*Please note I am very behind on my blog. I’m hoping to catch up a bit over the next few days*
Arriving is often a favourite part of my stay somewhere. Possibilities and opportunities unfurl in front of me. Later, when I come to leave, I often feel sad at how few have come to pass. Then onwards to the next place, where again the faces are new, the slate clean and everything feels fresh and new. I am addicted to beginnings.
Snaking up the mountain track in the landrover next to G, back up to that valley I know and love, remembering how nurtured I have felt there, I know I have been traveling too fast. I have been unable to connect with any of the last few people and places I have visited. Somehow I have slipped into tourist mode: sightseeing and photo-snapping, then quickly on to the next attraction – the next remote mountain eco-village, fly-postered squat or social centre.
What is it I’m really searching for? How have I come to feel so disconnected?
As we pass by first one, then the next crumbling farmhouse, climbing ever higher, I realise this is the place where I will come back into touch with my motivations and fears. I realise I have been holding onto something, refusing to look at it, knowing that at some point I would come here, a safe space where I can let go.
We arrive at Cal Monsor. The others only moved into this house from various yurts and benders on the other side of the valley this morning. It’s a good day to arrive and I’m happy to be back in the house where we spent the retreat last winter. Some faces are new, some wonderfully familiar: Alex, Rob, Carol, Lucy, Ella… so good to see them all here again. Even most new faces are not so new after all, but friends of friends and some I recognise from other places. It feels like coming home.
The following morning we’re up at 6:30am. A typical time for an Ecodharma morning, but after traveling alone and free I wonder how I’ll find settling back into such a structured routine. After meditation and a silent breakfast we have check-in. It’s a nice thing to do, to check in with each other about how we are before launching into the day. Some people express feelings about moving into the house. Most people have been here several weeks since the Build Project started, and the last few days have been a disruption to the usual rhythm of the place. Alex talks about how she thrives on routine and is looking forward to settling back into one. I really don’t thrive on routine. I thrive on constant change and new beginnings, but I’m willing to give it a go.
I’m advised to have an “Arriving Day”, to take the time to settle in a bit and fully realise I’m here before joining the others at work on Cal Toa, the house further down the valley. But some of the others are heading into town and as I rushed here I have unfinished tasks. I go into Tremp with Ella and Celia – email, post things, buy some essentials and reckon I’ll do my arriving after I’m done letting go of the world outside.
The following morning I decide I’ll do half a days work and then get some “arriving” time. G stresses the importance of arriving fully, but I take no heed, anxious that after feeling disconnected at the last few places I visited, here at least I should feel I’m integrated and pulling my weight.
It’s nice to feel part of the team. I spend the day “pointing” cement into the walls of Cal Toa, the farmhouse the others have spent the past two months rebuilding from ruin. The room I’m working on, chatting away to Carol in Spanish, will eventually be the library. I take the afternoon off, but only finish a couple of hours ahead of the others in the end and spend most of it walking slowly back to Cal Monsor the long way, stopping frequently to take in the view of the valley sprawling out below me, breathe deeply and whisper “I’m really here.”
The next day the work begins proper for me. I’m enjoying it for a few days, but as the temperature keeps dropping and the timetable repeating, I find it harder and harder to envisage days of pointing stretching out over the next five weeks without a sinking heart and a lot of resistance. While working, I look up at the Coll and sigh. I must get up there. I must take some time to myself – free time, unplanned, unstructured, to reconnect with whatever is going on inside me.
G may say everything is voluntary, and in a way it is, but a lot of social pressure and guilt stops me from just ignoring the others working day-in, day-out and going off in search of myself.
There are days when the temperature has dropped so much my fingers are blocks of ice pointing cold cement into cold stone cracks. Every 5-10 minutes I realise how many days of this are left and lose the will to live. I stand and stare at the wall for a few seconds, take a deep breath and start pointing again. Most of the others seem to be enjoying themselves. Clearly there is something wrong with me.
Ok, it’s not all hard work. We finish at 5pm and have free time after dinner on Mondays and Wednesday, Saturdays are completely unstructured and Sunday is a meditation day or part day, which I often skip or substitute half of for a long solitary walk. It’s not that I don’t find meditation days beneficial, it’s just that our time here is so structured and full that I find myself becoming more precious about it. I have to steal it when I can.
Tuesday and Thursday evenings we have ‘study’, which can be anything from a meditation workshop to an open discussion on any topic, led by one of the group. Friday is ‘cultural night’, when we share stories and songs around the wood burner downstais. I also have my trapeze here. It looks so beautiful hanging from the big round beam in front of the mezzanine upstairs at Cal Monsor. Wednesday before dinner becomes trapeze time, but even that’s hard to stick to. After work we’re often too tired for much except dinner, chatting, drinking tea and scoffing anything sweet we can find.
I love these people and I love it here, but by god I need some space!
It works out that Alex’s birthday falls on the Sunday before the Tuesday that Magdalena is due to fly back to Portland. Alex, Magdalena and I decide we’d like a couple of days in the city and plan to go to Barcelona together to see Magdalena off. A bit of a birthday trip for Alex. On the Sunday itself there will be a long walk along the ridge in silence (Alex’s choice). I decide to take some space for myself and join the others later in the evening after the silence is lifted. I also decide to take some of the mushrooms a friend brought with him from England.
Time evaporates. I find myself sitting – no, dancing – on a rock just below the West ridge, my body twisting and curving in a pattern of its own that my conscious mind has no part of.. I let it happen. I learnt that my body knows what it need when I took mushrooms early in the summer and my back unknotted an old and seemingly permanent tension by contorting into a shape I could never hope to replicate and shaking the tension out in spasms. Just relax and let it happen.
A thick mist reaches its icy tentacles up the valley towards me, it’s body creeps nearer, surrounds me. I feel a fear rise up and release it. I am in a stillness I cannot possibly describe. The silence is the loudest thing. Bird cries are audible, but muffled by the silence. I am alone save for the vultures which soar around me. I ask (who? The mushrooms? My higher self?) why is it that I can’t get into the work here? The answer, so obvious really: That’s not what you came here for.
I need a solitary retreat.
By the time I come back down the mountain clutching a vulture feather it’s almost dark and Alex’s birthday dinner has started. I sit outside the house a while, reluctant to go in. But Barcelona is tomorrow, no time now to creep off alone to a solitary space.
As it works out, Magdalena decides to stay on at Ecodharma and Alex and I go to Barcelona alone. We get up early and walk down, down and out of the valley, slowly encountering first electricity pylons, tarmac, then cars. A few kilometres more and one of them stops for us – a nice old man from Abella who takes us to Isona, where another man stops and takes us all the way to Barcelona. It feels good to be on the road again, but strange as time is tight. On arriving at Can Masdeu where we have arranged to stay, we realise we will need another day. We’re there over a workday, which we’re simultaneously anxious yet reluctant to take part in. That in itself seems to sum up a lot of my Ecovillage adventures. It’s interesting to witness Alex going through the same thing, throwing herself into the work but at the same time clearly wanting to run off to play in the city or lock herself in a room somewhere.
Aside from work and other necessary things, we have one full day, which on Alex’s request we spend separately walking the streets of Barcelona. I wouldn’t have suggested we spend the day apart, but actually it does me a lot of good. Getting lost in cities is an old love of mine. I have some synchronistic encounters and find two piles of abandoned clothes, which along with some free-shop finds make up my new winter wardrobe. I’m now prepared for Copenhagen.
Getting back to the valley is a beautiful and heart-warming experience after the city. I remember the last time I left: a feeling that a tremendously loving and supportive community had suddenly vanished overnight and left me flailing. I feel how fortunate I am that this time it’s here for me to come back to, and next time I leave it’s coming with me to Copenhagen.
The far solitary retreat yurt is nestled in a spot just below the end of the track, in the stillest and darkest part of the valley. The silence is almost penetrating. Nobody has lived here for a very long time. This is where I spend three of my final eight days in the valley, alone with my thoughts and the caterpillers. Ah yes, the caterpillers. They may look cute and furry, but startle them and they shed their hairs which get into your clothes, your bedding, and once on your skin are prone to causing an itchy red rash. Unfortunately they’re everywhere: millions of them cover the valley, especially over this side. They live in the pine trees in cocoons and drop down onto you from tiny threads. They’re crawling all over the outside of the yurt and occasionally one or two manage to find a way through layers of yak wool and liner to the warmth inside. It’s important to be constantly vigilant and to evict them promptly and carefully: Do not scare them.
I’ve never done a solitary retreat before. Three days isn’t long, but I soon realise I’d like to do a longer one. Some other time. Hours I spend just sitting – sometimes meditating on a cushion, sometimes in the big red armchair just staring out of the yurt window, reflecting on the last few months. The snow falling outside somehow helps. I write too – pages and pages of thoughts and feelings I had perhaps been conscious of, but hadn’t allowed myself to recognise. In meditation I have been feeling a big dark lump where my heart was once open. It’s the only way I can describe it. As I had suspected, but not really allowed myself to believe, I have a lot of pent up anger, fear, frustration and guilt that seems to stem from Calais.
Other things bubble up and out onto paper. Nothing dramatic, but I lose a couple of layers of the onion. The crispiest layers, at least. I emerge after three days with a deeper calmness I had forgotten.
It’s good to return to the others for a final four days of work. I even get into the rhythm of it a bit. Our final day in the valley is a Saturday. I take an epic solitary walk up to a cave so big it’s visible all the way down at Cal Toa. I have been staring up at it while working and now here I am: inside an incredible ancient rock formation high up inside a mountain ridge that was once at the bottom of an ocean.
Tomorrow I’m spending my birthday in a novel way: inside a landrover on an epic roadtrip from Catalunya to Copenhagen with seven friends from Ecodharma.