And when they turn into mental prisons…
Believe me, I’ve been learning this lesson in spades during my eight years in Italy. I’d never really considered that having expectations could become something problematic. That is until I realized that my expectations had transitioned into attachments. And then, they turned into something more onerous: demands.
I had plenty of ideas, i.e. expectations, about how my new life in Italy was “supposed” to play out.
Now, looking back these several years later, I’m taken aback at just how differently my Italian life has manifested. I’m also amazed at the amount of mental energy (aka, angst) I expended attempting to bend reality to my preconceived notions. In short, I spent a ton of energy trying to control the uncontrollable. And I had to exhaust my futile efforts, learn to go with the flow, AND trust that unexpected and perceived “unwelcome” turns would lead somewhere good.
My original expectations?
That I would move to my home in Umbria and live in pastoral bliss. I would dive into my photography and painting with unfettered enthusiasm. I’d have long leisurely lunches, enjoying great food and wine. I’d soon be speaking fluent Italian and living the charmed life.
Much came to fruition, no question. I LOVED my home and its beautiful, tranquil setting. I began diving into my art. I enjoyed countless gatherings that involved delicious food and wine. Check, check, check.
Then my expectations had to tussle with the bureaucracy and logistics of becoming a resident. I had to travel the long, winding road to getting my Italian driver’s license (read the post here).
I consider myself to be realistic and pragmatic. But I somehow glossed over the significant effort that would be required to navigate it all, with a particular callout to establish an intermediate fluency in speaking and comprehending Italian. It didn’t take long for me to swallow hard and acknowledge to myself that not only had my expectations included everything falling magically into place, I’d developed attachments to that idea. The result? I found myself in moments of petulance (mostly inwardly, but I remain painfully aware of a few outward moments).
Talk about that moment in a beautiful movie when the romantic soundtrack is brutally interrupted by the LP needle being screeched across the record.
Why am I sharing this with you?
Because, if you are in process of planning your move to Italy or if you’re about to land here and begin your life anew, I urge you to reflect on this. I urge you to temper your expectations and not hold to them too tenaciously. Acknowledge that you have expectations. Be mindful that they can very easily turn into attachments and those can be a pack of hungry internal animals.
Be ready to surrender.
I know that it sounds trite. But my experience of living in Italy for several years now has underscored the importance and wisdom of letting go and trusting that somehow everything will work out—even though it might not unfurl as you’d imagined.
My life in Italy is now significantly different.
Where I’ve “landed” has been an evolution and adventure that I would have never conceived. Prior to now, we kept an apartment in Rome (for my spouse’s job) and danced between Umbria and Rome. It wasn’t easy. Then we moved to Treviso when the job in Rome was transferred to Venice. When we moved there, I thought, “Finally, this is it!” Treviso is an incredibly beautiful small city, and its proximity to Venice (my favorite city in Italy) seemed like an unbeatable combination.
I’d shifted my expectations. I formed new attachments to the idea that now life would play out in our new locale and the soundtrack music to my Italian life would swell with trembling violin strings.
Then Covid hit, throwing us, and everyone in the world into a tailspin.
A solid six months into the pandemic, we began to re-examine our priorities and our options. Crisis has a knack for knocking our expectations and attachments loose.
Had I not had the lessons of the previous six years of seeing my ideas about how my Italian life should be playing out challenged and snuffed out, I easily could’ve dug in my heels and demanded that life in Veneto fix itself so that my vision, my new attachments, could be realized.
The vision of life in Liguria was born.
A summer visit to see my in-laws and our young nephew living there made us realize that being close to family was something of paramount importance. It also didn’t hurt that the magnificent sea views beckoned us as well.
And, so, our journey began. It was as though the great river of life was asking us jump into the river of possibility and leave our previous attachments and ideas about how our lives were supposed to play out. Making the move came with risks and a few pesky potholes of fear. We’d have to sell our beloved home in Umbria AND our city center flat in Treviso to make it all work. We’d have to leave the security of what we knew while trusting that, somehow, things would fall into place and the right doors would open.
Thankfully, everything did fall into place, though we found ourselves trying to manhandle the how and when along the way. Time and time again, the universe commanded me to “Get out of the way!”
It took letting go of attachments and allowing something new, something unforeseen to emerge.
I’m here to tell you that I’ve resisted this important life lesson with every stubborn fiber of my being. I’ve been successfully conditioned to believe and act as though life can’t run itself without my bossy intervention. Letting all that fall away has only come through becoming increasingly aware of 1) My tenacious attachments 2) Getting out of the endless loop of mental machinations 3) Trusting in the river of life.
Life in Italy may very well lay bare your expectations and attachments.
I can’t underscore this message strong enough. I’ve heard too many stories of people who’ve moved to Italy, and when their expectations didn’t pan out as imagined, they didn’t open themselves up to the other possibilities. Living outside the certainty of the known becomes just too uncomfortable. Too many such people pack up their toys and head home, blaming Italy for not delivering.
Be willing to surrender the river when it changes course.
Because it will! And this, my friends, is my piece of advice, as you consider and plan your future in Italy. I speak from experience. Never in my wildest imagination could I have believed I’d have taken a circuitous route around Italy and end up settling, quite happily, in Liguria. I’d like to believe this is our final, putting-down-roots home. I’d like to say I’m no longer the vagabond so many of my friends and family have come to believe. My mother would always tell my sisters, “Jed is restless.” Maybe she was right, maybe I was always searching and trying to orchestrate my life to some conditioned version (attachment) of what life is supposed to be. And maybe now, I’m finally reaping the benefits of taking my cue from how life is unfolding and learning to lean into what life is offering.
In closing, I offer some words from J. Krishnamurti from “As One Is.” I believe he touches on an essential truth about being truly open to receive, and the impossible state when a person is doggedly attached to expectations that become attachments, blocking anything else.
“It is only such a mind that can receive something which brings measureless happiness to life.”