A four-month guide to changing your life
I hate camping. I never go camping. I like my home comforts too much. And being warm. And clean. Yet for the past four months I've been camping out here while Relaxscape takes shape around me, and it's felt like the best adventure ever! Well, apart from those freezing nights in November when the cold air spread its grasping tendrils round every part of me and the damp seeped slowly and relentlessly over everything it touched. Thank goodness for cat hot water bottles. And those times when the gas kept cutting out mid-way through my shower, so that I was left shivering in the dawn air swirling through the window that didn't yet have any glass in. Still, I've never seen such amazing sunrises while showering before!
Finding your ikigai
I suppose the moral of this story is, that if you have a bigger force driving you, if you're absolutely focused on the end goal, then you can ignore the smaller discomforts and inconveniences. I've been cooking on a dusty floor on two camping gas rings with no oven for months now; I've become a bit of a whizz at one-pot meals - and it's been a pleasurable experience too as I've been able to use home-grown, organic produce. I absolutely love going down to the garden to pick some fruit and veg, and then turning them into a delicious meal. Such a simple pleasure, but it makes me feel rich.
Enjoying the moment, the small things
It's also about being able to enjoy the small things, savour the moment, and somehow that tunes out the more unpleasant parts. That's one of the five pillars of ikigai, according to Ken Mogi's "The Little Book of Ikigai" - the joy of small things. Another is being in the here and now. It's absolutely a discipline, something you need to practise - there's something very grounding about looking around you, and quite deliberately noticing the small details, picking out the pretty flower in amongst the piles of rubble, closing your eyes and enjoying the warmth of the sun on your face, smelling the uplifting zest of a lemon fresh from the tree. As your focus moves away from all the bigger noise swirling around you, you become absorbed in the moment, calm. And that turns into happiness.
Being in nature relieves stress
It's been made a lot easier because I'm in the most ridiculously beautiful place. All I have to do is step outside, soak in the treescape around me and my spirits lift. The sun shines here more often that it doesn't, so I've been able to be outside more than inside. Even the shortest, darkest days of the year are longer, warmer and brighter here than I am used to back in the UK and Northern Europe. I have an olive grove of 50 or more trees to nurture, fruit trees and a vegetable patch to tend to, an acre of land to keep clear. It's well-known that gardening, working in nature, is a form of therapy, and it's certainly been working its magic on me, mentally and physically. And cheaper than a gym membership! I'm also enjoying the massive learning curve - there's so much I don't know and so much to find out about.
Portuguese warmth and kindness
Luckily the Portuguese are renowned for their warm and generous spirit. I have never encountered such courteousness in shops, or even from complete strangers you pass in the street. Portuguese people seem predisposed to help, to be kind. It's refreshing, and infectious. My neighbours and fellow villagers here in Cardal have been invaluable in their support and encouragement. They have helped me out and helped me to learn in so many different ways. I know I can always ask them for advice, but often I don't need to, as they give it freely! They like to share. Anything they have - their food, their produce, their knowledge, their greeting. I've also noticed that they take great pleasure in other people's enjoyment. It's not only that they enjoy life themselves (and they do like to!), but that they want you to enjoy it too. That gives them as much pleasure. Imagine living on a typical English building site with 6+ workers on it every day for 4 months. It would be hard work! Here, they are a pleasure to have around and they've gone out of their way to make it as comfortable as possible for me.
In the midst of all this upheaval and change that I've been going through for the past year, I've discovered my ikigai here in this beautiful part of Portugal. I've learnt to accept things for what they are. To accept myself. I'm enjoying the small things and most of all, I'm enjoying creating an environment of harmony and sustainability for others to enjoy too. All eyes on 2019 - it's going to be a great year at Relaxscape.