Put Down the Portable Coffee Mug

I meant to write a post during the last week of my program, but as so often happens, life – in other words, final exams and enjoying my time with my friends – caught up with me. So here I am, cozied up in a pensão in Lisboa, reminiscing about my semester. I am returning to Madrid soon for a few days’ time to enjoy my city with one of my very best friends and to finally try home-cooked cocido madrileño with my host family, so I haven’t said goodbye yet. I have a final post coming up about food in Spain – it’s not fuel, it’s a way of life – so I’ll save my culinary revelries and departure musings for then.

This post is about learning how to chill out. Specifically, how I learned to chill out. Anyone who so much as pokes their head out of the window on a Thursday/Friday/Saturday/any night in Madrid will agree that Spaniards know how to make time to kick back and relax. They stroll, they mosey, they stop for a beer or coffee or glass of wine. They walk their tiny dogs at a slow pace rather than dragging them down the sidewalk towards a nonexistent finish line, though occasionally they make the pups impatient by pausing to chat with the neighbors. When someone expresses concern about scheduling or having time to get something done, the response is not “Oh no!” or “Go work!” like I’ve heard so much in the U.S., but instead a soothing “Tranquila, no pasa nada.” Be calm, don’t worry about it.

I arrived in Madrid knowing that I wanted – and needed – to make a conscious effort to slow down. My life in the states isn’t any more hectic than that of the average liberal arts college student, but a madrileño would probably have told me to put down the portable coffee mug and kill time at a café. Though my final exam grades might have taken a hit as a result of my efforts, I can now happily say that I’ve learned to really relax. Not just when I have time off from school, or when I have a surplus of time and shortage of work, but whenever I need to chill. I took a couple mental health days off classes when I felt overwhelmed and unhealthily sleep-deprived. I tried to be punctual, but if I was late, I apologized rather than agonized and left it at that. If others arrived late, no pasa nada. If I got lost, I enjoyed it for a bit and then asked for directions, instead of panicking at the lack of control. And I made time for yoga every week. I dare you to feel stressed out when a kind, empathetic yoga teacher is telling you to lift your heart and breathe in a comforting mix of foreign languages. Just try it. (Works well in English, too.)

My IES yoga class.

So maybe my study habits suffered, and my shoulders still tense up sometimes, but Spain invited me to pull up a chair in a café, and I said yes.