Its Saturday morning and I am reading my book on our rooftop terrace overlooking the castle next door, listening to the birds chirp and the Spanish conversations between neighbors. My book is called Trauma Stewardship by Laura van Dernoot Lipsky and is about trauma exposure response and how to care for oneself when caring for others, as a healing professional; a book I have had on my reading list forever, it feels like, and I am finally finding time to read it. I know, nothing like a light-hearted read for a lovely morning in Spain.
I notice how hard it is for me to focus on my book when all I can think about are things I could or should be doing with my time here in Spain. I should be talking to the locals in Spanish, I should be enjoying the sites, I should be volunteering somewhere in town or at the very least, I should be engaging my kids in some unusual activity that they would never be able to do back in America. A familiar sense of guilt fills my gut. At that very moment, I come upon a section in my book on “guilt” as one of the many signs of trauma exposure response and funny enough, a common self-judgement for Americans when one is not feeling productive. I want so badly to relax and restore myself and yet, I’m terrified of missing out on something and having more time pass before I take the opportunity to get involved in helping others in a part of the world that I have been dreaming about getting involved and helping for so long.
George joins me on the terrace and we proceed to attempt some understanding about what turns out to be a shared experience. Part of what we are adjusting to is the culture of slowing down. In reference to my last blog post, Spain may not be our best choice to live for its substance use and partying habits but it sure is the best choice for challenging us to experience a different pace of life. The locals chatt away outside their homes and on the streets (about what, I haven’t been able to figure out yet), businesses close for hours in the afternoons, and to-go coffee mugs are non-existent (our Spanish teacher literally laughed at me when I brought my own coffee from our house). Family meals are a priority in the afternoons when kids return from school and babysitters are a rarity as kids of all ages stay up late with their parents to spend time together. We ran into a neighbor late morning on a Friday and when I asked if he didn’t have work, he responded “of course I have work, I’m home for desayuno” which is the late morning meal.
Spanish life leaves much to be admired but it also challenges an American who prides oneself on productivity and purposefulness. It presents a tension for us between slowing down, enjoying leisure time and being lazy. It feels like we are on holiday because we are not working in a traditional sense but working to build a different kind of daily life. Though, with a hungry mind and a dwindling bank account, we both think we should be productive and providing so it creates some angst.
With further reflection, it presents questions such as ‘am I making choices because of what I want to be doing or because of what I think I should be doing.’ George points out that if we were home, we would be running around a million miles an hour, driving from sporting event to sporting event, working on obligatory house projects, squeezing in social obligations all to end up exhausted by Monday morning when the kids return to school and we return to work. These activities serve and stimulate us, no doubt, and I don’t believe there is a right or wrong here. However, clearly, the Spanish culture is trying to teach us the value of being more than doing.
The question for us is, can we manage to slow down enough while we are here to truly appreciate this different way of life and if we do, will we be able to maintain it when we return to our American culture? The guilt festers… as I type this, I feel guilty for the privilege I have to be able to reflect and write about this publicly. As we start to discuss with the kids what we want to do today, George says, “ok, but let’s finish this blog article first so we can accomplish something today.”