When Time Slows Down To Almost Standstill...
I hadn’t given a great deal of thought to my decision to go away on holiday alone, a situation that came about a couple of years ago when the friend who was intending to join me had to bale out at the eleventh hour. I briefly considered cancelling the whole trip and losing my flight money, but then, in a moment of decisiveness, I committed mentally to the three-day stay in the mountains of Mallorca by myself.
At the airport, upon purchasing a latte in Costa, the man who served me asked, ‘Are you going anywhere nice?’ in a slightly flirtatious manner that endeared him to me somewhat. When I informed him of my impending trip, including the fact that I wasn’t travelling with anyone else, he immediately retorted that I was selfish. I suppose, in this day and age of hectic schedules and guilt-ridden women who rarely allow any time for themselves in between taking care of everyone else, going on holiday by one’s self could be construed that way. It’s something that I would never have done in a million years when I was younger and lacking in sufficient confidence to fully cope with everyday life, never mind navigating my way around in a foreign country. The idea of travelling abroad alone, especially to a remote place in the hills that is inaccessible other than by a 4x4 vehicle, would’ve terrified me.
After a slightly worrying delay of one-and-a-half-hours (during which I sat sweating in the thirty degree heat in a car park midway up a Mallorcan mountain, next to my bright pink, highly conspicuous suitcase) I gratefully climbed into a battered old Jeep, driven by the woman I’d arranged to meet for the last leg of my journey. As the guest house owner, she steered us masterfully along a terrifyingly precipitous dirt track, chatting about pirates of days gone by, and natural pools nestled in the nearby hills, and a local walk to a beach where nobody ever went, where I would be able to swim by myself in crystal clear waters. I felt myself breathing again, and the fear of being abandoned at the top of a high peak with nobody to ask for help, vanished miraculously.
She parked at the end of the dusty road and hauled my suitcase from the Jeep, up a stone staircase and into my room; a white-walled, Moorish haven, with heavy oak furniture, bare stone floors, rustic shutters that revealed the mountains outside, and roughly hewn wooden beams lining the sloping ceiling. Basic, uncluttered, peaceful, and free from the trappings of the material world we seemingly cannot help but inhabit back at home. Surrounding the building were olive trees, orange groves, geese, horses, and the intimidating reach of the Tramuntana Mountains.
And for the first time since leaving Manchester Airport, I was suddenly and acutely aware of the fact that I was on holiday alone.
Being alone is not the same as being lonely. Often I prefer solitude to being with other people. But this was different – there was nobody to call if I wanted company. If my own thoughts began to rattle around my head with a familiar intensity that I occasionally want to run from, I wouldn’t be able to seek distraction, or not that of another human being anyway. And suddenly, time became noticeable. Instead of the hours whizzing past as they do at home, the minutes filled with entertaining children and chores and work and social activities and routine, everything went into slow motion. It was early afternoon and I had no plans – nada, zilch.
I had the luxury of free time, for the first time in many years. Truly free time, with no Internet access, or phone calls to make, or television to watch. It was simultaneously joyous and frightening, a chasm of emptiness. I did a few press-ups on the cold stone floor; read my book in the hot sun outside; walked down a path and stroked a couple of horses to whom I spoke as if they were people; drank a can of Coke; ate a piece of bread soaked in olive oil with cheese and tomatoes placed on top; hiked for a couple of hours in the blazing heat listening to my sandals crunch on the ground and the buzzing of insects’ wings all around me; slept for an hour. And, after all of that, it was still only five thirty in the afternoon. Time had been reined in at last, the merry-go-round of life ground to a halt by the removal of stuff to do.
As I was hiking, I was intensely aware of my self, and it struck me that spending time alone, unencumbered by the restraints of schedule, the demands of other people, and the too-easy distractions of the modern world, is crucial to both my emotional wellbeing and my ability to feel content. For too long I have been shelving the need to simply be, to switch everything off and zone out, and it felt so good to finally be doing just that.
I silently remarked to myself how bad I normally feel about indulging myself with anything that isn’t work-related or answering the needs/wishes of someone else. In fact, I’d go as far as saying that I find it virtually impossible to relax at home; ironing, cleaning, working, and a variety of other ‘busy jobs’ that fill my time, always trump the opportunity to do nothing.
But doing nothing, and doing it alone, is liberating and refreshing. I never did it as a drinker because I always hit the wine if I was by myself, a deeply entrenched fear of boredom meaning that I never moved beyond five minutes of downtime before the popping of a cork could be heard followed by the sloshing of liquid into a glass. Since quitting alcohol, I have been guilty of filling my time with a frantic work schedule that borders on obsessive at times.
However, in the Tramuntana Mountains, with nothingness forced upon me like a great wave of space and time, I had no choice. Engulfing me the minute I plonked down on my single bed, next to the wooden shutters that hid behind a green, chiffon curtain, the sense of relaxation was immense. It brought mindfulness to life with an ease that is often missing in and amongst my hectic lifestyle at home, where I have to actively make an effort to be that way. Without distraction, it was impossible not to focus on the chirruping of birds, and the way the curtain lifted and fell with each blowing of the wind, and how the silence of the mountain air hung all around me without the sounds of traffic or people polluting it. I contemplated the way my body felt, whether I was hungry or thirsty, how I felt when the sun beat down on my skin, the horses’ hair on their hot necks with flies hovering overhead, and the glistening blue of the sea, just visible through a gap in the hills.
Of course, we can’t live like this every day, and it was a treat that I know I’ll not encounter for quite some time. Maybe it was a little selfish to take myself off like that without my children. Then again, when I got home, I was a changed person – calm, relaxed, content and desperate to see the faces of my family and to spend time in their company again. I rejoiced in the noisy babble of my toddler at six am, and in the grumbling of my teenager who was on the cusp of beginning her GCSEs.
I didn’t plan to spend that weekend on my own in a remote finca in the mountains, but I’m very glad I did. And I hope I get the chance to do it again one day in the future.