I lived 3+ years in Kent and walked around the streets of Canterbury quite a lot. I would either walk to keep myself physically active or to mitigate what I will call now sadness. Canterbury is a very medieval-alike town. It’s funny how before I moved there I said “this is the perfect place to hide for three years, but afterwards the princess will get tired of her castle”. And so she did, not due to boredom, but because life altogether became really unbearable. You can become quite bored too, nonetheless, since Canterbury is a very small, student town. The best walking experiences were those in which I had too many thoughts inside my head and I would then bump into some stranger who would start talking to me out of nowhere. In this post I will tell you about three different occasions in which these strangers taught or brought me some sort of special message. These were a Buddhist Monk, a Street Performer, and a Refugee from Iran.
The Buddhist Monk
I was walking on Canterbury High Street with my busy, stressed mind. I was probably heading to do some shopping and doing my best to avoid the crowd. Somewhere in the middle of the road though, someone said “You’re not from here. Spanish?”. I must have been asked a thousand times whether I am Spanish or Italian, while living in the UK. I grew proud of my origins whilst living abroad though, so I would always nod my head smiling and say “No… Portuguese”. The young man in front of me introduced himself as a Buddhist Monk and the minute he said that I thought it had to be my lucky day. At that time I was already disenchanted with how mindfulness was approached in academia and how boring it was to listen to my fellow academic colleagues speaking about something they grasp so little. When talking with monks about it though, I would literally fly.
So this young Buddhist Monk told me they were briefly passing by to share their books and eventually raise some money for the temple. I got two books for myself and I asked how people were reacting to it. I remember each word he said. He told me:
Ah, today not so good. But it’s not the people. It’s my consciousness.
My consciousness today not so good…
Everything depends on the quality of our consciousness.
The young Buddhist Monk made me realise in that moment that, more often than not, we blame others or situations for what happens to us, when in fact we are actually the ones who are primarily responsible for the quality of our life. If we are sad, we will see a sad reality. If we are hopeful, we will see a world of possibilities. Whatever the quality of our consciousness, our relationships and interactions will always mirror it back.
The Street Performer
Again, I don’t remember what took me that day to the park, but I wanted to be alone with my thoughts and so I sat in a garden bench at Dane Jon Gardens. I don’t know what I was thinking about, but after a while an older man asked me if he could join me. I said “Of course…”, but what I really thought was “With so many benches in this park, you had to want to sit here…” (this is just an example of how prolonged stress made me bitter and bad tempered, by the way). He sat and he took out from his musical instrument case a can of beer. I honestly kept myself gazing the other side of the garden while thinking “Oh, just great, just great…”.
Then he said:
My girl just left.
His girl, just left? Left where? I couldn’t really ignore him. I was living with a good daily dose of anger and bitterness, but there were still something of my old self. Left?
She left me Tuesday. She took a train and left.
I could feel the disappointment in his voice. I told him that I was sorry, without really knowing what else to say. How many times had I been in that boat? I knew there was noting I could say to make him feel better. All I could do was say that I was sorry and keep sharing the bench with him while providing a space to his voice.
Relationships are very complicated. Women are very complicated.
I returned that he was right, that relationships seemed to be really messed up, but men were as equally complicated as women.
Maybe you are right… She had a problem with drinking.
She drank too much and I told her it couldn’t be that way.
I didn’t really know what to tell him, so I let silence sink in for a while. Then I said “I know it hurts like hell… maybe it always will… but if it wasn’t meant to be, then you will find out it was for the best”. After saying this, I found myself surprised. I had been grieving my ex for almost four years but now I was resolute about it. The man finished his can, smiled, and then told me a bit about his life as a street performer, which brought him a bit more aliveness. I don’t know how things turned out for him in the end, but I know that we both parted ways a little bit better than when we sat on that bench on that early morning.
This happened to me two to three weeks before I left the UK. I was feeling empty, alone, and defeated in my room, so I decided to walk through town and eat something there. My eating routine was a perfect mirror of my mood and psychological state. I was living on muffins, five packages of Kinder Bueno, two packages of M&Ms and two bags of crisps a night. During the day, I would eat normally. Avocados, couscous, salads, vegetable stir-fries… after 4pm, however, when there was no daylight anymore, my feelings would knock on my door and since I didn’t want to be there for them I would go out and buy a lot of crap to eat. On that night, I decided I would give myself one last McDonalds experience.
It was a usual rainy, cold, and dark night in Canterbury, but I didn’t even take an umbrella with me. As always, I wasn’t walking around with money or a purse. I got used to only carrying my card and keys. When I got near the store (because everything is a store in Canterbury), I saw there was this young man wearing plastic all over, pressing his hands into his eyes like if he wanted to hide any signs of crying. He looked at me and I don’t know exactly what crossed my mind but I immediately asked him how could I help him.
He was a refugee and he was trying to get something to eat. I don’t give money away anymore, instead I prefer to give or buy food, so I offered him to come with me and have a meal. He told me he had a girlfriend who had stayed in the shelter waiting for him because it was raining, and thus asked me whether he could go and get her so she could eat something too. It would take him at least 45 minutes to go and get back and I told him I couldn’t stay that long, because it wasn’t that early anymore and I was by myself. I suggested he could have something to take away, but he pointed out to me that by the time he would get to the shelter the food would already look and taste like a piece of cardboard, which was totally true.
I didn’t see any other option than going with his suggestion of walking to the ATM, order my food, and then give him some change. I agreed. We both walked to the ATM and only then my rational mind reminded me that what I was doing was a bit risky. He was way taller than me and he could either rob or assault me. I had seen his eyes though and my intuitive mind said there was nothing to worry about, so I trusted my intuition. On the way to the ATM, I made him some questions. He had been waiting, so far, eight years for a visa and he was still trying. He told me he was from Iran and he was living with his girlfriend. He wanted to get a visa so he could then have a job. He asked me if I was from Spain (of course!) and when I told him I was Portuguese he said he couldn’t believe it. “Cristiano Ronaldo?!”. I giggled and said “Yes, Cristiano Ronaldo!”.
I gave him all the money I had taken out from the ATM. He got a bit emotional and I automatically opened my arms to give him a hug. He couldn’t know, but I felt he was way richer than me. When I hugged that man, I understood I had more money than I could spend but I had lost my reason to live. He on the other hand had a girlfriend waiting for him and his eyes were still sparkly whilst mine had become empty and cold. He made me realise that having a reason to live is much more worthwhile than having a good amount of money printed on my bank statement. It was on that night that I got clear that I needed to reconnect myself with life and return the sparkle to my eyes.