On Friday morning I headed out of Galway. I had a small breakfast of yoghurt and fruit instead of the full Irish breakfast and it had nothing to do with this sign.
I think they should offer a course in how to operate showers and toilets around the world as there are some differences that will become more pronounced when I leave Europe. There are a lot of "electric" showers here where you have to turn on a switch somewhere in the room and then turn on a power box. The box controls the flow of water and the temperature which seems easy enough once you figure it out but it's not always straight forward. At Irenee's, the box was powered by pulling the chord that in this case was close to the shower (it's not always so evident) and then turning the power switch on. The problem was that I was outside the shower when I turned the power on and the shower head swivelled towards me as the water came out. Lesson learned, take your clothes off and go into the shower before turning the water on. I'm sure there will be an interesting assortment of showers/toilets as I progress so I'll keep you updated.
I cycled south and west of Galway passing into County Clare and the area known as The Burren. The Burren or "rocky place" is a unique, windblown limestone wasteland. Apparently, it is an interesting place for botanists but flowers and plants do not hold my interest too long so I just kept on cycling. The terrain is far hillier here on the west coast, something you notice pretty quickly on a loaded touring bike. It is in stark contrast to the very green and lush Ireland I have seen to this point. I followed the southern shore of Galway Bay for a while and then headed inland up Corkscrew Hill. A few more of those hills and Fat Freddy will soon be Lean and Mean Freddy, whew! I can't help but think of things I should throw away as I bike up hills but so far I am keeping things to what I consider the necessities and yes, a Java press is a necessity. My morning coffee gets me up the hills in the first place although Ireland is doing a pretty good job of converting me to a tea drinker.
One of my interests in travel is learning what people believe, specifically in terms of the spiritual world. It's a topic we go to great lengths to avoid for fear of getting too deep or even being considered weird or someone not connected to the real world. For some reason we are supposed to always be upbeat and positive and avoid people who bring us down (assuming that talking about spiritual matters brings you down) but I think that is often just avoidance of something uncomfortable. I think most people are looking to understand their purpose in life even if the only time they think about it is late at night as you are about to go to sleep, it is dark and you feel alone. It probably happens the most often on Sunday night as we wait for another week to start and realize how quickly our lives are passing.
I don't think you can think about your purpose in life without touching on the idea of a God or a superior being. If God or a spiritual world does not exist, then when our lives are over we will revert back to what we were before we were born, nothing. We will not remember our lives or how we spent them, or have awareness of not being alive or what we are missing, we will simply be gone and the cycle of life will continue with others being born while others die. I am interested in what people believe and whom or what moulded their perspectives. Many people follow traditional religious perspectives while many have ideas formed through their own personal perspectives and are simply based on what they think or hope. Many today believe religious views are nothing but a crutch to help you deal with the unknown but many of them have never really tried to understand other beliefs, they have already made up their mind. So many people in all religions are preoccupied with convincing others that their beliefs are the right ones that we don't spend time considering their perspectives and beliefs. It would be nice to focus more on what we have in common and not so much in pinpointing differences to prove that we are right. We can't all be right.
I am writing this to provide a background on something that occupied my mind as I cycled in the past few days towards Rosslare and the ferry to France. I don't like making reservations but was forced to as the ferry fills up and only leaves 2 days per week. The reservations forced me to speed up and focus on putting in some miles.
The eastern religions and non-religious based movements (e.g. Yoga) often emphasize taking time each day to meditate and relax. In the west, we of course take those ideas and "improve" them so end up with things like aerobic or power yoga, which of course defeats the entire purpose. Why waste time on meditation when you can get a good workout and lose weight at the same time. Paradoxically, the western world has both higher levels of stress and more overweight people, so our ideas don't seem to be working out too well. Maybe we should just focus on one thing at a time and keep things simple.
Buddha taught "it's not the words that are spoken; it's the silence between the words." I knew a Sikh from India who rose at 3:00 am every day to meditate as he found it more relaxing than sleep. I asked him what he thought about during his daily 3-hour (7 days/week) sessions and he just said "nothing." In Christianity we have Psalms 46:10 teaching us to "Be still and know that I am God". The stillness referred to is not only physical, it also means to still the mind and escape the noise of life.
I often hear Christians (I use Christianity simply as that is with what I am most familiar) say that they are waiting to hear from God in terms of what to do with their lives but I wonder how we could hear Him today if he did speak to us. With all the information overload we are getting from cell phones, blackberry's, e-mails, 30-second news flashes and the fast moving television programs (the singers on American Idol even sing abbreviated songs because of the short attention span of viewers and the need for commercials) how can we still the mind to hear God or connect with our spiritual nature? We have a myriad of devices that are supposed to give us more free time and make life easier but in my experience, the exact opposite has occurred. Instead of being busy with manual labour and doing things to survive, we save time on the basic tasks but fill that time with stuff that makes us appear busier. Instead of spending time quietly reflecting on the meaning of our life or on helping others we use the free time on things like television, e-mail, blackberries, Facebook, You-tube or being glued to our cell phones in case the unthinkable happens and we miss a phone call, God forbid. If you question how fixated people are to technology, take some time to watch a crowd walking with their phones and blackberries in their hand and how often they check them to see if they missed a call. One personal pet peeve is when you are out somewhere with a friend talking face to face, and they stop talking with you to answer another phone call. The message being, I am here with you but would much rather talk to someone else. People don't even realize how rude that is anymore, it's just becoming an acceptable way of behaving. If you suggest they shut the phone off, you might as well say you are from Mars. Of course, everyone has a cell phone or blackberry strictly "for emergencies."
To try and combat this in my life I start each day with a reading from the bible and then spend 20 minutes just sitting quietly. I get up first and do some light stretches so I don't fall asleep during this period. I sit comfortably with my palms open and up and breathe deeply, in through the nose and out through the mouth and try to slow my mind down. It is not easy and I find my mind wanders and when it does, I simply try again to clear my thoughts. For those of you searching for a stronger connection to your spiritual nature, give it a try.
On Saturday August 21st I arrived at the Cliffs of Moher on the far west coast. It is one of the great natural sites of Ireland with the Cliffs rising as high as 650 feet.