What does a dream coming true look, feel and taste like?

When I was younger I was so in love with the idea of Spain.  I wanted to learn the language, travel to the country, immerse myself in the culture – even since my teenage years.  I wasn’t sure why, not then or as I got older, but I was strongly drawn to the country.  I must admit at the time I really didn’t know too much about Spain, only that I wanted to be a part of it.  In fact, when I was a very late teen, I was so desperately in love with Spain (or the idea of Spain) that I went ahead and got engaged to a Spaniard whose name was Antonio.  Such was my desire for Spain….

Needless to say, that didn’t work out (possibly becoming engaged to someone because you love the country they were born in could work out, but for me, well, no).  But what did work out, after many years, was my desire to travel to Spain.  After years of keeping that dream alive, I left on a jet plane to spend the best part of three months in the country I’d dreamt of since I can remember.

I travelled first to France to start walking the Camino de Santiago Frances Route from St Jean Pied de Port all the way across the country to Santiago de Compostella.  That’s a trek of about 800km.  After that I extended the hiking on to an extended route out to the ocean, the Camino Muxia and Camino Finisterre.

I spent my first 40 days and 40 nights in Spain as a pilgrim, with all of my possessions in my backpack.


hay field
Resting wherever I could…

Of the hundreds of thousands of pilgrims who arrive in Santiago each year on the various Caminos, only about 5% walk on to the coastline with most of these going from Santiago to Finisterre (a 90km extension).  Finisterre was known as the end of the world and for me, it was more important a destination, or completion point, than Santiago was.  However I also wanted to walk to Muxia, a town further north on the Atlantic coastline, and even less than 5%  walk here first, and then on toFinisterre, a 120km extension from Santiago.

Following the Camino my travels took me to Ourense, Salamanca, Madrid, a week long stint in Portugal, Seville and the Andalucían area, and to end the trip, some time in Barcelona.

So did my dream to travel in Spain, walk the Camino and experience the culture and language of this country come true?

Sure.  You can see it did by the previous paragraphs.

But what did it look like, what did it feel like and what did it taste like?  Was it all I dreamt it would be?

What did this dream coming true look like?

It looked like fear sometimes.  It looked like love sometimes.  It looked like Groundhog Day sometimes.

It looked like me with my backpack on, walking 30km a day in the searing heat. Swearing a lot, sometimes.  Other times, just walking and taking every step as it came.

It looked like beauty.  It looked like poverty and despair.

It looked simple, and significant at the same time.

It looked like my comfort zone, and then it didn’t, and then it did again.

Heaven and Hell.  Wonder.

It looked like I thought it might.

It didn’t look anything like I thought it might.


It looked like this sometimes

What did this dream coming true feel like?

It felt like love.

Sometimes it felt like fear.

It felt like loneliness and then it felt like connection and belonging.

It felt frustrating, and it felt freeing.  It felt right, and sometimes it felt wrong.

It felt painful.  A lot of the time.  Blisters, muscle soreness.

It felt joyous.

I felt grateful.  Emotional.  Emotional a lot of the time.

I felt shattered, and also full of energy.

I felt at home, when I wasn’t feeling homesick.

I felt strong, except when I was feeling weak.

Torn. I felt torn.

I felt done – physically, mentally and emotionally.  Then I’d have a beer and a chat to new friends, a meal and a sleep.  And I didn’t feel done anymore.

It felt so right.  Walking day in day out.  Only a few decisions to make each day – where will I sleep, what will I eat?

It felt easy.  It felt hard.

Sometimes I would feel like quitting.

Sometimes I would feel like I could walk forever.

I felt disgust – when watching a bull fight.

I felt overwhelmed. In awe.

I felt brave and full of fear. Sometimes at the same time.

I felt guided.

I felt that the universe was consipiring  to provide me with what I needed. Not necessarily what I wanted.


It felt like discovery

What did this dream coming true taste like?

For me, it tasted like Tarte de Santiago.


The taste of dreams coming true

In keeping my dream alive to walk the camino, for many years I’ve been making Tarte de Santiago for my family and friends. A traditional cake based on almond meal originally fed to pilgrims walking. The first time on the Camino that I had a slice of Tarte de Santiago was …well a little surreal for me.  I was alone and in a small village as I took my first taste.  It was at that moment that I understood what a dream that comes true tastes like.

It also tasted like pilgrims meals day in and day out.  And then it tasted like tapas and octopus (not something I would try again) and tortilla and red wine.

It tasted like shared meals with friends. New friends from all over the world.

So what now?

So I am settling in to return to work and back to my life in Australia after fulfilling this lifelong dream which in the end, was exactly everything I expected and dreamt it could be, and at the same time, completely different to anything I expected and dreamt it would be.

It also provided me with more personal growth every day than I could have ever imagined.  I was graced with beautiful new friends, some who I know will be in my life for a long time to come and others who were in my life just for the moments they were meant to be.


Ultreya – onwards with courage

My belief in the goodness of people was tested and at the same time, confirmed, over and over again.

My belief in myself was tested, and at the same time, reaffirmed time and time again.

Not everyone will understand my journey.  That’s ok because it isn’t their journey to understand.  It’s mine. And even if I don’t fully understand it, that’s ok too.

Buy the ticket, take the ride.  See what happens.

I know my journey gave me so much.  There is a saying on the camino that “the camino provides”.  I agree and I experienced this day after day.  I have a new saying for the camino to add to that one.  “The camino also takes away”, and that is just as important.

Don’t confuse your path, with your destination.  Enjoy your journey.  Thanks for the memories Spain!

“Let your life be your message” Mahatma Gandhi.


Meditation – Learning How before learning Why

A guest post from Peter McFadyen on how he learnt the ‘how’ to of meditation before the ‘why’.

Our young Granddaughters have been staying with us for a week and I am always amazed by how keen they are to be involved in whatever is going on. This leads to new experiences for them and, being the little knowledge sponges that they are, the development of new skills. I was watching our eldest granddaughter happily manipulating the controls on our microwave in order to heat something up. Her little fingers were following the instructions given to her ‘push the button two times – one …. two” and happily being a part of the morning’s events.

Of course, for her the event was probably limited to – if I hit the button twice the light comes on and the cup turns around. I truly doubt at two years old that there is any understanding of the inner workings of a microwave, or even possibly that the microwave imparts heat into the object inside. For her it is simply that if I push this button, the light comes on, things move around and people are happy. Fine – it still gets the job done and the result is the same regardless of the level of understanding and belief. Of course, as our granddaughter ages she will gain a fuller understanding of microwaves and so her ability to influence the outcome and achieve specific desires will increase.

When I got back into meditation a few years back I underwent a similar learning process. I had read a few books on mindfulness, beginning with my first and favourite book “Mindfulness for life” by McKenzie and Hassed. This book appeals to the logical side of my mind and allowed me to gain a good initial understanding of what was happening behind the scenes with mindfulness and how it could apply to my life. As a result of that and further reading, I had decided that the “reading” stage of my education had progressed far enough and that the “doing” stage of my education should commence. Coincidentally at that stage two wonderful instructors in town were a holding a series of mindfulness courses and I signed up and went along.

A part of mindfulness practice is meditation and so I began to meditate for 20 minutes every morning. I had been told that it would be about two months before I noticed any real difference in my daily life but that the work was necessary and would be beneficial. Like the good student I was trying to be, and out of a genuine desire to discover this difference in my life, I commenced my daily meditation.


Rocks coloured
We all meditate differently…what works best for you?

Now we all meditate differently but for me it works as follows:
– Be awake early enough to meditate without being rushed
– Sit up in a straight-backed chair with legs together and comfortable
– Be in a place where I can feel the sun or the wind
– Be in a place where there is random noise – the more the better
I then go through series of small filtering exercises and practice not getting attached to any particular sound or even naming them. I just notice them and let them go. There is more to it of course but for now I will just focus on the basics.

Each morning I would wake up early enough to do my meditation practice, to get through whatever my other morning tasks were and to get to work at the designated hour. Days turned into a week and weeks turned into a month. I continued my practice but didn’t notice any dramatic changes, nothing really seemed all that different. And then one day I noticed that I was coming home with more energy at the end of the day and things seemed a lot less stressful during the day. Things that cropped up that would have normally caused me stress now caused me less stress and some things didn’t raise a reaction at all. Things that did occur I could generally deal with and let go or put on hold and not worry about until I could get to them.


Man meditating smoke
Do what works for you

So in the end, like my granddaughter, I had learnt how before learning why. The gift for me was both increased acceptance of life and a sense of calm I felt throughout the day, though I didn’t really understand that when I first began to meditate. The ‘why’ I learnt later in my practice, though that didn’t stop me from receiving the gifts that came from my action and dedication. This is not my usual way of learning but in this instance it certainly paid benefits.

Is there something beneficial that you are putting of doing because you don’t fully understand the why behind the how? Perhaps now is the time to give it a go and see what gifts it gives you now and what understanding it gives you a little further down the track.

“Let your life be your message” Mahatma Gandhi.

You had me at Hola! Learning a foreign language in a foreign country

Studying a foreign language in a foreign country was always something I’d dreamt of doing. So having planned a trip to Spain I made sure I had time scheduled to fit in a Spanish language course. It was both surprising and challenging.

The start of the week – let’s see how far that comfort zone can stretch…

With the help of google maps I wander my way across Salamanca in Spain, trying to locate the place I’ll be living for the next week. I’m dragging my small rolling suitcase along the cobblestone streets. It’s not working very well. I’ve chosen to do a week long intensive Spanish language course in this city and I’ve chosen a home stay option. That’s what I’m looking for. My homestay.

I know I’m staying in an apartment owned by Magdalena, a Spanish lady of 72, a widow and a regular homestay for students of the school I’ve chosen.

I find the place. Take a deep breath and press the buzzer.


What am I doing?


Oh man! I have no idea how this week is going to play out.

‘Hola?’ I hear over the speaker.

‘Ahhh hola? It’s Michelle here’.

Buzzzz click.

The door lock audibly clicks and I push the door open and enter the apartment block foyer.

I make my way up the elevator to find Magdalena at the door of the apartment, waiting for me. Hola – she says, followed by a few sentences in Spanish that I don’t understand. She shows me my room, the bathroom, and the rest of the apartment.

She has lunch ready but gestures to me to unpack and settle in first.


My functional homestay room

I go to my small but functional single room which has a desk, bed and wardrobe and unpack the small amount of luggage I have with me. I head out to the dining room where Magdalena has set the table for lunch – which of course is at around 3pm.

We chat for a while – well she does and I nod and smile and seem to understand a few words. I think she says that breakfast is at 10am or maybe 7am. Or was it 2pm? She tells me there is another student staying and I am relieved thinking that if he’s here to learn Spanish there’s a fair chance he might know some English. Then he arrives and I meet him. His name is Felix (not his real name – his real name is really long) and he is from……ETHIOPIA! He’s fluent in French and not too bad at Spanish (he’s in the advanced class)…but has only a minor grasp of the English language.

Magdalena sat us down for lunch and explained that the course convenors ask that she only speak Spanish with the students….great. That means that effectively there is no common language between the three of us. I start eating the potato salad she’s served and realize there’s tuna in the salad. They put tuna in everything in Spain I’ve noticed. It was too late to tell her I don’t eat seafood, and I especially don’t eat tuna, so I ate it, gagging only twice when my mind went to cat food. Then of course once I’ve eaten it, it’s too late to tell her I don’t eat seafood – plus I need to learn how to say that in Spanish in any case. I will spend the rest of the week hoping for no more tuna.

And that was just my first afternoon – classes haven’t even started yet. If I had any doubts about whether I could push the edges of my comfort zone any further after the last 45 days in this country, they have dissolved.

I have no idea what’s going on here. It will be an interesting week.

The Lessons

So for an entire week I get up early, eat breakfast with Magdalena, listen as she speaks in Spanish to me, hoping each day that I’m at least understanding more words. I meet new friends in class from all over the world and we soon start getting together of an evening sharing meals and wine and talking about the world and life and learning Spanish.


Plaza mayor
Plaza Mayor – meeting place

Make no mistake, the classes are really challenging and this stuff is hard. I had done a short course in Spanish before I left Australia, I had been using Duolingo and other apps to help me learn, but even with that, I was seriously in the deep end. Every word spoken by the teachers is in Spanish, the entire text book we are learning from is in Spanish (even the instructions for the exercises). Some days, alright, most days, I feel like I’m going backwards.

The Lifestyle

Then of course I go home and even though my brain is hurting from the day of intensive lessons, I have to strain and work hard to understand Magdalena and communicate with her. It really is challenging so much so that I often retreat to my small single room, for a siesta or to study. Some days I even force myself not to look at any signage or shop advertising because my brain is so overloaded the last thing I need is to be reading more things in Spanish that I don’t understand.

I’ve lost sight of my comfort zone I am so far outside of it.

Lost in Translation

There were more than a few trying moments during the week where I made an effort to put my new language skills into practice.

Shopping – I tried to buy myself a face cleanser after 40 days on the Camino de Santiago where I was washing my face with whatever I had, including shampoo. I had left my phone in my apartment so I didn’t have the benefit of google translate. It would seem that I accidentally brought a face mask instead of a cleanser. Learning to go with the flow that’s for sure. Will try for face cleanser again another day.


Face mask lady
Face mask not cleanser

Dining – Google translate is an excellent tool for use over here. However I decided against the menu item ‘pluma de cerdo ibérico’ today when google told me it was ‘Iberian pig feather’. I was intrigued….but went for the lasagne.

Google Translate
Thanks Google Translate

In class – I was doing a lesson where I was asked to talk about my family (in Spanish of course). Who they were, what they did etc. I said (all in Spanish) that I was married and that I’d been married for 28 years. Javier my teacher was looking at me incredulously and saying ‘wow, wow, 28 years’ in Spanish of course. I was saying ‘yes, yes’ feeling chuffed that he was so happy I’d been married for 28 years. I went on to tell him about the rest of the family in Spanish. At the end he asked me something that I didn’t quite understand. Turns out he wanted me to tell him a bit more about how I managed to have a husband AND a boyfriend who was 28! Ahhhh. I need much more than one week at this gig! Though I didn’t feel so bad when another student said, when asked what she’d done last night “I went to dinner with chickens and we ate my father”.

Out and about – well I made this mistake only once but it was a big mistake.   You see I wanted a beer and so I headed for the nearest Cerveceria (place that sells cerveza/beer) and I sat down at the first one I found. I ordered my beer only to be told I was in a Carcineria not a Cervezeria. The former selling meat and not beer (cerveza). I moved on a bit flustered and sat down at what I was sure was a cervezeria. Until I ordered a beer and found I was instead in a confiteria which sells confectionery!  I ate some pastries and sweets before moving on and eventually finding a beer.  Trick for new players.  Always be careful with your ‘C’ words.

The end of the week

The week that I, at times, thought would never end, finally ends. I’ve completed a week of intensive Spanish language lessons covering about 6 hours each day. The classes were challenging and most of my teachers were amazing! I brought a special shirt to wear for my last day. It got a few laughs from my teacher and class mates.


Spanish teacher
With my favorite teacher Pedro

My homestay host Magdalena gets home later than me most nights (and I’m not getting home until midnight most nights) and by the end of the week we communicate via a mixture of gestures, Spanish and google translate.

I got in to the routine of getting up early, going to class, having a late lunch and then a siesta before studying some. Then of course it was off to the Plaza to meet up with new friends and eat and drink and generally enjoy the city and company.

I was both relieved and a little sad to be leaving. I loved Salamanca. More than any other city I walked through over the past 2 months while on the Camino de Santiago.

I made some wonderful friends in class, who were all in Salamanca for between 3 and 12 weeks for their Spanish studies. I was sad to be leaving them after only one week. Once again though, I realize that I only get to experience the tinge of sadness to be leaving them, because I had the pleasure of meeting and spending time with them in the first place. I look forward to seeing them in Holland, Switzerland and New Zealand sometime in the future.

Is it for you?

If you’ve ever thought about learning a foreign language in a foreign country, I can only say that it is definitely an experience and one that will challenge, and in all likelihood, delight you, if you can keep your focus on the moment in front of you. It might also be overwhelming at times, you’ll probably swear under your breath in class (or on the odd occasion, out loud) and you will likely meet new lifelong friends from all over the world. I can only guarantee one thing though – and that is that you will, most definitely, stretch that comfort zone of yours. You might even lose sight of it for a while you’ll be so far out of it, but you will find it again. Because you will grow to meet it and it will forever remain stretched because of your courage to allow yourself to lose sight of it for a time.


Roman Bridge
Old town Salamanca and the Roman Bridge

Adios for now

So for now, I’ll hang up my Spanish text book and head off for a month of travel around Spain and Portugal where maybe, just maybe, I can use some of the language skills I have learnt this week.

I hope I can do better than that one time on the Camino in a small village bar when I thought I had ordered 3 beers, only to realize, after many beers were placed in front of me, that I’d ordered 32 beers.

I’ve made worse mistakes in my life….

“Let your life be your message” Mahatma Gandhi.

How to take 10,000 volts and enjoy it! Tough Mudder style.

How to enjoy a challenge – a guest post from Peter McFadyen.

If someone walked up to you and asked if you’d like to get hit repeatedly by 10,000 volts would you take up that offer? What if you were able to bring along your friends and family? What if there would be 26,000 other people with you to enjoy the experience?

Of course, though the voltage is high the current is low so there is little chance you’ll die …. but they’ll get you to sign a death waiver anyway just to be on the safe side! On top of that you’ll get to run about 20km and go through 20 other obstacles in blazing heat or freezing cold, and there’s a time limit.

Afterwards there is a valuable reward – a free drink and a headband and the knowledge that you are now a Tough Mudder!

Tough Mudder is truly a challenging thing to do. The course designers, ex-SAS guys, hit all the high notes on a variety of fears and phobias with remarkable skill and planning. Be it confined spaces, heights, dunking under a pool filled with ice or shooting out through a wall of fire you will find it there waiting for you. There is also the sheer physical endurance side of the challenge with the 20k run, wading through waist deep mud, the log carry and the Berlin Wall.

Not the least, ever present in your mind the knowledge going in that by the time you finish you will be exhausted, injured to a greater or lesser extent and before you finish you get hit repeatedly by 10,000 volts as you run the final gauntlet that is Electric Shock Therapy.

We do this in the name of fun, comradeship and family bonding! In all honesty we also do it because not too many of the population will do it, because it is a little mad, and to raise funds for a good cause.

I’ve completed a Tough Mudder course three times now, which gives me a blue headband, and I have looked on in awe and envy at those with a black headband. These 10 times veterans of the Tough Mudder experience are worthy of respect.

Twice I’ve had the joy of completing the course with both my sons and have loved working with them to overcome the obstacles on the course. I have seen them complete the course with cuts, bruises and sprains and on the brink of exhaustion.

At the same time we were all wearing kilts, calling each other ‘Lachlan’ and truly enjoying the day. Along the way our sense of enthusiasm and readiness to engage other Mudder’s won us a small group of fans who cheered us on our way and congratulated us afterwards – it’s amazing what a smile, a bit of encouragement and an outrageous Scottish accent can do to lift peoples spirits.


Family tough mudder
Family times at Tough Mudder

So the question has to be asked – if we do that for fun, what would we call pain? Or is pain just a lack of preparation and a poor mindset?

Not to stray into the metaphysical side of things too deeply, there is a lot to be said for attitude and preparation when it comes to the difference between enduring and enjoying. As always, if you go into something willingly and with a reasonable understanding of the challenges you will face then you are able to participate in the challenge with a sense of enjoyment and come away with a sense of achievement. Going into the same challenge unprepared and uninformed will increase the opportunity to be overwhelmed, overcome and disengaged.

Be it a new job, an adventure or an intense period of work, what can you do to prepare for a challenge? In the various planned and unplanned challenges I have met so far, the ones which I have come through in the best shape have been ones which I have applied the following steps to:

1) Learn as much as you can about what you are letting yourself in for – especially the deadlines, the deliverables and the likely delay points.

2) Prepare as thoroughly as possible with the time you have.

3) Break the challenge down into suitable chunks – nobody eats an elephant in one sitting.

4) Schedule the workload so you don’t get too tired to be effective.

5) Be kind to yourself throughout the process, there will be tough times and good times and you need to accept both as a natural part of the process.

6) Ask for help when you need it. You may be able to do it all yourself but it will probably be faster, just as good and more enjoyable if you accept help.

7) Go into it with a sense of fun and determination.

8) Be prepared to laugh along the way. Being too serious takes too much energy.

9) Let go of fear, it is exhausting and limiting.

10) And finally, believe in yourself. Know that you will come through this successfully.

The order of the steps can be moved around and you may need to revisit some of them throughout the process. In my experience none of them may be skipped if you are to come through your challenge successfully and improved for the experience. Your attitude and your willingness to continue throughout the challenge will be key in your success. Being able to laugh along the way at the small joys you find and revelling in the shared experience will also be key to your success.

After all, if being hit by 10,000 volts can be accepted as just part of the experience, then the human mind can surely adapt to most circumstance given the right preparation and a willingness to grow from the experience.

“Let your life be your message” Mahatma Gandhi.