Madrid – The unbearable quest for the lightness of being

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As I had taken a bus so far ahead of my last real walking stop I decided, with inappropriate gear, heavy backpack, lack of trekking poles and deroofed blisters to halt the journey in Merida and keep my pilgrim passport as, who knows, another opportunity to walk may present itself one day. I never wanted to be a bussing pilgrim, not because I’m a purist, just because the walking is so enjoyable I don’t want to miss an experience between towns! My Via de la Plata then is at an end… for now.

I’m in Madrid. Yesterday morning I took the 9.30am train from Merida to Madrid and am staying here, at the Principe Pio opposite the Royal Palace, until Friday when my flight back to London departs. That’s a long time to stay in Madrid but there’s plenty to do and plenty to practise (I’ll get to it!).

Today I went on a walking loop around the city sans backpack. The hotel is on the western edge of the city, overlooking countryside, so it’s a good 4/5kms to cross the city and go to the Prado museum as I did this morning.

The walk back took me through the heart of Madrid, up Huerta with its trendy bars and restaurant scene, through to Plaza Mayor, past the Cathedral and Royal Palace up to Plaza España and back down to the hotel. Tomorrow I am booked on a tour of Toledo and Segovia which leaves at 7.45am from the other side of the city so it’s an early night for me tonight! As I’ve been waking up at 6.00am on the dot all week – this is no problem.

So, I may have ended this camino early but I am hoping to try to put into practise some of the calm I found on camino back into the hustle and bustle of city life. My initial plan for these six days was/is to continue to try to practise what I try to do on every camino – firstly, stop repetitive and useless thought and secondly, stop judging everyone and everything! Good lord can I terrorise myself! Ordinarily, while not on camino, I don’t even realise that I’m criticising myself constantly but while focused on trying to calm the mind I can at least recognise patterns of thinking and exercise some thought control!

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Do you suffer from an inner critic? I bet you do and perhaps you don’t even know it. The slightest thing causes me to berate myself furiously! This morning I got up, washed my face and then realised the towel was in the bedroom, ‘nice one, idiot’ my mind snapped at…. myself! I do this all the time about everything! The endless and ferocious inner critic is bad enough but when she takes a break from tormenting me then the cyclical and non-productive thinking sets in. ‘Well, he is #oldresentmentfromthepast and so I was right’, I’ll tell myself again, for the third time this week, about something that happened years ago and was not that significant even then! In reality, my problems are, more or less, all driven from my mind and it’s just.really.boring! It’s like having some maniacal conjoined twin (let’s call her Mary) who you wish you could just hatchet to death (heeeey – I’ve never thought that before – hooray for an original thought – even if it was a touch dark). On camino though, my mind is calm.

The camino is mostly in nature, it’s not mentally demanding and involves physical repetitive motion, you’re on the look out for arrows and at the very least part of your attention needs to be in staying upright, the mind doesn’t have the ingredients it needs to cook up a terror storm! In many ways the camino just takes you out of thought and judgement and that helps you to feel like a whole, integral person. It’s hard to explain but it’s just easier here, I’m nicer here, the camino allows me to get ‘out of my mind’ and stay there! That’s why I keep coming back. Simply for the peace.

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Soon I will be back in London (not peaceful), in a new job (not peaceful) and back amongst people expecting things of me (how dare they! Oh.. and not peaceful). I know there exists a mental jumping off point into a cleaner mind, one free of inane chatter, that is available even off the camino, it’s called meditation and staying present because the truth is, I really don’t have any problems, my life is pretty sweet even by Western standards – the trick is – though I’ve yet to learn it – to carry the peace of the camino, let’s call it ‘camino head’, back home. If I could achieve that not only would I be a pretty lucky, healthy and wealthy individual, I’d also be a happy one!

OMG! What a giant whinge bag’! Shut it, Mary!

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