Happiness is Wandering

On Monday I went up to the mountains above El Escorial (again!), to the North of Madrid. I walked for half and hour in light rain up through naked oak woodland until I got to a half-way point where the trail levels out for a while. This point was just below the thick cloud line, and standing looking across an ancient dry-stone wall and the field beyond, I could see what happens at the base of a rain cloud. It was fascinating!

Great banks of sweeping moisture as big as Madrid apartment blocks danced left and right, back and forth, up and down the slope that rose again beyond, greys, blacks, whites, like vast spirits hurling themselves around the mountain, casting off millions of droplets of water as they spun one way and another.

“I’ve got my head in the clouds!” I thought. “Truer than ever!”

I came back down the hill immensely happy. This is what life is about! Being outside, looking around!

I’m lucky to have found some excellent literary wandering companions recently. Stephen Graham and his ‘The Gentle Art of Tramping’. Hermann Hesse and his ‘Wandering’.

A friend asked me just now on the phone if I had any grand Projects for 2016 (meaning beyond normal life projects like parenting, work, etc). I’ve always had ‘Projects’. I’ve suffered unless I’ve had ‘Projects’. And right now I have none that I can put my finger on (or none that I can explain in simple terms so other people can say, ‘oh yes, that sounds productive, or amazing’).

Just ‘Wandering’. Exploring. Seeing. Getting my head in the clouds every now and again. Filling blank books with related notes and sketches. Plenty! I need little more than a wood and a rain cloud to make me happy!

True! The previous night I’d been tangling myself up trying to answer the self-imposed question “What would make me happy? What would I enjoy doing?” – trying to work out what to do next in life. On my way down that mountain I realised that I was doing something that made me immensely happy right then, and that it had involved no analysis or introspection, I’d just got in the car and gone and done something I already love without thinking! Don’t plan happiness, I thought, just do what you like doing already and enjoy it! Made me laugh at myself on the way down.

Happy 2016.

13 thoughts on “Happiness is Wandering

  1. I’ve followed and enjoyed your blog for years, and the Spanish language site as well, and have read your book, so I offer my thoughts with only the best of intentions. They’re only my thoughts.
    Working so hard to be happy, thinking so much about being happy and how to achieve it seems counter intuitive.
    We’re human beings, not human doings.
    Stop thinking so much.
    Solamente es algo en que pensar, nada más.
    Es cierto que no tengo ningunas las respuestas especialmente sabias pero me parece que hay mucha energia dedicada a algo que no debe de requerir ninguna.
    Just a few thoughts.
    Que 2016 te traiga todo que desea tu corazón.


  2. lc, you are completely right! That’s why I was laughing at myself on the way down the hill. It’s so simple! Just live and enjoy it! That’s why I have been posting here less often recently, because I think it is just over-analysis on my part of something that needs no more analysis! Woking out how to be happier can be a path to happiness, and it can be a path to a more tangled mind, and I often fall into that trap!

    Thank you very much for your comment, it’s very nice to have another voice echoing my own thoughts – which say stop thinking so much!

    In that line, I’ve been wondering a lot about what to do with this blog. To continue to write about ‘how to be happy’ would be to continue missing the point perhaps. I may just write about life, or post drawings, or simply write in my notebook and ban myself from introspective philosophizing about happiness! Drawing I think could be a good solution – it makes you look at the world, but takes away words words words, which mean thoughts thoughts thoughts!

    Gracias por tu sinceridad, un abrazo, Ben


    1. ¡Eso es!
      It’s very simple. Do the things you enjoy.
      Get lost in them, drown in them, become absorbed in them.
      That’s all. You’ll be happy.
      What I also know is that people like you and me have the luxury of seeking happiness. Of thinking Deep Thoughts. Many people don’t have that luxury. They’re focused on not getting slaughtered, of finding food, clean water, shelter, clothing, some modicum of peace and safety and security. That I can contemplate the lint in my own navel when so many people have nothing, absolutely nothing is very troubling. I can be happy–and I AM very content–but at the same time I’m profoundly disturbed that so many others have nothing and little possibility of ever having more. One need not sacrifice his own happiness in light of such atrocities, because my lack of happiness wouldn’t change the reality of those who have nothing. But I do wonder about the inequity of it, and why is is the way that it is. What I can say is that I’ve never found an answer–not for lack of trying–about why so many are so lucky and so many are not. Ojalá que supiera, pero no tengo la menor idea del porque, y la probabilidad es que nunca voy a saberlo. btw, I think the idea of just going out and doing fun things, things that are fun FOR YOU without the purpose of being happy will make you happy, and writing a blog about the things you’ve done would be a really nice thing. ¿Alguna vez has estado en Huelva? Cuando estaba en Huelva, caminando por las montañas, estaba tan feliz que pensaba que iba a explotar. La frontera entre la tierra y paraiso fue dificil encontrar. No hacia nada más que caminar. Si sabes que estás feliz en el momento que estás feliz, es un regalo. Pero no pienses en ello demasiado. Un saludo amable, y buena suerte con … pues, con todo. I’ll keep an eye out for that new blog of yours ; )


      1. Gracias lc, si, he estado en Huelva, en la Sierra de Aracena – y si, ¡es un paraiso! Gracias por tus comentarios, han sido muy inspiradores. Ya veremos que pasa con el siguiente blog, si lo haya, y mientras tanto, ¡a disfrutar! (¡Sin pensar!)


      2. ¿De veras? ¿Has estado en Huelva? Vaya. jaja pensaba que nadie fuiste a Huelva (excepto para mi). Sí, hablaba de la Sierra de Aracena. Me quedaba en Galaroza y caminaba a Castaño del Robledo, a Valdelarco, a las Chinas, a Jabugo, a Navahermosa (tuve el autobus a Aracena) … Entonces, sabes de lo que digo. Paraiso, paraiso, paraiso. Caminaba los senderos en total aislamiento, total tranquilidad, silencio, y pensaba si muriese en ese momento, moriría feliz. No, no feliz. Feliz no es la palabra. En un extasis. Espero con ansias el día que puedo volver.
        I’ll tell you something else. No sé más que tú, pero (y este me ha pasado muchas veces) a veces olvidas lo que ya sabes y en este momento mismo, encuentras a alguien por casualidad y la persona te dice lo que has olvidado por un momento. Pero ya sabias lo que te dije. Lo habias olvidado por un momentito. You just needed a small reminder.
        Viva Huelva, la tierra donde vive mi corazón.
        Best regards from New York City


  3. I enjoyed both the post and the discussion! I too have been thinking along these lines. I’ve recently started walking every day; initially this was to improve my health, but now I’m finding that I’m eager to go because I enjoy using my body and experiencing the world around me, using all my senses. Today I was very aware of all the sounds around me. I wasn’t listening, just becoming conscious of all kinds of sounds; the thrum of a helicopter; the faraway sound of the highway; the chickadees and woodpeckers announcing my presence; the sound of my breath and my footfalls. I was entirely present. Looking back on that experience now fills me with a lasting happiness at the memory of the happiness and sense of timelessness I felt then. That double benefit reminds me of what they say about firewood, it heats you in the cutting as well as the burning.


    1. Hi Christine,

      I walk most days too, today two hours, and I thought along the way about what you said about the sounds (I read your comment before I left). I love the sound of the wind in trees, it’s timeless. Another thing I love to feel is a breeze on my face, just that makes me feel very alive!


  4. Quickly approaching 50, I have begun to feel struck with question of meaning, joy, and life itself. Old pursuits no longer satisfy. At times I seem to be watching a play or a film as I go through the routines of a day. Returning to the breath reminds me that I am here, that this is part of the journey, and that these uneasy feelings about who I am and what this is all about are natural, simply for having risen in my mind. Moments of awe as Ben so beautifully describes are great reminders of how wonderful and painful it is to be alive. I am looking out my window as I write this, looking through the leafless trees of winter, to the quiet pitched roofs beyond, and this being California, a slightly absurd row of palm trees beyond that. Yes, it’s time for a walk. I am so lucky to have all of this so close. Thanks Ben for reminding me of that.


    1. Thank you James for your comment as always. I was struck by what you said here, “…these uneasy feelings about who I am and what this is all about are natural, simply for having risen in my mind” – that is wonderful! It’s easy to try and reject these thoughts, but if they just come on their own as you say, it’s crazy to try and suppress them or negate them. I question them though when I remember – is such and such a thought or belief really true? Usually not!

      I also find that some old pursuits no longer satisfy (except wandering and walking!) Perhaps new ones will show up soon of their own accord. I think that after 30 years of interest in something though, like photography in my case, it’s not unnatural to find the mind less inspired than it used to be by it – impermanence!

      I hope you enjoyed your walk.


      1. I very much did.

        One more quick note on your blog and various other projects: keep at them! I’ve just begun reading a new book titled “The Van Gogh Blues” by Eric Maisel. The premise is artists and “creators” struggle with the issue of meaning throughout their lives, which often leads to bouts of depression. What they produce or endeavor to produce–paintings, drawings, poetry, photographs, blogs, novels, music, etc. — are attempts at grappling with and expressing the meaning or meaningfulness of the human experience.

        So keep at it as long as it suits you. I think art and creation are both a blessing and a burden. You have already put out a lot of wonderful, expressive ideas and art into the world. Thank you for that.

        I am also reading “Nothing Special” by Charlotte Joko Beck. A wonderful treatment of Zen philosophy as long as you can connect with her rather matter-of-fact writer’s voice. But don’t let me burden you with too many other materials we “should” read. In the end, a walk, a yoga class, doing a little bit of “creating,” or a dinner with your family are what these books are really about.

        No need to write a reply. With gratitude, James.


      2. I know there’s no need to reply, but just to say yes, thank you! I absolutely intend to keep putting creative projects and energies out into the world, (the self-publishing revolution – namely blogging and podcasts – is one of the greatest things to have ever happened to me, that’s for sure!) – I think the more all of us do that the better! Less thinking, more wandering and creating!


  5. If there’s something I’ve learnt recently it’s being in the moment! Because all we have is now..this present moment. Not past nor present. But our minds can trick us into focusing on everything but NOW…can you imagine how more peaceful it would be if we just enjoyed this second..WOW…bliss.

    Thanks Ben for another great story


    1. Olé to that as they say in Spain 🙂 The idea that the present moment is all there is, is so obvious but so hard to see most of the time!


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