Lo que de verdad importa

Katwijk, Países Bajos

Me encontraba hace un momento paseando por la playa de Katwijk, en uno de esos atípicos días de marzo en los que el sol se digna a salir.

Paseaba a solas persiguiendo mi sotavento. El viento, siempre álgido y recio en estas latitudes, no dudará lo más mínimo en lacerarte el semblante si se siente amenazado. 

Hoy me apetecía pensar. Caminar y pensar. Dos de esas aficiones mías que el mundo de este siglo parece empeñarse en censurar. 

Después de un tiempo caminando y ya con la retaguardia de las orejas enrojecidas por el frío, decidí sentarme en una terraza. Una de esas muchas alineadas a lo largo del eje que divide el fin del monte bajo del comienzo de la playa, una característica muy típica del paisaje de por aquí. Me senté en una mesa de madera arrinconada a resguardo del viento entre mamparas de cristal. Desde allí, el sol, tímido y tenue, me templaba el perfil con suficiente intensidad como para aliviar los efectos del viento, y al frente entre las mamparas aún podía divisarse la mar. 

Una joven morena de ojos cristalinos, inocentes e indomables, piel clara y mejillas sonrojadas seguramente a voluntad del viento, se acercó hacia donde yo estaba. Le pedí un té — Verde está bien— le dije. Me sonrió, yo asentí pudoroso, y se fue. 

El té llegó al cabo de un tiempo junto con la misma sonrisa que momentos antes se había marchado. Y fue entonces, ya con el té sobre la mesa, una ligera brisa rebotándome en la frente, el sol ligeramente abrazado a mi costado, y el Mar del Norte brotando en el horizonte cuando empecé a escribir. 

Escribo en esta libreta en la que odio escribir. Es una libreta pequeña de unos quince o veinte centímetros pero de anillas tan grandes que hacen imposible escribir a gusto. Aún incómodo, en ella escribo casi a diario porque me la regaló mi mujer. En ella, y a veces para ella, escribo lo que pienso y lo que me gustaría dejar de pensar. 

Entre línea y línea, oteo el horizonte y doy pequeños sorbos al té que me hace compañía. Me psicoanalizo de lejos y el verme me ayuda a pensar. 

En la felicidad pienso, como tantas veces antes. Un tema convertido ya en una especie de desorden crónico para mí.

Después de años de sordos debates conmigo mismo, la conclusión a la que he llegado es que la felicidad son pequeños regalos que otorga el tiempo a aquellos que se atreven a rodearse de gente sin miedo amar de cerca; de esa gente que ama fuerte, sin piedad, que ama hasta hacerte sentir vulnerable. Conozco un palmo de esta gente. 

La felicidad es, o parece ser, el producto de encuentros esporádicos; es un momento, a veces segundos, en los que uno se da cuenta de qué es lo que de verdad importa. Y estos momentos rara vez se olvidan. 

Felicidad es para mí, en el hoy y el ahora, cerrar los ojos y que la brisa, el olor a sal, el azotar de las olas contra mis pensamientos, y el tintineo de la salida de humos del bar me recuerde al entrechocar de cuadernales. Y que todo esto me retrotraiga a tantos momentos que en puertos del levante español pasé de niño, y no tan niño, paseando de la mano de gente sin miedo a amar de cerca. 

Felicidad es la sonrisa de la camarera cuando imagino que me la dedica a mí. O cuando sin cerrar los ojos fantaseo que encuentro el valor suficiente como para decirle que en realidad escribía sobre ella. 

Suspiro a media sonrisa mientras pienso en lo absurdo del debate interno, a la vez que imagino convencerte a ti, el lector, de que de verdad sé lo que digo cuando digo que sé lo que de verdad importa. 

Le doy un último sorbo al té, ya frío de oírme pensar, cierro el cuaderno de anillas grandes y reflexiono sobre la posibilidad de volver a casa. 

Esa casa donde vive la gente que sabe lo que de verdad importa. 

Cover photo by Sebastian Voortman from Pexels.

Barco ardiente

Katwijk, Países Bajos. 

Son las 4:53 de la mañana. No puedo dormir. 

Desde hace un tiempo no paro de perder el sueño. Un sueño que se desvanece cuando pienso en qué se ha convertido mi vida. Me pregunto cómo he llegado hasta aquí, un pueblo pesquero del nordeste holandés, durmiendo sobre un delgado colchón echado al suelo por miedo al crujir de las lamas del somier al moverme. En la habitación, únicamente mi cara está iluminada por el teléfono con el que traduzco pensamientos para combatir el insomnio.

Como he dicho, últimamente me muevo mucho; especialmente de noche. Desde hace ya un tiempo, mi subconsciente se divierte situándome en la posición de un mero acompañante mientras él, minucioso y brutal, analiza lo que ha sido y es mi vida. 

Me veo, de lejos, y no me gusto. 

Pero esto no es nuevo, pienso. La mente que tantas alegrías me concede, me atormenta por momentos a partes iguales. 

Me veo de lejos y veo a un hombre preocupado y vulnerable. Preocupado por las decisiones, preocupado por las opiniones, y preocupado por estar siempre preocupado. Veo un hombre vulnerable, abrumado por las opiniones de amigos y familiares. Un hombre atormentado incluso por las opiniones de muchos para quienes con total seguridad pase inadvertido. 

Me veo de lejos y veo un hombre con miedo a preguntar ¿me quieres? por si la respuesta es no. 

Qué mente esta que me hace testigo de las emociones más intensas y a su vez dueño de las noches más oscuras. 

Me veo de lejos y veo un hombre cauteloso. Digo hombre por vanidad, por iluminar ligeramente la gruta emocional en la que me encuentro. Porque si soy sincero lo que de verdad veo es a un niño. Me miro de lejos y veo al mismo niño que con 12 años ocultaba sus infortunios y tapaba las lágrimas bajo las mangas de un jersey de lana gruesa; de esos tejidos por abuelas norteñas para rehuir al frío y revestir las emociones. Gracias a Dios o al azar nací hombre y un carajo le importa a nadie mis desperfectos, los de dentro ni los de fuera.  

Veo un niño que camina despacio, navegando cauteloso las aguas de una vida en donde la confianza, como en la mar, se paga cara. Un niño con miedo a susurrar lo que piensa, aunque las entrañas griten hasta retumbar el bazo.

Me veo de lejos y me veo triste. Y la imagen me apena. La más afortunada de las vidas y la más amarga de las sensaciones. —¡Maldito desgraciado!— me grito, en bajito. Otra vez esa voz, interna, familiar, mi voz. Me pregunto si cambiaré algún día. Y no me refiero al yo visible, sino al yo detractor que aparece en duermevelas, el acompañante inquieto que analiza mi vida desde el innegable cobijo que proporcionan los sueños. El yo al que le cuesta disfrutar por congraciar a unos y a otros. El yo que pasa la vida amarrado a un muelle esperando a que pase la tempestad; pero que aún con la mar en calma, se aleja tan solo un palmo del noray. 

Me veo de lejos y veo a un niño que duerme del lado del corazón para ayudar a la gravedad a abrazarlo con fuerza. 

Me veo de lejos y me pregunto si alguna vez ese niño encontrará los ingredientes para eso que algunos llaman felicidad, pero que a mí, desde hace un tiempo, me gusta llamar Paz. En mi mundo, Paz es una chica de aspecto dócil pero carácter marcado. Aponia—ausencia de sufrimiento—es fundamental decían los griegos para intimar con Paz. Cuánta sabiduría en libros que probablemente jamás leeré.

Me veo de lejos y me gustaría agarrarme por las solapas, como mi padre me hubiera hecho de niño, mirarme a los ojos con la seguridad de quien predice lo peor del porvenir, y gritarme —¡Es hora de vivir muchacho!—pero mi padre jamás me llamó muchacho. 

Es hora de soltar amarras, estibar las inseguridades, poner rumbo ceñido al viento para entre bordadas aprender a sentir sin miedo. 

Sentir sin miedo. 

Mi mente otra vez dando en el clavo. Pero a sentir sin miedo aún no me atrevo. Cuando me veo de lejos lo que realmente veo es un niño preocupado y vulnerable, con mucho miedo a sentir; a sentir fuerte. A sentir emociones de esas tan intensas que a la vida vuelque sobre su eje. Emociones de esas que definen vivencias por las que el presente se avergüenza pero el futuro recuerda melancólico. Veo un niño con miedo a sentirse diferente, miedo a sentirse único y miedo a sentirse solo. 

Solo, esa palabra que desde hace un tiempo se siente como un uppercut en el esófago. 

Me veo de lejos y veo a un niño preocupado y vulnerable, con miedo a sentirse vivo, caminando solo. La soledad que tanto valoro y que tanto me atormenta. 

El caso es que me veo de lejos y no me gusta lo que veo. Y me pregunto si alguna vez miraré y sentiré que quizá la clave está ahí, en mirar de lejos. Oteando el porvenir para asegurar la arrancada. O quizá esté en mí, en ese niño, quien aún preocupado, vulnerable, cauteloso en sus emociones, y solitario en un mundo que a veces da miedo, anda con paso lento, asegurado. Un niño que explora el planeta en busca de algo que echa en falta.

Quizá sea a sí mismo lo único que ese niño realmente busca.

Quizá eso sea todo. O quizá no, yo qué voy a saber. 

Voy a intentar dormir otro poco, que ya me duelen los dedos de pensar en alto. Ojalá tuviera mi cuaderno cerca. Pero me da miedo encender la luz y despertar a alguien. —¡Siempre con miedo muchacho!—, que jamás diría mi padre.

Cover photo by Zukiman Mohamad from Pexels.

Seeking the source of my tranquility

Photo by Simon Migaj

Sendai, Japan. (5 min. read)

Let me ask you something, are you free?

Are you?

Really?

If you look up the word freedom in the dictionary you will find that freedom can be defined in more than a dozen different ways. Among these, freedom can be regarded as

  1. the absence of or release from ties or obligations;
  2. ease or facility of movement or action.

Now, based on these two definitions of freedom, tell me, are you really free?

I’ve been having a recurrent conversation with myself lately that I need to get out somehow. So here it goes.

You are constantly measuring life in the wrong units, and you are not alone.

It is almost as if in the process of converting your inner needs and desires into outer actions and behaviors you are falling into the common mistake of mixing up metric and imperial units — you are falling short. And that when thinking in terms of what you really want, the whys and for whats behind the things you do and pursue, only then you realize how misled you were with some of the decisions you made.

What do you want to get out of life?

Let me help you, the answer is freedom.

It is the conditions of those we consider ‘successful’ what most of us seek to replicate. It is their state of existence, not their means. It is their freedom.

Freedom to decide what to do, where to be, and how to spend our time.

It is not the fame, the money, the power, the privileges, the pats on the back, the stars in the chest, the laurel crowns, or the crowds of flatterers what you are after.

You want the freedom of not being held accountable. The freedom to leave everything behind without remorse or negative consequences. The freedom to love. The freedom to play. The freedom to fail. The freedom to save yourself from the calendar. The freedom of laziness. The freedom of apathy. The freedom to work nine hours a day inside a fiery kitchen, drenched in sweat, with pain in your feet and a smile in your face, not because you have to, but because you choose to; because in your endeavour of nurturing freedom you wanted to experience a new life and in so doing you filled yourself with an uncontainable joy.

I know it is hard to understand. It is equally hard for me to explain.

If you were to ask me, are you free? I would most certainly answer, yes, I am. At least in this present moment in time, I feel like I am.

I am writing these lines at 4:46 a.m. on a Wednesday. The things I do and the decisions I made are a direct consequence of my present frame of mind. I sleep when I’m tired. I work when I’m excited — just like about now — and I play when I’m frustrated. Do I have obligations and responsibilities? Of course I do. Are those meant to keep me busy while wadding my ego and providing my days with a false sense of importance and purpose? Most certainly not.

Why? Because I have come to realize that in my freedom resides the source of my tranquility. That wealth and means are just tools and methods that if used appropriately can set me free without all the busyness nonsense.

I have realized that the units we use define the outcome of what we measure. And that my tranquility is best when measured in terms of freedom of choice; and so it is towards creating freedom of choice where the majority of my efforts are directed.

Let’s talk about what you’re most likely thinking at this moment. Let’s talk about money.

Money helps, that’s common knowledge. We all know that.

But there is only under the right circumstances that money helps.

When money is regarded as a tool, we don’t need a lifetime to replicate the conditions of those we consider successful. We can easily replicate the outcome of their circumstances within a few months of work, discipline, and clarity of mind. Because remember, it is freedom we are after; no yachts, or feasts, or weekends in Kuramathi.

When money is regarded as a tool, it becomes an asset; when thought of as an objective, or a kpi for those in business, it becomes a liability.

I’m constantly re-evaluating the aim of my efforts to make sure that my wife and I live under very specific conditions. Conditions that allow us to turn our lives up-side-down if we so desire, to steer our days in the direction that we want, and to stop the clock whenever we feel is needed. The decisions we make is only but ours. It is in the execution however, when, well, some money is required.

But how much money would you pay for your own freedom? How much money are you already paying while craving for that eventual unoccupied, unrestricted future?

For us, freedom is found exactly at the expense of six months without income — that’s our “freedom threshold”. 

We’ve found that we need, in the worst case scenario, a maximum of six months to be able to generate new opportunities for ourselves. In the course of making sure that we created an environment in which the latter was possible, we decided to set aside part of our salaries until we hit that goal — well, mostly her salary, I work in academia remember? —  and then we breathed. How much is that depends on you and your desired way of living. At that point, our assets became tools and our living conditions became the foundation that help us live wherever we want, however we want. Beyond that point, there are no goals, no long-term plans, no ladders, no debts, no dreary jobs,  no end of the road.

I may sound delirious and only time will tell whether I am remarkably and publicly wrong. But I can’t help but notice how most people work their ways towards undefined goals, wasting their lives in worthless routines and harmful behaviors. How most people don’t even know why they do what they do; while the source of their tranquility lies within their reach.

We all want to live a good life, a happy life.

And although most of these terms lack of any meaning without definition, in my opinion a happy life starts the moment you hit the road towards your freedom.

Because in freedom resides the source of your tranquility.

What triggers your Mr. Hyde

Tokyo, Japan. (7 min read)

On emotional intelligence and how to get along with your unpredictable self.

Today was an interesting day.

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you have completely lost control of your emotions right before realizing how much damage you have caused, how much time you have wasted, and how badly sorry you feel for what just happened? I bet you have, or at least you have been affected by this happening to someone close to you. Allow me to introduce you to our own Mr. Hyde.

Sendai, Japan, 09:45 A.M.

It was raining as it had been for the past two weeks. The atmosphere was gloomy and humid, covered with this now familiar morning haze. One could barely walk outside without getting all drenched in sweat, begging for the light breeze of a fan or an air conditioner. Coming from a country where the sun is one of our most esteemed allies, constant grey skies and stormy weather affect my mood in ways sometimes hard to predict.

We had the usual breakfast before heading out: a bowl of cereal, a smoothie of some sort, and a cup of Chinese red tea, which, given the fact that I do not drink any other caffeinated drink at all, provides just the right amount of stimulant to keep me on my toes throughout the day. We needed to run a few errands on that day. We were going on a trip to Tokyo in two weeks and we still had to book the bus tickets and pick up a couple of museum passes. We had been planning this trip since we moved to Japan almost five months ago and we couldn’t wait to get on that bus. After finishing breakfast, having read the morning news, cleared up our inboxes, and checked each and every social network, we were finally all-systems-go to hit the road. It’s amazing how fast you can catch up with everyone else when you live seven hours ahead of the rest of the world.

We went down street no.2 in the neighborhood no.3 by the Sunmall shopping area (don’t blame me for the Japanese addressing system). Street no.2 is a small but lively alley in which all kind of independent stores, craft shops, and fast-food restaurants piled up on both sides of the street. Even though the smell conveyed the most pleasurable and exotic food of all, I was feeling something was off since we left home. I’d been feeling this way for weeks now. It was as if a volatile mix of frustration and apathy was growing inside of me, patiently waiting to be released. I was constantly living on the edge between anger and defeat. This was not me, nor it matched with the climate of excitement and joy I thought I was living in.

‘What’s wrong with me?’

It might be this never-ending filthy weather I thought. There is actually a rare disease that only seems to happen in Japan during the summer called reiboubyou or ‘air-conditioning disease’, associated to being constantly exposed to extreme changes in the ambient conditions; from the dry and chill environment of your house, public transportation, and stores, to the stifling heat and humidity of the outside. Symptoms associated with this disease range from fatigue and apathy to migraines and even depression. So it matched.

Without reflecting too much on these feelings we finally arrived at our destination. Here is were things started to go astray. A few misunderstandings, things that didn’t turn out as planned, and my whole ecosystem began to fall apart. Depite the level of enthusiasm and excitement caused by the upcoming trip, I couldn’t help but experience a profound sense of discomfort against newly arising aspects that felt completely out my control. Tension was spreading through my jaw, pain was rising in the back of my neck, and my mood was turning dark and irascible as if it was trying to merge with the miserable weather. The day was not coming through as planned and I ended up feeling anxious and vanquished, once again.

Defiant irrationality

The reason for my recent behavior, which by the way had nothing to do with the weather, was clear to me after reading a chapter from Dan Ariely’s NYT bestseller Predictably Irrational titled “The influence of arousal”. By revisiting the state of my emotions and what I had been spending time on for the past few weeks, I realized how interrelated some of the concepts presented in this chapter were to the situation that had been driving my life lately. A situation that you may be quite familiar with too.

It seems that as humans we bear multiple personalities, which in essence can be pruned down to two. On the one side there is our, let’s say, steady-state personality. This personality encompasses our fundamental believes, values, and ethics. This is intimately related to the image we hold of ourselves, how we behave in social environments, and how we consciously respond to external stimulus. We are pretty familiar with this version of ourselves to the point that one could say this is our true selves.

On the other side there is a second personality that seems to be buried deep inside us. This personality is characterized by being the part of us taking over under specific situations, usually those in which high-intensity emotions are involved.

The amazing thing about this concealed personality is that most of us seem to fail in predicting how this pseudo-version of ourselves will behave under specific situations.

Its behavior goes against the foundations of our true selves. Those values we so proudly stand by just fall apart on the presence of a given set of emotions. This is our unpredictable self, our Mr. Hyde.

One could associate the fact that we are so bad in predicting how we will behave when this inner self takes control to the reason why high performers and elite military forces train themselves under distinct high-stress situations. They could not expect their steady-state personality to behave properly during a crisis. Instead, they force themselves to become familiar with this alternative personality – they train their unpredictability.

This second personality can have an even greater impact in our lives. Just as happened to Dr. Henry Jekyll in Stevenson’s novel, its manifestation could not only become temporally unpleasant but permanently destructive. When the unpredictable self takes control of our emotions and actions we set free our deepest self-destructive behaviors. Behaviors that often lead us to make the worst decisions we could ever make.

Today was an interesting day because I realized my unpredictable self can be unleashed as a result of the most mundane of the situations. I also realized that we are not just bad in predicting its behavior but also in reading the feelings that precede the appearance of such an injurious personality in the first place. Too often we will think of the wrong reasons for our feelings, reasons that point out to things that lie out of our control. It turned out that we, as humans, are damn good at this. I blamed the weather when the actual reason for such a pitiful behavior was something I had complete control over. For weeks I’d been spending a great deal of my days in something that wasn’t practical or exciting, something that wasn’t bringing me any value, and the objective of which was not quite clear. I was caught up in this life stream I so hard try to avoid, letting myself carried away by routine, passively expecting my state to change. This situation negatively affected my environment, damaged my relationships, and ultimately diminished my performance to the point of emotional cataclysm.

It’s time to get to know each other

The existence of this shadowed version of ourselves is almost undeniable. In the course of our lives we have all found and we will find ourselves coping with overwhelming situations. Situations that bring the most harmful feelings out of ourselves.

I’ve realized that understanding and being aware of the presence of your own unpredictability is extremely valuable. Some of our inner trouble is just a sign that something has to change on the outside, on the way we live, on the way we treat others and in turn on the way we treat ourselves. We need to learn how to better read our feelings and emotions. Embracing what this alternative personality is telling us can become an incredible asset. It makes us more aware of our shortcomings and helps us to be present in each and every moment. The ability to understand the motives of our personality can help us dispel the cloud of fake reasons and complaints that so often prevent us from changing the state we live in, ultimately getting that detrimental personality and our own lives under control.

“Here then, as I lay down the pen and proceed to seal up my confession, I bring the life of that unhappy Henry Jekyll to an end.”

Robert Louis Stevenson, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.