Meditation

My meditation begins, “Welcome to the Daily Calm…”

The soothing voice comes from my iPhone. Usually, just after lunch. Full of food, I descend to my office, turn off podcasts and music and sit in my easy chair.

Tamara Levitt utters the words and guides me to my quiet place, where I spend a few minutes focusing on my breath, and several more minutes catching myself focusing on everything except my breath.

I can’t tell you whether Tamara knows what she is talking about, all I know of meditation comes from her. I can tell you that her voice is soothing.

Calm is an app. Set up by a couple of Brits in 2012, it’s a huge success story, worth over a billion dollars, last time I checked. Tamara is the Head of Content. There is a free version, but I pay £60 a year to access the full breadth of the offering.

I have “a practice”, meaning that each day, I meditate for ten minutes. Ten minutes where I tune everything else out and try to be still.

All a bit hippy, what?

Truth be told, I believe there is something to it. That ten minutes does give me a sense of peace. I do find it increases my tolerance and patience. When I miss a day, I feel the lack of it.

Calm offers an easy entry point to meditation, and I’m glad that I tried it.

Maybe you would get something from it too.

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Members 39. Camino Peace

My annual Camino has become my favourite week of the year. Although the route is a pilgrimage, I’m not a pilgrim. I am not a man of faith, nor am I a strident atheist.

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Living the Dream – 64. Camino IV Part II

Camino IV Part II is brought to you by the magic of the internet. This post, and every post this week, has published while I am walking in Northern Spain.

Last Walking Day

Today, Friday, is our last walking day on this trip. If everything has gone to plan, then we awoke this morning in Herreriás, our last stop in the Province of Castille y Léon. Dinner was at 2,100 feet above sea-level. Desayuno Dos (Breakfast 2, taken after a couple of hours walking) will be at close to 4,000 ft above sea-level. Not our highest ascent on this trip, but probably the steepest climb.

As we lean into the hill and trudge up, we will cross into Galicia, the last province of Spain on the Camino. Galicia is fertile and verdant. Put another way, it is the wettest place in Europe. Must be a reasonable chance it will rain on us. Breakfast 2 will be taken at O’Cebreiro, from where Triacastela, our end point for this year, is a gentle 4 or 5 hours away.

Mechanised Again

At Triacastela, we’ll get a bus or a cab to Sarria, where we have a hotel booked. Sarria has direct transport links to Santiago, from whence we fly home. So, getting there at the end of Friday makes for a much less stressful Saturday, when we can get a morning train to Santiago and spend a couple of hours in the city before heading to the airport.

Santiago de Compostella

I suspect those few hours in Santiago will be odd. All the other pilgrims will be elated – they have finished. Stu and I will undoubtedly feel slightly fraudulent, being 83 miles short. Still, I’m sure we will identify where we might have our celebratory dinner next year.

Camino V

2020, we will resume our pilgrimage from Triacastela, and complete the 500 miles from St Jean Pied de Port to Santiago de Compostela.

The days after a camino are a bit sad. I feel tired, and in my case, want sleep and carbohydrates in equal part. The mind feels refreshed from the meditative nature of the endeavour but simultaneously shocked by the re-immersion into the modern world. I’m glad to be back at home with Margaret and Spice, but a pert of me  A part of me wants to go to bed early, rise early, and lace up my shoes for another long walk.

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Living the Dream – 63. Camino IV

Camino IV begins the day after this post publishes. I’m off to Northern Spain again.

Route

Over six days, I will walk 109.5 miles (176.2 Km). This is Camino IV of V, and next year we have 83 miles left of the 500 mile pilgrimage that we began in Southern France at St Jean Pied de Port.

I wrote last week about the complexity of getting to this year’s start point, but once there, things get really simple, really fast.

Simplicity

The Camino Francés is marked out by scallop shells and yellow arrows. Sometimes on the street, some times on signs or even just painted onto trees. It’s perfectly possible to complete the camino without ever looking at a map. You just follow the yellow arrows.

Pilgrims stay in Albergués (hostels) or hotels. There are thousands of them along the route. Many pilgrims walk until they are tired, stop and rest for the night. Others, all buy the same guide book, and replicate the walks and stops made in the book (this leads to bottlenecks in the featured stops and empty beds in all the other possiblities). Now, as seasoned pilgrims, we know our distances and we pre-book rooms, off the featured list.

Most of Saturday will be spent getting to our hotel. Stu, my friend, and I will have supper and catch up over too much wine. The night will end early though, the threat of a 20 mile walk in the morning sending us to bed. On Sunday we rise, pack leave the hotel and follow the yellow arrows.

Daily Routine

If things go as they usually do, then Sunday will work as follows.

Leave the hotel around 7am after a coffee and croissant. We will walk from the centre of the city to the outskirts as the sun rises. It’s early Sunday in Spain, there will be nobody but pilgrims up and about. Around 9, we will reach La Virgen del Camino (Pop. 3,100) where Stu will have Desayuno Dos (Breakfast #2). We will strike on, having naturally moved from warm-up speed to cruising-speed. 3 hours or so will take us to Villadangos del Paramo. This is a “stop” in the most popular guidebook, so many pilgrims will be rushing here to try to get a bed in the “best” hostel. We will stop for lunch – probably a sandwich and a cold beer with our shoes and socks off.

Rested, we will set off for a destination, Hospital de Orbigo, which is another couple of hours up the road. All things being equal, we will arrive at our hotel at 3, 4 o’clock. We’ll check in, shower, change and get our dirty clothes washed and dried (or hung up). Then, to a bar with a decent terrace, phone home, write our journals and reflect on a good day. We’ll find dinner, laugh and joke with some fellow pilgrims and then hit the sack.

The next five days will follow the same pattern. Simple.

Packing

Now that we have settled into this routine, packing is easy for Camino IV. In the morning, I am wearing boxers, socks, shorts and a t shirt. I have a warm layer and a waterproof if I need them. In my bag, there’s another set of boxers and socks, some lightweight jogging pants, and another t shirt. Flip flops, some wash kit, first aid kit, charging leads for watch and phone, journal kit and guide book. That’s pretty much it.

The joy of the camino is its simplicity.

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Working Tool – 21. Me

The biggest tool of all. Me.

Hmm… that hasn’t come out quite as I’d hoped.

It’s blazingly obvious, but whatever tools I use to help me write, they are insignificant next to the source of the writing. Whether it be of the head, the heart, of experience or imagination, the words come from me.

So, looking after me, keeping the tool sharp, as it were, is important.

There is no magic formula. No special magic.

It’s all the things that everybody has already told you. No, I didn’t believe them either.

  1. Sleep. Yep. A good night’s sleep makes you a better writer. (Naps work too.)

  2. Diet. We are what we eat – and all that. Overused, often with a preachy tone, but believe me, less processed stuff will make you feel better.

  3. Exercise. HUGE!!! (Look, capitals. That means I really mean it.) The endorphins help with mental health, physical health and a sense of well-being. Exercise takes time, time that allows the mind to wander…to say, a plot, for example.

  4. Self-love. No. Not that. Go wash your mouth out with soap.

Whatever it takes to show yourself a little love. If you’re interested in writing, then you are insecure. Not insecure? Come back and read this post quarterly. The insecurities are coming. Techniques that I use? A gratitude journal. Meditation. Participation in several writers communities online.

I’m not going to labour the point.

Looking after yourself is important for a myriad of reasons, so do it. Make one small change for the better. It will help your writing. Really, it will.

Now – I’m off to #writingchat on Twitter

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Golfing Gods

Regular readers know that I play golf. Living here, it’s a great excuse to be out in the sun, breathing fresh air and burning some calories.

Of late, I have not been striking the ball well, nor putting well. The strongest part of my game has definitely been the drinking of beer in the club house.

Background

At Secret Valley Golf Resort, where I play, there are regular competitions, and these competitions are drawn – that is to say, you don’t get to pick with whom you play. Such is the traditional way. As a new member, this helps me meet new people. Five hours on the course provides plenty of opportunity to get to know someone. On the flip side, I am inevitably more nervous playing with people I don’t know. Still, I have entered a few competitions now, and know a few more faces. Most members know me by sight, (Plus-twos and bright stockings probably help with that), and as a result, I’m more comfortable.

Saturday last was the monthly medal. I was scheduled to play with three gentlemen, only one of whom I had played with before.

For context, my handicap is 13. So, par for the course is 71, add the 13 and on a good day, I should complete the course in 84 shots.

Golfing Gods

Something happened. I hit a good drive on the first hole, pitched close, and holed a putt for a birdie three. Starting with a birdie usual foreshadows disaster, but hey, anything is possible. The Golfing Gods were smiling upon me. As I stood on the 8th tee, I was one over gross par, so several shots better than my handicap.

Disaster struck. I pulled my drive, and watched as it crossed the boundary of the penalty area and disappeared under a bush.

I took a penalty drop at the point the ball crossed the line. The ball was quite severely above the level of my feet (which promotes a hook), and the flag is 152 yards away. This hole had the potential to be a disaster and to sink the round. I have, in the past, from a similar lie, hooked the shot, losing a second ball, having to take an additional penalty and running up a big number. Still, I know what the risk is, so I adjust my grip, my aim, and focus on hitting a smooth 7 iron.

I hit a good one. Smooth, the right shape and in the right direction. A playing partner, from a good vantage point called out:

“Shot! Oh. That’s close… Wait! …It’s in!”

When it’s your day, it’s your day. A potential disaster had become a birdie 3. Moving my score to gross par. For good measure, I added a birdie on the 9th meaning that at the turn, I was under the card. By some measure, the best scoring nine holes I have ever played.

On the back nine, I was nervous, and however hard I tried to play one shot at a time, the score kept echoing in my mind. I was dropping shots thorough a lack of commitment. Ultimately, I did pull myself together and finished the round on 77 shots. 7 shots better than a good day.

Result

April Medal winner. A tumbler, a voucher for a meal for two in a local restaurant and a whole 6 euro for my 2 on the 4th. My handicap index is cut from 14.7 to 12.6, meaning next medal I’ll be getting 11 shots rather than 13.

Most important of all, a rekindled belief that I can play golf, that I can become a single figure handicapper. This belief buoys me along, puts a smile on my face and will almost certainly last only until the next time I play.

Every golfer knows, the game will reassert its dominance over me at the very next opportunity. Whatever happened, will un-happen.

The beer game will stay strong though.

Living the Dream – 14. On Camino

The Camino de Santiago. This post will, through the magic of wordpress, go live as I am finishing up a thirty two kilometre walk from Sahagún to Religeos.

If you want to know more about the Camino, and why I’m walking it, click the ‘Camino’ category on the page and you’ll get a list of relevant posts.

The photo is by Drew Robinson, whose excellent blog you can find here.

Given the choice, Margaret preferred to have me disappear for a week before we left, rather than after. Understandably, she’d like to be a little more familiar with Cyprus before holding the fort alone for a week.

While I’m swanning about in Northern Spain, there will be lots of packing and organising going on in England, so both Mags and I are playing to our strengths.

This trip, my Camino-buddy, and best friend Stuart (no, really, that’s his name too), and I are planning to cover one hundred and twenty miles over six days. Twenty miles a day is a decent walk. I daresay at the end of it, I’ll be physically exhausted.

Nevertheless, mentally, I will be completely refreshed. I cannot think of a better antidote to the stress of emigrating. The joy of the Camino is the singularity of it. Each day, we have one aim. To walk to the next stop. When hungry, we will stop and eat. When tired, we will sleep. At times we will talk, at others we may not even walk together. The Camino allows me the chance to be inside my own head. (It’s a weird place to be, trust me!)

Life has a new rhythm. We arrive to our stop, check in, shower, change and then wash the clothes we just took off. Administration completed, we head out for food and wine. We write our journals, laugh and swap tall tales with fellow pilgrims. Sated, we’ll be early to bed and early to rise. The next day, we’ll do it all again.

Once I’m back, we’ll be six days from leaving for Cyprus. The movers will be coming, there will be a thousand things that need doing, but I’ll be ready for them. Walking the Camino supercharges the soul and the spirit.

Tough on the feet though.

Hang on a minute lads, I’ve got a great idea…

So ends ‘The Italian Job’, the iconic 1969 movie starring Michael Caine, as the cast hang precariously over an alpine precipice. We never learn the nature of the idea, or whether it works.

Paramount Pictures Image of the Italian Job

Mrs L was serious, and knows exactly how her idea will progress.

The idea

“I am going to train in Grief Recovery”.

With that, a new business was born. Over the next few months, a new avenue will be explored, as Mrs L comes back into the world of Learning and Development, having spent a few years kicking back in retail.

I’m delighted.

Mrs L is enormously talented, has incredible empathy and communication skills. I can only imagine that helping people deal with grief is tough but rewarding. Mrs L will be brilliant at it.

She completed a grief recovery programme herself, as a delegate, and found it incredibly helpful. I believe that starting a business started from a passion already has an advantage. It’s a great idea, and every business needs a great idea, but it’s passion that will carry the project through the inevitable challenges that will come.

I’ll post details of her blog once it is up and running.

What will I be contributing to this new venture?

Previously, I posted here, I’m getting the hang of wearing a range of different business hats.

Given that I am as sensitive as a toilet seat, I will be no use at the sharp end of the business, but I do have a little experience in some of the back office function and the process of going from ‘great idea’ to ‘detailed plan’ to ‘functioning business’. I will be trying to help with some this ‘nuts and bolts’ work.

Next Steps

Right now we’re putting together a business plan.

I’ll keep you posted.