How can we live a freer life in coherence with our values? Ana Amrein and Araceli Rodríguez Vidal, resident of Villanueva de Viver, a village of 91 inhabitants in the interior of Castellón and co-founder of Sapiens Energía, talk about authenticity, values, coherence and how the rural world is conducive to well-being, enjoyment and balance.
Ana: Araceli, welcome to this second episode of Raíces, it is a great pleasure to have you with us.
Araceli: Thank you very much Ana, it's my pleasure.
Ana: One of the topics I have been thinking about is the rhythm and frequency of our feelings, thoughts and actions. With all the experience you have in dynamising both virtual and face-to-face communities and living in a village of 91 inhabitants, what are you observing in the people you are working with, both in these virtual communities of agents of change and in the rural communities and in yourself from the place where you are?
Araceli: That is precisely what the rural world has given to me. A couple of days ago I started a journey with a community asking them where they were a year ago, what they felt, what they had around them?
I invite the people who are listening to us to also transport themselves to those moments, what do they have around them, which people are listening, how do they feel and where are we now, where are we? How are those moments that I experienced a year ago present in my life right now, and a month ago? And what happened to me, how is it still with me right now? Even looking into the future, what other things are taking up mental space? And that feeling carries those past experiences and that projection into the future.
Since I am living in a village, what I allow myself most is to connect and live the present moment from my authentic self, seeing all my facets, understanding my polarities, those values that I confront, situations in which I behave in opposite ways. But I recognise myself, I appreciate myself, I value myself. For me that has been one of the greatest lessons and opportunities that the rural world has brought to my life.
Ana: What an experience you just transported us to while you were asking us this question! Because it helps us to connect with the present and sometimes when we take a bird's eye view it is easier to appreciate the progress we have made on a personal, professional and social level. I really liked that you talked about connecting with your authenticity, which has to do with values, anti-values. How do you act in your daily life, what are these habits that you have become accustomed to that are not doing you good, what are the new habits you want to acquire, what motivates you? Could you share a bit of your experiences to find this recipe that allows us to live a life in coherence with our values and incorporate them into everything we do, think and feel?
Araceli: I would say mainly two things: one is to dedicate time to observe yourself without judgement. I simply realised that when I was with people I was very happy, but also that when I started to dedicate time to understand what was of value to me in life it also made me happy. It helped me to define my limits like: how many hours do I want to spend at work, how many hours do I want to spend taking care of the people around me, what are the people I want to surround myself with, in short, to question yourself a lot.
This part of writing a diary is something very simple, to dedicate at the end of the day 15 minutes, half an hour, an hour, whatever time you have available to: what three things have I been grateful for in my day, and I go back to the no judgement and that you don't need to do great things. So, just writing it down, I realised that that was important to me. The second question I asked myself was: what things have I learned today, what things has life taught me, and often it's not the things, the experiences, the actions that we enjoy the most during the day that have made us learn the most, but the things that have stressed us. So, another option would be to try to challenge myself on a daily basis through small things that take me out of my habits, out of my daily customs, so that I can really experiment and discover which is the path towards that new life that will fulfil me.
I discovered that going for a walk, for example, helped my creativity and that it was important to surround myself with an environment that was pleasant and that also connected me with something much bigger, that helped me to get out of my head and that connected me with life, with the ecosystem, with understanding that everything is much more connected. And the second thing is to dedicate that time to questioning myself and my life, in addition to dedicating that time to questioning, reflecting, stressing, getting out of the comfort zone, allowing yourself to make mistakes and forgiving yourself a lot, because if you are critical and demanding of yourself all the time, you are not going to be able to open up new horizons.
An example at a professional level, from action to opening projects and opportunities, to collaborating with many things and from there I realised that some of the things I had initially committed myself to did not fulfil me or because in some cases the people with whom I did them did not match me 100% in terms of shared values or because I had committed myself with great enthusiasm because I believed in the project. I was defining my path and at the beginning, I was very upset because I had committed myself to others and now I was going to let them down, what a bad person I was for having taken those steps. Then I ended up realising that through honesty, communicating clearly and being honest with myself, in the end I managed to get closer to where I wanted to be. Allow yourself to make mistakes with yourself, drawing paths, because from each mistake you are going to learn something and that is where the richness lies that will bring you closer to who you want to be and where you want to be and how you want your reality to be, and besides, it is something that changes over the years, it is never definitive.
Ana: In a study I read about positive psychology in which they did research on cloistered nuns (we are talking about the beginning of the 20th century), they realised that those nuns who kept a diary and wrote about being grateful every day, lived twice as long as those nuns who first didn't write or what they wrote was more gossip and negative things. So it is scientifically proven that everything you are saying makes sense and apart from making you feel good about your day to day life and being more present, it has the potential to extend your life.
Ana: Where do you see the relationship between this part of personal growth and the world, the rural and natural environment?
Araceli: On the one hand, the connection I feel is that my body, being here and observing life outside, simply asks me in the mornings to start the day by having a coffee, sitting on the little bench in front of my house and spending twenty minutes simply observing the mountains in front of my house. You start the day from a totally different place, where you are much less accelerated, you start the day from that gratitude to life for being and being in this moment, here and now, and when you come to your meetings with a smile, with a much calmer energy that reaches and transcends, even through the screen.
On the other hand, healthy habits also in terms of moving : I enjoy the breeze, the smells, there are things that go much further and that enjoyable attitude is the third factor that helps or motivates a much healthier life here in the rural environment. I see how vegetables are grown, how the shepherd walks his sheep, I am in direct contact with that which is going to nourish me, then I enjoy it with greater respect and that means that when I eat I even feel differently, I feel that I nourish myself, not that I am feeding myself. In short, I would say finding spaces, healthy habits, finding spaces to be with yourself, giving the time it takes to take care of yourself from different dimensions and perspectives.
Ana: Fantastic! You have a very mindful life, because you are a people person. How has your process been to reach this state of enjoyment and balance?
Araceli: Well, I was born in a town of 15,000 inhabitants, I grew up there, I finished my degree and decided to go abroad looking for a professional opportunity and I couldn't think of anything else but to go to London, a very small city. I have never felt so alone and so overwhelmed in my life. It's clear that the city also brought me there in its day and each place brings you different things and I think it also goes very much in hand with the time of life you are in or even the age you are. First I went to London, then I went to Holland, we started living in a city and ended up moving to Holland, also to a small town and then I came back. I've been living in a town of 4000 inhabitants and now I've decided to take this step and move to this small town and I'm going back to gratitude.
Ana: Of course, in the end that's what will make you live better and longer.
Araceli: That is, for example, one day I was here walking in the mountains and suddenly it started to rain and we were still with the COVID and a man passed by with his van and he said to me hey beautiful, (one of the things I like most about the village, this part of community support) you're going to get wet, I put on my mask, I put everything on, I got into the van and the man said to me, ‘don't worry, I've already had COVID and I'm already vaccinated so you don't need to put it on’. I asked him how old he was and he said ‘I am 85’. 85 years old, he goes every day to plough his fields, he still drives and I don't see him stop, I see him moving all day long. So, I hope we can reach that age, at that age, being independent, having an active life and enjoying the small, big things in life, and that is the attitude I saw in that man and that is what I want to learn from being here.
Ana: That leads me to think directly about all those stories that we have told ourselves, thinking that we have to have I don't know how many followers on Instagram, that we have to earn thousands and thousands or millions and in the end many people who are based on these principles of success already established in the society that we have structured and these narratives that we have created and believed, die of a heart attack.
Araceli: Totally, it's putting external demands on yourself and incorporating stereotypes or labels that don't really suit you and that's where you've led me to connect with something I've observed, for example my family, as you said, I'm from the village and I'm proud to be from the village. My parents when they were small visited the city and they were missed, because they were from the village. Because here in Valencia they spoke Valencian, etc. So what was their solution to this, their reaction? To incorporate the standards they saw in the city into their lives in order to feel welcome when they moved in that community that was different from their own. So we went from my mother sewing the dresses that were totally hand-made, fit our personality, to going to spend free time at the mall and buying standardised patterns of standardised models so that we could fit in. It's the same with social media sometimes, how do you put pressure on yourself to fit in? And how instead of connecting with your authentic self and giving yourself the opportunity to see your different faces, you focus on creating a mask for others to recognise you instead of recognising yourself.
Ana: Exactly! And now you are building this whole structure that you started to build in your childhood to reconnect with yourself and be more authentic. How incredible Araceli. Especially thinking about the issue of identity, because you said I'm from the village and I'm proud of it. What does that mean to you?
Araceli: Being from the village allows me to be myself. On the one hand and to be able to show myself in an authentic way without having to put on a costume. I feel that when I go to certain meetings and there are certain profiles, I have to fit in with that reality, so I dress up. But on the other had (and this what makes me feel very proud of being from the village) there is the community part. For example leaving the keys in the door of the house, being able to knock on the neighbour's door and ask her for eggs, that my downstairs neighbour has the keys to my house so that when I go on holiday I can go upstairs to look after my dogs, get to know my neighbours, know who they are. When I’m in the lift I ask my neighbours how they are, how their day was, I connect with them. That genuine concern for each other's well being and that value of trust that makes us really connect and not to contrast, not to fight for the superiority of one over the other.
So, I feel proud of the authenticity of the people, of the community part, of the respect and care for the environment of the place. I feel proud of my village and from that feeling of pride and belonging. Being a small village of 90 inhabitants in Villanueva de Viver they have different councils and the inhabitants get involved and for example, this weekend the Environment Council is organising an activity to go and clean the forest and then they have a brotherhood lunch where they all sit together to have lunch, to share, to know how they are, simply to connect. That's what makes me feel proud.
Ana: Of course it does. Incredible everything you’ve said At the beginning you were talking about how to connect with yourself and become a better person, because in the end you are being true to yourself and you feel, think and do from a place of abundance and goodness. And one of the things that was going through my head throughout our conversation was the loneliness part, because the process of searching, questioning, finding balance, can seem like a very lonely process. And now you've come and you've put the finishing touch of sharing in community and I was wondering how do you find these spaces in solitude? Being in such a small environment, how do you find this balance and do you think this horribleness is a myth?
Araceli: I think it is very easy to find the balance between finding your spaces of solitude and living together with the community because the environment allows it, facilitates it, from there - there is no barrier. I would like to demystify this part of hell, it is true that in a village the community is very small and word spreads very quickly, everyone knows everything of everything that happens, this is true, I think that is where the attitude with which you face it comes in.
So, to give you an example, the first week I was here I didn't know anyone. In the second week I went out the door of my house and started to greet different people and I shared my experience. The third week, I was stopped in the street to ask me what had made me want to live in this town, why exactly this town, what I did for a living, and the interrogations began. You can take it as intrusive or you can take it as a sign of interest and curiosity to understand who you are, how they can help you and how they can support you. So, thanks to opening myself up, testing if I could adapt to this life, if this life fulfills me, if I could live here, thanks to that I found the house where I am living.
I made three new friends, among them a woman who will be 80 years old, who has the key to my house, Mrs. Maria, who I know that whatever I need I can ask her for. I found Sonia, who is a girl my age, who also has dogs, and we go for beers and things together. So I understand that if come from an environment where life is more individual and less collective it's a leap that can give you a certain vertigo and you have to get used to it. But if you take it as a genuine interest, curiosity and wanting to learn from you too, just as you can learn from them, it's an opportunity to connect with these people and do it from authenticity and without having to show a double face or any ulterior motives. It's an opportunity to practice honesty with yourself.
Ana: Absolutely true. In fact, just the other day when I came back from the countryside, because I live in a building where there are about 100 people and there I thought how can it be that there are more of us than in Artieda, where there are 70 people and in Artieda I already have a lot of very good relationships. So when I have a bad day, and everyone knows about it, nothing happens and they respect it. And here I have no idea who is living above or below me and now I’m thinking why don’t I invite the neighbours? Maybe I’ll hang a note downstairs in the doorway and that says ‘open house on Friday in the flat 2A’. I thought let’s just see what happens and then I'll tell you how it goes.
Araceli: Interesting, please try it, I want to know what the result is.
Ana: Yes, Araceli, it's been a pleasure talking to you. You have talked about intergenerational, about your friend Mrs. Maria, 80 years old, and I don't know if you want to share your learning by nurturing relationships with people different from you, how this diversity is bringing you?
Araceli: I strongly believe that we need it, no longer on an individual basis and that is why I am dedicated to facilitating the creation of communities. What we need to achieve progress collectively, leaving no one behind and taking care of our planet, life as it deserves and that intergenerational gives us the opportunity to connect with other realities and with the wisdom of life. I am 38 years old, but Mrs. Maria is 80 and Mrs. Maria, what I am experiencing has already happened in her life, so she can understand me, she can empathise with me and accompany me along the way, from a totally different perspective and from there she can open up horizons that I have not yet explored and that I myself would be unable to even see that they exist. So, it seems to me that this is a marvellous opportunity that the rural environment provides us with and that, furthermore, Mrs. María and her entire generation deserve to be supported. We are here today, we have these opportunities to question ourselves, whether we want to be in the city or in the village, or whether we want this professional career or the other, because María and her generation fought hard and they deserve our respect. So from that respect, from that admiration, let's listen to them and learn a lot from them.
Ana: Thank you very much, Araceli, for sharing.
Araceli: Thank you, my dear.
Ana: This is Raíces (Roots in Spanish), a series for you to connect and be inspired by another way of feeling and doing, because putting down roots sets you free.
RAÍCES IS A PODCAST IN COLLABORACIÓN WITH