Life in France, Finding my Path, the inner me & the life force within
by Caroline Postlethwaite
I would like to share with you a big change that has happened in my life since early January.
First a little background
We, my husband James, myself & our two boys Oscar & Miles, then 10 & 5 years old, moved to France 6 years ago, first to Reynès near Céret & then to Sorède. We moved here for sun, which I was craving, combined with the French culture & language that my husband was feeling drawn too. We also thought the kids might get a better education here.
We had been thinking about moving to France for a few years but we finally made the decision as we were on holiday in France in 2004. We decided we would move to either Céret or Collioure.
It was an odd thing because like so many things in life that are meant to happen, we returned from that holiday only to get phone call right out of the blue, in which someone asked my husband if they could buy his business ‘Postlethwaite herbs.’ It was perfect. Selling the business would give us a little money, which would in turn give us time to find our feet & work out what we were going to do in France. We had vague ideas of running gites. It was an exciting time.
We finished renovating our house in Hastings & put it on the market. We spent 2 months in France in the spring of 2005 in almost continual rain looking for a place to live. We hadn’t bargained for so much rain (it was spring) & it almost shattered our whole illusion of France! In the end we found a house to buy for us to live in, which we were told could be converted into gites, in part anyway, located in Reynes. We also bought a lovely little village house in Caramany near Ille sur Tet for a bargain price. It needed some work & then we could rent it out. Meanwhile we got 3 offers for our house in England one of which we accepted.
All seemed rosy until our buyer pulled out. We had signed a ‘compromis de vente’ in France so we could well have lost our 10% deposit. Though we had a ‘clause dispensive’ meaning we could pull out if our buyer did, we soon realised it had run out and that we were potentially in big trouble. Anyway, despite a huge amount of worry & stress we found another buyer & everything went ahead.
We frantically organised French lessons for the kids & suddenly I got cold feet. We had a lovely large Victorian house in Hastings Old town looking out to sea & the fishing boats. It was a wreck when we bought it but we lovingly restored it to its former glory. Most of its Victorian features had been ripped out or hidden. It was so lovely to discover beautiful fireplaces behind boards & bring the house back to life. We had a lovely front garden full of beautiful flowers. I loved to sit out there looking at the stunning sandstone church opposite, listening to the seagulls overhead.(for me seagulls are the sound of the sea so I love them). You may have seen the church in the series ‘Foyles war’ in fact. People would pass & tell me how lovely my garden was as I sat out in it with a cup of tea. As the garden was small, I had gone to town on buying pots & hanging baskets. With the help of ‘miracle grow’ they were full of scented flowers. It was a joy for me to share it with passers by like this.
I also had lots of friends to meet up with. Our children would play regularly together on the West Hill (a beautiful grassy hill overlooking Hastings old town the sea). I was leaving all this behind. Did I really want to? I wasn’t sure, but my husband & children were all keen.
The move was pretty stressful as the buyers were a nightmare & Miles my younger son had a very bad asthma attack in which he nearly died on our way across France. It meant a night in a Northern French hospital for both him & my husband whilst I stayed in a chain hotel with our other son, as our lorry full of furniture was driven to our new house. It was one of the most worrying nights I’ve ever had as I couldn’t even call him, I had no phone.
The next morning staff returned to the hotel & my husband did manage to get hold of me & I was relieved to hear Miles was better. Once at the hospital I found out the doctor looking after Miles was wonderful & it was a real shock that he actually spent time talking to me. No hospital doctor in England ever had time for me like that. The only thing that was irritating were a set of clowns who walked into Miles’s room trying to be funny. When all you want to do is sleep after a night of worry they did not seem very funny to any of us!!!
The bill for an ambulance & one night in hospital was 1000€ & our English E415( I think that was the name) was on the lorry with our furniture which was supposed to cover it. Luckily the hospital staff were understanding & allowed us to sort it out later. We did have to pay 500€ of it ourselves later, but it was worth it to save Mile’s life!
Anyway we made it & we had several months of honeymoon type enjoyment of France. Everything French was wonderful & everything English was terrible, you know how it is. Our neighbours though a little close for comfort, adopted us & tried their best to make us French. They were hoping we could drop our past & start anew. Unfortunately it was mission impossible! However they were very kind & I leaned a lot of French because they insisted on talking to me & training me up. They were a family of grandparents, parents & 2 teenage boys all living in the same house.
After only a couple of months of us arriving in France, we returned by car to see the whole family in tears. The father of the boys had walked out suddenly leaving the family & his wife for another women. It came as a complete shock to both them & us. His wife was left crying for months. It was so sad. Only a few weeks before the son & father had serenaded me at our front door with trumpets because they found out it was my birthday. The atmosphere next door really changed as the family tried to make sense of what had happened.
Gradually I missed being able to walk into town & the land we had became too much of a burden. We also learned that in fact we could not get permission to build ‘gites’ here after all. We, in the mean time sold our Caramany house as it was an hour a half ‘s drive away every time we had to do a changeover. It was just not practical & having had a winter of renters from hell there too, certainly didn’t help.
We decided to move to Sorède, nearer the sea & in a village. Here we are in the outskirts of Sorede. Gardens are well manicured (apart from ours that is!) but everyone keeps themselves to themselves. In a way I don’t mind that too much though.
James & I worked non-stop. In Sorède we bought 3 gites to do up & rent out for holiday rentals as well as a house to live in. We rented them most of the year.
Then suddenly we found ourselves taken by yet another place in La Vallee Heureuse. It was beautiful with a river running just beyond the garden gate. It needed work but we had to have it, though we had no money to buy it with. Getting a loan was not easy, but finally we got one & bought it. After doing it up we started to rent it out for holidays too. Now we were stretched to the hilt & working almost flat out mostly paying off loans.
Though renting out was a practical solution for living in France with limited French, as time went on I became more & more unhappy doing it. The bookings side of it was fine, though a lot of work, but I hated all the cleaning. Though many people renting were lovely, we had a few really difficult people who I found very hard to handle. I took it all personally & got upset. I hate being looked down apon.
It became clearer & clearer that neither James nor I were set out to do this type of work on this scale, though we were highly successful at it. It was just as clear to me earlier in my life that I was not cut out to be a nurse. However, I loved training to be an Osteopath & Naturopath & loved working as one. Unfortunately to work as one here though, I didn’t deem possible, as the fees would be enormous & my French was rubbish!
Last year was easier as I got people to help me clean who were wonderful at it, which really helped, but I still wasn’t feeling fulfilled. James got more & more weighed down by burocracy. We felt tied by it wherever we turned. It seemed all we were doing was working to pay off loans & taxes. Any new ideas we had seemed to be killed almost instantly as we realised how much red tape we’d have to deal with if we wanted to do them. We decided to free ourselves & sell all but our main house & our place in the Valee Heureuse even though we weren’t sure what else we’d do. We realised that the best thing to do in France is to earn very little & spend the free time enjoying life, which is why we’d moved here in the first place. We’d lost sight of this & become English go getters again.
As time went on after the initial honeymoon period when we first moved to France, I became more & more disillusioned with France. In fact I had times when I felt negativity seemed to be all around me. I began to hate being in France & disliked almost everyone & had few friends.
It also led to conflicts within the family. I became very volatile & continually felt stressed & alone. I ran away by becoming a workaholic, which was all I could be successful at ( but at a high cost to my well being). I also felt like a failure, as I still could not speak French. At the beginning I had tried really hard but after a year of pained looking faces, it put me off trying. Not good I know.
I was also suffering from a chronic yeast infection very linked with stress. I felt tired & had low energy much of the time. I then met a friend who I really admired as she always seemed to be happy & said ‘I want what you’ve got’. She invited me to her place & over cups of tea, she took me through the Alpha course which I found made lots of sense. However, the stumbling block for me is the belief that there is only one way & that is Christianity. Only Christians would get through the gates of heaven & be saved & any other religion was not ‘right’. That just didn’t make sense to me. How could God only give a few people privileged seats so to speak? How about all the amazing people who have done wonderful work, those aren’t Christian like the Dalai Lama? Surely it’s what you do & how you are that matters, not what you believe? My friend really couldn’t answer this. For her those questions just didn’t seem to matter. It worked for her but not for me. However it prompted my search for more.
I then stumbled across a guy called Jon Kabat Zinn on the internet. I took to him as he had a Buddhist type approach, but being American, he’d westernised it somehow & made it something I could relate to. His message was about being in the present moment, meditating & yoga but also learning to enjoy everything you do by being truly with what you are doing.
This really led me towards Buddhism to delve more deeply into that. It made a lot more sense to me, as they are all encompassing & believe in unity rather that separation. There is no ‘we are better than you’ message in there. It felt right.
I got a huge amount of insight from reading many of Thich Nhat Hanh’s books too. Though he’s a Buddhist monk he understands normal life & is very practical in his approach. Coming from Vietnam he’s seen a huge amount of suffering. Despite all he’s suffered though, he has not become hard. He remains truly open & compassionate even to the American soldiers who killed many of the Monks around him. That really takes some doing. He found his compassion by understanding that the American soldiers had killed mostly as a result of conditioning that had got a hold of them & made them become almost inhuman. He understood that anybody could become that way. His books helped me hugely.
I also started yoga with Marian in Ceret & the first class with her created a huge shift in me. I suppose I just hadn’t realised quite how stressed & tense I was. It suddenly all dropped away. When I returned home James said I looked about 10 years younger. I felt great. I also did a lot of investigation about chronic candiasis which I realised I was suffering from. The doctor had given me medication for Thrush but of course it came right back as the cause was still there.
I went back to my Naturopathic roots & searched the internet & I put myself on a strict anti candida diet. This means no yeast or sugar. Believe me that means that a lot of foods are out of bounds. I had a real determination to sort it out though, so sticking to the diet was not that hard, though I did have some slip ups. I gradually moved family meals back to lots of fruit veg & wholemeal everything too. There was some initial protest but the kids have adapted now. I think this much more alkaline forming diet has really helped. I gradually had more energy.
Shortly after Christmas I became really ill with Flu. Burning up delirious & weak. My son Miles was very patient, loving & really looked after me. I had a plane to catch to England on the third day of it. I was still feeling awful but just about made it to the freezing cold basement flat where I was staying. With every heater element in the flat on I spent the week recovering & reading enlightening words. I normally go shopping in London, but just didn’t have the energy or inclination.
I started to read ‘The power of Now’ towards the end of my stay. I totally related to it as Eckhart Tolle is not from any religion yet his approach is quite Buddhist in many ways, but his message is about spirituality which is accessible to all, it’s not about ‘belonging’ to a religion. The message in a nutshell was be in the now, as that is all we truly have, drop your ego, don’t believe most of your thoughts, get in touch with your inner life force & follow where it’s leading you as much as you can. The book totally transformed me & for 2 weeks or so I had no negativity whatsoever. My relationship also took a leap in the right direction & I related so much better to my teenage children. Suddenly I saw that most of the problems I was having with France were caused by my head & sensitive ego.
There was a survey done recently that my husband told me about which said the French were the most negative people in the world, so I suppose sadly I had added to the statistic, but suddenly I was free & it didn’t matter anymore. In fact I understood that it was the conditioning that French people have had that has created many of the problems & that they, as much as I, were suffering from it.
A French friend contacted me on Facebook to tell me this is why she’s moved to England! Of course life there is not perfect either, that’s partly why I’m here! It’s a paradox too isn’t it that in so many surveys point out that quality of life in France is deemed to be the best in the world. The lifestyle, the food, the relatively short working hours, the long lunches, the wine….why with this are some French so negative?
The people I had had problems with were no longer a problem. It was very odd indeed. Even the women in the Marie was friendly & smiling at me all of a sudden, usually she gives me faces of disapproval & lectures me on how ‘wrong’ I am in some way, tutting frequently. Even a simple request used to bring this out in her. Where I’d created conflict I went about resolving it. I realised that so many of my problems were down too me & my own ego. I’m still on the path & I do have some days were I get negative again but I’m aware of it & know how to watch it, accept it & shine a light on it so it goes away pretty quickly again.
I have a dog & on walks with her I have sometimes felt complete bliss come over me. Like I & the world around me are one, like I can do anything, like I love everything & want to give that love to everyone & everything. It the most amazing way to feel. Now I am being pulled along a wonderful path where there’s no turning back as I want to move towards the light more & more. I feel so much more connected to everything around me & I no longer feel alone.
appreciate the beauty around me too. I look at the wild flower & really see & feel what’s there. I stare in awe at the snow topped Canigou Mountain & understand why it’s sacred. Sometimes I stand by streams stretch up my arms & feel the life force tingle through me & also feel any negativity leave out through my feet & into the water to be transformed & carried away. I so appreciate the sound of the birds again. It is like rediscovering the world for a 2nd time.
I feel drawn to doing something with herbs with James again as I watch them explode out all over the place at a time when they ironically are on the way to being banned from our shops. Next year when we have more time we want to start herb walks to help people discover the magic of herbs & how to prepare them. I also very much now want to get back into healing people, something I’m good at & can do well & something I feel completely at one with universe in.
I realise this may all sound a little mad, but if you really look at it, isn’t our normal life a little mad? If any of you out there want to share this journey with me or want to find out more please contact me. In the mood of following my inner voice I was drawn to write for Kate’s site & plucked up the courage to contact her. “Yes” she said “as long as it relates to the P-O.” So here is what came up!