Traditions

Every time of the year has its own traditions, and nowadays in the Northern hemisphere, it´s time for the autumn ones.

In Cáceres (Spain), where I was born and raised, the first day of November is known as “chestnuts day”. It´s All Saints day, which is followed by All Souls day, when many families visit the cemeteries to remember the loved ones who are no longer here.

When I was a child we didn´t know anything about Halloween, or Diwali, or even the Mexican Dia de los Muertos traditions. And my family doesn´t usually visit the cemetery. But what we did do every year around this time was roasting chestnuts, so yummy!

Raw chestnuts

As years go by and we get older, we have the option to continue certain traditions, park them if they no longer make much sense to us, or transform them according to what we consider important. I keep many good memories (and a stack of photos, developed on paper!) from my secondary school and college times, when our group of friends used to go out on a trip to a nearby field to roast chestnuts. Then years later, when we arrived in Ireland, we were fascinated by the Halloween celebrations, especially in their most original celtic version, which includes bonfires, as well of other traditions that had arrived from Noth America, like trick or treating or carving pumpkins.

But even here in Ireland and surrounded by Halloween spirit, almost every year we still get together with a handful of irreducible Spaniards to celebrate a “castanyada”, as the Catalans call it, sometimes having a really hard time trying to find chestnuts to roast 😃 Though in reality it doesn´t matter, the chestnuts are just one more excuse to get together, the same way that we get together at the beginning of the summer to celebrate Saint John and “skip over the bonfire”.

Now in more recent years, thanks to living in a multicultural neighbourhood and having work colleagues from India, we have also learned about the tradition of Diwali, the triumph of light over darkness, which makes a lot of sense at this time of the year when the days get shorter and the nights seem to last forever. We have just changed the clocks here in Europe, next week it will be America´s turn, and the dark evenings seem to invite us all to enter hibernation mode.

That´s why I Iove Diwali lights, Halloween lights and even Christmas lights (despite it being a bit too early for those), I think they add a spark of joy at such a grey time of the year… At the end of the day, deep down, everything comes back to the same; lights and shadows, hope in seeing that darkness is temporary, and that better times are definitely coming.

We keep traditions because they give us a sense of familiarity, of comfort, of security. But as it happens with everything in life, if we take them too seriously, they can end up becoming a source of stress rather than a source of enjoyment, so let me leave you with a couple of quotes I like about this topic:

Just because something is traditional is no reason to do it, of course.

Lemony Snicket, The Black Book

Tradition is a guide and not a jailer.

W. Somerset Maugham

What about you? What traditions, new or old, do you have planned for this autumn?

Brand new website

Ladies and gentlemen, the moment has come…

BinaryWords is no longer just a blog, now it´s a full-blown website!

Purple banner with the BinaryWords logo and a number of electronic devices showing different images: colours, landscape, clock and calendar, yoga at sunset, hands making a heart shape, target circles

A new phase is now starting for me: the personal project I kicked off a little over a year is now also turning into a professional adventure, and I´m taking my first steps along this new path with a great deal of excitement (and a little bit of vertigo, as one would expect).

From now on, in addition to sharing my weekly thoughts, which I will of course continue to do, I´m offering you my services as a professional life coach . And soon you will start to see appearing on this website new content, workshops, and courses that will allow you to dig deeper into the art of reprogramming your life.

For the moment, I hope that what you see here resonates with you; feel free to explore the pages and articles already published and send me your feedback, so that I can continue to learn and improve. And as always, thanks a million for reading me, and keep an eye out for exciting news…

Uncomfortable conversations

I recently read somewhere (sorry, I don´t remember where exactly) that in order to keep healthy relationships, you need to have uncomfortable conversations every once in a while. This applies to all kinds of relationships.

It makes sense, right? Disagreements and conflict are inherent to human beings, and it´s the way we manage them that makes the difference.

But, what happens when you´re so afraid of conflict that you try to avoid it at all costs?

Hello, my name is Bea, and I´m a conflict avoider.

Two people having a conversation in the street, only their hands and arms are visible, their faces are not shown

I´ve spent many years tiptoeing through life in order not to bother anyone, not to create conflict. Many years acting as if certain problems did not exist, in the hope that they would sort themselves out.

So, you can imagine what happens, right? They DON´T sort themselves out, even though sometimes it looks like they do. To really solve a problem you have to bring it out into the light, you have to talk about it, otherwise the discomfort stays there, under the surface, until the day it inevitably comes out again.

So, what can we do then? Three things come to mind:

  • Accept conflict as something natural: we each have our own needs, opinions and ways to do things, which sometimes clash with those of other people.
  • Not take it personally: one thing that helps a lot is focusing on the problem itself, instead of what we perceive that the other person “is doing to us”.
  • Find a good way to communicate, so that we can convey our needs and wants to the other person, and listen to theirs, in a respectful and non-violent way.

When my daughters were small, I used to play for them a song in Spanish by Miliki, the lyrics translate to something like “Talking is how people understand each other, and that way everything works better…” Nowadays I still sing it to them sometimes, and also to myself, as a reminder that none of us are mind readers, and that issues need to be talked about.

And you? Do you also avoid conflict? What uncomfortable conversation have you been trying to avoid?

Sensitivity

Do you consider yourself to be a sensitive person?

I´ve been asking myself that question for a few days now… I don´t think I ever thought of it before.

Close up of a brightly red flower against a blurred dark green background

They say that you learn something new every day, and the other day I learned, through a friend and colleague from my master´s degree (thanks Idoia!) that approximately 20% of the world population are estimated to be something denominated highly sensitive persons, or HSPs.

The nervous system of a highly sensitive person is more evolved than the average, which causes their brain to receive a much higher amount of sensory information. This is not an illness or a psychological disorder, it´s simply a personality trait. And like any other aspect of personality, becoming aware of it is really useful in order to understand ourselves better, in this case realizing that some people live their emotions in a different, and much more intense, way than others.

According to Dr. Elaine Aron, who coined the term HSP (translated into Spanish as personas altamente sensibles, or PAS), there are four basic characteristics that highly sensitive people manifest:

  • Depth of processing (profundidad de pensamiento) - they have a tendency to process the information they receive very deeply and intensely, which leads them to spend a lot of time reflecting on things and going over them.
  • Overstimulation (sobreestimulación) - given that they receive so many sensorial stimuli, they can get to the point of overstimulation, or sensitive saturation, especially when they have to process a lot of information in a short period of time.
  • Emotional reactivity (reactividad emocional) - they live their emotions in a much more intense way, both the pleasant and the unpleasant ones, and they also have a great ability for empathy, being able to feel what others around them are feeling.
  • Sensing the subtle (sensibilidad a las sutilezas) - their heightened sensitivity allows them to detect subtle changes that others may miss, such as small changes in the environment, or in other people´s moods.

On top of these four central characteristics, there are a number of complementary ones that many HSPs identify themselves with, and some of them are really interesting. I´m not going to list them all here, so as not to make this post too long; if this topic has piqued your curiosity (as it did mine), I encourage you to continue to investigate.

But there´s one particular aspect that I think is important to highlight here: many HSPs often get the feeling that they don´t fit in, that they´re the “the odd one out”, and they´re not going to be able to find others they can truly connect with… More often than not, their extra dose of sensitivity comes together with an extra dose of suffering, due to not understanding what´s happening to them, or why they´re different.

This is why I thought it was worth contributing to spreading the word on this topic. Because of that, and also because every time I read another article or watch another TED talk on HSPs, I find even more things that resonate with me 🙂

So, going back to the original question…

Do you consider yourself to be a sensitive person?

Travelling

I´m on holidays these days, and travelling, as many of you are probably doing as well. After two summers without setting foot in Spain, the girls and I have finally been able to come this year, to enjoy family time and good weather (heat wave included!)

Searching for travel related quotes, I found these three that made me think:

Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.

Ibn Battuta

A really cool quote that I hadn´t heard before.

But in order for this to really happen, travelling (in the sense of moving from one place to another) is not enough; you have to immerse youself in the experience, keep an open mind, let yourself be surprised. In short, it´s what it´s often said about being a traveller instead of a tourist – the tourist gets back home and it´s the same as when they left, while the traveller lets him or herself get transformed along the way.

And it seems to me that it´s a lot easier to get surprised when traveling to a new place, which brings me to the second quote for today:

Once a year, go someplace you’ve never been before.

Anonymous

A great piece of advice, in my opinion. Even though I admit that I tend to return to certain known places; when it comes to travelling, I´m not very adventurous... But, once I overcome that initial laziness and embrace adventure, I do enjoy a lot, and I learn loads, getting to know new places.

But hey, is it that we can only get transformed if we travel to unknown places? Well, not necessarily; I think what happens is that a new place can change our perspective more easily, it can help us to think and act in a new way, while staying in the same old places usually leaves us thinking and acting... well, the same old way 🙂

That´s why I liked this third quote so much, it was also new to me:

Once in a while it really hits people that they don’t have to experience the world in the way they have been told to.

Alan Keightley

What this last sentence is suggesting is that it really doesn´t matter where we are; our environment can be the same as always, but if we change the way we look, if we change our attitude, we will perceive it all in a new and different way.

Y a ti, ¿te gusta viajar? ¿Eres de los aventureros, o de los que prefieren repetir destino? ¿Y te consideras viajero, o turista?

Martha and Mary

I, like many others around my age both in Spain and Ireland, was born and raised in a catholic environment, so for many years, I attended Mass every Sunday and every religious holiday.

I remember several passages from the New Testament that impacted me, and one of them was the one about Martha and Mary:

 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. Esta tenía una hermana que se llamaba María, la cual, sentándose a los pies de Jesús, oía su palabra. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work alone? Tell her to help me!” “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

I think this passage caught my attention because I didn´t fully understand it, it didn´t make sense to me. Well, if you had things to do, then you had to do them, right? You couldn´t just be lazy and stay there… But then Jesus came and said the exact opposite, which I found mindblowing.

I didn´t even think of questioning whether those “things that had to be done” really needed to be done, or whether simply being, without “doing”, really meant being lazy.

And that´s because I was internally suffering that contrast (or rather, conflict) between what Martha and Mary´s characters represented: I was overwhelmed by all my tasks, which I felt as obligations, and when for whatever reason I dedicated time to rest or do something less “productive”, I felt bad afterward. I wasn´t comfortable with either one thing or the other. The result? A lack of sleep that lasted for years, and a big feeling of guilt.

Now that time has passed and I know myself better, I know that what´s really happening is that I have two different operation modes:

  • The “efficient mode”, where I have loads of energy and I´m super productive, be it at work, doing house chores, out on errands, etc.
  • The “quiet mode”, where I follow my own rhythm and take my time recharging batteries, in whatever way is needed depending on the moment.

What made all the difference for me was learning that not only both modes are valid, but they´re also necessary, they complement each other, so it´s all about keeping the balance. In order to spend energy, I need to receive it first. And because we live in the culture of “doing”, we need to highlight the importance of “being”, but if we focus only on being and never doing, then we don´t make progress either… Ideally, the two of them would go hand-in-hand and play for us, not against us.

Going back to the passage about Martha and Mary, what Jesus does is praise Mary for prioritizing the most important thing. Let´s do that as well: be clear on what´s most important to us at any given moment, and prioritize it, with awareness, in the best possible way and without feeling guilty.

101100

It´s been my birthday this week, this is how old I am now: 101100.

Written in binary format, of course, honoring my training as a computer scientist, and the title of this blog 😊

But given that a person is way, way more than just one single identity, and given that I never liked that division between “people of science” and “people of letters” (which was very much in fashion, at least in Spain, a few years ago), I´m telling you with letters as well:

It´s been my birthday this week, this is how old I am now: XLIV, in Roman numerals.

Then, if we want to go into “geek” land (which is a term that I do identify with, because if you think about it, deep down we are all “geeks” for something), we can express it in hexadecimal code as well: 0x2C.

My only regret is that I haven´t been able to write it in a particular code that I really like, but that unfortunately only contains symbols for letters, and not numbers… Maybe one day I´ll take my geekiness to a whole new level, and invent Dada Urka numbers 😊

Travel companions

I´m writing these lines from Madrid airport, waiting for my flight back to Dublin.

For the past few days, I´ve had the rare chance to allow myself to make a stop along the way, put the (often frantic) rhythm of my daily life between brackets, and pay attention to what´s truly important… It´s been a true privilege, and I´m really grateful for it.

Among many other things, I´ve truly enjoyed sharing time, affection and conversations with several people that once were, or perhaps still are, my travel companions.

  • My mum, brothers and sisters, who were the first companions I had in life, and who are still walking along with me, even in the distance.
  • My siblings-in-law, warm and loving as always, and my nephews and nieces, the next generation, coming in with tremendous force (you guys are all so lovely 😉)
  • My dear cousin, whom I hadn´t seen in ages 😊 (I was so happy to see you Borja)
  • Family friends who are as close as family itself; we know we can always count on you.
  • Friends that make you feel that it doesn´t matter how long it´s been since you saw each other last, the connection is still there, and keeps growing(you know who you are)
  • A reunion that sent us back down memory lane, with dancing steps… (thanks a million for everything Cristina!)
  • And speaking of memory lane, there was even time for laughs, looking at old photos from my first communion 😃

Then, the icing on the cake has taken place today: I´ve been lucky enough to meet in person with several colleagues in this new adventure of reinvention I´ve embarked on. Even though we´ve only been walking together for a short time, you´re already leaving your mark on my life, we´re growing together, and there´s so much that we still have to share…

To be honest, I´m going home with a feeling of joy, treasuring the moments that I spent with all of you. Thank you so much, my travel companions.

Farewell, Dad

My father passed away this week, at the age of eighty-eight, may he rest in peace.

They say the best way to lead is by example, and that’s exactly how he did it. In a way that was firm, but also warm and straightforward. Through his attitude, his habits and his personal and professional code of ethics, he was a superb example for my siblings and me, and later on, for his grandchildren as well.

Many remember his good memory, his manners (rather serious, though good humoured), and the quality of his work, always impeccable. But the topic that comes up most frequently in conversations when we remember him, the thing that’s etched in the memory of those who knew him, is the way he used to congratulate them on their birthdays.

In these times when many of us seem to spend our days “collecting friends” on social media, and keep sending each other superficial messages, he used to dedicate time every day to sit down and write cards by hand, to personally wish happy birthday to the many friends, relatives and acquaintances listed in his notebook. And then for the closest family members, his happy birthday wish arrived in the form of a text message, delivered to our phone exactly at midnight, so that we could start celebrating our day from the first minute.

He kept a place in his thoughts and his heart for each person that came along in his life, regardless of whether he saw them frequently or hadn´t seen them in decades. A beautiful example, which I would like to follow (even if it is in more modern ways), not only for what it is but also for what it represents: giving importance to what is important. And work is important, of course, and it´s important to do it as best as we can. But people are, always, more important.

Thanks for your example Dad, for so many things I´ve been so lucky to learn from you. And farewell.

Uncertainty

Christmas is almost upon us, and I don´t know about you, but this year I´m finding it a bit difficult to get into the holiday spirit. In a time of the year when people usually make lots of plans, uncertainty feels heavier than usual... And I mention "than usual" because I would dare say that over the last two years, we have all adapted to a certain level of constantly not knowing what´s going to happen. And we know that at one point or another, we´re going to keep bumping into uncertain situations.

snowy pathway surrounded by bare tree

But given that our brain doesn´t like uncertainty at all, what happens is that if we leave it in auto-pilot, it spends loads of energy staying alert and imagining the worst case scenario, causing us unnecessary stress until we end up exhausted. And that´s not sustainable in the long term.

The solution? Learning to feel comfortable with the discomfort of not having absolute certainty, of not knowing how things are going to turn out, of not having everything under control.

And what can be super helpful here? Trusting.

Trusting that everything is going to turn out in the best possible way, in the way it's supposed to turn out, even if it's not the way that we want, or we´re not able to understand why. When we dare to let go and trust life, the story changes. The uncertainty may still be there, but the fear disappears.

Let me copy here a few words from Brené Brown on this, linking with the topic of vulnerability:

I spent a lot of years trying to outrun or outsmart vulnerability by making things certain and definite, black and white, good and bad. My inability to lean into the discomfort of vulnerability limited the fullness of those important experiences that are wrought with uncertainty: Love, belonging, trust, joy, and creativity to name a few.

Happy holidays. May uncertainty not prevent you from living them fully, perhaps this year in a new and different way.