this was one that didn’t make much sense.

    • Jed March 21, 2018 at 7:04 pm - Reply

      Yes, Tia, the less-powerful car thing for the first year is frustrating. Luckily, I had purchased a Fiat Punto, which fit the bill, before understanding the limitation. I love the car. What some people do is find a cheaper used car that satisfies the requirements for the first year, and then they buy the car they really want! Jed

      • Tia March 22, 2018 at 5:07 am - Reply

        I picture a small pick-up! Looking at a house just outside of Assisi, with some property. My husband is a contractor in the US. We live in an isolated area in the Sierra Nevada mountains at the 5000 ft. level. I think that we would make excellent transplants to Italy. The nearest store to us is 15 miles away and the next largest is 30 miles away. Nothing comes easy here. So the transformation won’t be as hard as it might be for someone else. Also our building dept. is just as difficult as Italy! Ha ha. Anyway it’s been a dream of ours for the last five years, glad we are not going into it blind!

        • Jed March 22, 2018 at 1:06 pm - Reply

          Hi, Tia. Thanks for writing. I’m glad you share your perspective regarding a more rural location. I think you will be in heaven since there are so many options in Italy. Umbria, where I keep two small houses is glorious for rural living.There are times I have to pinch myself that I can have such an expansive, breathtaking view of the surrounding mountainous terrain, without going broke. A million dollar view without the million dollar price tag! We also love our location (now home base) in Veneto, and the relative ease of getting to Venice (maybe we’ll actually move there one day!). I’m not sure how long I want to keep one foot in Veneto and another in Umbria. Simplifying has great appeal these days!

  6. Betty March 21, 2018 at 4:32 pm - Reply

    Jed, your philosophical essays are inspiring, and this one takes the cake. It is relevant in all walks of life, whatever its season, whomever it reaches. It is especially pertinent to everyday interactions, relationships and occurrences to which we often blindly react or allow to sweep by overhead without notice.”Life is not all about you” has been a helpful mantra for me to stay present.

    • Jed March 21, 2018 at 7:01 pm - Reply

      Grazie, Betty. This topic has been “fermenting” for a couple of weeks, and the man working in the street helped it crystallize. I will borrow the “Life is not all about you” mantra. Thanks for sending that my way!

  7. Joyce Beckett March 21, 2018 at 3:06 pm - Reply

    What a powerful, insightful, beautiful post, Jed! I have practiced meditation sporadically throughout my life but have never stuck with it. You have inspired me to try again. I love it when truth finds me. Thank you for sending it…j

    • Jed March 21, 2018 at 6:59 pm - Reply

      You and me both with the taking “stabs” at meditation. It’s amazing how, in the past, my mind quickly convinces me it’s a waste of time, saying “Show me the results, now!” I love when the truth finds me, which comes mostly when I get out of my own way!

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