Bubbles and Connection

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(The tiles are like wrapping paper)

Yesterday I went off exploring the town on my own with my camera. I took some pictures. I sat under a tree. I took some more pictures. I sat in a square. I walked on. I stopped to take another picture. If you had gone out at the same time with the same camera on the same streets you would have taken different pictures. Even if you took pictures of the same things you would have focussed on a different section. Or you would have zoomed in or zoomed out.

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(More wrapping paper)

I’ve been thinking a lot about the different bubble of knowledge/experience/emphasis we each bring to whatever we do and wherever we go. My bubble is different to yours and each of our bubbles today are different to what they were yesterday. Going for a walk with my camera was the perfect change of scene to disrupt my thinking and disrupt my bubble.

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(Street name)

I was thinking that when we communicate with another human being we are communicating across bubbles, that can distort the communication even when we are speaking the same language. But then sometimes we connect with a person and it’s almost like we pushed an internal button that aligned our bubble with their bubble and we’re talking the same bubble language.

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(On top of a column)

Then at other times we are irritated by someone and it’s like we pushed a different button and now our bubble is fizzing and popping and no matter what they say it’s irritating. Recently I met someone who irritated me. My bubble fizzed and popped in a way that was distasteful… (I can’t believe I’m sharing this with you) I went on and on in my mind about how silly she was, how annoying, how childish. Then something about the word childish stopped everything.

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(See the fields and mountains in the distance)

It was me who being childish. The fizzing and popping had stopped. She reminded me of me! The same mean voice that criticises me was criticising her. I knew which side of the hostilities I wanted to be on. I pushed the internal button, my bubble aligned with hers. At first nothing changed, then she seemed nice and then I wanted to connect. Turned out we didn’t have much in common and we’ll probably never be friends but she taught me to notice my bubble fizzing and popping.

Morto, Mairead.

To Lisbon by river…

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(Art in the park… looks like LEGO but made from plastic crates)

After the ruins we moved an hour further south to a small town called Villa Nova da Barquinha. It is right on the river Tagus. That’s the river that starts in Spain and runs out to the sea at Lisbon. When we arrived we parked as close to the river as we could. I did think, what a fast flowing river. It was definitely rushing past.

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(Another art piece, my favourite, stone columns with wire trees)

Also, the reviews in the parking app. mentioned that it was a quiet spot by a nice park and although it was beside a nice park, it wasn’t very quiet. Cars arrived constantly all afternoon and even thought it was raining most of the time, the occupants would hop out and go down to the edge of the water. Then they’d get back into their cars and drive off. By 6pm it was getting dark and the arrivals and departures had decreased.

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(Can you see the crime scene tape? The river was the suspect… That’s our parking space on the right)

Denis had just put on the burgers when a knock came to the door…. that’s unusual. A woman from the neighbouring (Belgian) camper was telling us that the police (who were just outside erecting crime scene tape…) had arrived to tell us all to move further away from the water for our safety. They (or maybe the water board) would be opening a dam tonight because of all the rain and there may be flooding!

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(Three meters deep here)

The cooking stopped and everything got fired into a cupboard (except for the frying pan, it was still hot so I held on to it) and we started moving away from the water. We moved about 200m up the road, me with the frying pan still in my hand directing the reversing. Denis returned to the cooking and I retrieved the things from the cupboard.

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(At least the ducks are happy)

Later that night I realised all the cars during the day were checking out the river, it’s probably not normally so high or so fast flowing. The cars continued to visit and so did the police but I fell asleep without too much trouble. But then at midnight… I’m awake, wide awake. Every sound is the sound of a river flooding and taking the van and us off to Lisbon… and not in a good way. I eventually got up and made myself a calming cup of Camomile tea while silently repeating that’s just a thought, that’s just a thought. Last time I looked it was 2am and then the alarm went off at seven.

While I’m feeling a little tetchy with the tiredness I am grateful we weren’t transported to Lisbon, Mairead.

Linda’s Craft Kit

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(The craft kit Linda made up especially for me so that I would always have something creative at hand when I am away❤)

When I woke up this morning I was thinking about the craft kit Linda gave me the week we left Ireland. I was thinking, it’s a great kit and isn’t she very smart and doesn’t it look so neat and didn’t I get great use out of it already… Then I realised I was thinking and I was doubly pleased! Thinking for me is talking to myself and it starts first thing in the morning and goes on all day until I fall asleep. There’s brief moment or two of no thinking/talking when I am meditation or napping or engrossed in a craft. Other than that the day is full of me talking… to myself. And I rarely notice I’m doing it so when I noticed this morning I was chuffed.

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(Close up of some quilling I made using my kit)

When I first encountered meditation (and for many years after that) I thought it was all about clearing my mind, making it completely silent in there. It’s not. It’s just about noticing when I’m thinking and then going back to whatever I’m doing, like breathing (something else I do all the time.) So in fact every time I find myself thinking when I should be meditating I am actually meditating! (Did you get that? The “finding myself thinking” is the key! My sister has a term I like: the gift of failure.) But there’s even more important things about meditation. It’s not just the sitting there practicing… it’s what happens when I’m not sitting there meditating. Like this morning when I woke up thinking about Linda. The fact that I noticed that I was talking to myself is a BIG thing.

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(These are the quilling papers from my kit)

Because if I notice I am talking to myself then I can notice what I’m saying… this morning it was something nice. Often it’s not something nice, often it’s something horrible… about me! So imagine the scenario, you’re sitting there looking at a beautiful sunset and from nowhere comes the thought, you should be doing something more productive! Which leads on to an uncomfortable feeling and another thought, you’re a lazy lump! Which feels even more uncomfortable and leads to another thought, this is completely useless, in fact you are completely useless sitting here! Well, you might as well be sitting with someone who hates you! But no, you’re with the person you’re going to spend the rest of your life with – You! Don’t be mean to you! But how can you stop being mean to you? You don’t even know you’re talking to yourself!

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(Here are the stones and glue that I can use to make pebble art)

And that’s one of the gifts of meditation! A different thought pops in to tell you, that’s a thought! At first you can’t hear this new thought and you carry on being mean to you. But one day, you hear, that’s a thought! And your eyebrows rise and you smile and you say, yes, that’s a thought, I’ll go back to looking at the beautiful sunset, sigh.

It’s just a thought and you are not your thoughts, Mairead.

PS If you want to hear Linda’s thoughts go to https://www.facebook.com/mindcraftie/

Communing with Deer

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(There’s a big map in reception showing the path through the park)

I woke up early this morning to birdsong. The rain had stopped and I had an idea. Before I could change my mind I had popped on some shoes, my furry fleece and was standing outside the van recording the sound. We’re still parked at the Parque Biológico de Gaia so imagine a lot of birds. I walked for a few paces to position myself where I thought the loudest birds were and turned on the recording app on my phone… Before long I was mesmerised but then I noticed something move in the park behind the trees.

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(Look closely)

It was when Fernando was taking me on the tour of the park that I realised the motorhome parking overlooks the deer enclosure. There’s a line of trees between us but at certain points the trees thin out and you can see part of the enclosure. Their area is quite big so the deer were off in another section most of the time we’ve been here but this morning as I listened to the birds I realised the deer were less than a 100m from me.

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(The lighter coloured deer by the fence was very cute, from time to time she used to put her head through the fence and nibble on the green plants and then wriggle her head left and right to get it back inside the fence)

There were no one around just me and the deer and it was awesome… There are lots of signs around the park telling you that the animals don’t like noise so visitors should be quiet and respectful. Well I just love rules and boundaries, I see them as guidelines for a happy life. So I was more than happy to stay quiet and this morning I was rewarded by the company of deer. They are so calm and gentle and slow and focused and standing with them I felt calm and focused too.

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(I promise you that fuzzy bit behind the branch in the middle of this photo is a red squirrel, you can just see his little ear)

My phone was still recording sound when I noticed something moving in the tree above me. It was a red squirrel, he mustn’t have noticed me because he squirreled (you can’t call it running, can you?) towards me and then stopped to shake his tail and squirrel away again out to the edge of the tree’s expanse on the tiniest of branches. Until he jumped to the next tree and was gone from my sight.

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(I know its hard to make out but…that one in the middle, that’s a stag!)

When I looked around again, there was a stag in with the deer. With huge antlers. Walking around. Just over there, over the fence, across the path, over the other fence. A stag!

I love this lovely life, Mairead.

We are up in the hills…

(Sunrise this morning)

Do you remember the first time we took Ruby to Portugal? (I’ve put a link here if you want to remind yourself.) We ended up on teeny tiny roads searching for internet access. Well we’ve done it again, this time looking for electricity… We found the electricity but now we’re having difficulty accessing the internet!

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(Strange old machine in the car park in Viana de Castelo)

We are in the middle of nowhere in a campsite up in the hills of northern Portugal, thirty minutes north of a town called Vila Verde. Apart from the man working reception we are the only ones here. This is our first stay at a campsite on this trip. The only reasons we ever need to park in a campsite is for electricity or if we want to stay for more that 48 hours in one spot. Most of the free aires have a 48 hour (or similar) limit. So far we have been happy to move after 24 hours but that will probably change once the weather gets better or we run out of land to go further south!

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(Our new pet seagull)

It’s raining heavily at the moment but we have electricity so we are warm and our laptops are powered up. We have hot showers so we are clean and sweet-smelling. There’s food in the fridge and water in the tank and we also have half a rustic baguette, still fresh – it really doesn’t get much better that this.

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(Home for tonight)

In fact I’ve been reading and enjoying a book about meditation and mindfulness and I’m feeling very zen. The book is called 10% Happier by Dan Harris and the message I’m getting is that a day when you have half a rustic baguette is a very good day. Ok, it doesn’t actually say anything about bread, fresh or not… but it did say nothing lasts, neither good things nor terrible things. So, i’m choosing to enjoy my half a rustic baguette moment… I may have misunderstood the message.

We’ll probably move back towards the coast tomorrow, Mairead.

Free Parking with the Elephants

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(Our view from the kitchen)

We crossed the border into Spain this morning. It rained the entire time and the spray from the other traffic was a bit miserable. We had forgotten that this part of the journey past San Sebastian and Bilbao is always a little messy as city by-passes can be confusing and chaotic and it was all that this morning.

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(Nearby village)

As some of you will know I’m a very helpful passenger. Some people say too helpful… My self-appointed duties include continuously reminding the driver of the speed limits, especially when they are lower in the rain. Suggesting the optimum wiper speeds as windshield conditions change. Making squealing noises when (in my opinion) other vehicles approach too close to the van. Insisting that the driver must never check a beautiful view. Making wavy movements with my hands when our vehicle is proceeding too close to the vehicle in front.

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(Gondola at the safari park)

My assistance is not always appreciated though… so lately I have been considering a kind of toning down of my helpful tendencies. This proves to be easier said than done as it has turned out my main motivation for helping is self-preservation… it turns out I am attempting to prevent a terrible accident where I go up in a ball of flames and career down a 100 meter ravine. The constant vigil is exhausting as I am on high alert and I don’t even have a brake pedal. I did suggest to Denis that we could invest in an extra pedal but he wasn’t keen so I had to come up with another option.

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(Fence around the elephant enclosure)

It turns out when I’m a passenger I run the ball-of-flames-and-100-meter-ravine accident on a kind of continuous YouTube loop in my mind. I do that so that I don’t lose focus of my main concern: self-preservation. My new plan is to preserve my sanity and turn off the video loop. Every time it starts into it’s ball of flames, I stop it and have a look at the nice view. Then it starts again and I stop it and take a nice deep breath. Every time it starts I stop it again. It definitely makes the driving (or is it passenger-ing?) more enjoyable. I had been doing grand until this morning with the trucks and the rain but never mind I am a work in progress.

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(Our elephants)

So tonight we are at a safari park… with free parking. We took a walk earlier, to see the elephants…. yes now we have elephants! We got drenched on our walk but it’s so lovely to be surrounded by nature that we didn’t mind and now we’re snug in the van looking out on a lake with some ducks.

It’s a long way from the motorway. Mairead.

I have a great idea! No, hang on, it’s a terrible idea!

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(I went for a walk to find the chiming church)

There’s a church in the town and every hour it chimes, quite a long tune, from a loudspeaker. I noticed it every hour yesterday… I’ve only just this moment noticed it today. That means I missed at least six chimes. (I’m not sure if it chimes on the half or quarter-hour as well.) Anyway, just another example of how one’s brain ignores the familiar…

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(Interesting animals)

This campsite is interesting, I think I said that yesterday and one of the things that make it interesting is the Tubes… The Tubes are cement cylinders. You may have seen ones like them when passing motorway road works. I think they are used to redirect rainwater or maybe they hold electrical wires? Not sure.

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(Three Tubes together)

But here at the campsite they are used for accommodation. They have a bed with thick mattress, an electric light and curtains and windows! They are tiny apartments for people who would like to experience camping without the tent! I am very attracted to them. I am starting to have an idea about buying a field and putting Tubes in it… and you can come visit me or just visit the field if I’m travelling! I haven’t completely (or even slightly) thought it through. I’m in the very-excited phase of this idea. Many of my ideas don’t get past the very-excited phase. It’s my favourite phase but it’s not very productive. It’s where I think This is a great idea and I can’t wait to bring this to the world and this will definitely be workable and I love it and I will work on it every day and in no time at all it will be completed and I will enjoy it for the rest of my life. In mindfulness circles this is living in the future… I am particularly fond of my imagined future.

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(Two Tubes side by side)

Any idea that gets through the very-excited phase moves into the very-scary phase. Very, very few ideas survive the very-scary phase, it’s my least favourite phase and it’s also not productive.This is where I think this is a terrible idea, how did I ever like this idea? I could never share this with the world, this is like that time that people thought my idea was terrible and told me… This is the worst idea I ever had. Here we have living in the past, a particularly scary tiny bit of the past. No fun. It is truly remarkable that any idea would get past this phase, but some do! Anyway, I’m in a very-scary phase of an idea at the moment, I’m encouraging it into a productive phase but it keeps slipping back.

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(Breaking news: The church chimes every half hour, just heard it. Can you see the loudspeaker?)

Step 10. Live in the present, Mairead.

Wake up it’s beautiful!

Well, it’s been a wet few days since last Sunday and that’s made it easier to be working away inside the camper on the MindCraft website, which is now up and running – here’s the link. Today is overcast but dry so I’ve had my walk on the boardwalk and I’ve also spotted my first Camino walkers.

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(Not a great photo but that white blob on the guy’s rucksack is a Camino Shell)

One of the things I noticed on the little bit of the Camino I walked (near Lisbon last year) was the amount of cafes/bars/restaurants out in the middle of nowhere that are open and will make you something to eat at any time of the day. The same is true in this area. On my walk today I passed ten little places open for business. I was walking to turn around and walk back so I didn’t stop but I’m dreaming up a plan to go for a walk and stop at as many little cafes as possible along the way. Of course as they sell beer and wine too I’ll be either wired due to the caffeine, sleepy due to the food or singing due to the alcohol.

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(Isn’t that just beautiful?)

We got the go ahead from Monica in Porto, today too, to say that Denis’ computer will be ready tomorrow afternoon. So we’ll be off to Porto in the morning via the taxi and the train. We now know our way around the ticket machine, the train and the map of the city so that’s great right?

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(Perfect little beach on my walk today)

Well, it’s not really, because that’s when I stop noticing things. You know how it is when you go somewhere new and you notice everything. The colours of the houses, the odd tradition of putting tiles outside on the walls, the orange colour of the roofs, the different cars, the funny shaped busses, the new trains, the old trams, the eucalyptus trees, the friendly smiling people, the strange language, the incomprehensible billboard messages, the street signs, the sounds, the smells…

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(How could I ever be blind to this?)

But then as soon as you start to get comfortable and things are a little familiar you stop seeing them. Oh look at that statue, what statue? Of course it’s normal, there are millions and millions of pieces of information bombarding our senses in every moment and our poor brain can only handle a certain amount. So it prioritizes.

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(That bridge (does it remind you of the Eiffel tower?) is the one I am standing on in the photo above)

It prioritizes on the unfamiliar stuff and of course the life-threatening stuff (that tram heading straight for you!) When the unfamiliar stuff becomes familiar our brain says, great one less thing to notice, now I can go back to looking for scary stuff. Thereby missing the beautiful, stuff, sniff, sniff.

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(I love everything in this picture!)

It’s one of the things I love about travelling – I see the beautiful stuff! At home it’s harder to see beautiful stuff because my brain is only looking for life-threatening, beauty just isn’t life-threatening enough to be noticed. It’s part of the backdrop, it’s familiar so it disappears. Porto is beginning to feel like home… so I’m beginning to go blind to the beauty all around me. 

Step 7. Stay awake to the beauty, Mairead.

Sometimes it rains in Portugal…

It’s raining! I know you will be disappointed for me but I’m ok, I have some work to do so it’s probably just as well I won’t be able to sit outside sunning myself… I hear it’s sunny in Ireland!

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(Rocky and a bit cloudy in the distance on Saturday)

My friend Linda (of the tours around Porto) and I ran a workshop called MindCraft at the beginning of February and we’ll be running another one in May and again in June. This week I’m working on explaining what it’s all about for our website. I’ll send you a link as soon as it’s up and running but I thought I could start explaining now to get my thought processes working.

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(Smooth and blue skies on Friday)

MindCraft is a combination of Mindfulness and Crafting in a one day workshop. The Mindfulness part of it is all about staying present with what’s happening around you and within your body instead of the usual things we do. The usual things like  thinking and worrying about the future or thinking and worrying about the past. Or regretting the past or wishing we could repeat it or change it. Or wishing the present could be different. Or wishing we were different. Or wishing other people were different. We sure do a lot of useless thinking when all we really need to do is stay present and aware and deal with what’s right in front of us, right now.

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(There are lots of small gardens like this around here, all dug by hand. In need of rain, I suppose)

Last year when Denis was diagnosed with prostate cancer, everything slowed down to the essential – what do I need to be doing now? I don’t think it’s the big things that cause worry and anxiety… it’s the thinking about what if the big thing happens. In my experience when the big thing does happen you are kinda too busy dealing with it to be thinking about anything.

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(Another one, the small plants look like potatoes, maybe))

Mindfulness is about making us strong enough to deal with whatever life throws at us. So we have a little calm, contentment and the space to think about the important things… love, joy, peace, purpose, relationships, family, connection, community. The crafting is all about creativity and creativity is the route to finding solutions to our challenges. This is important: Thinking and anxiety are not the route to finding solutions to our challenges. Creativity is the route to finding solutions to our challenges, problems, concerns, difficulties, dilemmas, quandaries, troubles, irritants, stumbling blocks, obstacles, the lot! Creative solutions are what it’s all about. Every one of us is creative but not every one of us knows it.  MindCraft wants everyone to know they are creative and that they can come up with their own creative solutions.

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(And another one, I think there’s spring onions there)

So here I sit doing the work I need to do to make the message clear and simple… Mindfulness Strengthens Your Mind, You Are Creative, Creativity Solves Problems!

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(Interesting looking rocks on the beach)

But it’s not enough for me to just make the message clear for myself or others. Writing about mindfulness will not help me to be mindful, thinking about creativity will not help me to come up with creative solutions. So here I sit, also, doing the work of living the message. Everyday I practice mindfulness, I practice noticing what is around me, I practice exchanging worry and anxiety for beauty, I practice exchanging thinking for feeling my feet on the ground, I practice writing and photography and I practice telling myself, this is enough, you are doing enough, you are enough.

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(Behind the harbour buildings there are tables where the women sell the newly caught fish. That’s a cat on the fish scales. Fish weighing scales I mean…)

Step 6. Do the work, Mairead.