Posted by Madhu B. Wangu on December 3, 2014
This year in October, we travelled in Portugal and Spain for two weeks. The first time I journeyed around the world was with my students in 1997. Ten years later my husband and I decided to visit one foreign country each year. The countries we have visited so far Egypt, Greece, Italy, France, India, Mexico (some of these twice) their people, topography, history, art, architecture and ways of life have fascinated me.
In Portugal we drove through woodlands of cork trees, savored kale soup with slices of chorizo, and listened to Fado music characterized by mournful tunes infused with sentiments and melancholy about lives of fishermen or the poor.
I had not paid attention to the ground until I walked on the footpaths along the major streets in Lisbon, and towns of Sintra and Obidosh. The charming cobblestone designs in white limestone and black basalt made me look down as much as I admired the buildings above. The seaside town of Nazarre stirred languid feeling as I strolled the cobblestone lanes with unhurried pace. Throughout the country of Portugal time seemed to have slowed down. My senses were taking in brand new sensations that stirred feelings that I was fully aware of. I was breathing in and out as I sensed how different I felt.
In Spain, the sixteenth century capital, Toledo was a glorious vision on a hilltop, with Tagus River encircling it like a moat, brick buildings interspersed with churches and Moorish architecture. In fact many of the contemporary Spanish Christian churches were once Mosques. Pacing on the lanes of the forted city I was attentive to everything around me—shops, dwellings, synagogues in Jewish quarters, the magnificent Gothic cathedral and men, women and children.
Inside Santo Tome Church, a great surprise awaited me, El Greco’s masterpiece “The Burial of Count Orgaz!” I had wanted to see this painting since I was an art history graduate student in India. Not only in Toledo but the architectural marvels of Mezquita Mosque in Cordoba, Alhambra in Granada, science and arts building in Valencia kept my body, heart and mind integrated, vigilant.
Flamenco, the Spanish folk music and dance incorporated dancing, singing, guitar playing and hand clapping. The clapping was infectious. I stood up and clapped with the rhythm of the dancers. The music, the dancing and clapping, unfamiliar to me until then, incited the pleasurable feeling of longing, loss, and gaiety and pleasure. What a way to sharpen senses and amplify feelings!
In Barcelona, I was in awe standing in front of Antonio Gaudi’s Cathedral, “La Sagrada Familia.” His work attempts to parallel God’s creation. His buildings grow as organically as natural forms. Instead of discarding or destroying tree trunks and jutting rocks on the land he was constructing he incorporated them into his blueprints. He innovated new designs to include the found objects that consisted of broken bottles and tiles. His tremendous sense of design and novelty invigorated my imagination and the future generations of Spanish artists such as Salvador Dali.
At the end of our travel, I realized that being away from the comfort of home and familiar surroundings brings me closer to my Self. Being constantly watchful is an inherent feature of travel. Alertness is required for simple things such as safeguarding luggage, purse, passport and tickets. And paying attention increases pleasure when I am immersed in native landscape, architecture, people, language and food. Attention sharpens senses. I am present one moment at a time.
Wherever I went there I was. All because everything was brand new, unknown, fresh.
During this travel I also recognized, more I travel the world, deeper my journey within becomes. Traveling forces me to pay attention to the present moment bringing me closer to who I really am. Familiar settings and comfortable patterns tend to distance me from my Self. But when I leave behind my home and daily routine, the gap between the body, heart and mind shrinks. At each moment I am HERE, NOW. I see differently. And seeing differently cultivates awareness, grants wisdom.
I feel connected to a power, a knowing within, that is greater than I.
In conclusion, I don’t have to travel to distant lands to be aware, to sharpen my senses, to intensify feelings and thus gain wisdom. I can sharpen my mindfulness by going on a retreat, camping in woodlands or spending weekend at a bed and breakfast place.
Footpath, Lisbon Footpath, Madrid
With Manoj, Toledo Seafood Dinner, Barcelona