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Surfing the Waves of Experience….

I’m living for a few weeks in the northern part of Fuerteventura, close to the large and developed tourist centre of Corralejo, but nearer, geographically, to its lesser-developed and more charming coastal cousin, El Cotillo. Where Corralejo boasts a nature reserve, miles of sand-dune beaches, frequent English signage and a touristy ‘main drag’, El Cotillo has a smaller, rockier, wilder coastline, a more hand-painted, bohemian atmosphere and little cafes and restaurants where locals can often be seen and heard.

Corralejo is where the large surf schools congregate and little ‘tutor groups’ of students, keen to learn the challenging craft of ‘riding the waves’, are seen dotted along its beaches. Some groups are stretching their limbs in unison, others are collectively lying prostrate on their sand-beached boards, but all end up excitedly paddling out on their eventual virgin voyages to commune with the vast and endlessly-inviting waves.

El Cotillo, in contrast, is where the novices progress to, and where those ‘bitten by the surfing bug’ are seen standing at the water’s edge, sand between their toes, eyes fixed firmly on the sea before them, boards held reverently at their sides. They’re reading the wind and watching the waves, before launching themselves into the advancing tide.

The conditions there are more unpredictable, the surf is stronger, the waves are larger, and the currents can carry a hidden menace beneath their surface swell. But surfing must have the same addictive quality of any other strong compulsion because, despite the many red flags all along the beach when I visited there this week, the surfers just ignored them and, using their own internal barometers of safety, kept wading out repeatedly to meet and ride the incoming tide.

Watching them, as the light slowly dimmed, was a beautiful and awe-inspiring experience. Not just because of the skill that several of them displayed but, even more so, because of the time, effort, patience and perseverance that the majority employed. Time and time again they paddled out, sat waiting on their boards for the ‘perfect wave’ then attempted, valiantly and often unsuccessfully, to harness its power and to ride it, upright, in to shore. At first sight, it looked like ‘95% preparation and effort’ and ‘5% fun’. But, like all things, with a little more watching and a little more reflection, I began to see it in a different light.

I began to see the pleasure that the whole process gave to them, from the initial ‘reconnaissance on the beach’, right through to the final ‘catching of the wave’. How completely absorbed and committed they were to each part of it. How each phase contributed to the honing and refining of their judgment, physical strength, flexibility, balance, confidence and eventual skill. I began to understand why the atmosphere of El Cotillo, with its larger ‘experienced surfer’ population has such a laid back, contented, quietly-confident and easy-going feel.

I mentally contrasted it with Corralejo and its fast food franchises, its high street chain stores, its ‘Fish Foot Spas’, ‘Vape Emporiums’, and waves of restless, roaming tourists looking for ways to fill their attention and their time…and I began to understand. One group of holiday-makers was connecting with the natural force of Life and strengthening its force within them, and the other was seeking distraction and perhaps, in the process, subduing their spirits and souls.

I believe that when we willingly and repeatedly engage with Life, in all its natural manifestations, we slowly hone our confidence, enlarge our perspective, discover what we’re capable of and what latent potential we still have within. Some of us, like the surfers, do this by testing ourselves physically, others choose to take up the mental or emotional challenges offered to them by Life.

It reminded me of something that I’d jotted down in my journal one day, while I was still living on El Hierro:

When we loosen our tight grip on fear, we balance ourselves with Life…and when we balance ourselves with Life, fear loosens its tight grip on us.

It was a phrase that came to me from nowhere, when I was watching the sea crashing onto the rocks at the harbour town of La Restinga one day. I wrote it down and then thought “That all sounds very poetic, simple and well, but how on earth do we ‘loosen our tight grip on Fear’?”

But this week, watching the surfers, I think I saw how…

I’m a person who likes to read. My favourite topics are ones that circle around or dive straight into the ‘bigger questions’ of life. What is Love? What is God? Why are we here? How should we live? These are questions that have been posed and answered, in various and often conflicting ways, since the beginning of time, language and civilisation itself. Anyone who’s ever felt baffled, frustrated, wounded or enchanted by questions such as these – often following painful or challenging experiences in their lives – is in good company.

They’re questions that’ve been chewed over by some of history’s greatest minds (eg: Socrates; Plato; Leonardo da Vinci; Mahatma Gandhi; Leo Tolstoy; Carl Jung; Snoopy the Dog) all of whom reached their own conclusions and then tried to convey them through their theories, their writing or their established ‘schools of thought’.

Each new theory, philosophy, scientific explanation or religion adds another dimension or ‘wave’ of theology or opinion and they all contribute, in their own unique way, to forming part of the great, relentless, unfathomable ‘Sea of Knowledge about Life’. But like the ‘novice tutor groups’ on the surfer beaches at Corralejo they only really offer us the basic principles and ideas that give us the confidence to enter the water. Everything that comes afterwards, in the form of our own personal experience, is where the real learning takes place.

That’s why, by facing our fears whenever they confront us, by taking note of any warning flags but then using our own barometer of safety (our intuitive voice within) we learn how to gradually build our unique and individual strength and resilience and we slowly begin to ‘balance ourselves with Life’.

We learn, through experience, which wave of opinion we should let pass and which we should catch hold of and attempt to ride. We learn that we are not just harried by other people’s strong and strident opinions, but that we have many conflicting and bullying ones of our own. We learn to test our judgement about situations and other people, in order to enlarge the boundaries of our self-belief.

And, little by little, we learn the value of repeatedly paddling out to meet each new experience that Life sends our way. We learn how to whole-heartedly focus our attention on engaging with each experience, and on any waves of emotion that come trailing in their wake. And, over time, we begin to notice that Fear is slowly releasing the tight grip that it once held on us, and that our balance is starting to become good enough to stand up for who we are.

I’m still firmly in the ‘novice class’…but I’m slowly learning…

(If anyone is curious to learn more about surfing in general, or about the best locations for surfers of all abilities in Fuerteventura, http://ciudadsurf.com/ is a great website to visit, providing a range of information about the sport, its equipment and its mental, physical and health benefits).

Castles in the sand…

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The Endless Beaches of Costa Calma

This week I visited the South of the island and took a walk along its linked and seemingly-endless stretch of golden, sandy beaches.

I set off with the intention of exploring a little, walking to a ‘Spit’ of land I could see in the distance and then returning to my starting point to sit and soak up some sunshine before heading back home. But, like most of Life, the initial plan was only the starting point and the real meaning behind it was hidden in what I encountered and experienced along the way:

  • Little rocky outcrops to pick my way over, draped in various shades of luminous green and studded with gem-like limpets and sinister, scurrying crabs.
  • A gentle surf-line of ebbing tide that whispered “Surrender your naked feet to my tender touch and cooling flow”; a Siren’s song that I was happy to be seduced by.
  • A fortress-line of tiny sand castles being skilfully constructed by an army of tiny hands; each strategically dotted along the length of the beach. None within sight of each other, but all driven by the same tiny human need to design and construct something visible, something tangible on the endlessly-shifting sands.
  • Long, expanding rivulets of incoming tidal water that temporarily blocked my path, each one offering me the choice: ‘Wade in and get your feet wet or make a cautious, drier detour and take the long way round’.

And so the walk went on…and on.

Hotels, surf schools, sun loungers and parasols came and went, slowly retreating into the distance, as mountains, desert plains and endless ocean and sand lay waiting for me, invitingly, up ahead. Constant desert landscape to my right, vibrant, dancing ocean to my left and only beach, and more beach, the pathway in between.

It was the sort of moment where philosophical thoughts begin to form and so they did…slowly and comically at first:

“Life’s a beach and then you die…”

But then “I’ll have to let go of my original plan soon, walking out to the Spit of land, and consider heading back. I suppose I’ve failed in my objective for the day.”

“How human”, my inner voice said, “to focus on the failed objective and not the joy of the little things that surfaced in its place”.

As I retraced my steps I thought more about this, how the feeling of failure is always linked to comparison and to somehow falling short. Comparison with our original plans; comparison with other people; comparison with unrealistic standards or ideals of perfection, in behaviour, in selflessness, in appearance or in measures of achievement. And I thought about how we continually dampen our spirits and dull our inner light each time we choose to take this ‘thinking path of comparison’.

I looked out at the sunlight glistening magically on the moving water. I looked out at the solid horizon of mountains silhouetted in the distance and I felt the spirit of peace that they both convey, in their own unique way. One dancing, vibrant, life-filled kind of peace. One calm, solid, silent kind of peace. And I thought “Failure is just a meaningless human construct. Comparison is just a human and limited way of thinking, living and being, hard-wired into us through generations of conditioning and a daily ritual of repetition.

Neither of them has anything to do with this all-consuming Spirit of Life that I can feel all around me and, fleetingly, within me too. Neither of them has anything to do with finding, creating or cultivating peace within or with sharing that inner peace with others in any way.

This can only be done by accepting my ‘imperfections’. This can only be done by sighing and smiling at my human need to continually judge, myself and others, and then by letting all feelings of ‘failure’ around those judgements go.

Our whole lives are really all about letting the liquid tide of dancing light sweep in and wash away the ‘sand-castles’ that we build around who we think we are, or who we think we should be. And then looking up, looking around us, looking at the beautiful, inviting horizon…and continuing to walk the endless and unfolding beach of Life ahead…

Seeing Ourselves as we Truly Are

To love…is to love all of ourselves, even the parts that we’ve been repeatedly told are bad, ugly, weak or unlovable. Because what we’ve been told, what we tell ourselves, is not the truth. We are capable of loving ourselves in our entirety; exactly as we were, exactly as we are, exactly as we’ve always been. And each of us has this power within us.

It is the power that was the very spark of Life which urged our first cell to divide and grow, and then to divide again, and to keep growing. It still exists within each of us, and it still urges each of us to grow. We could call it ‘The Gift if Grace’, which we did nothing to earn, because we weren’t required to earn it. It was part of our birthright. The gift of human dignity, which only we have the power to deny ourselves.

Our inherent dignity and value cannot be taken away from us…ever. But our trust and belief in the truth of it can be clouded and obscured by our own self-criticism and by the criticism of others. And the more we deny this truth and obscure this belief, the more we experience and project our self-criticism, our denial of love, onto others.

Nothing we have ever done, or could ever do, will diminish our value and dignity and we…only we…have the power to discover this for ourselves.

But many of us live in fear and darkness because we never use our own light to shine into the deepest recesses of our minds, hearts and souls. We see and hear repeated judgements, condemnations, rejections of others and, fearful of receiving the same, we join the ranks of those who judge and criticise. And, most of the time, we judge and criticise ourselves; fearful of truly accepting ‘all that we are’.

But in doing this, we don’t escape our fear, we just heighten it subconsciously, we transform it into anger and shame and this, in turn, takes us further away from acceptance of our total selves. We jump at the glimpses of our own shadows and we do all we can to distract ourselves and avoid looking into those dark corners, for fear of what we’ll find.

To be ‘born again’ is not to bend ourselves or our lives into the shape of any one religious doctrine. To be born again is to return to the natural state of the beginning of our human lives. Before we became indoctrinated with fear; indoctrinated with criticism; indoctrinated with judgement of ourselves and others.

A time when questions of value or worth were completely alien to us. A time when we accepted ourselves and others exactly as they were, in each moment, born again with every new encounter. A time when we were filled with wonder, curiosity, delight, joy and hope. Learning gradually through our direct experience. Coming to know instinctively what would harm us and what would not. A time before we learned the language of “good” and “bad”.

To be born again is to explore ourselves with the same curious sense of wonder; with the same inherent lack of fear; with the same hope of discovering something new, mysterious and surprising. It is not a journey of judgement, correction or self-improvement. It is not a journey of good or bad. It is a journey of courageous faith. A journey of acceptance of others as they are and of finally coming to accept ourselves…just as we are…in our entirety.

When we discover this, we stop seeking approval and validation from others, because we recognise it as the transient mirage that it is. Instead, we find the true oasis in the desert…the deep, dark, silent, cooling, refreshing oasis that lies within us all. Because this was always the destination that was calling to us…this was always what the journey was about….into the heart of ourselves…into the Heart of true Love.

“Love is like a lighthouse…”

Faro de Tostón, Fuerteventura

Yesterday I took a walk out to the lighthouse near El Cotillo. It’s a beautiful, natural and windswept coastal area of Fuerteventura, with white horse waves breaking all around and a panoramic view that extends way out to sea and back again inland, to the mountains far beyond. It felt a little like a visual metaphor for Life itself and for what I’d experienced in the hours that had passed before.

I’d set off from home in the morning with the intention of going for a hike. I’d already decided that I would drive to Cortillo, park the car and then walk out to the lighthouse and back again, maybe stopping for a coffee somewhere, if I found a nice cafe along the way. But, when I got to the roundabout near my house, something inside me said “Go the other way” and so I did. “Ah” I said to myself “Yes, I’m heading to the mountains…a much nicer hike to do on a day like today”.

But, when I got to the junction with the turning for the mountain route, the voice inside said once again “Go the other way” and so I did and found myself in the picturesque town of Oliva, passing the open doors of its beautiful ‘Church of Candlemas’. “You’re here” said the silent voice and so I parked in a side street near the church and smiled at the irony of what had just happened.

That morning, while I was pegging out the washing in the early sun, I felt a gentle breeze sweep across the garden from the direction of Mount Tindaya in the East; lifting my prayer flags and making them dance. The silent voice inside me whispered “Something is coming…” and, devoutly human, I said to myself “Maybe this means that Love is heading my way very soon!”

The day before, in the shower, I’d decided that it would be hypocritical of me to continue going to Catholic Mass, as I feel such alienation from the opening words that begin each service (and their emphasis on the congregation’s collective grievous fault and sin). I’d concluded, quite logically, “I’m not a Catholic in my heart” and that, to live authentically, I needed to find another way to be with people who believe in this thing that is far greater and more powerful than us. And yet here I was, following a silent but insistent inner voice, parked in the road beside a Catholic church.

As I sat in my car, pondering whether to go inside or not, I looked to my left to see what building I’d parked in front of…’Juzgado de la Paz‘ (Court of Peace) and I smiled inwardly once again. The thoughts that had been running through my mind in the previous days were focused on this website and what it should contain…this virtual, web-based, Casa de Paz. (eg: How personal it should be; whether it should contain only general, positive and up-lifting articles, blogs and resource references and links; how much of my inner self and inner world I should share on it; how ‘complete’ or ‘perfect’ it should be before I launch it and set it running, etc, etc).

I decided to go into the church.

When I entered I saw a bright, candlelit, beautiful building with a full congregation of local people of all ages, and a Mass service well underway. The priest was standing at the front of the church, smiling, arms extended and he was saying the words “Peace be with you all. Let us offer each other the Sign of Peace” which, again, made me smile at the timing of my entrance. But then, as I watched, my bemusement turned to a deeply felt emotion and, suddenly, to tears…because of what I witnessed.

And what I witnessed was Love.

Love being offered again and again. Love being given and received, with each handshake, with each smile and gentle arm squeeze, with each embrace. I saw a building lit not just with sunlight and with candles but with the radiant light of Love. And it made me feel foolish and humble, for allowing myself to be ensnared by pointless concerns about the wording of the Mass and for forgetting the bigger, wordless message behind it. The only real message of consequence that this Greater Power than Us resonates throughout our lives and world: “Love is the light in every darkness. Love is the peace you’re seeking and trying to create, if you can just suspend your judgement of the infinitely different forms it takes long enough to see it and to feel it in your heart. In every size and in every shape, Love is everywhere.

The Mass over, I knelt in the church awhile before leaving, because I couldn’t shake the wave of emotion that had filled me and that wanted to come out in tears. I said inwardly to myself “I have no idea who I am. Each time I reach a considered and rational conclusion about what I believe and how to live my life in line with that belief, something happens to show me how pointless such rational thinking is. How am I ever going to know how to be in this world if I can’t even be sure of what I believe?”

Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment. Cleverness is mere opinion, bewilderment is intuition.

– rumi

Eventually, I drove back to the town where I’m staying and found a little coffee shop with a roof terrace, to sit and watch the horizon for a while and to let the experience fully, wordlessly, sink in. I thought about the sudden and powerful emotional reaction I’d had to what I’d witnessed in the church and of the other times a similar reaction had hit me and completely consumed me in the past. They were always sudden and unexpected and, I now saw, they were always responses to observing or receiving simple, selfless acts of Love from others. As if the Love that lives within me suddenly sees and instinctively responds to motiveless Love that it encounters in the world. The genuine Love that keeps no tally of giving and seeks nothing in return. The Love whose whole purpose is its own expression, to be brought into existence and to be made material within this world.

As I left the coffee shop to head back home my phone sounded a ‘message received’ tone and, opening it, I saw that it was a long text in French from an old Camino friend who usually writes to me in English. I sat on the car park wall and, using a translation app, began to read it, wondering what it was about. It was a thank you message for something that I’d sent to her many days before. Something that I had completely forgotten about, because it just felt like a thing that I needed to do, something I needed to create and to share with her. But what I heard in her message, and what I felt in my heart, was a light of Love and gratitude for that sharing.

Back in my car and homeward-bound, another fork in the road and another choice. “I’ve never taken this road” I said to myself “Let’s give it a go and see where it leads”. It led to a long loop around the village and a junction with the main road to Cortillo. A junction with a ‘No Right Turn’ sign, meaning that Cortillo was the only option for me to take, and so I did…and found myself, after parking in the sand dunes and walking to the beacon in the distance, standing at the foot of the lighthouse (Faro de Tostón) once again.

And, as I stood there, with the beautiful, turbulent sea crashing on the rocks all around and the strong wind, sweeping in from the distant mountains and playfully ruffling and whipping through my hair, I thought to myself “Love is like a Lighthouse…that can keep us safe in any storm“.

Welcome to my world…

Welcome…

The moon and sun are eternal travellers.  Even the years wander on.  A lifetime adrift in a boat or in old age…every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home.

– Matsuo Basho

Hi. This is the first post on my new blogging website. I intend to gradually build it as a ‘virtual place of peace’ where anyone can come in search of a little inspiration or solace in times of need, or simply to follow my own inward and outward journey.

I have a need to write. I now recognise that it’s just an integral part of who I am. And to write without sharing seems like a waste, hence this website. I also have a need to read about the personal journeys of others, as a way of feeling less alone in how I experience this life and the world in which I live.

Where that reading touches something deeply within me or speaks to me directly, I’ll include quotes, references and links to other sites and resources, in the hope that you might find something helpful to you on your own journey.

For those who know me well, they know that my dream is to one day create a physical ‘Casa de Paz’ (House of Peace) where other seekers and travellers are made welcome. But, until that day arrives, this virtual site will serve just as well.

If this sounds like a site that could interest you, or you know of anyone who may find something of help within it, please feel free to click the Follow button below (so that you’re notified whenever I add new blog posts) and to pass on the website address to others (www.lacasadepaz.com).

Namaste