“In the end it makes no difference whether the ego wins or not.”
This is a statement my friend Con made to me while we sat and ate dinner in the Puerta Santa Ana, a small square near center city in Madrid, Spain. Con and I met in Costa Rica over a year ago now, and he has remained a friend and inspirational soul seeker in my life. As we sat and ate dinner we talked about yoga, our natural go-to and connection. Then we came to ego.
Ego. What a term. We are all pretty intimate with our ego – often it’s the woman (or man) inside that we let run the show. We want to nail the perfect yoga pose, so we sacrifice a body part. We want the perfect body, so we don’t eat the gelato, even though it looks fab. We want to fit in seamlessly and easily, so we let any inconsistency in our idealized interactions tarnish our experience.
So, when Con pointed out that in the end it doesn’t matter, I stopped mid-dinner to make a note of his quote on my phone. It is a statement that has come to mean so many things to me, especially as Luke and I embarked on this trip across Europe and I struggled to find my space in a variety of cultures.
I have dreamed for some time of expanding my life as a traveler. We have traveled all over the world, and in some places it comes easier than others. In my mind, I dream of being a natural at it. I envision communicating and interacting easily even when I don’t know the language. I want to find my way through train stations without a hitch or giving off a serious ‘lost foreigner’ vibe. I want to eat all the bread and local food without the stomach ache, and have no problems waiting until 9:30pm to have dinner (without potentially screaming at someone because I’m ALL KINDS of hangry).
As I sit and think about this- it’s all just ego.
A week after this dinner with Con, Luke and I spent several days in a tiny village in northern Spain, pretty far off the beaten path. This place wins the prize for the largest language barrier destination we’ve experienced so far. The village was called Torla. It was a fairy tale location at the base of the Pyrenees Mountains, with ancient buildings and streets and a quintessential church perched as the central vista as you drove into town.
As much as I couldn’t believe I was in this beautiful village, I struggled with experiencing it. I was so distracted wishing I could speak better Spanish. It really came to the surface when two nights in a row we were turned away from a bar/restaurant by a grumpy Spanish man who didn’t want to serve us. These interactions put me out of my space for a while. Reflecting on this idea of ego and the want-to-be seamless traveler in me, this had EGO written all over it in big flashing letters. Or maybe I should say “BRUISED EGO” – and you can throw some glitter on the flashing letters too – because it was feeling pretty sore.
After our experience with grumpy Spanish dude two days in a row, I was tired from trying to communicate. Luke and I differ here, because to him, it’s not a big deal. We don’t speak a lot of Spanish. That’s okay. But I was like “We are in SPAIN!” And my ego followed with “If we don’t speak Spanish in SPAIN, we are the typical American tourists!” This is one of my ego’s worst fears. And oh boy, ego is complicated. Though I was focused on my Spanish in this tiny village, I had been shy to practice Spanish with my friends in Madrid. Ego, ego, EGO.
The following few days in Torla, I had some moments of triumph and of struggles. I worked on greeting people right away in Spanish, finally remembering with some consistency to ask questions in the correct dialect (we are not in Central America, Katie). I followed this up with the disclaimer that my Spanish is not great, but I speak a little. In general, this was met with a smile. Despite this, I still wished I could communicate better. I’ll admit I brooded on it.
Thinking about all of this in retrospect, if I had been served at that restaurant, would my experience have shifted? Would I have stopped obsessing about language and instead remembered that I am learning, and no, it will not be perfect? What about the other four restaurants we tried, where I was able to communicate enough to get our food, be polite, and pay without any big problems? Why didn’t I focus on the positive moments, and let my ego feel all bright and sparkly because I was BRAVE enough to travel to this tiny Spanish village, even though I knew communicating would be hard?
My ego is constantly changing her target. I started to connect with this thought during my yoga practice on our last morning in the village.
As we left Torla, we stopped in the small cafe at the edge of town for two americano’s (I say “THE cafe” because it is literally the only one). I ordered our coffee, asked if they could be made to go, how much they were, paid and thanked him. As we left, the man behind the counter said to me “Tu español es bueno.” Your Spanish is good.
Ha! And after all that anguish about it.
In the end whether our ego wins or not, it doesn’t matter. All that matters is our experience with it. It’s all just our own interpretation anyway!
I think this is a lesson that I will learn many times.
Well inspired, Con!