Posted on May 06, 2019

A little story about ikigai in Central Portugal


Learning to slow down and savour small moments

A little story about ikigai, alive and well right here in Central Portugal. This lovingly paper-wrapped parcel (no unnecessary new-fangled plastic bag needed, when traditional brown paper will do the job just fine) contains some run-of-the-mill, inexpensive net curtain material. I bought it in a wonderful little shop in Ferreira do Zêzere, where you step back in time the minute you step through the door.

A twinkling-eyed lady with her grey hair in a bun greets me, then turns back to the customer she is attending to, to continue their leisurely chat and swapping of news. Leaving me to take in the lovely old wooden shelving, sparsely filled with a random assortment of material, the sun-faded checked tabards and housecoats hanging in the window, and rolls of shiny ribbons in the counter.

Patience and these times of quiet waiting, observing, are things I’m learning to enjoy here in Portugal. Little pauses in your day, giving you a chance to gather breath and your thoughts before you have to move on to the next thing. They’re like tiny moments of meditation.

Eventually it’s my turn. The shopkeeper doesn’t speak any English, and I don’t know the word for net curtain material (in English, let alone Portuguese!) but I find enough words to explain what I need, and she climbs to the top of a rickety wooden stepladder then totters back down with the bale to show me, while she teaches me the correct Portuguese words. We spend a long time discussing how much material I need (I have no clue), based on the window measurements I give her, and various sketches we both draw.

Another customer comes in. We all greet each other, and she adds her opinion. It turns out she is the sister-in-law of a neighbour and friend of mine. Eventually the shopkeeper is satisfied that she knows what I need, and advises me accordingly, then with a flourish gets out her measuring stick to shear off the right length. I ask if she can recommend a seamstress and that sparks another discussion with the other customer while they decide on who should be the best person for the job.

I wait a few minutes longer while my purchase is carefully wrapped, then a little more while the shopkeeper adds up the total longhand, checks it, and writes out my receipt. I pay (cash only, no card machine here of course) and wait again while she has to go through to the back to get change. I eventually leave, totally satisfied, with everything I needed, as was she that she had served me as best as she was able. I decide to leave the visit to the seamstress till another day, a treat to savour another time.

View our upcoming retreats and book

Support our crowdfunding campaign.