The Tunnel of (Self) Love

Cobblestones beside one of the old railway buildings

Yesterday we arrived in the town of Béjar, about 200km west of Madrid. We have never been here before and that’s always exciting. We had set off early, too early for breakfast so I cooked my favourite – porridge, while Denis went for a walk. We always use other people’s reviews to choose a park-up and the reviews for Béjar were very good. One of them mentioned the greenway, called the Camino Natural Béjar that runs alongside. It used to be a railway line which makes it flat and great for walking. But like all railways lines running through the mountains it has a tunnel. One reviewer suggested that although it was long it was well worth the effort to go through it to see the old town. Oh, not sure about that.

Can you see the tunnel?

We have been travelling for 13 days now and because we’ve started to slow down it feels like the perfect time to soak up the inspiration that comes from visiting these new, strange, unknown places. A train tunnel could be exactly the strange place I need, if… I wasn’t the most careful, risk-adverse person I know. Hmmm. Or maybe it’s just perfect? Anyways, by the time Denis came back I was actually looking forward to going through the tunnel. And he was able to report that it was grand, it was lighted and he had gone all the way through and back and was happy to go with me if I was concerned about going on my own. But I wasn’t, how hard could it be?

Well at least there are lights…

It was awful! You can’t see the end from the beginning, it’s very long. Oh (expletive, expletive, expletive) it was bad.

No, now that I’m writing about it I realise the tunnel was just a tunnel, it was not awful, it was just a tunnel. The thing that was awful was how I felt. I felt very awful. I am searching for better words to describe the feeling. I have a thesaurus on my computer but its not helping translate a feeling into a word. Very unpleasant isn’t bad enough but disgusting is completely wrong. I went about five steps into the tunnel and could go no further. I had to get out.

Don’t you just love rust?

What’s funny (not funny) is I didn’t understand the problem until I was standing about three feet inside the tunnel. Beforehand, in the van I had thought I would be worried about being attacked by another human. So I had a little talk with myself, “you’d be very, very unlucky to get attacked today, first day in a tunnel, first day in Béjar, you’ll be grand, you can do this.” Of course I know what you’re thinking – this could be untrue, but it was enough to convince me I’d be grand and probably not get attacked. So that when I got to the tunnel I was not afraid of being attacked. The fear of being attacked is my mind-fear, my mind-fear had been reassured, however foolishly. No, the big problem standing inside the tunnel was no longer my mind-fear, the problem was my body-fear, the fear that took over my body. There should be a big word for that. Terror? Yes. Terror is a good word.

Can you see the old town walls?

Generally speaking my mind-fear keeps me very safe. If my mind-fear rises I don’t reassure it enough to go towards the fearful thing… why would I? But here on this journey I make myself go towards the fearful thing because of Reverence on Deck 9. Do you remember? That’s where I made a decision to learn from everything, and that includes this tunnel. I promised to meet every difficult moment with self compassion and silence. So I turned around and left the tunnel. Were you expecting that? Do you think I should have kept going?

There’s the van from up on the town walls across the valley

And then something I had missed rushing towards the difficult thing was a signpost pointing up. And there it was, a steep but gloriously outdoor path to Béjar. I took the path most travelled. Yes, I was not a brave tunnel traveller but I was something else. I was compassionate to myself. This is what self compassion does – it accepts what is true for you now and it doesn’t attack your truth no matter how stupid or childish it seems. I’m going to the mouth of the tunnel again today (even writing that makes my stomach clench) but what’s different is Denis is coming too and I’ll take his help and maybe today is the day. And maybe it’s not…

Collage of building materials and a smiling statue

The town was scrumptious, by the way. Ok again, not the right word but I need a word that invokes consuming… but with the eyes. What is that word?

We’re Broke…

(Beautiful fishing huts in this area)

Well Ruby is broke, sniff, sniff. You may remember when we were travelling from Castro Marim in the Algarve region of Portugal and the shaking and clunking started? Then we got the wheels balanced and it seemed to go away.

(Love French windows)

It came back. We left our friends on Monday morning and extra noises had been added to Ruby’s repertoire of clunks and clanks. Could we possibly get home before we’d need to address this?

(And French houses)

We were on our way to motorhome parking in a small town and the noises were getting more worrying. Then the sat nav stopped working. We had to abandon the small town and go to a larger one but on our way we passed a motorhome shop… and it was open. As you know, open shops are not always a given in France. It was too much of a sign to ignore.

(And old French trees)

We drove in and explained the noises to the man at the desk who brought us around the back where there was a full garage with people who looked like mechanics.

(And French paddling)

Denis explained again to the receptionist who explained to the mechanic manager. We handed over the keys and waited. It took three hours but they finally came back with the results… the word dangerous was mentioned. It seems we would not be getting home before we addressed this. Then they gave us the quote… it’s all a bit upsetting.

Sniff, sniff, Mairead.

Expectations and Surprises

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(You might see some smoke coming from the street half way down and off to the right… there’s a woman barbecuing fish outside her house)

I’ve been on walkabout in our new town today, inspired by another exercise from the Creativity Workshop… The one where I meet me (or to be exact me from a parallel dimension) in a piazza in Florence. I’m sitting there in Florence having a coffee while I write in my journal and along comes me. We have a great chat about the differences in our lives. There’s not many differences, actually, but there is one big difference. Love.

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(Can you see the cute metal steps into this grocery shop?)

Remember how I was telling you about my idea pregnancy? How I get these great ideas all the time and how I fall in love with them but ultimately I fall out of love with them? I think there are a few reasons why I fall out of love, one is fear. Fear of failure. Another is giant expectation. Giant expectation that everything will go well. And finally a huge reason I fall out of love with ideas is to do with money. Financial success. I think they are useless… unless they bring me money, when I already have enough money to survive.

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(This is a statue of Pedro Nunes, he’s a famous mathematician, google him. He was born here)

It turns out I was disrespecting my amateur status. The dictionary (well the apple dictionary) says amateur is a person who engages in a pursuit especially a sport on an unpaid basis. Or more cruelly, a person considered contemptibly inept at a particular activity. Fortunately, these are not the only definitions and last week at the workshop I got the definition that best suits me. The me that lives in this parallel dimension (note: anytime you think this is weird remind yourself, nothing weird is going on here…) An amateur is someone who does what they do for the love of it and not for financial gain. Me in the other dimension (note: you know what to do) has embraced this definition. She does what has to be done to bring in enough money to survive and then she nourishes the idea she loves. She still has fear but that does not stop her. She has dropped giant expectations and instead enjoys the giant excitement of surprises.

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(Ciara! Fred has a Fred in a parallel dimension sunning himself here in Portugal)

So this morning after breakfast (and after doing the jobs that have to be done) I went off to meet the other me at a cafe by the river. I brought my journal and I ordered a coffee. She’s a great listener. She understand me, she doesn’t judge me, and I think she might even like me. I wanted her to tell me what to do now, this minute, to move my latest idea along faster but she wouldn’t. She reminded me of the slow gestation period. So I got a bit irritated with her. She didn’t mind, she just looked at a seat two tables over. I followed her gaze.

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(Blue tiles, blue sky)

Right so, we have to jump back here. To the Interview exercise. You remember Virginia? From a couple of days ago? She of the great story? I know I haven’t told you her story and it’s not ready yet but I will tell you as soon as I can. For now you just have to remember that I was interviewing Virginia and the process of temporarily becoming Virginia had a huge (maybe even profound? no, too pretentious, remember expectations? huge is grand) impact on me. Well that’s kinda my latest idea. (Are you keeping up? Should I set up a help desk?) Can’t go into details about the idea as I’m honouring its gestation period. Suffice to say it involves interviewing people… Got it?

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(An open door…)

So there I am this morning following the gaze of me (from a parallel dimension) when I see a young man sitting at a table two over. I say, you can’t be serious! Me (from a parallel dimension) says absolutely nothing…

Me: I can not interview him!

Me (from a parallel dimension):  Still says nothing…

Me: What if he doesn’t speak English?

Me (from a parallel dimension): …silence

Me: What if he thinks I’m selling something?

Me (from a parallel dimension): …silence

Me:What if he thinks I want to be his friend?

Me (from a parallel dimension): …nothing

Me: What if he wants to be my friend?

Me (from a parallel dimension): …nada

Me: What if he expects something?

Me (from a parallel dimension): What if he doesn’t?

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(I love the way this door is shedding its skin)

I can hardly believe what happened next… I picked up my bag and phone, I got up and went over to the young man and after confirming that he did indeed speak English (he was bilingual! Portuguese and English! I’m not joking) I told him about my idea. He talked to me. He didn’t expect anything and he didn’t want to be my friend.

This is me enjoying the giant excitement of surprises. Mairead.

Beware of: Beware of Pickpockets!

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(Black and white and red and green Lisbon…)

It’s 4am. I’m awake. I think. This week has been like a dream, maybe I’m not awake…

Here’s what happened at the workshop (and here’s a link to the website: Shelley and Alejandro said some stuff and now I believe I can be a fairy princess… No, no, not can be, I believe I am a fairy princess.

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(Go left, that is unless…)

Here’s what happened… there was an exercise on the first day called the Interview. You had to pair up in your free time with another participant and interview them with the purpose of introducing them to the group the next day. So I’ve been to enough workshops to recognise this exercise but, there’s a twist. When you sat in front of the group the next day you were your partner. (Note: I forgot to ask my partner for permission before she left yesterday so I won’t be using her real name or her details but I hope you’ll still get the gist.)

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(Tiles in Colégio Militar, my metro station by the big scary bridge)

My partner’s name is Virginia (note: see previous note, her name is not Virginia…) So when I sat in front of the class I said My name is Virginia and I come from Wales, the one in America (note: no she doesn’t…) and then proceeded to tell a story about Virginia. As if I was Virginia. Right, I’m going to assume you’ve got the idea. The being-your-partner twist might seem like a small twist, it was not a small twist for me.

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(Mats in Sintra)

Anyways, going back to the day of the interview. Day 1 of the Workshop, the day I got lost and un-lost going to the workshop and also got lost and un-lost returning from the workshop: In order to interview Virginia (who was determined to get to know as much of Lisbon as she could in 5 days) we travelled to the other side of the city for lunch and a flea market, as you do. So I was perfectly placed for the getting lost part of this story. I got lost. (As an aside I almost met, but didn’t because she didn’t know my name yet and felt shy of calling out, Hey you from my workshop, Karen (from Canada, who never reads blogs) had also travelled with her friend all the way across Lisbon, coincidentally, to precisely, exactly the same spot I got lost in… are you getting this? I hope you’re hearing Twilight Zone music.)

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(Fountain in Sintra)

Moving along and returning to the point. Picture this, I am losing myself in the tiny crowded streets of Lisbon. I have a backpack the size of a small child on my back carrying everything I might need (except plasters, but that’s a different story.) Google still doesn’t know where I am and the only thought in my mind is, beware of pickpockets. (I need to jump aside here again, to say: Beware of thinking: “beware of pickpockets”!) So that when Karen saw me, she said I was moving in a determined fashion (she used other words but this is a mixed audience, no just joking, I can’t remember her exact phrase.) What she didn’t know was that I had lost my mind (… to thinking). The moment I found my bus to the campsite, I remembered Virginia. Oh my god, Virginia’s story is amazing. Followed by, I wonder if she knows it’s amazing? All the way home on the bus and later in the camper van I was preparing for my starring role as Virginia. Not in the, oh holy god how will I get up in front of all these people I’ve just met? No, instead, I could hardly wait to get up in front of everyone! I imagined how I would do it. I would persuade Virginia that we should volunteer to go first! Neither Virginia nor Mairead seem like the volunteer-to-go-first types. But they did volunteer to go first and they told their stories first.

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(Cheese wrapper from keep-in-touch dinner in Sintra)

I want to tell you Virginia’s story, but as I mentioned earlier I forgot to ask and it’s a bit personal, so I will have to change it a little… but I’m tired now, so I’ll tell you tomorrow… or the next day.

Night, night, Mairead.

The inevitable happened…

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(I’ve run out of photos in Lisboa, so here’s even more narrow roads from Ericeira)

Still having a great time at the workshop. Here’s more news about my travel experiences. I took the bus-metro combination again today so I was singing songs again and I’m getting louder. This isn’t a problem because I travel across the big white up in the sky bridge very slowly and most people have reached the other side while I am getting to the top of the steps. In other words there’s no one around.

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(Modern mosaic…)

It was raining at the time so when I got into the metro I took off my coat and stuffed it into my rucksack. When I was getting out I realised my ticket was in my coat in my rucksack so I took out my coat again. I was distracted and I forgot to close up my rucksack. Disaster, my purse and my phone were at on top. The inevitable happened…. I was standing by the door waiting for my stop when a young girl tapped my arm. I turned but didn’t understand what she said. She persisted and pointed behind me. I looked at the seat I had vacated but there was nothing there. She tried again using English: your bag is open.

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(This way…)

Oh… and it was open. I thanked her in English and Portuguese and we both smiled. When the doors opened I turned back to wave and she said, have a nice day. It was such a small thing but it felt really big. We had a moment of smiling again and I said, You, have an especially nice day!

The inevitable thing that happens… is kindness, Mairead.


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(Welcome to Portugal)

So it’s the week before my workshop in Lisboa and I thought it might be sensible to create some blog posts so I am doing some overtime to cover myself for the duration of the workshop. I have been wondering what to write because I have already written everything that happens (or that comes into my head) each day and posted it in that day’s blog, so there’s nothing left. But then I remembered…

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(Lunch. Isn’t that an adorable box?)

I didn’t blog much last year and I missed it. So before we left this year I decided I would write regularly, definitely weekly. Then I got kinda excited about the idea of writing every day but I didn’t think that would be possible… turns out it was. And now this week I’ll be writing twice a day. I’m doubly excited and doubly worried… but I’ve written previously about my plan to notice my thoughts and that plan doesn’t allow much space for worrying. So here goes…

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(Make mosaics)

One of the lessons we are learning as we travel is that when you see an opportunity that you want, you really need to go for it. Right when you see it. Don’t wait. Although there’s every reason to believe it will come around again… after a little discomfort. When we see a public toilet as we have a coffee or as we visit a tourist attraction, we use it (ok not every single one).

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(Fill up your gas bottle when ever you get a chance)

If we arrive at an aire and there’s water we top up and we empty our old water. If it’s possible to empty the toilet cassette, we empty it… usually. Last week we didn’t, I might have been distracted. We were in the grand aire by the flooding river. They had all the services but as we were leaving it started to rain, heavily… sure we’re on our way to a campsite, all campsites have cassette empty services. Turns out not all campsites have cassette empty services. There was a little discomfort. I won’t go into it but we will not be making that mistake again….

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(Travel to warmer countries!)

Going for opportunities is how we came to be living this way, travelling for months each year. It seemed to be possible so we went for it. Going for it can be harder than it seems. It might seem crazy but I find it difficult to leave home and travel. I haven’t shared that truth with many people. It seems ungrateful and a little insane, when so many people wish they could do this and can’t and I can. Or is that normal?

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(Walk in the leaves)

I suppose I’m saying opportunities come with down sides, like the rain falling as you empty your cassette or having to say goodbye to your sister when she’s only just got home. But opportunities also come with up sides and unless you go for it you’ll never know what those up sides are.

From virtual me, (while real me is having a great time at the workshop!) Mairead.

Hello again, Fear!

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(The Portuguese town of Chaves)

We have arrived in Portugal! It only took seven days! Yep, I know a lot, right? Last time we talked I’d stopped talking to Fear. Remember? Well it only lasted 24 hours. Here’s what happened…

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(The walk by the river. Can you see the path ahead tunnels through the rock?)

It was a beautiful evening in Entrago so I went for a walk on a pretty path beside the river, the birds were singing, the water was gushing and the sun was shining. I took some pictures for you and then went back to the car park for a dinner of cold pizza and salad. Yum (not really.)

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(The gushing river)

It was very cold next morning when we left, about 2ºC there was even hard frost on the bicycle seats. I was a little concerned that we might have to travel back the road we drove in but no… no, we took a different, far more scary road. Something I hadn’t considered when I thought it might be nice to have a look at the Picos – their altitude! To get a good look you really have to go up and into them… and then some day soon you have to come back up out of them again…

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(That’s us in the car park in Entrago with the snow covered mountains in the background)

Remember last post when I said we could see hundreds of mountains from the car park and some far away mountains had snow on them? Well, it turned out they were not far enough away. We drove to, over and beyond the mountains with the snow on them. Oh yes and I was back talking to Fear.

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(That’s snow… This is a nice wide road, I couldn’t get my hands to stop shaking long enough to take a picture of the not nice narrow road)

Anyways, he told me to blame Denis… And I did. Up on top of one of those mountains with the snow lined roads I asked (out loud and in a very shrill tone) Who’s idea was it to visit the Picos, anyway? Of course everyone knows that I meant: This is completely your fault, Denis! Everyone… except Denis, it seems. As happy as a pig in muck he says, it was you but now is not a good time to be assigning blame, can you clear the condensation from the window I’m finding it hard to see.

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(We stopped at a layby at the bottom of the mountains… we found frost covered orange peel)

Holy Jeepers, he can’t see! I set to the job of clearing the window with enthusiasm. And then I could see.  I saw this magnificent place and I remembered that Fear makes me mean and shrill and cross and stops me seeing the magnificence all around me. I stopped talking to him. Fear, I mean, I stopped talking to Fear, not Denis. I’m talking to Denis.

Step 3. Repeat Step 2, Mairead.

Stop Talking to Fear

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(Very nicely located car park at Entrago)

We left Cangas de Onis this morning and set off for our next home. It’s a small village called Entrago, with a car park in the Picos mountain range that allows camper vans to stay overnight. I am sitting outside in the sun as I write which is very pleasant. There is a breeze but as the sun is a little warmer than I’m used to. All is well.

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(A strange convoy of caterpillars… asking a question?)

When we picked this spot I had no idea we would be travelling through the Picos on route. Probably just as well. Before we set off Denis put the gps location into his sat nav and there was a choice of a shorter route or a longer route… Hmm, something shouted in my head “Take the longer route!” and I think it was Fear… I was more than willing to listen to Fear, but Denis wasn’t…. so we took the shorter route…

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(Some of the Picos)

It was narrow and windy and steep (23% gradient) and I fervently promised to spend more time listening to Fear in the future if he would only make this scary bit better, NOW… he didn’t. I hate Fear.

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(Beautiful Picos)

And then there was a break in the trees and we spotted the most amazing sight. Hundreds of mountains stretching off towards the horizon, the furthest covered in snow. There was no place to stop the van, there was no opportunity to take a picture I just had to enjoy the moment before it passed and try to remember how beautiful it was and how amazing it made me feel. And I was able to stop making promises to Fear and start paying attention to what was passing so quickly all around me. Beauty. It generates a very different feeling. Kinda mushy and kinda strong all at the same time.


(More Picos)

I had completely made peace with getting no photographic reminders when just ahead we saw a bus (a bus came up that road?!) parked… in a grand big car park! We would be able to stop after all and we did and I got some pictures for you… and for me and for Beauty and there’s none for Fear.

Step 2. Stop talking to Fear… Mairead.

Feeling the Sky

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(Star rising)

I wish I could show you the sky last night. It was the same as the sky above you but maybe you weren’t outside. Or maybe you were busy and you forgot to look up. Anyway, last night the sun started to set at 7.30pm and by 8.30pm I was sitting outside. I thought of taking a picture but they just don’t look the same and anyway it’s the feeling of being outside combined with the looking up that makes the difference and no one’s invented the camera to reproduce that… yet.


(We are here)

It felt like I was surrounded by a warm blanket, a knitted one that lets the light in, but in small pin holes. The blanket was black and dark black in the places where the trees blocked the sky. Surrounded by the blanket I felt safe and loved. I read somewhere recently the exact amount of time it takes for the light from a star to reach our eyes on earth. I can’t remember the number now but it was big – years and years. I heard that before but a bit like forgetting to look up at the sky I forgot that we live on a small rock in the middle of a huge space…


(Coffee and cards)

I worry about lots of little things. Like being late for something. Like saying something stupid. Like insulting someone unintentionally. Like doing something that makes people think about me. I never consider that people might be thinking something lovely, I worry that they are thinking something unlovely. The thing is, people rarely think either lovely or unlovely things about others, they mainly think about themselves… like I do when I worry. I worry about big things too. Like the rough seas between Ireland and France. Like the health of my family. Like my children. Like the people who are living in war. Like the people who are escaping war to find peace.


(Isn’t the postal system great, though?)

But then sometimes I don’t worry and I am not afraid… and when I am not afraid I am like I was sitting outside last night under the sky with the light of billions of stars reaching me on this small rock in the middle of a huge space and all is well. I am at peace. I am loved.

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(Star setting)

I wished I could show you the sky last night so that you would feel at peace and you would know you are loved, Mairead.