“Being” in Spain

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.”



5 thoughts on ““Being” in Spain

  1. What a FABULOUS picture of our lovely Melissa! As a woman who grew up in a VERY strict puritan environment –
    I can totally appreciate your post! “If I am awake I am supposed to be productive and busy!” That was enough of a culture to kill all of my family and many of their friends because of the stress of the competition and the use of drugs like smoking and alcohol to let them manage the stress! Not a good reason to be stressed and too busy! Relax, my beloved Daughter in Law – and PLEASE enjoy every minute of your life over there – the chaos will be waiting for you back here! BIG HUGS and LOTS of LOVE from Your admiring Mumzer!


  2. Thank you for writing about what I am thinking about right this very minute! We have just returned from weekly grocery shopping and are starting the laundry and I am pressuring myself to now start cleaning the house while the laundry is running instead of reading a book! I say slow down and enjoy and by sitting on your roof deck relaxing you ARE being in Spain and doing a Spanish thing to relax and recharge. Totally support the slowing down, as it is a great message for all of us. Thank you for your posts and the photos of your beautiful surroundings. Much love from Joanie and Bill.


  3. I still remember my first flight back to Estonia from Seattle. I was crying my eyes out because in that moment I was so sure that I’ll never have a chance to come back.. I was sure that Seattle is so far, flights are so expensive and there are ten thousand other reasons more why I’m not able to come back. At that moment the main thought was that I should have done so much more. I was angry at myself that I hadn’t done enough . When I came back first time, I came with a huge list- “things I NEED to do again”. Of course I wasn’t able to do all of those things. Again I was quite upset with myself on the flight back. When I started planning my third trip I finally realized that the world is small..if I want I CAN come back for forth and fifth time so I shouldn’t worry, I don’t have to try to do everything because I can do some
    things also next time. Right now, when I’ m sitting at my home in Estonia and think back about my time in Seattle the first thought what comes to my mind isn’t visiting places or trying new things. The first memory what comes to my mind is sitting on a sofa at Jones Avenue house in the evening, blogging behind my computer while you and Goeorge are doing some work behind your computers, we all sharing thoughts about schedules or crazy topics what we have found on Internet. At the same time we are waiting the tea kettle to finally whistle and laughing at kids who are trying to be sneaky and are listening upstairs what is happening downstairs. I guess what I’m trying to say is that don’t worry so much about those things you should do. You’ll definitely look back and remember also all of those nice and relaxing moments. I guess it’s hard to think about hygge while living in sunny Spain but As Pacific Northwesterners you should definitely read more about hygge when going back 🙂 I’ll bring you the best book about it when I come to visit 🙂 until then..try to enjoy little things in life! With love, Merle. (Haven’t written anything in English for a while so try to not laugh too much about my grammatical errors :D).


  4. Awesome 👏 My love to you and I would say that I am really facing such deep processes about my own life. I am beginning to really believe that at the heart of our climate crisis is our addiction to doing Versus being. Think about the average carbon foot print of a Spaniard neighbor and now your life compared to what you were doing in Seattle. Just the carpooling alone. Now the walking. When was the last time you drove? It has huge implications and to think we have the luxury to see this but we with the luxury have created this! I believe a huge healing venture will have to be this shift. Yes it is a privilege to slow down but usually it is those with the most privilege in fact who don’t slow down and drive even harder to be more get more-and with this is even more damage.

    I am more and more convinced that until we heal spiritually around this doing-we will not be able to heal the planet that we are “doing” to death.

    I am so grateful that you are facing this. I know it is not easy!

    I am with you and I respect it.

    It is part of your healing work for yourself and others.

    My love to you



  5. Hi Melissa,

    Just a quick note to tell you how much we enjoy your beautifully written blogs!

    Keep enjoying every moment and all the challenges, too!

    Con muchos abrazos!

    Carolyn and Dick



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