It’s a Saturday in early February in Donostia/San Sebastian, in the Basque region of Spain. The weather is a balmy 15 degrees and sunny as we set out for an afternoon walkabout, after arriving here the day before. We choose to walk the beach and head to Monte Urgull across the bay since the tide is out and the staircase down to the sand is accessible at the bottom. Of course Mylie, our 8kg chiweenie takes an unexpected plunge in the ocean as she slips off a small rock outcropping – whoosh, her head goes under. And zip – she comes right back up again. She’s not impressed so I get the stink eye. Our larger dog Munro just smiles when the sand and water touch his toes.

La Concha beach is wide at low tide and it feels like a carnival with all the activity going on around us; people walking and running, dogs running after sticks, couples arm-in-arm for a midday stroll and best of all – football games (soccer). Clearly the Baques have figured out that the best place to have football games are on some of their only available flat surfaces – the beach. Today we count ten games going on with bright coloured jerseys and school-aged players. We witness the end of a few games and the roar from the onlookers (mostly parents) is tremendous. Then something interesting happens – the winning team runs into the centre of the field of play and surrounds the losing team with a loud cheer. What spirit to witness in young hearts as the ocean roars beside us and the water sparkles brightly – a moment to remember and keep close to my mind’s eye.

I’ve enjoyed many moments like this in 8+ months of our Intermission Year. So many in fact that I am developing a new habit of being in the moment: I plan less and see more. I was hoping that a year away from the ‘noise’ of life would be beneficial to my mental health and it hasn’t disappointed. I feel my senses and my mind expand into a place that I can’t quite describe, except to say that I am closer to knowing what our chocolate lab, Rusty used to feel when he just sat and would ‘be’. We’d refer to this as “sitting at a bus stop” when we saw Rusty stare out the window or look beautifully at some object while being quite still.

In Eckhart Tolle’s book, ‘A New Earth’ he talks about awareness and being in the moment. He mentions that dogs have the ability to attain this level of being, similar to the moment just before thought. I think Rusty was a guru at this – I can only hope to achieve a small dose of what he had by nature.

When I walked the Portuguese Camino in 2016, for the first time in my life I had days when there was little thought in my mind. Just completing my 20 – 25 kms for the day in a European heatwave was an achievement of great proportions. All I had to think about was where to place my foot on the path, did I drink enough water and how is my pace? There wasn’t much else going on in my head some days – I had created space, but more importantly I had not filled it.

Now, having more space in my mind, things begin to change.

I observe greatly, deeply and often. There’s nothing comparable to sitting in a plaza drinking a local Txakoli and watching people interact with one another. Or seeing how the shadows of the severely pruned Tamarind trees in Alderdi Eder Parc resemble twisted human bodies laying flat on the sidewalk. And seeing how sunlight filters through the olive trees to create a silver effervescence that dances before your eyes.

I have space to go into my heart to sort through and prune out the dead wood and bad energy, some of which I’ve carried for years.

I have more successful attempts at meditation.

Things seem simpler with less noise and more space.

I think of a Tony Robbins quote from his book ‘Awaken the Giant Within’: “Limited references create a limited life. If you want to expand your life, you must expand your references by pursuing ideas and experiences that wouldn’t be a part of your life if you didn’t consciously seek them out.”

I don’t feel that one has to travel to attain this, but for Michael and I it sure has been a catalyst.