Tag: community

Reflections on Process and Destination Or… Days 33-37: June 12-16

Santa Irene-Lavacolla-Santiago de Compostela

I placed my feet at the end point of the Camino Frances on June 14, having embarked this walk on May 10. I stood before the inlaid stone in the middle of Praza do Obradoiro in front of Catedral Santiago de Compostela that signaled I’d arrived, looked up at the cathedral…and have to admit…I had no response.

image

Long before I actually began, I reflected on what it might be like when it was over: elation, joyful tears, soaring heart. To imagine the level of emotion actually was an experience in itself. But it was none of those things. For me, it was anticlimactic. I almost didn’t go to the pilgrims office to collect my certificate. I did anyway but know it will get buried in a file somewhere like my degrees or any other certificate of completion I have–except my folks have already asked for a copy to frame and hang on their wall. I think they’re more excited than I ever am.

Others will probably feel differently who have done this walk. But I’m a peculiar bird sometimes. It’s an endpoint, a continuation, a beginning…no different than anything else. It all merges together…and for me…more about the process that brought me to that point than the original marked out destination. It’s a microcosm in time and intent that serves the macrocosm of my life. I can reflect back on my daily life and inform it.

– What was my intent at the outset?
– What deeper learnings did I have?
– What was meaningful?
– What did I find to be insignificant?

What I’m finding dear are the stories I hold that go with the process, as well as being still even though moving, immersing in my surroundings. What the people meant to me whether they ever know how I was touched. Back in Santa Irene I stayed in an exquisitely renovated albergue, an old stone cottage, that appeared to be run by sisters. Who knows how old it was or all the antiques and vintage photos it contained.

During our deliciously simple communal meal that night I met Cheryl and Olla from Australia. In their early 20s they had backpacked together for a year all over Europe. Now…probably 20+ years later…they are walking the Camino together. Olla said, “It’s different this time.” But friendship endures.

Ever since Leon when we met on the train, I kept running into Lois and David, a couple from North Carolina. They’d surprisingly turn up at unexpected places. The last time I saw them was when I rounded the corner to go into the church near Lavacolla that I wrote about in “Stamp and Confessions.” I told them the Camino was doing a number on them. They had a glow on. It’s validating to witness the process of others, which is also why I love the work I do.

Somewhere before Santa Irene, three people passed me on the trail. I thought two of them were ghosts, because I thought the couple, Athenia and Ross, had gone home to British Columbia a week or more before. We met early that first night in St Jean before Day One. They started out with 3 additional women as a group. Along the way folks scattered as they can do for one reason or another. But before I saw them they’d picked up Scott from the Southern U.S. who’d been traveling with them for a week. We had a nice chat in a roadside cafe before they moved on…and I went back to my slower pace. Athenia and Ross were scheduled to fly home in a couple of days.

This becomes significant because as I had arrived in the suburbs of Santiago, walking toward the center point, I ran into Scott going the other way. He’d already been in Santiago for a couple of days and was then headed to catch a train to Porto to walk the Camino Portugues back to Santiago again. But he paused and congratulated me on making it. He was my greeter, and everyone should have one. It meant something.

I was thankful for these simple things, as well as many more. I wrote about the contrast on the journey. I was to have one more. This one over the top. I went to the pilgrims mass at noon the day I arrived. Perhaps it was different on other days but I tend to think not. I’ve seen complaints in online pilgrims forums.

It was a circus, and I’m sure the priests hated to see the service reduced to such. I did. I’m not one who normally attends any kind of church service. But there’s usually have some form of reverent quiet. Not so here. There were tour groups mixed with pilgrims. It was loud. About 15 minutes prior to the start of the mass, a priest got on the sound system, asked for silence, forbid photography of any sort, and directed those not attending mass to quietly leave…immediately. It didn’t help much.

I did enjoy the nun trying to teach everyone a simple song that would be sung later. It was also heartening to hear the welcoming to different groups or individuals from so many places across the world who’d started at various points. That part felt like we were a global community with common intent. The priest gave a sermon, said prayers. Photos still flashed no matter they were verboten. The place it really fell apart was at the end. This was what people were waiting for…and they rushed the front, snapping pictures. Sorry. I hate to be a cynic. By this time it seemed more like a party trick. This is what all were waiting for: the botafumeiro ritual. I do have to admit curiosity myself. But really?

I found so much more meaning the next day when I found this relatively unadorned Capella and sat in silence reflecting on my journey. Afterwards I wandered the streets and came upon the German pilgrim I’d written about in “When the Spirit Catches You” who sang a quiet song in the forest. We smiled at each other in acknowledgment.

And then the Irishman I’d quoted in “Humility.” He was buying ice cream and said he and his friends had just arrived. They were getting their certificates; he’d done it before. I mentioned I’d gotten there the day before. He looked surprised.

“Well, you know I had to take the train to catch up days and then walking again.”

He gave me a long look and said in the his strong Irish brogue, “You got here, din’t ya? That’s what counts. Did ya get your certificate?”

“I did.”

“That’s good.”

Tomorrow I’m headed to Finisterre on the coast, the place once known as the End of the World. It promises to be a good place for further reflection on the process but not the destination.

image

Stamp and Confession

 Lavacolla is where, in the old tradition, pilgrims wash themselves before continuing on the last distance to Santiago. This is where I reserved a place to stay for the night. Shortly before the village there was an old church. A sign outside said: Stamp and Confessions.
image
  I went in to stamp my pilgrim passport. Confession? There are many ways of washing oneself clean. I saw no priest. I’m left with any readers here as witnesses, which is more relevant to me personally.

  I’ve never pushed my physical limits like I did with this journey. My body responded accordingly. With outrage, complaining…not so different than the psyche has when I push my ego boundaries.

   A multitude of warnings, some I hadn’t previously documented: shooting foot pain, strain, exhaustion, consistently (alarmingly) bloodshot, watering eyes. Swollen ankles. Troubling but painless red marks moving up to my calves. The latter now gone. I can see my ankles again and my foot has quieted. I had no idea my body could send out so many forms of protest. I paid attention.
  Over my adult years, I’ve continually pushed the limits of my mind and spirit, often intensely, choosing to put myself in unknown, often uncomfortable territories, scary places, different cultures. The spiritual realm has been wonder-filled, in hindsight beyond what I could have imagined. That aspect has always been easy for me. The places where the ego needs to stretch and get beyond limitations, small-mindedness, not particularly easy or graceful but in the end…freeing–always.
  The first book I wrote was really about sorting out so much of what I’d encountered to that point, to find meaning, sometimes awkwardly. There was a chapter I called “Bootcamp for the Soul.”
  Here’s what I’ve discovered: This very physical Camino has been another approach to the same end. Another bootcamp and way to integrate the whole.
  Much, as I’ve written, has been mundane and difficult, a challenge. During the first communal meal…all the way back in St Jean…we were asked to say why we were undertaking the Camino. I said, “It’s a threshold.” People waited to see if I’d say more. But that’s all I could say. There was nothing else.
  In this process, I found beauty in my surroundings and camaraderie in conversations over dinner or a roadside cafe stopping for coffee. I have been reminded what it is to be fully present.
  I walked alone but found myself in community. There were times when I seriously needed physical help. I learned to be comfortable asking for assistance–and angels appeared in my path. I persisted within my physical strength which has brought me to this place.
  These awareness are coming fairly swiftly. I just wanted to jot them down. They may be better formed and more conclusive at some later point.
  This is my confession.
  Better to capture and state now. I’m getting ready for the traditional washing–in this case a shower–and these random awarenesses may otherwise disappear down the drain.

People and Places Or… Days 21-24: May 30-June 2

Calzadilla de la Cueza-San Nicholas del Real Camino-Sahagun

Sahagun is said to be the halfway point for the Camino Frances…and I’m here. Arriving, I couldn’t help but notice all the swallows swooping through town and three storks nested on top of the old church now housing the municipal hostel. That and the celebratory halfway point was a good excuse as any to stay a couple of nights.
Pilgrim passport
Pilgrim passport with stamps documenting my walk. Sahagun starts the other side.
Before I left home I’d downloaded James Michener’s Iberia. I enjoyed his books many years ago, although they were often quite dense. One thing could be said for him in that he was faithful to the history and flavor of the region he wrote about, which is why I brought this one along. I finally opened it last night. It’s a combination travel diary and historical reference documenting his lifelong love affair with Spain and her people. There’s a very long section about the Camino. He’d traveled it three times. Below is one reminiscence.
“…Once I had walked sixty miles through this peninsula, carrying a pilgrim’s staff eight feet long, and as it swung methodically through the air…I had discovered what it must have been like physically to lug such a heavy staff across Spain; the kinesthetic sense of the staff swinging ever onward had drawn me forward with it. But not even the walk and the staff had told me how the pilgrim had felt inwardly, but here in Castrogeriz, as I swung along the road and into town, I became a pilgrim in imagination as well as in reality, and from that moment on I was to have a sense of what these distant hordes of people experienced as they picked their way from town to town across an inhospitable land, finding occasionally in a monastery or hospital a friendship so warm as to reward them for all the hours of isolation…”
 image
I can really resonate with this passage. The walking stick does seem to pull me along. I’ve developed a thump-step-step-thump rhythm. And I can tell you it’s a comforting companion. Particularly when I left Carrion de Los Condes headed for Calzadilla de la Cueza. In the guidebook there was a warning that nothing but dusty road through endless fields existed along this stretch. No trees. No villages with a possibility of rest stop on this 17 km. Take plenty of water and something for lunch. The distance itself wasn’t beyond my capability but being without what was absent made for a tough day walking in solitude in the hot sun.
It’s amazing to me how some of the villages can hide in small dips in the landscape when it appears that the trek stretches on endlessly. I can tell you that Calzadilla was a welcome sight as was the great hospitality in the place I stayed. Many of those who run the albergues and hostels have walked the Camino themselves…and they know exactly what a pilgrim needs at the end of a long day.
Reading Michener’s encounters with local scholars and characters made a point. If you sprint through these places you don’t really experience the people who live there. The other pilgrims and those who service them…sure. But there are whole communities who open their arms and hearts. We pilgrims are guests and most of the locals treat us as such.
Particularly the older residents greet me in passing and say, “Buen Camino!” I got into Sahagun  early and went to a cafe to wait for the tourist office to open for information on a hostel that would lodge me two nights. The cafe owner told me about a family-run hostel – “muy amable” – took me outside pointing down the street, indicating to just go straight. No street name. Well, pretty soon a few streets came together, and it was impossible to tell what straight was. I finally ended up on Plaza Mayor, looking quite lost I’m sure. An older gentleman approached me asking if I was looking for the Camino. I told him not today but showed him the paper with the hostel’s name. He motioned to come with him, talking all the while we walked, until he showed me a street and motioned. I thanked him and set out. But not before hearing him stop a very elderly woman going in my direction, asking her to make sure I got there. She did. This morning I returned to the cafe from yesterday for coffee and croissant. The owner’s face brightened. She beamed at me and said, “I was thinking about you so much and worrying if you would find it!” She was genuine.
Spain has had a very rough time in the economic downturn. Many of the villages look deserted, a number that were once rich strongholds of the Knights Templar now greatly diminished in size and importance. There has been an ebb and flow of pilgrims over the centuries. I am so glad this current upsurge has brought a new economy to these small burgs, making life a bit easier for these down-to-earth, hardworking people. I’m happy to spend my euros here.
image
 If I have any regret, it’s that I don’t have better fluency in the language or the privilege that Michener had in being introduced to local sages and scholars…or his vast understanding of the art and architecture of the Middle Ages. His words on the page make the mysteries and meaning of those times come alive for me. I’d like to return and linger in each village and town, his writings on these places helping to ferret out what once existed and more appreciate what still does.

Humility Or … Days 15-20: May 24-29

Burgos-Hornillos del Camino-Castrojeriz-Boadilla del Camino-Villalcazar de Sirga-Carrion de Los Condes

Three days ago a French pilgrim came abreast with me on the path …
I can’t even remember where but we were out among the fields as we often are. The days and places are running into each other. In order to see how long ago I’ve written I had to consult the calendar and then the guidebook for the places I stopped for the night.
… The French woman inquired if I was okay. I told her I was getting there, albeit slowly. “Courage,” she said and then continued on. That must be the operative word for this walk. I’ve now heard it said to me directly three times. But truly it could be said about anyone who has chosen such a spiritual undertaking. And whether all the pilgrims admit it or not, they have.
A couple of days ago, an Irishman told me he’d come before and advised, “The Camino will have everyone one way or another. The first will be last. And the last will be first.”
I would project that to be true. I know it’s working on me. Yes, my foot still has plenty to say, and my attention is at a basic level toward self-care. I’m mindful to travel within my current level of capacity. I don’t overdo it. I’ve chosen to send my pack ahead to each destination. It’s helped.
Yesterday a young pilgrim lounging at a cafe table laughed and said to me, “There’s no trouble telling who’s a pilgrim. They’re the ones limping.”
Well, that would also be true. The great leveler: young or old. But I’ve noticed something else. I’ve seen a softening overall. A sense of humility, I’d call it. There’s a spirit alive. An acknowledgment: We’re all swimming in the same sea. What any of us “do” is of little importance here. Often we don’t even exchange names. More often the question is: Where are you from? And most often: Where did you start?
Community
Find yourself and you will be free… Find each other and we will all be free.
A while back a Dane said to me smiling, “Would you ask these questions of a stranger? Then before you know it…sharing some experience?” Food for thought indeed.
We tell stories about what’s important to us as much as commiserate on any physical challenges any of us are having. We help each other.
And for me…swimming in the Camino sea…I have bursts of pure happiness, sense of wellbeing, limping along in the middle of nowhere listening to bird songs and watching the wind play with the fields of grain.
Bird song
 Wind and grain
One morning I added a small stone with all the others beneath a cross marker to document I was there and walked on.
Documentation