Google+
Home > Stories > East to West: Opening the Door
East to West: Opening the Door

June 29, 2013

By Angela Jeffs

May 2013

It was good to get away for a week in May. Good to feel yet another reprieve from surgery and escape the hospital, spend days with old friends from Australia on their way home from Ireland, and then pack my own bag for a quick dash to Denmark.

The retreat was for four days, but I decided to tag on a day each end to make the most of visiting Scandinavia for the first time ever. My initial trip of any consequence anywhere since arriving in Scotland October last, I was beginning to understand why my aunt had never been further than Dundee, let alone gone abroad, for many years. On one level it’s very easy to live here; time slides by with the seasons, especially when there is no work, no measurable social life, no particular reason to go anywhere. And it is very beautiful…

So is Denmark: low, lush, slow paced and committed to sustainable energy policies. Cycle paths, technology geared to saving water and heat, wind farms… and what was the longest bridge in the world (from Denmark to Malmo in Sweden) until the Chinese announced their own engineered marvel just the other day.

Planning to go to a lecture by Leonard Jacobson at the Gestalt Institute in the evening, the far side of Central Station and Tivoli Gardens from my hotel, I made the most of the first day by visiting the Karen Blixen Museum/Karen Blixen Museet some 25km along the coast from Copenhagen. I was curious: how did she make her own transition, from the African continent back to the country of her birth? After losing her lover, her beloved coffee farm and all the “stuff” she had transported by sea and overland from Europe  (“I love my things!”  as scripted for Meryl Streep in the film Out of Africa), how did she make her own adjustment from light, heat and adventure to darkness, cold and repression?

Rungstedlund is a beautiful place. I walked from Rungsted Kyst station along the main road, turned right towards the sea and then seeing a small painted sign, dove into woodland and followed a path that wound in and out among trees and pastures. A stone on a small hill distracted, but this was in memory of a famed poet that used Karen’s home as a retreat; she threw it to open unconditionally to friends needing a quiet place to create, find inspiration and enjoy respite. Then before I knew it, I was upon her, literally: a simple flat slab of stone inscribed KAREN BLIXEN under a monumental beech tree, where she had asked to be buried.

Just around the next bend,  the garden where Karen (1885-1962) grew the flowers that she arranged so artfully throughout her home. Then a rustic bridge over an idyllic reed-fringed pool. Beyond which, her mother’s house which then became her own… what was originally a historic inn on the coast road. Staying true to her memory, Rungstedlund is now divided into two parts: the left-hand part of the house facing the sea transformed with great sensitivity into a museum and exhibition space, cafe and shop; her own private apartment, set at a right angle, and including her desk, the gramophone that Dennis Finch-Hatton gave her, plus a whole room devoted to her artwork. She studied fine art before leaving for Africa, where she kept diaries, starting to write seriously only after her return.

A short film filled me in on the remainder of her life after leaving Africa:  she made a public pact with the devil, no less, stating that he could have her soul as long as she was allowed to write and continue telling her stories until her death. As to her ageing eccentricity in combination with continuing dogged determination and courage, that is legendary.

As to my curiosity about how she coped with her own transition, from South to North, the woman working in the shop could not help. “Ask my colleague over in Karen’s rooms; she’s more likely to know.” So I did. But she didn’t, either. Rather I had to read between the lines and work it out for myself.

Both women could only say that Karen never recovered from losses in – and the loss of – her “beloved Africa”. Yet as far as either could remember, she never wrote about it, but rather used the written word as a way to create a life for herself and move forward. It was the US that initially established her reputation by publishing Seven Gothic Tales in 1934, with Denmark quickly getting a translation out the following year. So successfully, with so many titles and translated worldwide, she is now regarded as Denmark’s most famous literary figure.

Thinking of my mother, aunt and others born on the cusp of the 20th century, however brave you were, you did not talk about emotional difficulties, but suffered in silence and got on with things as best you could. Stiff upper lips all round.

Karen wrote not only to create a meaningful life for herself but to survive. Her success made her not only independently wealthy and quite a star, which must have helped soften the pain she undoubtedly suffered, especially in those early years of adjustment and as the syphilis she had inherited from her womanising husband continued to take its toll. She never really recovered, and photographs in later years (she died aged 77) suggest a far older woman.

Thinking about Karen, putting her embrace of transition into a truer perspective, was the perfect preparation for the retreat that began the next day at Maribo Inspiration Centre on a low flat verdant island two hours south of Copenhagen. I had been told to present myself at an address in the capital, from where I would be given a lift by Katrina and Lena. How wonderfully synchronistic to discover that we were acquaintances from the retreat in France back in 2012. In fact, Katrina and I did an exercise together that had obviously brought us together in a way neither of us could have imagined at the time.

I deepened relationships with several people from October last. At that retreat we had all been staying in self-catering cottages, so never really got to know others well. This time, being all in one building and eating wonderful organic meals together three times a day with Leonard and Mary, was a very different experience. Blossoming is the word I would use.

My visit to Karen had been sweetened with the swooning scent of lilacs. In the retreat’s garden, ancient apple trees were in full bloom… a place of exquisite beauty energised by the work and mindfulness of all those who came seeking silence, release from pain, answers to age-old questions… heaven on earth.

I wrote late last year about how I had left Provence feeling I had missed something important. I believe this time I both identified it, and (dare I say? yeah, go on Angela) nailed it.

As a child, my parents’ bedroom door was always locked against my sister and myself. It did not bother her but it did me. I felt excluded, rejected, my own feelings and needs unacknowledged. Retreating to my own room and creating an inner life of drama that satisfied my desire for an open stretched adventurous life, I requested a key of my own. After all, if my parents could have secrets, so could I. But it was denied.

Result, I created a key in my imagination and turned it in the lock. I realized on the third day of the retreat – an early morning session of Osho’s Dynamic Meditation undoubtedly going a long way to opening up and letting go – that I had never really opened the door of my inner life onto the world outside.

I could not believe it was so simple. Just days before leaving for the airport, hanging Rita’s gift to me after her trip to Bhutan – a photograph of a Buddhist monk pushing open heavy wooden temple doors – I had remembered her words and burst into histrionic tears… “For you, Angela, because with your writing programme you help us push open our own doors.”

The irony. Helping others while remaining locked behind my own. And unlike many on the retreat, who had suffered severe abuse as children, I had locked my own door and forgotten to open it as I grew older. Indeed, I may have even thrown away the key, or tried to. Unnaturally the consequences remained with me, leaving me in anguish and drama all these years.

So I went out under the apple trees, closed my eyes, breathed in heaven as deeply as I could, opened my door and stepped through. Nor was there anything in the way on the far side, just the light of infinite opportunity.

Returning to Scotland, I might have come down to earth with a bump. Having hit a petrol pump with my car the Saturday before, Akii was expecting me to rant and rave… As it was, it simply made me laugh (once I had made sure he was safe and sound and the car not too badly dented). Trying to hold him above shame and depression for the next week or so was not easy, especially since my attitude was, ‘It was an accident. It’s history. Right now everything is fine, so let’s be grateful and move on…”

Sadly Akii could not get past ‘His Story’ until the insurance was settled. By contrast, I am so shifted, so moved, I feel unrecognisable. I had been bashing  my head against that door all my life, and now nothing stands in my way.

It helps of course that after six months of cold and the latest Scottish Spring for decades, the sun has come out.

But then of course it has.

Late summer 2012 writer and journalist Angela Jeffs moved from Japan, where she lived for 25 years, to Scotland from where she reports monthly on how her life is changing. This is the eight installment. See here for part one, here for part two, here for part three, here for part four, here for part five, here for part six, and here for part seven. 

Visit her facebook book page to learn more about her latest book Chasing Shooting Stars: A South American Paper Trail

- See more at: http://embrace-transition.com/2013/05/30/east-to-west-time-slip/#sthash.XSz396at.dpuf

Late summer 2012 writer and journalist Angela Jeffs moved from Japan, where she lived for 25 years, to Scotland from where she reports monthly on how her life is changing. This is the eight installment. See here for part one, here for part two, here for part three, here for part four, here for part five, here for part six, and here for part seven. 

Visit her facebook book page to learn more about her latest book Chasing Shooting Stars: A South American Paper Trail

- See more at: http://embrace-transition.com/2013/05/30/east-to-west-time-slip/#sthash.XrpygFBn.dpuf

Late summer 2012 writer and journalist Angela Jeffs moved from Japan, where she lived for 25 years, to Scotland from where she reports monthly on how her life is changing. This is the eight installment. See here for part one, here for part two, here for part three, here for part four, here for part five, here for part six, and here for part seven. 

Visit her facebook book page to learn more about her latest book Chasing Shooting Stars: A South American Paper Trail

- See more at: http://embrace-transition.com/2013/05/30/east-to-west-time-slip/#sthash.XrpygFBn.dpuf

Late summer 2012 writer and journalist Angela Jeffs moved from Japan, where she lived for 25 years, to Scotland from where she reports monthly on how her life is changing. This is the eight installment. See here for part one, here for part two, here for part three, here for part four, here for part five, here for part six, and here for part seven. 

Visit her facebook book page to learn more about her latest book Chasing Shooting Stars: A South American Paper Trail

- See more at: http://embrace-transition.com/2013/05/30/east-to-west-time-slip/#sthash.XrpygFBn.dpuf

Late summer 2012 writer and journalist Angela Jeffs moved from Japan, where she lived for 25 years, to Scotland from where she reports monthly on how her life is changing. This is the eight installment. See here for part one, here for part two, here for part three, here for part four, here for part five, here for part six, and here for part seven. 

Visit her facebook book page to learn more about her latest book Chasing Shooting Stars: A South American Paper Trail

- See more at: http://embrace-transition.com/2013/05/30/east-to-west-time-slip/#sthash.XrpygFBn.dpuf

Late summer 2012 writer and journalist Angela Jeffs moved from Japan, where she lived for 25 years, to Scotland from where she reports monthly on how her life is changing. This is the eight installment. See here for part one, here for part two, here for part three, here for part four, here for part five, here for part six, and here for part seven. 

Visit her facebook book page to learn more about her latest book Chasing Shooting Stars: A South American Paper Trail

- See more at: http://embrace-transition.com/2013/05/30/east-to-west-time-slip/#sthash.ySqyu024.dpuf

Late summer 2012 writer and journalist Angela Jeffs moved from Japan, where she lived for 25 years, to Scotland from where she reports monthly on how her life is changing. This is the ninth installment. See here for part one, here for part two, here for part three, here for part four, here for part five, here for part six, here for part seven and here for part eight.

Visit her facebook page to learn more about her latest book Chasing Shooting Starts: A South American Paper Trail.

See here for part one, here for part two, here for part three, here for part four, here for part five, here for part six, and here for part seven.  – See more at: http://embrace-transition.com/2013/05/30/east-to-west-time-slip/#sthash.ySqyu024.dpuf
About the author: After training in theatre and Laban dance, Angela Jeffs (http://www.angelajeffs.com/) stepped sideways into London publishing. She worked freelance as an editor from 1973, then reinvented herself in Japan as a journalist and writer from 1986. She was a weekly columnist for The Japan Times for 22 years, and Japan Correspondent for Asia Magazine in Hong Kong from 1989-1996. Her book Insider's Tokyo, commissioned from Singapore, was published in 2001. Since 2005 she has been developing and facilitating a programme of therapeutic creative writing under the title Drawing on The Writer Within (www.thewriterwithin.net/). Her latest book, Chasing Shooting Stars: A South American Paper Trail into the Past, can be ordered via Amazon.com.
STAY IN THE LOOP
Subscribe to this feed to always be in sync with new articles & tips
Subscribe to RSS
Daily updates and comments on Twitter.com Be the first to know.
Follow us on Twitter
Enjoy the community and help us build towards a better place.
Like us on Facebook
Check out all photos on our Instagram account.
Connect to Instagram
Passionate about inspiring people, become inspired!
Follow us on Pinterest


SUBSCRIBE TO OUR NEWSLETTER