Madrid is loud and sunny. Constant street life, cultural events, good wine and food. It’s quite a change from the quiet calm of the overcast country. No bear and deer outside my window, for example. Now, I’m living in a tall building at the edge of the city. In spite of the hustle and bustle downstairs, I can disappear into the airy lightness of the sky.
There are pros and cons to every style of living and I’ve been thinking a lot about how one’s lifestyle and setting impact our state of mind and mindfulness practice. In Woodstock, there was isolation, lush greenery, lots (and lots) of insects and wildlife, long winding, country roads, mountain landscapes and ritualistic chanting at the Zen Buddhist Monastery. In many ways, it was the quintessential setting for meditation, art and contemplation. Yet, even in that bucolic setting, where hippies and artists from the 60’s set up shops and never left— there was a feeling of nostalgia and loneliness. Every morning I jogged by an old woman with long white hair, jeans and tie dye t-shirt who would come out of her house to check her mail. One day, she waved at me, signaling me to come over. Seeing I was not going to stop my daily run, she motioned for me to return later. I thought: how sad to invite a stranger running by your house to come over for a visit. But is having the courage to ask for company sad, really? Her modest home was a tiny cape, pushed back off a quiet road. She was surrounded by beautiful nature and she was aging alone. That could me, I thought. That could be me.
City life is different but it’s equally complex and can feel lonely. In a hectic metropolis, it’s hard to find a quiet place to meet people who you can trust and just relax. Madrid has ample parks and they are lovely but the vibe is parks and recreation. People do walk and jog alone, but mostly, everyone seems to know somebody and typically, the Spanish roam the city in pairs or groups. The bars, terraces and restaurants are always bustling. In terms of my interests, there are yoga spots listed, Buddhist hubs and a handful of MBSR centers, but after a few empty visits, I wonder: how does one choose where to go, where to fit in, where to find a community?
I spoke to a few expats and Spanish nationals who, when asked, described mindfulness as a work related thing. They explained that when they’re not working, they just want to relax, have a drink, have fun. One expat from Central America specializing in marketing explained that the Spanish, different than Americans, don’t live to work, they work to live. These preliminary mapping mindfulness conversations got me thinking. Is a contemplative practice like mindfulness an essential life skill in modern society? What can mindfulness provide expats, digital nomads or misfits (like me), who fall through the cracks of conventional living?
My intuition tells me that there are more and more people like me, who have uprooted, traveling lives. Perhaps it was COVID, the economy and technology. Perhaps human beings are evolving. Whatever the reason, we’re out here trying to survive, one place, one job at a time. On the inside, we’re searching… searching for belonging, a hidden meaning in the midst of it all. Many of us, I think, are secretly hoping to find that one thing, that one person, that moves us to feel something, to think differently, to see life beyond the ordinary…