It is quiet, really quiet. Here in the Hondon, I own every sound that carries up, down and across the valley. The early morning traffic has stopped; today is Fiesta de Asunción María, so there is no work. No big trucks from the quarries carrying the huge blocks of granite and marble. Not on fiesta.
No farmers' tractors making their way from field to field, no barking dogs behind – even the loud, flashy parallel lines of ciclistas are at home with their racing bikes today. It is fiesta. No Mercadona for the expat couples to drive to for shopping – no markets – no café con leche at the bar – not yet – maybe later. It is fiesta.
At this time even the birds respect the silence. Earlier there were a few gun shots that ricocheted down from the hills above; always there is some hunting going on. But not now.
An hour ago, there was a farmer out on the other side of the Chicamo; I could see him in his orchard, moving slowly from tree to tree. I could make out the movements of the long pole in his hands well before I heard the dull crack of the wood against the branches as he knocked the almonds to the ground. But even he has rolled up his cloth, shouldered his pole and gone back home. It is fiesta.
Now there is a church bell, maybe from Macisvenda, maybe from further away, perhaps Barinas – it depends on the wind.
And now a few words of conversation that carry over the valley, floating, disjointed, a blue shirt moving in the trees and now gone again. More quiet.
I used to wonder how my Father could sit so quietly in his later years, left arm folded under the right, chin resting in his hand, eyes closed, not sleeping but lost in thought, or memory. For most of my life I could not tolerate sitting in such a way without a newspaper or book in my hand. I had to be doing something. But these days I find myself sitting the same way, looking back inside myself, moving from room to room in my mind, taking out a memory here and there, dusting it off and then replacing it back where I can find it once again – dimentia permitting of course. The quiet helps this process; nothing to disturb the filing.
When I was twenty-something I remember taking some battery of tests to figure out what I was good at – maybe it was at business school. I should not say “good at” but rather what I expressed a preference towards! And the result that stuck in my mind was “creating order out of chaos”. That's a fancy way of saying that I liked filing.
As I look back over the various jobs in my life the ones where I did really well reflected that ability to bring some measure of order to a dynamic situation; lots of moving parts that begged for capture, distillation and analysis. It was just another kind of filing. It truly puts things into a different perspective when I realize that all those fancy jobs amounted to not much more than filing. That's a healthy dose of realism.
Even nowadays, I take time to file the photos, music, papers, documents that track my life over the last thirty years. There is no doubt that I am a serial filer. There is a twelve step program somewhere for that.
Filing thrives in peace and quiet. I can order my life and then order my mind, explaining it away as part of the simplification program which I have signed up for. I am predisposed to a life where there is quiet. Maybe that is part of the attraction that brought me to the Hondon Valley, this very still part of rural Spain. My brother warned me that it is remote, and I cannot dispute that.
But does any of this add up to stillness? Do I need quiet to be still? My mind does a pretty good job of converting the same familiar cacophony of everyday life to white noise, something no longer of any importance to the brain so that I consign it to trash, dump it out of sight, file it in space. Like the pool filter: my watch tells me that it should be working and I should be hearing it, but long ago my brain found it, analyzed it and threw it out as not important. Now I have to search for the sound, check the noise-dumpster for stuff I have thrown away, just to make sure that the filter is still running.
So here is the chance, in this quiet moment, to still the mind, even if it is just for a few precious seconds. To bring attention back to the breath, to follow the inhale to that point between the inhale and the exhale, that still-point, and then follow the exhale to that same point. And then do it again.
That was a child's voice. Not a cry or alarm, but more questioning, perhaps surprise, perhaps joy. It could have carried from a long way off, down the valley from the other houses, where grand-children have come to stay with grand-parents, just for a few weeks during the school holidays.
Back to the breath and start again. Life is lots of "starting overs". No matter how hard I try to keep my attention on the one thing in front of me, my mind thinks better and starts to chatter and sends me stuff that I don't need, didn't ask for, cannot do anything with. It's just stuff – sometimes noise, sometimes images and sometimes full motion video. I have to remind myself to let it go and come back to this quiet moment, come back to this next breath and start again.
I've been surprised at the number of people who have written to me and asked directly or indirectly “what are you doing out there?”. I think they really want an answer that defines an activity that can be accepted and filed in their system. Something like “I'm volunteering at the local dog adoption group”, or “I'm learning Spanish cooking”, or “I'm fixing up the yard” - anything that is a recognizable or acceptable activity, something that would pass for an occupation.
The reality is that I am starting over. It is the coming to terms with this answer that is the difficult step. The quiet helps. A fiesta day is a good day to look inside and do some housekeeping. I fold my arms, left under the right, chin in my right hand, and find my way back to that point where I can start again. Not with regret or judgement on those memories but happy in this moment. A fiesta day moment – another kind of stillness.