Leaving Expectations Behind and Going with the Flow

July 12, 2016

Leaving Expectations Behind and Going with the Flow in a Wee Coastal Town in Scotland

It’s been quite a while since I posted here so I thought I’d share what I’ve been up to. I just ended my grand month-long adventure in Ireland and Scotland. Although I’m physically back, I most definitely left a piece of my heart in those two magical countries.

Before I begin, however, I want to say that my reentry into the US was with a heavy heart. I’d been on somewhat of a media cleanse and was unaware of the racial carnage happening back home until some Scots I’d befriended informed me of what was going on.

Why can’t we all just get along?

I know it sounds simplistic, but it’s how I feel.

While I’d traveled across the Atlantic to escape much of what’s been upsetting to me here, I soon realized that Europeans are dealing with their own harsh realities. While I was there, the Istanbul Airport bombing happened, as well as the Brexit vote, which, at its core, is all about exclusivity rather than inclusion.

Suddenly my trip seems insignificant and unimportant in this deeply unsettled world. But I’ve written this long post teeming with photos that I took and so I’ll share it anyway for those of you who might be interested in my adventure.

Here it is.

Scotland made quite an impression on me last year and I took it very seriously when someone uttered my favorite Scottish saying, “Haste Ye Back.” So, when I suddenly found myself unexpectedly signed up for a tour of sacred sites in Ireland with writer Kathleen McGowan, I knew that I couldn’t travel to that part of the world without returning to Scotland.

This time, my plan was to remain relatively put, rather than traveling around the country. And thanks to the generosity of a friend, I stayed at a lovely flat in the charming little coastal town of North Berwick, situated on the Firth of Forth (I love saying that!) which leads to the North Sea.

These days I know better than to attach myself to too many expectations and so I tried to remain open to what would unfold. I’d never traveled anywhere for a whole month, or alone out of the country (hard to believe), and four weeks seemed like such a long time.

But, poof! It’s over.

It was a mixed bag kind-of-a-trip that I couldn’t put a label on if I tried.

My first few days in Ireland were spent with my energy healing friend, Glenda, who I’d never met in person but had known for years through our healing group.

What started out as “Let’s meet in Dublin for tea!” turned into an invitation to stay for several days. We laughed at how risky it was for both of us – two self-proclaimed introverts.

I was nurtured in Glenda’s lovely peaceful home outside of Dublin where I was able to ease out of my jetlag.

We visited the tallest waterfall in Ireland, a holy well, the Irish Sea, ancient standing stones, craggy Hawthorn trees dripping with ribbons and other offerings for the fairies and…drumroll…magnificent forests! A fellow tree-lover, we spent most of our time deep in the woods.

Leaving Expectations Behind, Powerscourt Waterfall, Barbara Sinclair

With Glenda at Powerscourt Waterfall

Leaving Expectations Behind in a Wee Coastal Town in Scotland, Barbara Sinclair

In An Gean Mor (Devil’s Glen)

I met a Pine tree named Jack who had some wise words for me. Sorry, just for me. 🙂

Leaving Expectations Behind an Going With the Flow in a Wee Coastal Town in Scotland, Barbara Sinclair


Note: It especially makes for a more relaxed forest experience without the worry of bears, big cats, or snakes – all of which are absent in Ireland and Scotland (well, Scotland has one snake – the Adder).

I was obsessed with the tree tunnels we passed through on our adventures. Glenda, always the perfect tour guide would say “Do you want me to stop so you can take a picture?” That’s a loaded question for me, as you can imagine.

Leaving Expectations Behind and Going With the Flow in a Wee Coastal Town In Scotland, Barbara Sinclair

Oh, the trees. So much of this trip was about the trees.

It was such a gift – this special introduction to Ireland – and all I can say about Glenda is that we’ll be friends for life.

We clicked like two quiet peas in a pod.

Back in Dublin, I had to come out of my turtle shell as I joined 43 people in the Sacred Ireland tour group. I had met a few of the women at a retreat last year in Montauk, so I didn’t feel completely out of my comfort zone.

I instinctively sat down next to a fellow introvert on the bus the first day and her calming presence helped to keep me centered the whole trip. And can I just add how patient she was with all of my fussing in and out of my bag, dropping things, camera in, camera out, etc. etc.? You know those people on planes – well, I’m one of them.

It was an amazing, fun group of people, with storyteller Kathleen at the helm. Her Irish roots and deep unwavering love of the land and all things sacred made the trip so much more than just a bus tour.

We covered a lot of ground in Ireland – from Dublin all the way to Dingle, and umpteen places in between.

We visited ancient cairns (burial sites) that dot the countryside.

Leaving Expectations Behind and Going With the Flow, Barbara Sinclair

Bru na Boinne prehistoric burial cairn

We visited sacred wells, labyrinths for us to walk on and reflect (with our very own bagpiper to reach right into our hearts), a roaring waterfall and…another drumroll please…the Hazelwood Forest!

There we gathered Hazelwood sticks because that’s what they use for magic wands, you know.

Leaving Expectations Behind, Barbara Sinclair

Magic in the Hazelwood Forest

After days and days of being on the road, I was secretly elated when our brand spanking new bus broke down just as we were about to leave our short visit to the forest. We jumped back out and wandered around until a replacement bus came to the rescue. I just wanted to commune with the tree spirits.

Leaving Expectations Behind, Barbara Sinclair, Tree Spirit, Hazelwood Forest, Ireland

Leaving Expectations Behind, Barbara Sinclair, Labyrinth on Inis Mor, Aran Islands, Ireland

Walking the labyrinth on Inis Mor in the Aran Islands, in spite of the cold, rain and wind. Bagpipes were playing

We had music, we had healers, we had a full moon summer solstice gathering on the beach, we shared fun meals with new friends and old friends, late night storytelling by Kathleen (boy, can she weave a story) and we had a rousing last-night medieval feast in a castle that you had to be there to appreciate. Hysterical.

And we had rain, rain, and more rain.

“If we didn’t have this weather, it wouldn’t be forty shades of green”, said Conn, the tour guide.

Or as one of the Scottish group members said, “It’s mizzling.”

Misting + drizzling = mizzling.

Or (my personal favorite)

“It was a fresh day.”

I’m still not sure if this refers to a rainy day, a sunny day, or a windy day. Maybe all three. I’d love some clarification on that one.

After my trip to Scotland last year, I didn’t have any preconceived notions of sunny warm weather.

All I can say is thank God I bought a heavy woolen sweater (aka jumper) in the Aran Islands. I wore it every day all day in Scotland.

Going With the Flow, Barbara Sinclair

On Inis Mor, Aran Islands

I’d thrown caution to the wind and was eating bread to my heart’s desire (both in Ireland and Scotland) and began to notice how unaffected I was by it. No indigestion, bloating, etc. No wonder – Scotland has completely banned the use of GMOs and Ireland seems to be moving in that direction, publicizing GMO-free zones. I’m not saying their food is perfect, and I certainly saw the same crappy junk food everywhere, but both countries seem far ahead of the US in their thinking on this matter.

People I spoke with clearly don’t want GMOs in their country. There still remains the problem of genetically modified products that are imported from the US and other countries – especially grains and animal feed. It’s hard fighting the powerful agri-giants like Monsanto, but the Irish and Scottish people I spoke to were adamant about ridding their country of GMOs.

All I know, from my own little science experiment, is that I felt a whole lot better eating their food.

Leaving Expectations Behind, Barbara Sinclair, GMO free zones in Ireland

Unfortunately, there were a few sick folks on the bus. Sleep deprived, my immune system that I brag about never letting me get colds or the flu, finally caved. I was exhausted.

And totally 100% Vata-deranged. Travel, cold, wind, and no routine is a recipe for disaster for someone with a lot of the Vata/air/space elements.

My first week in Scotland was a struggle. Although I had great company for five days (Baraka, a fellow Sacred Ireland friend, and her lovely daughter, Tatiana), it was a challenge to do much of anything. Baraka was also sick and Tatiana was recovering from a broken ankle. So we hobbled along together, doing as much as we felt we could.

We briefly visited Edinburgh, Rosslyn Chapel and Glen, and Glasgow.

Leaving Expectations Behind and Going With the Flow in a Wee Coastal Town in Scotland, Barbara Sinclair, Rosslyn Chapel, Scotland

The Sinclair family really knew how to build a chapel!

After they left and I was alone, I spent the next few days holed up reading and sleeping.

I had no choice but to go with the flow and there couldn’t have been a lovelier place to do that.

It was cold, blustery (I mean REALLY blustery) and rainy at some point every day.

Instead of the construction pounding and sirens that I hear in my neighborhood, the only noise I heard was the loud slapping of sails from the harbor below.

Which led me to ponder “Is Scotland harnessing this wind power?” And the answer is a resounding “YES!”.

“Wind turbines generated enough electricity to meet the needs of 97% of Scottish households last year. And Scotland has a goal of 100% renewable electricity by 2020.” – treehugger

Evidently, a certain politician doesn’t approve. Scotland to Donald Trump: Drop Dead.

Leaving Expectations Behind, Barbara Sinclair, Clothesline, North Berwick, ScotlandI am so tempted to find a wee cottage there and escape the madness. But the wind, oh the wind. What would my Vata do?

And the cold. It’s July and there was only one day I went without a coat. What happened to the hearty Scottish part of my genes?

One night as I watched the sunset from an old pier, bundled in a wool sweater, coat, hat and scarf, I watched four Scottish lads bound down the pier with nothing but their swim trunks on and leap into the frigid Firth of Forth. Holy moly!

Leaving Expectations Behind, Barbara Sinclair, North Berwick old pier, Scotland

Four Scottish lads jumping off the pier. Brrrrr!

The sun was rising at 4:30 a.m. and setting around 10:30 p.m. I loved waking up early and walking on the beach even before the dog-walkers appeared.

Oh, the dogs! They’re so happy and free!

Leaving Expectations Behind, Barbara Sinclair, dog on North Berwick beach

Lab waiting patiently for his/her owner to return

I knew from the start that this trip would be much more than just a vacation. It had unfolded so serendipitously that I guessed there would be some lessons learned along the way. Getting sick sort of catapulted me into looking a little deeper into why I was there and to force me to slow down.

I realized just how hard it is for me to sit still. Really sit still.

Meditation has become my antidote to that proclivity. But it had fallen by the wayside while I was in Ireland.

I found my way back to it.

Walking on the beach became my meditation. I could move and be still at the same time.

And then the dreams started.

Whenever I’m in a challenging time in my life, animals show up in my dreams – in a big way.

One night, as I walked into the woods with someone from my past, a small black elephant with a single tusk came bounding out, followed by two giant white owls with enormous ringed eyes (walking, not flying), and then a female lion. I know there were other animals but they disappeared from my memory when I woke up.

The next night I woke from a dream sobbing uncontrollably.

This trip wouldn’t seem to let me forget how much I’ve isolated myself lately.

My tendency to seek my turtle shell is something I always try to keep an eye on. Not enough turtle time can leave me feeling unhinged and vulnerable, but too much isn’t healthy either.

This was my first opportunity living alone by the sea. It was literally a stone’s throw from the flat I was staying in.

One window looked out onto the harbor, while the other window had a spectacular view of Berwick Law, a rather odd-looking conical hill that lies conspicuously next to North Berwick. I hiked up it with a friendly neighbor named Ingrid, and the weather cooperated long enough for me to get some spectacular photos from the top.

Leaving Expectations Behind, Barbara Sinclair, North Berwick Law

North Berwick Law looming in the distance


Leaving Expectations Behind, Barbara Sinclair, North Berwick Law, Scotland

From atop The Law

Every time I looked out into the harbor, I couldn’t help but think of my dear friend, Karen, who passed on a few months ago. A journalist turned ferry boat captain, she would tell me that she had to live by the ocean. It was in her blood. And I would say to her that I needed trees.

I had silent conversations with Karen about the tides. I’ve never understood the ins and outs of them (no pun intended), but the mystery of them has always fascinated me – especially when thinking of them in terms of our own daily rhythms.

I did a lot of pondering.

Leaving Expectations Behind, Barbara Sinclair, North Berwick Harbour, Scotland

Low tide in North Berwick Harbour

For all of my fellow healing friends who believe we’ve lived past lives as witches, I was also only a stone’s throw from the site where 200 witches supposedly gathered in 1590. Very interesting energy there…

Leaving Expectations Behind, Barbara Sinclair, North Berwick Witch Trials, Scotland

North Berwick Witches

When I asked Ingrid where I could find some trees, she offered to go exploring with me to Pressmennan Wood. We discovered a lovely loch (I love that word, too!), a fairy tree with two little wee doors, trees dripping and tangled with honeysuckle vines, and the most magical paths dotted with wildflowers. The scent from the sweet yellow buttercups mixed with honeysuckle was intoxicating.

Leaving Expectations Behind, Barbara Sinclair, Pressmennan Wood, Scotland

Trees AND water – who could ask for more?

I felt whole again when I left the forest.

It’s no coincidence that the book I grabbed at the last moment to bring on my trip is titled “Reclaiming the Wild Soul: How Earth’s Landscapes Restore Us to Wholeness”

“Mary Reynolds Thompson takes us on a journey into Earth’s five great landscapes as aspects of our deeper, wilder selves. There, where the inner and outer worlds meet, we discover within our souls: the silence and simplicity of deserts, the mystery of forests, the flow of oceans and rivers, the inspiration of mountains, the regenerative spirit of grasslands.” — Reclaiming the Wild Soul

I’d walked along the water’s edge and listened to the waves slapping, I’d hiked to the top of the Law, and I’d meandered through the forest.

To quote my friend, Glenda:

I love the sea and love to be by the ocean but my heart just explodes in the woods. I find the sea energy great for shifting things, for stirring things up when I’m feeling stagnant but it’s the energy of the trees and the forest that I need when I’m fragile.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

I am blessed beyond to have had this opportunity.

I love Scotland. Could I live there? I’m still not sure. My heart sank as I rode from the airport back to my neighborhood. Concrete, dust, construction, no trees, noise.

I know, I know – the grass is always greener on the other side, right? Well, there, it really is greener. Because it mizzles. It’s fresh. But, no place is perfect as we usually discover and for now, I’m just waiting for another sign to lead me somewhere (with more trees!)

I’ve finally, fully confirmed with myself that taking pictures and writing is what feeds my soul.

Now I have to figure out what to do with the hundreds (thousands??) of photos that I took! Thanks for letting me share some of them with you.

Here’s to life’s adventures – whether from a faraway place or in our own backyard (hopefully with trees).

All my love,

P.S. I apologize for saying “wee” so much. It seems to have taken up permanent residence in my vocabulary, along with “aye” and “och!”.

  1. Welcome back to the U.S. Barbara! Your travels sounded amazing and viewing the breathtaking photos was a treat! From Ireland and Scotland, to the beauty up north in Michigan, you will be among the trees – enjoy your Michigan visit and take lots of photos! xo Mary

  2. Thank you for sharing your trip and your wonderful photos Barbara?

  3. I loved reading this…reminding me of our journey and catching up with your own after Tat and I left. My thoughts on your photos ~ a sweet book…& a show…they are gifts of beauty.

  4. Thank you for sharing! I hope to someday go to those places too and with Kathleen McGowan would be lovely. I can relate as its been a cool summer so far in the Pacific Northwest. And we have mizzle. Though I suspect Scotland and Ireland are a bit harsher than here. You are welcome to come visit me here. We have plenty of trees and water! Love and need them both too!

  5. Catherine Vansant July 12, 2016 at 6:24 pm Reply

    Sweet and inspiring…so glad you went for all of us still with wings tucked 🙂

  6. Welcome back Barbara! I had a big grin on my face the whole time I read your post. I appreciate your wisdom on not holding any expectations during your travels. It sounds like you had many wonderful and deep experiences. Thank you for sharing!

  7. Oh Barbara, what a truly delightful adventure, thank you for sharing so much of it with us. I’m so glad you traced some of your ancestor’s lives in Scotland, I can’t wait to do the same now that being obsessed about Outlander has refreshed my own interest and investigation into mine. I’ve been I was stunned to see that Giley Duncan really existed and was a witch!!
    The trees spirits are alive and well in your photos, cheeky characters they are. 🙂
    I think I’ll consider one of those sacred site tours in both Ireland and Scotland one day too. <3
    Wishing you well back in the US, I have a feeling you'll know where you're meant to be very soon. <3

  8. I loved reading about your magical trip to Ireland and Scotland and a great refresher for me!! A time to remember the “mizzle” as I sit in Japan in the hot tropical sun and humidity. How I long for the 40 shades of green. I’m feeling blessed over and over to have met you and can’t wait for us to meet again! Maybe in Seattle with our grown children along – wink wink:)))) Thanks for all the love and support dearheart … until we meet again

  9. Barbara, many thanks for all the great pictures and for your writings and the way that you have to draw wonderful mental pictures.You are truly a giving human being.

  10. Love, Love, Love! Thank you so much for sharing your adventure with us. Scotland & Ireland are both on my list to visit. You have inspired me to make it sooner rather than later. I enjoyed reading your thoughts, insights, and descriptions of your wonderful travels. Thank you again for sharing! Hugs…

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