“Life always waits for some crisis to occur before revealing itself at its most brilliant.” ~ Paulo Coelho
In her early forties, historian and world traveler Chandi Wyant’s world is at the edge of falling apart. Her spirit is broken, her body is weak and her glowing love of life seems to have disappeared.
After a near death experience in Italy and in the midst of finalizing her divorce, she had an epiphany. Why not return to Italy – a place that remains close to her heart – and do a pilgrimage. She knew that it was a crazy idea. Not only was she still weak from her illness, she was on a tight budget and only would have three weeks to plan a major physical adventure. Yet she was determined to follow her heart and set off on Italy’s historic pilgrimage route, the Via Francigena, to walk for forty days to Rome.
Many days were difficult due to the throbbing pain from Plantar Fasciitis, the exhaustion and sometimes the loneliness. But Chandi never stopped and persevered arriving at the end of the pilgrimage exhausted, in pain yet finally at peace with her past. The pilgrimage brought about a complete emotional and spiritual surrender that enabled Chandi to let go of the past and find a return to glow.
Her new memoir, Return to Glow: A Pilgrimage of Transformation in Italy beautifully chronicles this journey that is both profoundly spiritual and ruggedly adventurous. As Chandi traverses this ancient pilgrim’s route, she rediscovers awe in the splendor of the Italian countryside and finds sustenance and comfort from surprising sources. Drawing on her profession as a college history instructor, she gracefully weaves in relevant anecdotes, melding past and present in this odyssey toward her soul.
Her beautiful memoir, Return to Glow: A Pilgrimage of Transformation in Italy was released on April 2nd and won third place in the 2015 National Association of Memoir contest.
This delightful, transporting tale awakens the senses while inviting readers to discover their own inner glow by letting go of fixed expectations, choosing courage over comfort, and following their heart.
After reading Return to Glow, I had the opportunity to speak with Chandi over the phone to learn more about her life-changing trip and what inspired her to write the book. Here is what she had to say.
Me: You are introduced as a world traveler, photographer, writer and historian. What inspired you to travel and become such a global citizen?
Chandi: Growing up I spent summers in the Sierras and was introduced to hiking as a child and to backpacking as a teenager. My British Grandmother loved Italy. When she told me to travel in Europe after high school, she spoke in a spellbound way about Florence. I went and traveled in Europe for six months. My first moments in Italy were in Florence and I was in love from day one. At the end of my travels I found a way to stay in Florence and study Italian. That began a life-long love of Italy and Italian history and culture.
Me: What made you decide to set off on this particular pilgrimage?
Chandi: I was in the process of starting my divorce, and decided to take a trip to Florence to get my spirits shored up so I’d feel more ready to face it. I had been married ten years, and separated for two. Two days after I arrived in Florence, I was rushed to the hospital. They wheeled me around from midnight to 5 am trying to figure out what was wrong with me. It wasn’t until 5 am that they realized my appendix had ruptured and I was rushed into the operating room.
It was an immensely traumatic experience filled with pain, fear and confusion. I didn’t know for several days after the emergency surgery what had happened, and I was in the Italian hospital for almost a month.
When I returned to my home in Colorado to pick up the pieces and finalize the divorce, I was in a very bad place. My body was aching and still extremely weak, and my spirits where broken. At one of my lowest moments, a message came to me to walk across Italy.
Me: What was the most surprising aspect of the pilgrimage?
Chandi: I did not anticipate how profoundly spiritual the experience would be. There were moments along the way – in a church in Siena to a stay and when staying with nuns in Sutri, when I was surprised to feel purged of my inner demons (my obsessions over disappointments and my pain); and awed by the experience of pure emotional surrender. I was also surprised to develop a stronger connection to my ancestors and to receive substance from that.
Me: What was the lowest point of your pilgrimage?
Chandi: Learning only a week into it that I had developed Plantar fasciitis and having to do the bulk of the trek with this painful foot condition.
Me: What was the highlight of the pilgrimage?
Chandi: The afternoon I spent with the nuns in Sutri at their convent. When they sang “Ave Maria” for afternoon prayers outside of their chapel, the garden, I experienced a surrendering kind of peace that I’d not felt before.
Me: What inspired you to write a memoir? What was your greatest fear about doing it?
Chandi: I have always been drawn to writing and I kept journals all the way through high school and adulthood. Writing a book has always been a dream of mine since I was a little girl but my biggest inspiration for this memoir was on the pilgrimage, I reflected on my grandmother’s resilience and this made me aware of my own and I wanted to dedicate a book to her. I also hope that sharing my experience will help empower and inspire other women who may be going through similar things in life.
What has been the most challenging aspect of writing this memoir is being so vulnerable on the page. I had to cultivate a lot of courage related to that.
Me: What is your advice to women who want to take on a similar adventure?
Chandi: Travel lends itself well to spiritual growth and transformation. Having the right mindset is key to opening oneself up to these experiences
Here is some of my advice for fostering that mindset:
- Get out of your comfort zone. Dare to travel somewhere that might feel like a push, either due to distance, lack of familiar amenities, foreign languages spoken or challenging natural conditions.
- Leave fear behind. There tends to be a culture of fear around travel – particularly overseas. Ignore the noise. Dig down and face the challenges. Chances are they’ll be no more than minor inconveniences, such as getting lost or having to shake off a stranger who’s trying to be too friendly.
- Go solo. Nothing opens the mind and heart to a spiritual experience like solitude. It may not always be easy, and there will undoubtedly be some lonesome, wistful moments, but it is these very moments that allow a spiritual journey to unfold.
- Take the time to listen to your heart. Having a schedule is helpful, but taking your time, going with the flow and making unexpected choices from the heart are vital to connecting with the spiritual gifts your journey holds.
No trip or spiritual journey is a panacea for all life’s troubles. But in discovering your own resilience you’ll have given yourself the tools for facing them with greater courage and aplomb.
A world traveler, photographer, writer and historian, Chandi Wyant has lived in Qatar, India, Italy, Switzerland and England, and has been returning to Italy with unremitting passion since she first lived there at age twenty. She holds a Master’s degree in Florentine Renaissance history and is the former head of Sogni Italiani, an events planning firm specializing in weddings, vow renewals, and honeymoons in Italy. The manuscript of her memoir, Return to Glow (2017), won third place in the 2015 National Association of Memoir contest.
When she’s not dreaming in Italian, she can be found teaching history and writing about travel for the Huffington Post and her blog, Paradise of Exiles.
Her book, A Return to Glow is available here on Amazon
Chandi is in the process of moving to Italy and if you are interested in reading more about her expat life there, you can sign up for her monthly newsletter on her site here.