In September 2011, I traveled to Madrid on a one way ticket, alone, with a backpack of clothes, a small laptop, and some toiletries…no phone, no itinerary. I had a rough “plan”, however…I had sketched a path along the Mediterranean coast, then maybe head north, and at some point, I would go home. I had lost a child who was not my own, been laid off, ended a relationship, sold my home, and was in the throws of a deep depression. Basically, my life blew up and I decided it would best for my soul, if I went out and wandered the world for a while.
It had been more than a decade since I’d last visited Europe, nor had I ever been to Spain, so I really had no idea what to expect. Initially, I (like every other American) mistakenly believed I would “know” how to navigate the city because it would be similar to my own, and that everyone would speak English. After three failed attempts to get to the city centre from the airport by train, I finally made it to my hotel Then, I panicked — this was only day one of my adventure in a city where I couldn’t read the street signs, nor the understand the logic as to how the streets were laid out, and I didn’t speak Spanish well enough to ask for help, or get directions.
When Don Miguel Ruiz laid out the criteria for navigating the life through four agreements, he wasn’t kidding about the third – Don’t Make Assumptions. I realized that nothing would be as I assumed, so I either needed to get my ass back on a plane and go home, or adapt. I had to remember why I had even decided to come on the trip to start with – my life was a mess, and I needed to believe in myself again.
Most of my time in Madrid was a blur, but I remember sitting in the Real Jardin Botanico, having a full blown panic attack, when I looked up and noticed this dahlia staring back at me. There was so much beauty I was missing, because I had shackled myself to my past. I had to trust myself to navigate through the challenge, to let go of the assumption that things would be similar to home. Bigger still, I had to let go of the assumption that I was not worthy of joy. It took three more months of wandering before I found acceptance, but this place was where I began to understand that my fear/my assumptions, were full of shit.
At times of stress, I find myself slipping back into this space. It’s hard work to stay on the other upside of depression, and a continual commitment to keep seeking joyful moments, while also being firm with my boundaries and the need for self-care. I slip for a few months, and fall into the pattern of criticizing every single flaw, every mistake, every thing I did to miss out on being happy. It’s like crawling out of the hole all over again, although the distance gets smaller each time, as I become more aware of my patterns and relying on meditation to bring me back to the present moment.
Today, I was reminded of this poem by Ariana Reines:
“Come to me whole: with your flaws, your scars and everything you consider imperfect. Then let me show you what I see. I see galaxies in your eyes and fire in your hair. I see journeys in your palms and adventure waiting in your smile. I see what you cannot: you are absolutely, maddeningly, irrevocably perfect.”
The more you can be at peace with your flaws and imperfections, the more compassionate you are towards others. If you look closely enough, the dahlia pictured above isn’t perfect, but that isn’t what I see when I look at the photo. I see the vibrant pinks and I remember the way it smelled, and I remember it drawing me back to the moment and out of my panic. Imperfections and all, it’s one of my favorite pictures I took while I was in Madrid.