COIMBRA – CONCLUSION AND CONTEMPLATION

A few years ago I stood on the path of a labyrinth marked out in a friend’s garden and, looking up at a benevolent full moon, asked the universe what was to become of me. Did I have the courage, resources and wherewithal to give up work, follow a dream and charge out of the starting block of my third age with energy and resolve?

45 blog posts later and 7,000 kilometres travelled I look back at that night with much fondness.

We rejigged our marital finances, I saved up, and I started my Journey – around Europe, inwards, and towards positive ageing.

There was some fear at the beginning. I was afraid of there not being enough money; I was nervous about travelling alone; being a private person of a certain generation I was hesitant about revealing too much of myself in a blog; and it felt a big achievement to master the technology of a WordPress site.   I even quoted the poem Ithaka before I left to give me courage!  (Laistrygonians and Cyclops, wild Poseidon – you won’t encounter them unless you bring them along inside your soul, unless your soul sets them up in front of you.)  

Now that first Journey is over and I can reflect on all that I saw, learned, and experienced. As I reach Coimbra in my tale, I also reach the conclusion of my trip.

Firstly, what had I seen?

I had travelled through France visiting historical and holy places such as Vézeley where pilgrims started their walk towards Santiago De Compostela centuries ago, the Chateau of Chenonceau striding across the Loire, and the momentous sight of the Chartres labyrinth which resonated with meaning for me as it was in a labyrinth that my dreams were emboldened. In Spain I saw interesting towns like Bilbao and Santander, played on the wide beaches of Mundaka with its surfing-perfect “left” wave, roamed amongst the rock steeples on Cathedral Beach, and marvelled at the cave paintings of Santillana del Mar. I slept in the Room of Life, alone in the middle of a lonely vineyard, and learned about the award-winning wines of north east Spain. In Portugal I thought I had found paradise on the Paco D’Anha estate with its echoes of times past. I experienced a Pilgrims’ Mass at Santiago de Compostela after being destined to follow the mystical Way of Saint James/Le Chemin/El Camino all along my special journey, an unintentional pilgrim.

Chartres road

And what had I learned?

  • It is a gift to be happy in one’s own company and solitude does not equate to loneliness – for after all one can be lonely in a crowd. I found that I could experience many moments of the purest joy alone. I love company and my family deeply but do not NEED them to be happy. This is an important discovery, or rather re-discovery, after nearly 30 years of marriage.
  • So I also learned that love can mean a partner letting you go, to be free, and travel away from home for a period with their blessing because they are happy when you are happy.
  • Silence is the gateway to inner peace, and to seeing the world around me in a more intense and less distracted way so that its details stand out more visibly and audibly.
  • Being STILL is nourishing for the soul. Human beings need to balance activity and society with solitude and calm.
  • Research shows that a sense of awe promotes altruism, kindness and magnanimous behaviour (Paul Piff PhD.  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.) I found that my natural sense of wonder at the world around me increased my own well-being and happiness too.
  • Travelling lighter, whether it be on a journey or through life, is freeing. You lighten more than a bag. You lighten the invisible weight on your shoulders.
  • I was repeatedly shown that it serves nothing, absolutely nothing, to worry and fret about something before it has happened. You rattle your internal stability and destroy your present moment, often to little avail when all turns out well. Or you deal with the challenge as best you can when it actually materialises. Often the worries I whittled over never came to fruition. We can make a prison for ourselves with our negativity.
  • When I was faced with real challenges and overcame them I grew with each achievement. Self-development never ceases with age, only with lack of will.
  • I faced my fears, but I also surprised myself at times with my bravery or my initiative, thus I learned new things about myself.
  • I realised that one does not have to write a novel to consider oneself “a writer”. I adored the whole experience of putting my travels, learning and thinking into words and became lost in the pleasure of it.
  • If you are brave enough to open your heart to others, as I sometimes did in my prose, you can touch another life in a much deeper way than you might otherwise. I was repeatedly surprised when a person contacted me to say that something that I had written had resonated with them profoundly.
  • I found that losing someone precious and much-loved is also part of life’s journey and that in the midst of your grief you can be warmed by their memory and be happy that you had them in your life.
  • Most people wish you well and are helpful, kind companions on the road and on the road of life.
  • I had undertaken my Journey with the express wish of learning how to approach my third age well. All along the road I met teachers again and again, people living fulfilled, contented, active lives in their seventies and eighties who showed me the way.
  • I experienced the truth that one can grow, learn, have self-discovery, develop new interests and live to the full at ANY age.
  • And finally, there are quite simply times when you have to seize the day and not wait to have a desired experience or to follow a dream. You have to make them happen.

Coimbra is famous for its historic university at the top of the precipitous hill on which the town sits. Founded in 1290 it is one of the oldest in the world. How appropriate that I should end my first Journey and reflect on all that it taught me at this ancient seat of learning.

Feet on sand

 

What then? Shall we sit idly down and say

The night has come; it is no longer day?

Something remains for us to do, or dare;

Even the oldest tree some fruit may bear;

For age is opportunity no less

Than youth itself, though in another dress,

And as the evening twilight fades away

The sky is filled with stars invisible by day.

 

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

JWMT faded

Note: I have now completed this first Journey around Europe alone, and am back in France, where my French home borders Geneva, Switzerland. I will be setting out on Journey Number 2 very soon. Watch this space! MK

Comments
8 Responses to “COIMBRA – CONCLUSION AND CONTEMPLATION”
  1. vacicfam says:

    It’s been great, MK. I look forward to the next. MKV

  2. Jenny says:

    Absolutely inspiring. This blog has taught me a lot, thank you. Also some of your words of wisdom reminded me of a very dear old friend’s words. Much love Jenny xx

  3. S says:

    Thankyou Thankyou Thankyou lovely lady. Once again one line hits me right in the heart at precisely the right time. Love you. S xxx

  4. joan says:

    I found this blog to be very thought provoking and it chased me out of self doubt.
    I just hope the next journey can carry me with you. Good luck!! Joan x

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