This sore throat isn’t going away. I might as well stop hoping for the best and just surrender to whatever this virus is. When was it that I first started noticing the symptoms? I think it was onThursday afternoon when we were sunbathing on the beach. Yes, I remember the sensations, the telltale signals that trigger the thought, ‘that feels like a cold coming on.’ Of course you deny it, thinking– no, it’s just a sweat from too much sun. That’s not a fever and that tickle in my throat is probably just a stirring for a drink of water.
Even though I had spent Saturday laying on the sofa, resting, drinking lots of water the virus was taking over. The sore throat is what hurts most. You never had anything like this before. It’s as if you’re drinking fire. Even just turning my head from side to side causes some feelings of pain. It’s like my entire throat is being shredded. “Let’s just get through the nite and if I’m not better in the morning I’ll go to the pharmacy to see what they recommend. It’s such bad timing: we’ve planned to take this trip to Madrid since last August. I’m sure I’ll be ok.”
I can’t stand the pain any further. Time to get some ibuprofen in me. “Go sit up on the sofa. Laying down just makes you cough, and coughing is worse than swallowing.” I did eventually go to the pharmacy, on Sunday, and the pharmacist did her best to recommend the cure. One pill every 8 hours. Those pills, I found after taking the first one, are drowsy time pills. No, actually they are knock you off your feet pills. But– I did feel some relief by late Sunday evening. The bus leaves for Madrid at 16:00 tomorrow. I’ll be able to get two more doses of medication before heading to the bus station.
When 15:00 came on Monday, I was not feeling any better. The pain was still like swallowing fire mixed with shards of glass. The fever was coming and going just as frequent as on Saturday, and sinus pressure has come to join the show now. “Let’s get to the bus station. The 3.5 kilometer walk will do me some good. I’ll sweat and I’ll get some sun and fresh air too.” I can tell the walk is slower than usual and I’m not being good company for Kimber. She’s not used to having to carry the conversation and our walk to town is not just slow, it’s also quiet. We get to the station, the bus arrives, we find our seats and the seats on the bus are comfortable. Now, just rest, let the medication do it’s work. Sleep, and quiet the mind and body.
No matter what this virus brings me, my intention for this trip to Madrid is to make it be pretty damn cool. I haven’t gone anywhere to see the leaves turn in autumn since I don’t know when. Probably the last time I saw the seasons change was the year I left Hartford, Connecticut to go live in San Diego, California in 1995. Also, this trip is my first since retiring four months ago and it’s just a short four day trip to Madrid. A seven hour bus ride north. Almost straight north and right to the center of Spain. I’m pretty sure I started falling asleep there and while having these thoughts, and more than just once.
Views Inside The Mind
As I began to snore the sound jolts me awake. I’m too self conscious about snoring with the bus full of people. When we pulled out of the bus station there was just five or six people on the bus. Two stops later after having gone through Motril and then up north to Granada the bus was full. Probably 120 or so seats total. My mind wanders back and forth over and again between all of these thoughts. The first thoughts are planning, what to expect when I arrive in Madrid. Then there are the thoughts of the past about how and why we are going to Madrid. Last are the thoughts about my apprehension of falling asleep and snoring with the bus filled with people. Round and round the mind plays them over and over, and over…
I enjoy the time to watch my mind wander like this. It never seems to get tired of the same story line, over and over again. As long as the story is about me, my mind can go on like this for days, weeks, a lifetime. The hard part is trying to be aware of the switch. Trying to catch what triggers my thoughts switching from the Madrid planning to the fear of snoring. The body is almost always the cause of what our mind is thinking.
Over the millennia of evolution the body has communicated to the mind and through the ever changing drive of life, improved it’s communication, instincts, and has quickened the communication by increasing the body’s voltage and power amperage. Ah, cool! A fourth set of thoughts has begun to keep my mind company. After going over this evolutionary thought for the fifth or sixth time I try to gain conscious control of my thinking by practicing ‘no thinking.’ Damn, snoring again!
Look at the time, 2 hours to go. We’ve been on the bus for 5 hours now. “Why am I falling asleep when practicing no thoughts? No, no, no — I’m not going to sit here analyzing why the mind falls asleep when we stop our thoughts. I just want to stop thinking for awhile.” I get a minute, maybe two before I catch myself wandering through the planning for Madrid. “Stop thinking.” Another minute, maybe two and I catch myself analyzing the desire to sleep. “Stop thinking.” An hour of this practice and I’m exhausted. My throat and sinus pressure in my head is asking for another dose of medicine. It’s this medication that is causing me to have to work so hard at staying awake while trying to be present.
We arrive in Madrid and the bus station is huge. I’m amazed by how many busses are coming from all over europe, plus the tour busses add another fifty or more. At last, I’m off the bus, through the terminal, and out to the taxi line. I’m frustrated, wanting to communicate with the cab driver but my voice is dead. Kim is doing her best to discuss the details of our destination.She has him sorted and down the road we go.
A Hostal Bed
It’s 4:44AM and I’m unable to sleep. This throat is not just sore to swallow but throbs and aches. It’s even sore to the touch. Why am I awake? The body is clearly desiring rest so that it can utilize maximum energy to fight the virus. So why would it wake the mind now? What is it needing? The body demands so much attention, constantly sending “I need” signals to the mind. It’s thirsty, hungry, tired, bored, uncomfortable, itch, tickle, twitch, hot, cold, lustful, and on and on it goes.
The mind has named many of these basic demand-signals, and then there are likely hundreds of more signals that the conscious mind isn’t even aware of. Taking care of the body is a massive undertaking and an epic challenge when learning to control the mind. The five aggregates are inherited at birth, greed, lust, fear, anger, and delusion. Right now, it is a fear signal from the body to awaken the mind.
I sit up in bed. The body is not happy with me laying down since this is causing the lungs to cough. The sinus draining into the throat and fluid filling the lungs. The body wants to sit, so I oblige. There, that’s better. The mind begins to calm and sleepiness appears. I can watch the sensations arise and subside. The religions call it sin. Some say we are born into sin, others say the consequences of birth are sin. Today it is most accurate to break the aggregate word into separate elements; aging, sickness, and death. The consequence of birth are aging, sickness, and death. Right now, I am sick, very sick and at the same time driven by greed and delusion. I greedily want to enjoy my stay in Madrid and delussionaly want the experience to make me ignore the fate of birth.
The mineral water is so refreshing. Agua con gas as it is called here in Spain. It helps to clean my throat, palate, and the cold liquid calms the sensation of fire. A dose of medication, clean up, dress, and out the door we go. Off to discover Madrid.
Maybe it’s Someone Special
Passing by the Palace Hotel we see security guards, maybe five or six bodyguards grouped around an elegant looking, white limousine. Kimber and I walked directly through the assembly as we were following the google map app directions guiding us to a restaurant. We stopped because we had forgotten something at the hostal. As we turned to go back, we then saw the scene taking place that we had just a moment ago strolled through completely unaware. I catch the eyes of a couple of bodyguards as they steadily scan the surroundings, apparently on the alert for any signs of unwanted activity. We decide to stay put a few minutes to see if anyone emerges out of the limo or from the hotel to the limo. After a few minutes we move on since nothing seemed to be happening. No celebrity sighting in Madrid for us today.
Breakfast seemed to help with the pain and throbbing. The ibuprofen was likely masking the pain and the medication was masking the sinus pressure and draining. We followed Google Map app to direct us through the streets and in a few kilometers from the restaurant we reach the Prado Museum. There’s a line of people waiting for the museum to open. We join the line of some 200 people. There seems to be a steady number of people coming to join the line behind us. It’s not long before we start to slowly move toward the door.
The building is huge, maybe 900 meters square, and four stories tall. I was thinking, this is going to be difficult to enjoy. Several hours of strolling along looking at the art work, all the while my aches and pains and drowsiness will haunt every step. “Oh stop it!” My conscious thought interrupts. There goes the mind, always making it worse. Yes, the body is fighting a virus and yes the medication has side effects, but the mind has to pile on. It’s fine, I’ve got a bottle of con gas with me and surely there is a cafeteria and gift shop if I need to get off my feet. There! I’m watching you, mind.
Shall We Have a Look
The Prado Museum is a historical art museum and I would estimate 75% or more of the art is Jesus stuff. I want to just say it’s a christian history museum. A thousand paintings of the virginal immacualte conception, a thousand painting of the birth, and a thousand painting of the death. The three main stories of the christian dogma. But, the number of paintings is the real story. Why so many? The long corridors are graced with long benches.
I’m relieved to be able to sit while Kimber strolls and observes the art in more detail. She’s the lucky one: not raised in any religious teaching or entrenched with the brainwashing of christian, hindu, muslim, etc. She doesn’t know the stories and tales that are portrayed in these paintings. The same thing depicted over and over again from one painting to the next. She joins me on the bench to ask, me: “The plaque states this painting is the most popular depiction of the immaculate conception. Why is she standing on the serpent, and why is she crying while feeding her baby?”
“The serpent is the representation of the devil, satan, the gatekeeper of the hell realm. She stands on him because her baby boy is the saviour of all mankind. His death will end the hell realm once and for all. She cries while feeding her baby because it will be a torturous life and death for her son to accomplish this victory. It’s an immaculate conception in that it was clean, no penetration, to lust exchanged passionate groping and exchange of bodily fluids resulted in a pregnancy.
The karmic consequence of a man and a woman having sex is the birth of a child which sentences the child to aging, sickness, and death. But in this case, the child was placed in her womb by a magical incantation, from the divine which the christians call god. And the story gets weird from there.” She thanked me and then gets up to continue down the row of paintings, sculptures, and the like.
I wish I was Chinese. They seem to have no concern for invading others space physically, sight, nor sound. I’m too conscious of my presence interfering with other’s space. A person of chinese upbringing can be on a crowded elevator and think nothing about snorting and coughing up flem loudly and continually. Right now, I want to clear my nose, hack up a flem ball out of my throat, spit, snort, and carry on until all of this discomfort in me is quieted.
Being aware of others is a part of the mind training and necessary too. It’s too easy to be offended by the presence of others and to be angered by anything those other people do. Eckhart Tolle calls it, “the otherliness of others.” These thousands of paintings of Jesus all portray the tale of intention for all mankind. Love for others, compassion and empathy, can only come about when love for the self is accomplished. Once I understood everyone of us is suffering the same human condition, we are all subjected to the inevitable aging, sickness, and death and each of us driven by fear, greed, lust, anger, and delusion, loving everyone becomes natural.
It all requires a continual effort of practice. Even now, as I sit here on these benches, moving up and down these museum corridors filled with paintings and sculptures, and surrounded by hundreds of people, I practice. Distracted for a moment to wonder about the virus attacking the body, calling the mind back to the present moment of people and art. Distracted for a moment to wonder what Kim and I will do after the museum and catching my mind to bring it back to the present moment of observing her joy as she experiences the museum. It’s like going to the gym for a workout. I’m not strong only when I’m at the gym but because I spend time at the gym I’m stronger every moment.
Learning to control my mind allows me to have more mental focus and to better deal with the suffering of life every moment. The story of Jesus included many tales where he would go off to pray for hours or days at a time. Prayer is just another word for meditation. Meditation isn’t about relaxing and resting. Meditation is hard work and requires tremendous effort. It all starts with intention and ends with concentration. Eight steps for daily practice, five steps in meditation, four noble truths, three jewels of the lotus.
Stuck in The Ribs
Kimber joins me on the bench to ask, “why are there so many illustrations of his chest wound? What’s the story here?” Even though it’s super easy to just explain the sabbath was too soon and they couldn’t leave him to slowly die his tortured death over the weekend so they jabbed him with a spear into a lung so he would more quickly die by drowning in his own blood, I have to clarify the details. My throat is so raw now that I speak in a whisper. My face in her hair, lips just aside her ear. I continue to tell her the week before the crucifixion was the real toll on the prisoners.
The Roman guards made sporting games around the torturing of their enemies. Jesus was no exception to their sporting games. They would show their fists to the prisoner telling him to take a good look at each guards fist. After he got a good look at each one they would blind fold him. One of the guards would punch him with all his might. The blind fold would be removed, the guards would present their fists and then he would have to guess which fist just gut punched him. If he was wrong, they start over. After a few swallows of wine and new wagers placed. If on the other hand, the prisoner guessed correctly then the wagers and celebratory pulls on the wine would be over the odds of guessing correctly twice in a row.
The cats claw was the cruelest of the Roman torments. The short tailed whip of maybe just 30 centimeters long and usually 2 or 3 tails. At the end of the tail a metal claw shaped clasp that looked similar to a cat’s claw. A prisoner sentenced to a whipping, as Jesus was would have the flesch ripped off their backs, arms, shoulders. As the guard would swing the cats claw whip across the prisoner’s body the metal claws would sink into their flesh and then the guard would yank the whip back quickly. You can vividly imagine the pain of having the flesh torn off your body.
The imagination of bored, drunk, and angry guards were played out in the cruelest ways. But I think partly it was because the guards didn’t want to crucify the prisoners. The whole process of going out into the hot sun, nailing men to wooden crosses and then having to hoist these heavy bodies and wooden crosses up was hot and tiring work. I believe they hoped they could torture the prisoner to death and save themselves the hard labor.
The paintings of course depict a perfect body with only a single piercing in the upper rib cage and usually with only a few drops of blood. The artist was likely instructed to illustrate this glorious depiction because nobody would worship a beaten, bruised, and bloody god. Muchless, nobody would put money into the church baskets. The artist knew where his pay was coming from and knew how to keep himself in wine and cheese by appealing to the imagery of the christian church demands. At that, she stood and walked to the next room and another corridor of artwork.
One Last Conversation
We went over one more theme that she found repeated over and again in the art: the last supper. One painting in particular caught her attention. The usual setting of the long table and the 12 disciples clambering around the table in pleading postures, clearly each of them deeply concerned as they look to Jesus. All of them illustrated with a halo around each of their heads except one disciple had no halo. It’s a classic story of good versus evil and in this part of the tale the climax is building to a final showdown between the villain and the hero, but first we have the betrayal.
You see, if Jesus just surrendered to the Roman authorities it could be construed as an act of suicide which according to christians and the United States government is against the law and punishable by an eternity in hell because God and country love you. So, in order for the Roman’s to kill Jesus even though he had no karma of birth condemning him to aging, sickness, and death, the church needed a betrayal. So, the guy with no halo is named Judas and the story goes that greed caused him to betray Jesus for a few silver coins.
There’s probably more to the story than this too simple excuse the christian church tells. I think Judas betrayed Jesus out of empathy. In fact, Judas likely cared more for Jesus than the rest of the guys, and when it went badly for Jesus, Judas hung himself. The reason he hung himself was probably because he was convinced that if Jesus would surrender to the Romans and be put in front of the emperor and the judges the Italians would see the glory, the brilliance, and the holiness of Jesus. They would surely realize he was truly the son of god. All of the other disciples disagreed with Judas, telling him the Romans would never listen to him, nor give him a fair trial that the only thing the Romans would do would be to torture and kill Jesus.
This left Judas with no other choice than to go to the Romans himself. But hey, truth is, we don’t even know if any of these people ever even existed. History has been written and rewritten so many times across the centuries that we can only know most of this story is pretty unbelievable. The story of Jesus, Shakyamuni Buddha, Mohamid, or Poseidon are all fairly sensational and at best these stories are good childhood teaching guides for morality.
Down The Road We Go
The sun on my face feels great, but the wind and warm air are hard on my throat and lungs. My body needs rest. I stop walking and try my best to tell Kimber we need to get to a restaurant. I need more mineral water. We are just 2 kilometers from the Prado, and just reaching the gates for Madrid Park. My body shouldn’t be tired at all from a simple 2 kilometer walk but it is and it’s doing all it can to make me stop.
We spot a sidewalk cafe and take a table just inside the wind block. More agua con gas on the menu It’s carbonated, it’s cold, and it’s amazing going down. The restaurant is lively, conversations all around us, so fun. The two sidewalk waiters are upbeat and speak better English than Kimber or I speak Spanish. We decide on a guacamole salad, and they bring us a generous basket of potato chips with our mineral water. Time to down a few more ibuprofen but still 2 hours before the medication.
We go back across the street to the Madrid Park entrance. Almost from the first site of the park I’m struck by how beautiful the place is. The park is huge, filled with huge trees, shrubs, flowers, grass, walkways, and birds. Every direction I look, I want to just stop and gaze, my phone in hand I’ve already taken too many pictures. Clearly, I’m awestruck.
I worry for my Kimber, my mood is so somber and my energy level is so low. I don’t want her trip to Madrid to be be a downer. We continue into the park and spot a group of people training to be matadors. Their huge, colorful capes catching the sunshine falling through the trees. We stand and watch for a while. Where else would be be able to observe bull fight training? Chestnuts. Those are chestnuts I continue to hear falling through the branches of the trees and crashing into the ground. Look at them all the chestnut pods are everywhere. The leaves are turning reds, browns, and golden. The paths and the grass are littered with the fallen leaves and chestnuts. It’s autumn in the early stages. This place is beautiful.
The trail brings us to a small lake. Across the lake is an amphitheatre and someone over there is practicing playing songs on their trumpet. Benches line the wide path that goes around the lake. There are three restaurants spread out along the pathway and several hundred people are enjoying the park, the sun, the lake, and we’re all enjoying people watching. Kimber and I find a bench and take a place. An hour, maybe an hour and a half go past as we just sit and observe the present moment. The scene is powerful with the background trumpet playing, children playing, conversations in many languages as families stroll past us. The sun is high in the sky. It’s nearly 15:00 or 15:30. It’s siesta time in Spain.
An occasional gust of wind brings movement to the tall trees causing the rays of light to move and dance across the park. Leaves fall from the branches and slowly float to the ground while the chestnuts crash down through the branches and onto the grass. The totality of everything is impossible for me to describe in any way that can give the feeling and the sensation. Words would rob the experience of its real worth. Words are so limiting and cause more delusion as our mind wants desperately to categorize and define everything into a concrete and certain fact.
We are often left confused at the inability to use guttural sounds and breathing as we shape five vowels and 25 consonant letters into these sounds we call words. Absurdly we believe we are able to define the universe in this way. It’s actually the observation without words that provide insight and awakening. True knowledge comes from mindful presence and concentration.
If You Could Do It All Over Again
The leaves and chestnuts fall from the tree every autumn. The leaves decay, and as they decay back into the soil they were before the roots and chemicals from the tree absorbed the dirt molecules and morphed the energy of the earth into tree tissue, sap, bark, leaves, and nuts. Countless years of metamorphosis and now, years later, the dirt molecules are returning back to the ground. Where once again, this dirt may be absorbed to provide nourishment to a blade of grass, maybe a shrub, or a flower. The cycle plays out again and again over millennia, eons and longer. Is this reincarnation? Is there such a thing as metamorphosis? What is life? That [what is life] is the true question. I remember how difficult finding the answers was.
When I first started to learn the tools and techniques for real meditation; the breath. It was so hard, For a long time, I recall thinking it was impossible to just focus on breathing. Just sit and observe the breath. Breathing in. Breathing out. Short breath in. Short breath out. Comfortable breathing in, comfortable breathing out. Nothing more, no other thoughts, no other activity, just focus on breathing. Five minutes of breath concentration, without any distraction, was the hardest thing I’ve ever taken on. Then ten minutes, an hour, a three day retreat, a ten day retreat. Eventually through the day and every opportunity in life can provide an opportunity to develop and train the mind. That’s how I was finally able to identify the part of me that came forward into this body, it’s the part that exists when this body decays and rots.
Kim holding my hand, smiles as I look at her, and she says, “it’s magical.: We decided to move our observing to one of the restaurant. She orders a white wine and I choose a vermouth rojo.As I take my medication I can tell my body has started to get better. Though my voice is still absent, and the fever comes and goes, I do sense I’m over the worst of it. We sit here with our drinks, observing the park, the people, and the birds for another hour. Truly some of the best meditation we’ve ever experienced.
Crystal Palaces and Roses, No Fish
Walking, just walking. Observing the beauty of this Parque de Madrid. There are more paths in the park than I can travel in one day. It would perhaps require an entire week of daily visits to take in the entire park. There are tremendously huge trees (apologies for the pun) that are towered by even taller and larger trees. Another lake that is more like the everglades complete with turtles, and on its shore there is a crystal palace. We came upon an acre of the park dedicated to the rose. Every species and color of rose is on display in this rose garden. Standard roses, ground cover roses, miniature roses, rose trees, rose vines, purples, oranges, blues, whites, reds, and yellows.
Eventually time runs out and we head to the entrance to make our way back 2.5 kilometers to the hostal. It’s late in the day, early evening actually but I’m hoping to get a 30 minute nap before we go out for the evening. Tablet in hand I sit on the bed searching for ‘best restaurants near me.” Then I remember there is a strong influence for restaurants in Madrid to feature American food. I change my search to “best American restaurant near me.” A dozen or more possibilities populate the search results and the burgers catch my eyes.
It’s the thing I miss most about our restaurant experience in spain. The burgers in Almunecar are bad. By bad I mean in every way: texture, size, flavor, bun, condiments. In general though, the traditional Spanish food along the coast is not for me. Most everything they serve has eyeballs attached, is slippery, raw, usually includes tentacles, and is chewy to just plain gummy. Flavour is missing completely except for the salt. You need to be born and raised eating this way to have a chance at enjoying it. Tonight though, I’m looking to get a taste of America, without the fear of course.
The streets are alive with traffic, and people on the sidewalks, taking in the shops. I love the opportunity to be around people. People are what the universe is all about. This rare opportunity to be human is the one realm of existence that provides a chance to break free of the cyclic existence and freedom from the duality of causal life. While we are shackled by the inherent purpose of fear, greed, lust, anger, and delusion it is love that requires our total effort. Being in the midst of people provides the opportunity to strengthen love and to observe the human condition.
Spain needs no social apps, it doesn’t require Facebook, twitter, fox news and cnn to know what is happening in the world or how to relate to the world. For Spain, the social network is right outside everyone’s front door. Every community is structured around socializing. Walkways, open markets, sidewalk cafes, cafeterias, bars, and restaurants are everywhere. The language and the social norms entice everyone to communicate. The heroes aren’t killers, gun toting murderous war mongers, crime fighting super humans, violent and greedy business executives, athletes, singers, artists, nor politicians. Their heros are their grandparents, their mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, classmates and teachers. It’s life minus the perpetuation of fear and anger.
Science is Like Magic Only With Choice
Soil, sun, water, and air combine to form a tree. The magic is in the seed. The seed of the chestnut contains the magic genetics or DNA pattern that cause the atomic metamorphosis that cause the tree rather than a bougainvillea. How rare the opportunity to be a branch, a leaf, the sap or the bark. Even more rare to become the chestnut pod or seed within the pod.
Imagine how many eons of cycling through existence — this year chestnut seed, before finally an opportunity of becoming the seed? And, still even more rare, to be the seed that takes root and provides life for a new tree. Even if reincarnation is in no way possible, imagine how rare of an opportunity this human life. Even if reincarnation is true, and this universe is a finite source of energy and fundamental universal laws, how precious this opportunity to experience human life is.
How we live in this life is entirely based on a choice. Choice is real magic. A simple choice, has more power than all the suns in our galaxy. For example we could choose either to go to death having spent a lifetime succumbed to the human condition; fear, greed, lust, anger, delusion. Fear causes us to isolate to a fixed routine of limited exposure to the outside world, everything is a threat and dangerous, we need medication, police, laws, governments, borders, bombs, bullets, walls, etc . Greed causes a sensation of never having enough or the depression of knowing life is never fair to me. People and life are little else than an opportunity to fulfill my needs.
Filled with lust so deeply, that we take up weapons and train to kill, clinging to possessions we are ready to kill, no — anxious to kill in order to defend and protect what’s perceived to be mine.So enraged with anger we live secluded from all physical interaction with the world and develop a general hate for people. We need to hate them because they are what’s wrong with the world. They cause all the problems — these humans; wars, abortions, taxes, crimes, drunk-drivers, everyone else “is” the problem. Deluded in the uncontrolled thinking mind we live in a make believe world of rumination, fantasy games we play in our minds including long sessions of thinking about what if this happens, I wish that would happen, or I wish this would have been different.
In that deluded thinking mind we develop and believe a wrong understanding of love. We worship politicians, the wealthy, we consider someone a success based on how popular the media proclaims the person to be, we honor athletes, musicians, territorial borders, flags, country, and god above all human life. Or we could make a different magical choice.
In contrast, we could choose instead to go to death free from natural constraints caused by the human conditions of fear, greed, lust, anger, and delusion. We could choose to develop true love. In the christian way of viewing the world, Satan i.e., the devil, causes the world of fear, greed, lust, anger, and delusion, and god is love. It’s too bad and unfortunate their religion is also satan’s work. But no worries there’s always another lifetime, perhaps? Another time to work at it, and another time where we discover the true love. Make a choice even now and we will break free of this karma if birth (aging sickness and death), suffering, stress, sin or whatever else you may want to call it.
After Dinner Mix
Dinner was ok. Not great, but ok. We walk the streets mixing and mingling with all of the people of Madrid. Listening to their voices, laughs, and watching them as they discuss, encourage, argue, debate, and embrace. We spot the Amsterdam Store and we have to go check it out.
The store is filled with marijuanna products. From chocolate bars to gummy bears, cookies and brownies too. Kimber and I are laughing at the various candies, suckers, even Tootsie roll center lollipops. I’m remembering there are two kinds of marijuana. One to make the party guy come out, and one to make the sofa look mighty enjoyable for a nap. As I’m reading the back of the chocolate bar I see the THC percentage is zero. I check the ingredients on the brownies. Samething; the THC level is 0%. It begins to make sense to me as the law in Spain is very clear. The sale of marijuanna is not allowed. You can have it for personal use, but not for sale.
There are private clubs in Spain where I can go and smoke it, eat it, bake some brownies, etc. But, they cannot sell it. I can grow it in my yard, I can have a dresser full of it for my own personal use, but I cannot sell it. So here we are in the Amsterdam store buying what? The flavor of the products and none of the benefits. Life truly is suffering!
We leave the store after asking if they had seeds for sale. They were out of stock. With tears in our eyes, we continue on our journey, walking down the street. We turn up a side street and we’re surprised to find no less than 10 times the number of people. More shops, sidewalk bars and cafes, and now it seems to us as if all of Madrid is out for a walk. It’s Tuesday at 10:20 in the evening and the town is coming to life. Young families with k-12 aged children, teenagers, middle aged, retired folks too. Everyone in Spain is out until 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning. It’s the social norm.
As we walk I’m practicing one of my favorite meditations for loving kindness: as people approach if they make eye contact I give them a blessing — “I love you. May you find joy and be free of the cause of suffering.” This blessing is done in silence, of course. Kimber and I practice this as we take our daily walks back home. We also use many other techniques on our daily walks and hikes that we have found beneficial. Eventually though, my endurance begins breaking down and the virus is beginning to be too much for me. We start for the hostal and a good sleep.
Day 2 Brings More Suffering in Madrid
It’s 3:33AM, I’m awake and notice the sore throat has barely any bite and my head is sinus free. What a day of experiences. Everything is so temporary. I’ll never again have my first day in Madrid. I’ll never walk into the Prada for the first time. The virus will never again cause me pain like it did today. Each breath begins and must therefore also end. Nothing to cling to and nothing to long for. Each moment is just the end of the last and the beginning of the next. Peace and awakened in the reality of this illusion we call living.
At 9:00 we are out the door and heading for Chocolate Madrid. It’s a restaurant that is supposed to be just 650 meters from the hostal. Google Maps takes us to the restaurant and as promised, there’s chocolate. We order churros and spanish chocolate along with coffee. I’m not as well off this morning as I was at 3:33. I try to work through the pain, fever and sweat, and runny nose. The chocolate helps lift my spirits. The coffee is top shelf — so good! We’re off to museum number 2, the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía.
The Museum Was Sort of Cool
This art museum is really sort of cool? I’m amazed at how the word art can actually capture anything, everything, nothing. This museum was a series of four floors and several dozen rooms on each floor. Each room featured a unique art experience. Movies, television, charcoal, welding, lights, rock, water, light, you think of it and I’ll bet you it’s there in one of those rooms. We had some very odd and very moving experiences. Including a rather long conversation in the hall on the second floor where we debated “what is art?” Does it make you feel, sense, or experience something? If it does, than that’s art. The experience, the impression, the emotion it caused is “art.”
We sat down over by the sun filled window. It’s nearly noon and we’ve been walking all morning. Kimber asks if it’s not time for the medication. When I reply, we are both shocked. My voice is back! I say stuff at random and we both laugh. I can even speak at regular volume… I can be heard! Goodbye virus, thanks for the experience and the opportunity to practice.
After leaving the museum we head in the direction less traveled. We are seeking a place for lunch. I’m trying to keep my eyes open for a restaurant, but many we go past are closed until 2:00. It’s just after 1:00 and I’m feeling about 70% recovered. While we are no longer in the section of town where most tourists go, we are seeing what is probably the lower middle class sections of Madrid. I pass on a few restaurants as the vibe just wasn’t there. La Familia Cafe, this place looks pretty amazing to us and we head across the boulevard and down the street. The waiter greets us and takes us to a sidewalk table.
We order beer for two, and he brings us cold ones and a delicious tapas. With my voice back I refer his direction to a few selections on the menu. I’m not sure which one to go with and I’m seek his input. He refers our direction from the menu and instead suggest we order from the sidewalk display “the menu of the day.” Kim and I agree with the choice. I’m glad to say that my spanish has not improved at all in three days with no voice. I’m still speaking like a three year old who knows a few fancy words. Good grief.
And Lunch Was Cool Too
Even after speaking English for forty years I can recall coming upon words and grammar in books that caused me to research and learn more about the English language. I console myself that I will just need a few more years to grasp Spanish.
The pot roast lunch was really good. The flavours reminded me of mom’s roasts when we were kids. Potato, tomato, celery, onions, and beef. Homemade bread, true whole grain made with all the ingredients that today can only be artificial in the U.S.. For desert we ordered ice cream and more beer. All total for the ceviche tapas, two roast beef plates, two fresh loaves of bread, two bowls of ice cream and four beers — 21€ or about $24.
Hop-on and Hop-off
Time to get real touristy, we’re going to take a hop on-hop off bus tour of the city. We pick up the bus right where we exited the museum. The price seems ok and we get ear-buds too. The bus is a double decker and we head for the top. We plug in the earbuds to the console where we’ve managed a pair of open seats. The sun feels good, the air is warm, and the earbuds are filled with jazz. Flamenco guitar, spanish guitar, and lots of percussion. After a 30 minute wait the tour is underway. The music is interrupted from time to time as the tour guide tells us about the history, architecture, and interesting bits about the neighborhoods.
Kimber is filling her phone with pictures. The city is so cool and we both love the mix of modern and old european style architecture. We drive past the American embassy which is housed in what was once the palace of Spain. It’s a huge, amazing, gorgeous building and I realize as we go past, it displayed the first American flag I’ve seen in four months. We go past the tribute to Columbus statue, and the tribute to the Anarchist or middle class statue. It’s [middle class] more popularly referred to as bourgeois and contemporary life. Our apartment in Almunecar is a textbook example of contemporary. Anarchy and the Spanish celebration of the middle way attracted me to live in this country. According to the dictionary, bourgeois means: ‘the middle class, typically with reference to its perceived materialistic values or conventional attitudes.’
Why do we take photographs everywhere we go? Why do we buy those nic nacs and souvenirs when we are on vacation? Our brains are on a serotonin high with the constant stimuli of the vacation, the beauty of the city, and the excited and enthusiastic voice in our earbuds. Our mind wants the high to increase and our reaction is to fill our actions with a response that meets the craving — demand. The craving only encourages the suffering that haunt our lives. In this case for example, we know the tour will end soon and these buildings we are going past will no longer present us with the same thrill as they once did. We photograph them and we buy the souvenir despite the knowledge of impending end. The finality we sense causes us to stress.
It’s Just Like the Oracle Told Neo
Everything that begins will end. It’s all around us and nature presents us with the evidence continually. The earth and the universe are a mirror reflection of existence beyond the six senses. The well trained mind can gain knowledge of and insight into to this reality. Even the simple breath that we use as a tool to train the mind has a beginning and an end. Each breath inhaled stops and is then followed by an exhale which also ends. It’s so simple, continuous, and the obviousness is easily ignored by the untrained mind.
Perhaps the untrained mind fears the death because that ends the senses. The mind identifies self with the sight, sound, feel, taste, smell, and thinking. It clings to the moment (with all hope and desperation) for no change and an end to change. It wants the routine and the constant sensation of joy. The untrained mind is in a perpetual, repetitive state of suffering:
- I have eyes and crave only to see beauty. I’m easily stressed by anything less than beautiful. I have ears and only want to hear pleasant sounds. I’m easily stressed by any sound less than pleasant.
- I have skin which only wants to feel luxuriously soft things. I’m easily made uncomfortable by anything too hot, too cold, sticky or prickly.
- I have a tongue and only want to consume the finest foods and drinks. I am easily stressed by poorly prepared foods and beverages.
- I have a nose which enjoys the most exquisite fragrances. I am quickly stressed by any hint of an odd odor.
- I have a mind which desires to be in an environment that it owns, that it is very familiar with, and routines that it can predict and know precisely what is happening, and what will happen next. I am terrified and stressed by the unknown and often fear any kind of change.
The duality of the senses is the very nature of our existence and even though it is all pervasive, most everyone of us is remain unawakened.
The well trained mind requires a constant effort that is at least as diligent and skillful as required for the martial arts. The meaning of kung fu isn’t self defense or fighting. Kung Fu means perfection. Meditation should be kung fu, making tea should be kung fu, everything we do and that is being done at this moment should be kung fu. Recall the simple breath. The inhalation and exhalation seem to be one thing; we call it breathing. The breath is actually three actions.
Each with a beginning and each with an ending. But the awakened mind sees the perfection of each action rather than the affect of one. That is to say the mind that is well trained and skillful is also aware of the moment of change: At some point the inhalation stops and the exhalation begins. This is the karma of breathing. [The koan of breathing is a threshold to bliss.]
Let’s Have Coffee, and a Drink
The tour bus reaches the royal palace and there wouldn’t be a more perfect place for the king to live. We are high up on the plains of Spain and the entire country is in total view below. Behind the palace the city streets begin and spread out in all directions across Spain. Sidewalks as wide as the roads, tiled and adorned with gardens of flowers, trees, and vines trellising over arched entryways that lead to more streets and sidewalks. Kimberly and I exited the tour just past the palace and worked our way back walking a few blocks to a restaurant that caught our eyes. Time for tapas.
The sidewalk cafeteria has just two tables available and I ask the waiter if we can have the one farthest from the street. We order two coffees and I ask him if he has vermut de griffon. Yes, of course we do, he replied. I thank him and try to explain we want the coffee first and bring the vermut later. I can tell by the look in his eye that I have not done a good job of explaining. “Solo cafe con leche, por favor.” He nods and heads back to the other tables.
Kimber and I people watch and observe the activity of the plazza for an hour or more. The coffee was good and the vermouth was delicious. Served over ice, the red vermouth is slightly sweet and a nice contrast for the pickles and olives tapas.
A Hat For Any Occasion
I’m in search of a new hat and we decide to go shopping for it. We must have walked for two hours going from one store to the next. We’ve found everything you can think of except for hats. Finally I surrender to use the app. Google maps shows a hat store back the way we came. When we eventually got to the store we laughed because it was just 100 meters or less from the cafeteria where we had coffee and vermouth.
I window shop a few minutes and see a particular hat style that I’ve been desiring. The style reminds me of the hat worn by Arnold Earnst Toht in the movie, Raiders of the Lost Arc. One major difference, however, this hat is white. The main problem with a hat in this area of Europe is many of them are made from 100% paper. When I wash these 100% paper hats they get destroyed. I have to wash my hats from time to time since I sweat from the top of my head five to ten times more than from any other part of my body. Perhaps that’s because I have no hair on my head to sponge up the sweat, but nonetheless, the hat needs wash-ability. I walk and hike 30 to 35 miles a week and wear the hat for most of the journey. OK! Wash-ability is mandatory.
The clerk inside the store is from Great Britain and speaks english reasonably well. He gathers the hat I’ve chosen in my size from the stockroom. I try it on, and five minutes later I’ve paid for it, he’s packaged it, and I’m out the door. It’s a very exciting event for me because I’ve been looking for this hat for more than 2 years. I decided to wear it for the rest of the day and trade out my old hat for the new one.
What Happened To My Siesta
We’ve gone on holiday all day again today and completely missed siesta time. The afternoon nap from 14:00 to 16:00 has become a fairly important part of my routine since moving to Spain. My mind clings to the routine and I can sense the time of day, without looking at the time, based on nap time. If Spain cannot get food right, they have nailed it on this afternoon siesta! We decide to head to the hostal to get cleaned up, refreshed and ready for dinner. Kimber is surprised to find we are just 15 minutes walk from the hostal as we Google Map our way back.
Last night as we walked to the American food restaurant we passed a Mexican food restaurant. We both like Mexican food and have missed the abundance and variety of Mexican food dinning the U.S. provides. But, rather than try to find that restaurant again we decide to let Google show us the mexican food choices in our area. There are four close by, within 800 meters. We chose the one with the highest rating and start out the door. It’s almost 20:00 by the time we reach the restaurant location. Google is telling us we’ve gone past the dinner. We turn back and the place must be gone because there is not any Mexican restaurant in this location. We key up choice number two and Google Map shows us we are just a 4 minute walk to the location.
Dinner, Way Over Town With Ray
The sidewalks are already busy with people. The shopping seems to never end in Madrid and at this time of day the Restaurants are only just starting to get busy. As we reach location number two and find it is also no longer in business I’m wondering if Google Maps is not good in Madrid. Perhaps it’s the people of Madrid don’t eat Mexican food often and these places go out of business faster than Google can update it’s server data files.
Meanwhile Kim has seen two other Mexican restaurants while we’ve been walking. We had back two blocks to the closest one and it’s not my kind of place. We have a beer and checkout the menu, but I’m not getting a good vibe. We head back to the streets and make our way to the other place she saw. It’s cute and the tables are filled. The waitress waves us to follow her and she seats us at a small table about half way into the restaurant.
Rarely do you find music playing in a restaurant in Spain. Unless they are featuring live entertainment, most dining experiences are not blasting music. In the United States you can’t go anywhere without music blaring and televisions blasting the news. They fill the air with mind altering sounds in restaurants, grocery stores, shopping malls, even the gas stations. China, Mexico and the United States are the only places I’ve been that are using this technique. But this Mexican themed restaurant in Madrid is playing blues. Really good blues too. I’ve noticed a lot of the population here in Spain, listen to the blues. In fact this last summer we’ve been to two blues concerts and had to miss the all day blues festival in our little town.
As the waitress brings our dinner to the table I’m singing with the radio. It’s an old Ray Charles tune called, “I Got a Woman” and without hesitation she joins me in singing the chorus. She has a nice blues voice too; just throaty enough and note bending to express the genre. Ray had nothing on us, and we continue our duet even as she heads off to tend to other tables. I’ve often noticed the difference between the very talented blues musicians, and singers, and the rest of us. It isn’t that they can play the notes better, nor that the can play the instruments better. They are better at playing and singing the empty space between the notes. They never come in late, or early. The space between is more valuable to the song than the tune or the words.
Playing the empty spaces is like our lives in a way in that — we need to build in empty spaces between our thinking and our doing. As Ringo wrote, “You’ve got to pay your dues if you want to play the blues and you know it don’t come easy.”
High Time We Went
It’s nearing midnight and the bus is leaving at 7:00. We are still enjoying the evening in Madrid but in the words of Joe Cocker and sticking with the Blues from above, “aint it high time we went?” Back at the hostal for one more good sleep. I’m still feeling like the virus hasn’t completely left but I’m not taking any medication. My body needs rest but the drugs don’t truly allow our best rest for the mind. Even at 3:00 though I was still awake, I’m not regretting the decision to not take the medication.
It’s been an excellent visit to Madrid even with this suffering. Especially because of the suffering through Madrid. The awareness of our karmic condition, the inevitable aging, sickness, and death are suffering indeed. The senses cause the natural states of mind that constantly swing between the fear, greed, lust, anger and delusion. The well trained mind requires a challenge from time to time to help it develop more fully the missing mental construct we call love. Remember, it all starts with intention and ends with concentration. There are 8 steps to live by, five steps to meditation, 4 noble truths, and three jewels. And, all you really need is love.
I thought I knew what love was until I read the book, “True Love”, by Tick Nat Hahn. From cover to cover Tick explains how to experience, develop, and grow true love. The entire book is the kung fu of love. It’s the empty spaces, it’s perfection. Most of us grow up believing love is why your parents go to work everyday to provide a good home for their children. We think love is the overwhelming sensation we discover in another person whom we then marry and settle into a life commitment.
We think love is the reason we hold hands, have sex, make babies, and build a life with our spouses. We think love is what causes the deepest suffering in life. When our spouse dies or leaves us for someone else we feel the sting of love lost. When our family members die and we mourn the loss, we think it’s love lost. When we get separated from our families and our friends the suffering of life is most miserable, but none of this is love. Shocker! Yes we have been tricked once again by delusion to use the five human characteristics, fear, greed, lust, anger and delusion to twist our minds to think this is love. It’s not.
We mourn the loss of a loved one because of greed, lust, and fear. We enter into marriage out of fear, lust, and greed. We scorn the loss of family and love lost because of anger, fear, lust and greed. We don’t enter into marriage because of love, we enter into marriage because religion and government need to control the spread of diseases and the wealth of the country. We’ve been forced to use the word love to represent and define the control of sexual enjoyment.
True love is the love of self. The only love I can develop is the love for myself. Just like fear, greed, lust, anger and delusion, love is a mental construct that can only be mine. When fear, for example, arises within my mind, it is my fear alone. There may be other people around me and they may be experiencing the same stimuli that results in fear arising in each of their minds too, but these mental constructs are individual. I cannot put 4 pounds of lust in the refrigerator to keep it fresh to enjoy later. I cannot grow a fear tree to shade the patio, and it’s impossible to ground my misbehaved children from playing with their greed for a week. We are deluded into thinking these mental constructs are actual things when in fact they are just illusions we choose to believe are real.
It’s So Beautiful
When we took the bus into Madrid it was nearly midnight, but on the way home it’s early morning as we leave the city. I have a window seat on the bus and can see what we missed coming in. A lot of the country south of Madrid is cattle ranches and wineries. The cattle look a lot smaller than the beef back in the U.S. It maybe the types of chemicals and additives used in the U.S. but I can only imagine. Several hours south of Madrid I start to see olive trees and soon the olive trees are everywhere. Every place on the hills, valleys, around the ranch house, rest stops along the highways, and anywhere there is dirt, sun, and air — an olive tree is grown.
The bus is just 2 hours from home and I can recognize the mountains we are driving through. I’ve seen these mountains in the distance from the beaches at home and when Kim and I visit the nearby town of Motril. They are the Sierra Nevada mountains of Spain and I’m awestruck at the beauty. We are driving down through the mountains heading to the sea below. I can look down in the valley to a river below filling many dams used to generate hydroelectricity for cities and towns. Then I see the city of Motril in the distance.
I recognize it because of the tall white resorts along the coast but mostly because there are several hundred greenhouses each covering acres of ground. Motril is an agricultural city. There are fruits, vegetables, herbs, and grains grown here to feed the country. The mediteranean climate make it possible to grow just about anything for the country, and in abundance. But even more impressive for me is the beauty of the Palisades and the backdrop of the sea. I’m glued to the view out of the window as the bus travels down the mountains along the twists and turns of the highway.
I have gained a whole new appreciation for the country of Spain. Suffering through Madrid was a real treat for my practice. The hostal was amazing from the start — location, comfort, hostess, and a good price. The museums are massive, filled with truly great works of human creativity. The Parque de Madrid is an experience which can not be defined with words and it will make me suffer often until I can visit once again. The people, city, and lifestyle are so appealing that Kimber and I often said to each other, “maybe we should move here.”
It’s good to be home. It’s good to be over the virus. Our intention is to continue our practice and to perfect our love no matter where we live.