June 12, 2012
One week ago, I was waking up in a hotel room in central Madrid. A hotel that happened to really love floral prints – we are talking roses on the bed spread, daisy-plastered wallpaper, lilies dancing around the blue-tiled bathroom walls. But I digress.
Before rush hour had subsided, Aimee and I had made our way to the outskirts of town to an airport reminiscent of the Sydney Opera House – a large structure, filled with tall, sloping curvatures of pale wood and sunshine yellow piping laying down the rooftop outline. It is an inspiring place, a happy feeling place. And in it I too was happy.
The ancient Roman philosopher Seneca said it well: Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end. I departed Madrid not sad for what I was leaving behind, but present to what sat in front of me – and what might lie ahead.
Today I woke up in the quiet and comfort of my own room. Today too is a day of travel. I head to NYC and from there points north. Colin and I will be puttering up the eastern shoreline and then moving westward towards friends and family in Cincinnati. I am grateful for the time and ability to pick up and go, come home, and depart again. It’s not predictable, but this rhythm of coming and going is a life cycle for me – like breathing.
There is something about travel the keeps our eyes fresh, isn’t there? Sometimes journeys expand our boundaries through the new – new landscapes, previously unmet challenges, friendships with strangers developed from shared experiences. In many ways, these are the characteristics of my experience along the Camino de Santiago. Yet, that’s not the entire story.
I often think part of what travel offers us is a removal. We take ourselves outside of our natural habitats and in so doing position ourselves to examine through comparison – through choice – how we build our lives. This insight may come through the stark comparison of how another culture operates, yes. But it also comes through how we choose to act, to build our routine.
On the Camino, I noticed how much I sought an order to my day. The alarm was most always set for 5 or 5:30am. We wanted an early start, me in particular, so that we could make it to our destination without walking through the high heat of the afternoon. Plus it gave us the best shot of securing a spot at the hostel we had identified the previous evening. Once awake, Aimee and I would begin our solitary morning rituals – each making our way to clean our faces and teeth, packing up any articles of clothing still left up on bunk bed rails to dry overnight, rolling up our sleeping bags in the dim red light of our respective headlamps and pulling our packs from a room where many were still slumbering. Our morning packing and cleaning up usually took us the better part of 90 minutes. The speed of pre-dawn. We were on the road between 6:30 and 7 most days. Usually within an hour or two, we’d stop to eat, vacillating between – depending on the route that day – stopping along the road with pastries and yogurt we bought the previous afternoon or dropping by a peregrino-filled cafe for a cafe con leche and other sustenance.
The next 3 hours or so were filled with walking, perhaps with a fruit and nut break. Lunch would come most always by noon, sometimes earlier. A chance for relief from the sun, to kick off our shoes and socks on a concrete patio, covered in the shade of the umbrellas that dotted the landscapes of these small towns – the symbol that food and drink were waiting for us. Then onward to our destination. Once there, we’d locate my bag shipped that morning with a (lifesaving!) transport service, shower, buy groceries for dinner and/or breakfast the coming day, and settle in for the evening. Some afternoons there was more space to sit and think and reflect, to nap or just to be. Others were filled with running errands, completing tasks like sending a promised email or dropping something at the post office. Those days too were filled with cooking, cleaning, and before you knew it, climbing into bed later than you had desired.
In reflection, I notice how much happier I was when I had the blank, unscheduled spaces. This was my time to think. I also notice that those days were created entirely out of my own choices. This pattern, I recognize, is not unique to life along the pathways of northern Spain. This is about the building blocks of how we construct our lives.
I am delighted at the opportunity to spend the next two weeks back out on the road. Outside of the comfort, but also the habits, of my life in Washington, D.C. What new people and ideas might sit on the other side June? And yet, I also sit in a place of recognition. Life is as much about staying put as it is about setting off, perhaps more so. The real challenge, one that I will be sitting with as July 2nd and the return to my working life in DC approaches, is this:
How do we cultivate the eyes of a traveller when we don’t go anywhere at all? How can we make mindfulness a way of being, even amidst habit and routine? How do we remind ourselves of the unspoken choices we have everyday? And then – how do we act with courage as we make these choices…and own the life that these choices build?
PRESENT DAY REFLECTIONS
“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing.”
As Dillard advocates for presence over blind productivity, she goes on to say, “A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time. A schedule is a mock-up of reason and order—willed, faked, and so brought into being; it is a peace and a haven set into the wreck of time; it is a lifeboat on which you find yourself, decades later, still living. Each day is the same, so you remember the series afterward as a blurred and powerful pattern.”
It was surprising to me how quickly Aimee and I created a routine while on the Camino. Sure our dusty and laid back days on the Camino were a far cry from the schedules and rituals of our lives back home, but it was a routine nonetheless. A lot of our routine developed as a way to honor the needs of the other person. Aimee got up early so that I would not worry about walking in the high heat of the day. I let go of my desire to hit the road as quickly as possible so that Aimee could ease into her day. We compromised for the sake of our partnership.
Structure often emerges as a way to be a part of a team. We share office hours with our colleagues and clients to create shared expectations and time for collaboration. We prioritize meetings and events on our calendar that we value (or that our organizations tell us to value). This kind of structure is not unique to our work lives. Date Nights, Kick Ball Tuesdays, Parent Teacher Conferences, Alumni Weekend all give us reasons to schedule out our hours not just for work, but for our home. As a mom to three young kids, I am more mindful than ever of how important (and sanity producing) it is to have schedule to help ensure we don’t drop the ball (too often) and the commitments we’ve made and value. My personality type tends to prefer unscheduled open spaces where I have room to be spontaneous and go with the flow. Yet I recognize that to create and be apart of something bigger than myself, schedules and routines are not just helpful. They are essential.
Since walking the Camino, I’ve had reason to reinvent my routine on a regular basis. When my first – and then second and then third – baby arrived into the world, a series of new microclimate routines were born. The routine of getting a baby to sleep (mostly) through the night. The evolving routine of life with a baby who rolls over and then crawls and then walks. The routine of starting back to work. Children throw sharp attention to the need to reinvent routines all the time, but I think the act of rethinking your day from time to time is something that benefits all people, regardless of life circumstance. As a business owner for nearly 5 years, I’ve had to adapt my routines to meet the changing demands of and desires for what I’m building. And I’ve always been a believer that we need to shape our days as whole people. It’s less about work-life balance and more about a life that allows us to be ourself.
To be human is to change. Sometimes it’s our environments that change. Sometimes it’s our circumstances. Sometimes it’s just us. Regardless of what sparks the change, these moments of transformation are especially ripe for a routine reimagine. Consider: What’s working in my current routine? What would I like to change? What’s the ideal way for me to start my day? End my day? What small change could I make right now that would make a huge difference?
ABOUT THE SERIES
My Pregnant Pilgrimage is a blog series that I’m sharing in the Spring of 2017 during my present-day maternity leave. The arrival of my third little seemed a fitting time to return to these journal reflections from those last months of my life pre-parenthood. Learn more about the inspiration for this series here.