One of the things I have been attempting to do on this trip is spend more time doing nothing, just noticing. Yes I know you already think I’m doing nothing. This type of doing nothing is sitting still, not reading, not writing, not thinking of things to do. Instead… noticing. There’s a lot to notice while we do nothing. This has been the procedure… first notice the things that move into the space in my mind while I do nothing and second let them be and definitely don’t engage with them. Do you follow me?
For example, here we go, a thought just popped in: No one wants to read this. Right, I notice what’s arrived in my space. Second part, let it be and don’t engage. Ohh, easier said than done but here goes… Oh here’s another one, I’m hungry. Let it be… don’t engage. And another, Did you reply to the text? Oh holy divine, this one is very hard not to engage with… Another, What if you forget it? Noooooo… DON’T ENGAGE! Another, Now you’re angry, that’s not helpful is it? Hello emotion that I’m now engaged to…
Dong this nothing isn’t easy, it’s work to notice the thoughts and let them be. It’s a lot of work to not engage. And then when the emotions turn up and they get mixed up with the thoughts and, and, and..
I was thinking about this during our week of thunder storms. About how the blue sky is up there all the time during the storm. About how it is unaffected by the thunder or lightening or rain or any kind of cloud. It’s just there, sort of watching and waiting until everything calms down again. It’s doing nothing. My emotions are thunder and lightening and my thoughts are the rain and they are all connected and they all feed off each other. And they are very loud and they crave my attention. I don’t have to give them my attention.
I am not the thunder. I am not the lightening. I am not the rain. I am the blue sky, they cannot hurt me…
It’s Saturday, the rain has stopped but it is still quite a grey day. We travelled up into the hills of Andalusia this morning to a town called Valverde de Camino. It’s on the Camino de Santiago as the name hints. The park up is on the edge of town beside a little vegetable garden. The sun is coming out and the smells of soil and vegetation is just glorious. It is striking the difference between a city park up and a country park in terms of the senses.
First of all I notice the smells. Then the visuals, here there’s a lot of green growing things and a few red tiled roofs. Then soon after i notice a feeling. Very hard to describe, like a slowness in my belly for the country location and a speediness in my veins for the city.
We didn’t realise how big this town was until we went walking because we are on the edge and there is nothing but nature all around and the feeling is slow. I love slow feelings.
When we were packing the van to come away I think I mentioned I was less overwhelmed this time than previous times. I think that’s because I had a little chat with myself. I told myself I wanted to be more intentional in how I was preparing this time. It was a long talk but at the end of it my intention was to Simply Be and Do Gently and Slowly. And to a greater or lesser degree that is how I prepared. Now that we are here that is also how I want to be.
Here on the edge of Valverde de Camino with the smells of the wet earth and the man in his vegetable garden waving to me I am reminded to simply be.
My favourite way to visit a town or city is not in the rain but it’s also not in the blazing sun. One is a little uncomfortable and the other is even more uncomfortable – the hot one! I blame the moderate climate I grew up with and then came to believe was the only weather. Seriously the weather in Ireland is actually great… mainly. Anyways that results in my having a very small zone of comfort with regards to weather.
Funnily enough I have also a small zone of comfort in other areas… which leads me to complaining. Recently I heard of a great way to decrease complaining. From a book called A Complaint Free World by Will Bowen. The idea is you stop complaining for 21 days to break the habit. And you use a wrist band or your watch and each time you notice yourself complaining you switch the wrist band or watch to the other wrist. Easy! It increases awareness and hopefully will break the pattern.
Anyway, the whole weather thing has been on my mind for a few years now especially the first year we travelled to Portugal and it was January… and it was cold and wet! I thought it was always warm and dry in Portugal and in Spain and in France. It’s not. Then in March 2020 when the world stopped and we stayed home and Eilish came to dig the garden and the sun shone for five months – in Ireland – it became clearer that my thinking had to change around my concept of weather.
Then for my big birthday last year I asked for a rain coat, rain hat, rain trousers, rain shoes and I promised myself I would no longer be afraid to walk in the rain.
So the city of Zafra was my first real test. The rain wasn’t light, it was torrential! I was preparing myself to go out in it when it eased up. And for a moment I remembered – nothing lasts forever. Not the bad and not the good. And I walked in the not too bad rain and I took pictures of the not too grey sky and I remembered the good blue skies and really we are not here just for the sunshine and heat. We are here now for every little and large experience.
It’s funny what you need on the road and what you (of course, I mean we) will put up with to get it. We stayed the last two nights parked in a noisy industrial estate just outside the city of Mérida. The location is in a yard surrounded by fencing and there’s a big locked gate. No one would say this was a pretty spot. Or a quiet and peaceful spot. But it has quite a few other things going for it.
We left the old part of Mérida early in the morning and between the parking app and google we were directed to the industrial estate. If you live near Dublin, think Ballymount industrial estate. One of the interesting things about this one in Mérida was most of the roads were one-way which adds an extra level of confusion when you’re lost… and we were lost. Google maps was saying, you have reached your destination but there was nothing but warehouses and weeds. We had driven around the same petrol station three times when we finally decided to drop in for diesel and find a different parking spot.
You’ll remember the whole issue with the gas shortage – that wasn’t? Well, I had also read about the very high diesel prices and we were checking prices every time we passed a petrol station (which is funny as my Dad used to do the same thing during my whole childhood) and this one had good prices. Anyway, Denis was outside about to take off the petrol cap when a young guy jumps out of his car and runs over to him and says something in Spanish followed by the word parking. Unlike me Denis isn’t learning Spanish but somehow he is surprisingly good at communicating regardless of language. Humph. He holds up the van keys and says, I’m just getting diesel. And the guy says, in English, parking and Denis replies, no I’m not parking here I’m just getting diesel. A couple more attempts and the young guy realises that in spite of his confidence Denis hasn’t a word of Spanish and he takes out his phone, speaks to it in Spanish and then holds it up. And the phone speaks… I’m from the parking place that you keep driving past, I can show you how to get there. Wasn’t that lovely? He saw we were confused and lost and he hopped in his car and caught up with us! We were smiling and laughing when the phone spoke again, You can’t get diesel at these pumps they are just for trucks, go around the corner.
We did go around the corner, got the diesel, got an extra discount off the pump price (my Dad would have loved that!) and then followed the young guy to the parking spot where he gave us a tour of all the services a motorhome needs, like water and water disposal and toilet disposal. There was also a toilet and shower and washing machine and just next door was their motorhome shop where you can get things fixed or changed or purchase stuff motorhomes need. The whole place is like a toy shop for motorhome owners. (By the way, we didn’t know any of this before we got here.)
It got me thinking – what do I really want and what am I prepared to put up with to get it?
It’s not all fun and games here. I brought along my Bookkeeping for Dummies book and I’m getting a handle on bookkeeping. Bookkeeping has always been like that big dark tunnel in Béjar – terror inducing. But last year I asked for help before I stepped inside and although it’s work it’s working out ok.
Today we are in the old Roman (in Spain) town of Mérida. It was originally called Emerita Augusta (Mérida for short) and was founded by the Emperor Caesar Augustus in 25 BC. It’s full of the ruins of 2000 year old buildings, medieval buildings and museum buildings. We got up early to keep cool and were first in the gate at 9 am to visit some of the oldest buildings. By 11.30am it was hot and we’d only seen three, you would seriously need a week to visit everything. We’ll just have to come back.
We saw the Anfiteatro (Amphitheater) where the games took place, gladiators fighting each other and animals. The Teatro (Theatre) where plays were staged and civic ceremonies held. And the Casa del Anfiteatro (houses beside the Amphitheater) where you could see detailed mosaic tiles, some interior room decorations, a bath house, original water pipes and a kitchen stove. Everything in this area had been buried in the early 1900’s and when the unburying of the amphitheatre and the theatre started they cleared the debris off to the side not realising they were burying these houses deeper. It was only decades later when one of the mosaic floors was discovered that they realised what was underneath. Everywhere you walk in Mérida there are pieces of history, right beside the motorhome park there’s a field full of house shaped brick walls and in one of the pedestrian shopping streets there’s a preserved roman street made of large flag stones.
I don’t blame them for losing the houses, it’s hard to see what’s right under your feet sometimes. We have passed through Spain so many times and missed amazingly interesting places every time. We met a Swiss couple yesterday who were on their first motorhome journey to Spain and they had planned everything. Then in their first week they binned their plans when they met a Spanish man at a park up who filled in their map with every beautiful place he could think of in his country. Mérida was one of those places. The Swiss man handed me his phone to look at his pictures of two others, Córoba and Toledo, just a bit too far from where we though we were going but very tempting.
For the rest of this week I’m going back into the bookkeeping tunnel I hope to uncover some hidden mosaics myself… I’ll let you know how it goes. Wish me luck.
You know when a small/annoying/disturbing/upsetting thing happens at the beginning of the day and the rest of your day is off? Like, it’s not balanced, it’s just a bit off? Ok maybe it doesn’t happen to you. It happened to me yesterday. Now just so you know, it’s wasn’t a big thing but I’m telling you about it so that I remember. I want to remember this is something my mind can do. I want to notice the off-balance that sometimes happens and just notice it. No need to do anything about it, no need to beat myself up. Nothing. Just notice that I may not be able to recognise the whole truth in this moment as I’m unbalanced. So here’s the story…
Wait, first here’s the end of the story… Our gas (LPG) gauge was in the red and that’s a problem because we need the gas for cooking and heating water and running the fridge. We have an app that tells us where the nearest gas supplier is located and we arrived to see red covers on the pump handles, indicating that they had run out of gas too. And only yesterday I had read something about gas shortages in the UK. Is there a gas shortage here in Spain too? My mind was getting ready to imagine the worst, when what should arrive but a gas tanker. No kidding! And no shortage. Ten minutes later we filled up with enough gas for two weeks. Is it possible that everything works out? Sometimes it takes ten minutes, sometimes longer? And the unbalance? It doesn’t last long either.
Ok back to the start of the story… We left beautiful Béjar the morning after my tunnel walk full of optimism and drove to the city of Plasencia, less than an hour south. There was a free car park near the centre where motorhomes were welcome. The sun shone and the temperatures were rising. We had hardly turned off the engine when a dishevelled looking guy came banging on the window. Even though we didn’t understand his words it was clear he was looking for money. Denis said no and shook his head and he left. He returned half an hour later and we realised he was going to every arriving vehicle.
My mind asked, “is this a dangerous city?” and tipped off balance. Everything else that happened that day was slightly off. It was too hot to go for a walk, there were too many cars, too many bugs, I was hungry, no, I was thirsty, I was fed up. On and on until… We were eating a dinner of cold pie and salad (remember the gas was running out) when a knock came to the door. We both looked at each other… but it was only the owner of the camper next door who had parked so close to us that we couldn’t open the side door. As I’m the one learning Spanish… Denis indicated I should go out the other door to discover what he wanted. I began with “I don’t speak Spanish” in Spanish… turns out that’s not as useful as you might think. If you’re speaking Spanish – badly – the exact meaning is lost on the native speaker but well, you’re speaking Spanish, so they presume you probably understand it, right? I understood nothing and that resulted in the man speaking faster.
Fortunately, he had a wife who spoke face-language – she saw my face and knew I didn’t know what he was saying. Between the three of us (and Denis looking from the gap in the door) we worked out he was suggesting that if we reversed a bit our door would be parallel with the end of their van and we’d be able to open it. And he was right and it was perfect and as we stood outside smiling and saying Gracias to each other Denis and I noticed we were now surrounded by motorhomes. Literally, surrounded. (Ok no, there was a gap in front of us but there were vans at each side of us and at the back, mostly parking illegally!) And they were still arriving. Smiling, chatting, gesticulating, happy people, parking wherever they could find a gap.
And it was so odd it unbalanced me right back to balance. They do things differently here. They eat dinner late at 9.30pm or 10pm. They park in the tiniest of spots. They talk loud and fast. And it’s ok. I slept really well that night, all the windows were open and the sounds of fast talking Spanish drifted in. Yes my mind did throw up some safety issues but I took note of the location of our fire extinguisher and I was reassured. And the next morning we had landed in a new world. Everything was good. There was space again in the car park and the temperatures were more pleasant. We found a small bakery beside the city walls and watched the swallows swooping and soaring. And then as you know, just when we needed it the gas tanker arrived.
I remember as a child when we would go to the city with my Dad to some football pitch or greyhound track and if there was a big crowd there were men who used to help you park and then take care of your car. Everyone gave them a few coins but I always worried that there were so many cars they would forget which one was ours and it would be gone when we got back. It was never gone. My Dad called them the Lock Hards because they used to repeat “lock hard, lock hard” while helping you parallel park into a tight space. The Spanish motorhome drivers are experts at parking in a tight spot. Had a 50 year old memory unbalanced my mind? Was I just recycling one familiar situation and glueing it to this city with my childhood feeling of worry? I don’t know.
Noticing seems like doing nothing but it’s not and there’s nothing better to do when you’ve tipped off balance.
I am sitting on the bed in our cabin on deck 9, the sea is incredible calm. There are no windows but from the slight movements, rattles and shakes in here I sense the calm sea. It was definitely calm when we were eating breakfast. Every time we travel on the ferry we remind ourselves that there’s no need to eat breakfast and then each time we see the beautiful photography for the breakfast we forget. The actual food does not look like the pictures and it does not taste the way the pictures make me think it will taste. I have been wondering about this for years. I think I’ve eaten my last breakfast on the ferry… maybe.
We really want that breakfast to be pretty special and very tasty. And those photographs can’t be lying, can they? That’s how the food looked that day. The day long ago when the picture was taken. But today, here and now, the food is not that food. Today’s food is canteen food. The best you could say for it is – it’s not great. Those photos were taken when there was more time to make it look pretty, to add berries, to place the rasher in the most symmetrical spot.
As exciting as you think it will be when I tell you where we are going and how long we will be away, it is often ordinary and boring and difficult and stressful. In fact, it’s just like home – different setting, same reactions, same me, same him. “Wherever you go, there you are” is the title of a book by Jon Kabat-Zinn. I bring the same way of thinking, the same instincts, the same inner demons, the same pain, everywhere I go.
The exciting thing is that at some point I realised this journey deserved reverence and I made a decision to learn from everything. To meet every boring moment with a “well hello, boring!” To meet every stress by noticing the discomfort within my body and allowing it relax. To meet every ordinary with a gold digger’s eye and spot the treasure within. To meet every difficult moment with self compassion and silence. The odd time I succeed.
Edited 5th December 2021… If you landed here looking for Permission Cards, this is a blog post from the time I was making the prototypes for the actual cards you can find at https://permission.cards. Have a grand day♥️
Well… it looks like we won’t be travelling anywhere soon. I thought that would upset me more than it does. But it doesn’t, I am very happy pottering away inside my home with the odd excursion to collect groceries. (An experience exciting for all the senses and not as insignificant as I used to think. But I’m getting sidetracked.) Instead of travelling to other countries or even counties, we walk around the neighbourhood – separately, he walks too fast, I talk too much… We also work separately, he has a very organized workspace, I’m a bit messy. Other than that we are together every single moment, eating, watching stories on the big (enough) screen, sleeping and arguing. Yes we do argue. But as we only have each other we can’t be bothered keeping an argument going, it turns out life’s too short. Denis taught me that, I used to love keeping an argument going. I’m right, how can I stop before he understands that? Turns out everyone thinks they’re right – understanding is overrated.
I’m working on a new creative project. It all started pre-2020 when Denis was putting a board game in the recycling bin. (Remind me to tell you the name of the board game.) To be clear that doesn’t happen, ever, but this was a unique board game. It was designed to be used for one long game over the period of a year and then not reused… Seeing the cards in the recycle bin made me sad. I love paper and card and these were still fully functioning pieces of card, how could anyone throw them out? Maybe I could save them. I did. I already have lots of saved paper and card and at that time I had no organisation, just one big box. In the cards went, never to be seen again… until 2020.
My 2020 started with a lot of excitement (our son got engaged!) followed by a lot of fear (no explanations necessary) followed by a lot of gardening (thank you, Eilish!) followed by a lot of card making. I made cards to remind myself I could say, NO. I made thank you cards, to remind me that the small things are actually big things. Small things like getting groceries and garden supplies were very, very big things. Small things like getting post in the post box, were very, very big things. Small things like receiving offers of help were enormously big things. And then there’s the overwhelmingly big things like front line staff and especially for my family, the nursing home staff who have been going above and beyond to take care of the most vulnerable, including my mother. I had a lot to be thankful for so I made a lot of thank you cards.
It felt like I was reorganising my inner space and so naturally I started to reorganise my outer space too. And that turned out to be very freeing. I dumped loads and gained empty space and found the cards and paper I had been saving. What had I been saving it for? I didn’t know at the time but it turns out I was saving it for now. In amongst all the paper was Denis’ board game cards, looking just as lovely as they had when I first met them. I gave them their own place on a shelf. In November we (the cards and I) started working together. I worked on them and they worked on me.
The Permission Cards began when I was chatting with a friend and she said something mean to herself and it just popped out of my mouth, how about if you give yourself permission to be kind to yourself for the rest of the day? Then I promised to make her a permission card to remind her and we went on to talk about something else. I’ve been hard on myself my entire adult life, it’s a habit that I don’t hear but as soon as I hear someone else being hard on themselves, I notice. I needed this Permission to be kind to myself, too.
Later that day I took one of the recycled cards off the shelf and made a permission card for my friend… and it was for me too. As I made it I read it. Over and over again. I was reading that I had permission to be kind. To myself. My first thought was, “…that’s a bit selfish isn’t it?!” My second thought was, “who said that?” Something I’d heard long ago made sense: We are not our thoughts. Some thoughts are part of a flawed belief system and it’s not always possible to spot them before obeying them. So in this case, I thought that being kind to myself was a bad thing. What if it wasn’t a bad thing? What if it was okay to be kind to myself. Maybe even for the whole day? It’s a big ask so I’m taking baby steps.
With every card I make I am being kinder to myself. Even when I make mistakes! And I’m creating even when it’s ugly. I’m ignoring what does not serve me. I’m making the right decisions for me… on and on these little cards are working on me.
And now I’m selling them! Denis has promised to set up a sales website when he’s less busy (I recognise potential for a future argument here but life’s too short, right?) In the meantime it’s just via email (email@example.com) and instagram (@creativecalm_cards). Get in contact if you want to see the full list of Permissions and I’ll send you an order form and prices. They are handmade so they take a long time to make but fortunately the cards give me permission to take my time – so all good.
Oh and the name of board game? Pandemic. Yup, that’s what it was called. Twilight Zone stuff. Mairead.
Ps He set up the website, it’s called Permission.Cards Tap or maybe Click to have a look!
We ran out of electric power last night. The clouds were grey and the sun didn’t come out and during the day our solar panels didn’t generate much electricity. By 3pm we were using more energy than they were generating.
(Exhibition of old techniques for painting)
We use up energy when we turn on the lights, so we turned them off. We use energy when we charge our laptops, so we took turns charging. First one of us charged until their laptop was over 50% then plugged out and the other one could plug in.
(Reproduction of roof tiles)
We use energy when we charge our phones but we had an extra battery for that so we took turns charging our phones. We use energy when we turn on the heating – just to turn it on, gas heats the water. Fortunately, it wasn’t cold. We use energy when we shower – again only to turn it on. Fortunately, we don’t get too close to people who might notice. Dogs do seem friendlier, though, which might be a sign.
(Stairs to Apartments of Princess Margaret) We make energy when we drive and we have been driving for 90 minutes today. We also make energy when the sun shines and although it is much colder today (7 degrees Celsius this morning) the dark clouds are gone and the sun is shining on our solar panels.
(Ceiling over her tomb)
Each time we run low on one of our resources I am reminded of my resources. My energy. We tend to be careful of our water usage in the van because we have a finite amount. Of course we can get more. We also keep gas usage to a minimum by putting the water heater on for only ten minutes at a time. Of course we can also get more gas.
(Her motto… Both fortune and misfortune make a woman stronger)
I have a finite amount energy. Every day I generate more, through the food I eat, the exercise or rest I take and the mental health I nurture. Some days I waste some of my finite energy on worry or drama. Some days I restrict the amount of energy I can generate by eating zero energy generating foods, like processed sugar or by my sleeping habits.
Human energy conservation. Mairead.
(There we are between Dijon and Lyon in Bourg-en-Bresse)