Bill walks past and sits himself down opposite me at the writing desk. In his late fifties, to early sixties he reminds me of a friendly Grizzly Adams. Heavy set, with thick greying beard and kind, twinkly blue eyes he’s looking at me with a face wrinkled with concern.
“I really enjoyed our walk yesterday but I’m sorry if I said anything to upset you…” he says.
I’m absolutely mystified.
We’re staying at the Meditation Centre in Vilcabamba, Ecuador.
Run by ex miltary, Bernie it encourages longer term stays (you only book by the week or month,) and I like the communal aspect. The rooms are next to each other with tables, chairs and hammocks outside that look out onto the gardens and tranquil, green hills of this sacred valley famous for its health inspiring properties!
We all sit down and breakfast together (a choice of fresh fruit, yoghurt, oats or eggs and potatoes) in the morning, take part in a guided meditation at noon if we desire and generally have the option to keep ourselves to ourselves or socialise when we feel like it.
Yesterday Bill and I took a little stroll around the small town and then joined some of the other guests at a local juice bar.
I was a little distracted about leaving the group early to head back to the centre to meet a chico for a date.
Its still so difficult for me sometimes, putting my time before someone else's that around fifteen minutes before I leave i’ve disappeared into my own dream world that make many people misinterpret or indeed, perhaps accurately decide, i’m being aloof.
I have my own insecurities and have often interpreted a person’s behaviour personally. I can see in this instance Bill has interpreted my distraction as dissatisfaction with his company. Its a timely reminder to always try and put myself in the other’s shoes, to endeavour to stay present when i’m in people’s company and give them my full attention.
I assure him that my distraction has nothing to do with him and chat moves on to his struggle around taking a decision about when to return home. We discuss how paralysing it can be to make any kind of decision when the cold hearted, voice of the internal judge and critic in kicks in with its negativity and relentless shoulding.
I grew up with (and still experience when in contact with my family) a relentless battering ram of “shoulds.”
“You should do this,”
“You should do that,”
“You shouldn’t have done that.”
As if there is some model of perfection that I, in all my glorious and human fallibility, is constantly failing to live up to.
Subsequently that’s how I internalised my own inner voice and its a relentless task master, constantly evaluating the degree of perfection within myself and to what degree i’m successfully living my life, and not letting up for a second. The bastard.
I’m either a hero or a failure and the black or white thinking that makes any decision right or wrong creates a mental cage that then filters out the whole breadth or different shades of grey of other opportunities, possibilities and choices that I could take in between when making a decision.
“Try replacing “should” with “could” whenever you notice yourself doing it,” says Bill.
“For example I should have gone to university to get a degree, becomes I could have gone to university and got a degree”
Saying the “should” out loud lets me become consciously aware of it and that its just one voice, one opinion. Changing the word to “could” gives the power back to me.
“I could,” implies we have a whole, wide, range of decisions to choose from and reminds us of our own free will and responsibility for our decisions.
Rather than berate myself with an implied judgement about the quality of the decision that i’ve made, “I could” provides a simple, gentle reminder of “what is” and “what was.” A way of moving gently from judgement to compassion.
In the gardens of the Meditation Centre there are wild, pink, roses climbing around the walls.
“Ecuador is known for having the most beautiful roses in the world,” Bill tells me.
As we are at the Equator they are the only roses to grow upwards with long, strong, straight stems. The roses around the rest of the world have to lean, and crook their branches to reach the light of the sun.
“There’s a metaphor in there somewhere if we look hard enough” I joke.
“Is there?” asks Bill, “well I think I’ll leave you to find it! ”
And find it I do. Although i’m not sure I can take any of the credit.
A day later I see a quote from Ram Dass, the author of “Be Here Now” about trees in a forest.
When we’re walking through the forest, Dass explains, we see all different types of trees and shrubs. Some get the light through the canopy and others don’t get any. Some grow differently as a result; they are twisted or leafier or just grow low to the ground. We don’t judge any of those trees as bad or lesser just because they get less light and their stems are more twisted.
Roses have always been my favourite flower, along with wild flowers such as poppies, anemones and forget me nots. I love the velvety petals and deep rich scent and not for one moment did I ever stop to judge the English roses rambling in my garden back home as being any less beautiful or complete for their crooked stems or winding, indirect path they took to grow towards the light.