Tag: preparation

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.


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.


And So We Begin

None of us can ever know how a journey will unfold whether planning ahead or leaving all open to chance. Oscar and I decided that it was best to take the logistical steps for the first couple of legs and then take it on a step-by-step basis from there…depending on what steps we took. 

It seems like the pull of the status quo interfered with us both, attempting to keep us home. Mine started with three major home repairs required…at the last minute…before I left. Then a missed flight connection for me. Instead, we flew to Paris separately. I arrived on the prescribed day and very glad I didn’t travel with Oscar after all. Two airplanes broke at two different airports, one after several hours on the tarmac. He arrived a day late; the final insult being no luggage. How he finally got here in reasonable humor, I have no idea.

But Paris opened her arms to us. Over this week we walked the streets…encountered friendly locals to a one…sat in cafés…visited tourist sites…soaked up the art and architecture…ate wonderful meals, the simple ones most sumptious.






  Oscar wrote an in-depth post that speaks beautifully to what this time and all the streets walked, metros and trains ridden, brought as at least one framework to consider as we walk the Camino that you can read  here.

You can also read how our disrupted jaunt into the French countryside allowed me to relive a simple pleasure on The Lifepath Dialogues.

And so…after jet lag has been relieved…and a lovely transition to the slower European lifestyle…tomorrow we fly down south to Biarritz for transport to Saint Jean Pied-de-Port where we will place our feet on the Camino. Sunday I begin my walk with the wazifa “Ya Fattah” … which means to begin and to open to the Infinite that all will be done.


A Three-Part Journey

With any spiritual journey or even a simple vacation, we rarely immerse immediately to the degree we would intend prior to going. It’s a process that we go through from one phase to the next. I know this well through experience. First we have to wrestle ourselves away from our everyday world. Then whatever else comes to provide the segue, if we face it head-on, takes us to that place of intent set prior to departure.

I knew Barbara Mahan as a traveler on my Peru programs way back. I didn’t know until recently that she’s now walked the Camino four times. In one of her blogs she wrote about the phases I mentioned above but specific to the Camino. A volunteer in one of the albergues told her:

The Camino can be viewed in three parts …The first part … is the physical Camino. The body gets tired and all a pilgrim can think about is how hard it is to get through each day…The second third of the Camino … is the emotional Camino in which a pilgrim´s heart is engaged and expanded. The last third … is the spiritual Camino.

I remember reading a similar description in Kevin Codd’s book To the Field of Dreams. I appreciate these disclosures. In most of the online forums and publications, pilgrims focus on practical matters. Those are necessary but I’m so much more interested in the spiritual aspects. That’s why I’m going. Barbara sent me an issue of La Concha newsletter, a publication of American Pilgrims on the Camino, and invited me to read Thin Places by Thayer Woodcock.

 …the boundary between the sacred and the everyday feel ‘thin,’ are everywhere along the Camino de Santiago …These places were glorious, and moving, and powerful beyond words…

But it is the albergues…that remain with me. Sacred moments lying in the small personal space of my bunk, surrounded by darkness and by the sounds and smells and sheer human presence of my fellow pilgrims … all of us breathing together as we made the journey to sleep, to Santiago, and beyond.

 Each night in the dormitory, this thin place of conspiracy, I felt knit into kinship not just with those who surrounded me on a particular night, but with pilgrims who had made similar journeys for centuries before me…

I resonate completely with what the author says about those times and places when the veil is thin. It had already come to me about slipping my footsteps into those of pilgrims of many centuries. It will be such a powerful metaphor to carry.

My Spiritual Take-Alongs

I’ve already written about the down-to-earth preparations I’ve made and things in that dimension I’ve chosen to take with me. This is the last blog entry I’m making before I leave home, and the subject matter of this post seems also the place to share my spiritual take-alongs.

I’m part of a small group of women friends who get together about once a month. We provide a safe haven for each other and discuss elements of life we may not disclose to others. It’s been quite precious to me. At the beginning of each year, we have a ceremony when we take time to choose a metaphor for the year. It’s been uncanny how the year’s intent comes about. My chosen metaphor for this year is momentum. I’d say it reflects the phases of the Camino for sure. So momentum will no doubt frame the journey as it does.

Since it’s unlikely I’ll be doing my daily sitting meditation, I’ve decided to replace it with a walking meditation and include wazifa practice. For years, I attended Sufi zikr, a heart-opening ritual, at my friend Yaqin Lance Sandleben’s home. Wazifas are the 99 Beautiful Names of God and invoked as a chanting practice. It was so powerful for me that I used them in my daily meditations for a long time. The practice is a way to internalize a specific quality like compassion, tranquility, humility—any of the Beautiful Names—and, for me, opened energy channels I didn’t know I had. With any luck, my feet will be light on the path as a result…

Singing Bowls
My Singing Bowls Altar

Last year I was asked by my friend Hilary Bee to be a singing bowl carrier. I received this request as an extraordinary honor. Hilary, who is a spiritual teacher from the UK, traveled to Scotland to make my bowl over a week-long process. Since that time, I’ve carried the bowl from the highlands to lowlands of Peru, Bolivia, Southern Mexico and Hopi. It’s been sounded during ceremonies and released prayers into the ether of all the spiritual leaders and travelers with whom I engage. I also sound the bowl during my own private meditations. I was in a terrible quandary. Of course, I had to take the bowl on the Camino. But the weight was a real consideration. Hilary and I were able to have some time together when she came to the US in February. I told her about my internal conflict. She did a beautiful thing. She entrusted me with a tiny singing bowl that had been made for her. It hangs on a cord and expresses such a sweet sound, amazingly strong and long for its size. It weighs just a few ounces. I’ve been sounding both in preparation for the Camino, attuning their vibrations to each other. I’m quite sure I will know exactly where to sound “the little one” along the way. At the end, I’ll send it back to Hilary where I hope the vibrations gathered along the way infuse her home.

Cross of Caravaca
Cross of Caravaca

Finally, I will wear my cross of Caravaca. During my Maya spiritual travel program I always take the group to see Doña Panchita, a traditional healer who serves the residents in Palenque. In private sessions, she performs a limpia, or clearing, and sometimes prescribes herbs, personal rituals and the like, for whatever the presenting matter is. One year I consulted her on interference I was experiencing. Aside from limpia, she told me I must immediately purchase and wear a cruz de Caravaca because those in my line of work need such protection. Doña Panchita’s work brings results. Her limpia that year was especially powerful. I bought and wore the cross. When I returned home the interference had cleared. I’m taking the cross…just in case…

If you’ve made it to the end of this particularly long post, I thank you for reading my words and witnessing my process. Writing helps me ground. Telling my story makes it real.

We’re all breathing the same elements of creation. What’s in me is in you as well. We are connected through vibrations reaching around the world …backwards and forwards… in time and space. I will feel you alongside me on the journey.

One last thing…

In one of her emails to me, Barbara signed off, Buen Camino Peregrinita. No, she wasn’t referring to a female bird of prey but a female wayfarer on a pilgrimage.

I’m called Carlita by friends in Peru and those at home who know of this term of affection.

So I’m signing off until I pick up again somewhere on the Camino…

Carlita La Peregrinita…

Had to do it. I told Oscar these words strung together sound like music… that I hold we’ll meet with every step on the Camino.


I’ve had a dawning recognition for the last several days. I’m ready for the Camino. I’m not talking about being packed. I’m not. The things I’m taking are still in a pile that I add to bit-by-bit as I think about it or refer to the necessities list I’ve researched.

I’m talking about an internal readiness—a solid one. I’m beginning to understand I’ve been preparing for this journey for a very long time. Understand: I don’t exactly know what that means. Maybe I won’t until long after this year’s journey is complete. Maybe never anything concrete that I could point to specifically. The meaning may remain elusive but integrate itself into my life.

It’s not as though I haven’t undertaken intensive experiences before. I do so a few times every year through my spiritual travel programs. Inasmuch as I do have my own initiations on those journeys, it’s different. I’m holding intent for others. There’s entrainment.

This is a space and time I’ve carved out solely for myself. Of course, Oscar is my partner on this trek. He’ll have his own journey, which will often overlap with mine. But it’s different.

One of the immediate questions I had when I considered the Camino is: Could I actually do it? I mean physically. I’m not an athlete, far from it. And this is a 500-mile path. If we go past Santiago de Compostela, all the way to Finisterre—the edge of the world—it adds about another 100 miles. I’ll have to admit that I hadn’t hiked as much as I used to in years. Somehow I got off track.

So a few months ago I started “training.” What that means for me is that I get out there as much as I can for as long distances as I can manage. I’m truly blessed to live in an area where there are endless options for beautiful hikes, aside from straight out my front door. Here are just a couple when I’ve had my camera along.

Peavine Trail alongside Watson Lake. Granite Mountain in the distance. Photo: Carla Woody
Brownlow Trail. Photo: Carla Woody.

The “training” is returning a practice that I’d let go and sorely missed. Most of the time I’ve hiked alone. Just a couple of times my friend Ruth went with me. I’ve varied the mileage between 6-10 miles with a 13-pound pack without breaks. I realize Oscar and I will average around 15 per day but we’ll be doing so with breaks, probably at a café or two. And time on the trail will be interspersed with talk and silence. We plan to take our time and enjoy. We’re not on a sprint. That would disengage the intent for us.

Something that has surprised me: I’d never hiked more than 6 miles at one time in my life until now … but I’ve not been sore. Tired? Yes. I’ve had the best sleep I’ve had in a long time. But sore? No.

A thing that doesn’t surprise me: The practice of walking in nature clears away anything that troubles the mind … distractions… unsettling emotions. Clarity and peace arrive. I’ve been reminded to add it to my daily sitting meditation—at least a few times a week.

I told Ruth I feel like my body and I are in a relationship, and it’s conveying how intensely it desires this level of activity by supporting me so well.

It’s also clear that my mind is enjoying the rest… and my spirit is flying. We will literally be flying to France on May 1. It’s now so close. My physical training hasn’t translated to as often as I planned or as far due to practicalities of available time.

But still … I’m ready.


To read more on the meaning of readiness posted on The Lifepath Dialogues, go here.

The Quandary

Ever since deciding I would walk the Camino, I’ve been thinking about the backpack. Everything I take I’ll be carrying on my back…for 500 miles give or take. My immediate thoughts zipped back to the only other time I went on a backpacking trip. That was nearly 15 years ago and just a short distance. I’m talking about 5 miles! It made such an impression on me that I wrote about it in my second book Standing Stark. Here’s an excerpt.

…Every item that went into the pack, or hung from it, involved a mindful decision on my part toward my later comfort. Even so, when we arrived at the place where we finally left the car and I put the full weight of the pack on my back for the first time, I wondered how I would ever make it with the load. I nearly fell over backwards. It took many adjustments before I felt I could carry the weight of my baggage.

            Descending the long and rocky, twisting trail, I found I had to be very focused on placing my feet to keep myself upright. After what seemed like an age, we finally reached relatively flat ground and trudged along a path. But it had been a couple of years since my companion had been in the area. Since that time, something natural, or not so natural, had caused the trail he knew so well to disappear. It had been rerouted. He wasn’t exactly sure where we were, although he thought we were going the right way. I had been blindly following him — trusting, if you will — while the majority of my attention was taken up with the increasingly uncomfortable burden on my back. I was becoming slightly on edge at the lack of clear direction. Then I became alarmed!

            When we rounded what passed for the trail, I realized that if we were to go farther we would have to cross what looked to me like a river with nothing more than irregularly placed stones to step on to the other side…I tried to calculate my path, one stone to the other. All looked perilous to me. I took a step and felt myself becoming even more unbalanced, the heaviness of my burden wanting me to fall backwards and be “swept” away. In the middle of the “river,” I couldn’t move…

            This lesser traveled path being what it was, we actually had to cross waters like that two additional times before we came to the campsite he had in mind. Over a particularly dicey crossing, my companion took both of our packs with him at once so that I could make my way in slightly less fear. Needless to say, I felt enormous relief to reach our resting place of a few days…

…Eventually, we had to leave and head home. This time, though, the pack seemed lighter to me and somehow more stable. While the food we had carried in was indeed absent, there was something else that had not been present that made the pack seem more a part of me — confidence…

 That experience became a metaphor to me about overcoming fear and beginning to trust in my body’s intelligence. So when I’m thinking about the backpack now—after that first thought—it’s not related to fear. But it’s certainly about what is to go into the pack. That earlier time we were carrying things I won’t have to carry this time: food, tent and other camping accessories. Still, we’ll be walking every day for over a month, aside from a few breaks. And the recommendations I’ve read say: Don’t carry more than 10% of your body weight.

I am taking the pint-sized sleeping bag I take on my Mexico journeys. It weighs 3 pounds. Add an extra pair of hiking shoes, the weight goes up. (It hadn’t occurred to me that my shoes would wear out with daily use until Oscar, my Camino companion, mentioned it.) That doesn’t leave much more if I abide by the recommendations. Every ounce counts. Or pay the consequences.

I started doing online research and entered foreign territory. All the gadgets and high tech gear. Then Janet Harvey, a dedicated hiker and traveler in my programs, told me about Grandma Gatewood, the first woman to hike the Appalachian Trail in the mid-1950s. She carried a denim bag over her shoulder, wore sneakers, brought a shower curtain in case of rain and slept on piles of leaves if there wasn’t other shelter… for 2050 miles. And we’re only doing 500.

I told Oscar we should just forget all the stuff retailers are lobbying hikers to buy and strike out like Grandma Gatewood, an inspiring role model to me. However, I did remember the main issue I had before was an ill-fitting backpack and invested in one that feels quite light and comfortable. The same with shoes. After switching brands and styles a few times, I’m very happy with my Ahnus. I did decide my iPad Air and slip-in-the-pocket camera were necessities to document the journey in words and images, keep in touch periodically, consult the Camino guidebook and read for relaxation.

The big quandary was about rain gear: poncho with built-in pack cover or rain jacket with separate pack cover. Everyone has an opinion on that controversy. The online forums are full of them, just about split down the middle. We’re likely to run into every sort of weather this time of year. Checking the weather today for St-Jean-Pied-de-Port where we’ll start showed storms to partly cloudy over the next week at least with temps between 60-74F.

I wasn’t going to bring a shower curtain like Grandma Gatewood did, and these specialized ponchos can be quite expensive. I bought into the arguments for the poncho and finally found one from Canada that didn’t break the bank. However, it weighs 4 pounds. Something I didn’t pay attention to when I bought it. With it, my pack is at 13 pounds. That’s with no clothing or toiletries. So after—again—going back and forth, I’m jettisoning that poncho and will use the rain jacket that has served me just fine in all my other travels. And the Deuter backpack comes with a rain cover, which I thought was considerate of the maker.

I’m only telling you all this to convey the level of research and decision-making that has gone into this packing process for me this time. I travel quite frequently but not like this. If I take things I don’t really need, they normally just languish in my suitcase.

This is an exercise in what truly matters to me and basic necessities. Anything else I can do without…and that can go anywhere. It’s good to be reminded.

First lesson of the Camino.

The Way Before Me

The double entendre of this post title is intended. Standing in the shelter of a threshold I can look back to history as well as gaze forward into the unknown with expectancy. No longer hovering before the threshold, I took the step forward. I’m actively preparing. But the next big move is placing that first footfall on the dirt of the Camino Francés.

PilgrimScallopI can’t tell you exactly why I decided to walk the Camino de Santiago. When I think about it, I realize thoughts of the Camino had been hovering in the background for years—but without any aspirations or inspirations. I may have read a book about it way back when. I do note that I used the term “pilgrim” as a thematic metaphor in my first book Calling Our Spirits Home. It’s not a word I could recall using before writing that book and haven’t since until now. But maybe in its use a seed was already germinating. Now I’m about to become one in an official sense. Soon I’ll receive my pilgrim’s passport, which will be stamped along the route.

Here’s what cinched it for me. Last August I spent two one-week sessions back-to-back as a Vaughan Town volunteer in Spain. My sole job was to have conversations in English, most times one-on-one, with Spanish business professionals who were learning the language. It was somewhat akin to those speed-dating venues, albeit no romantic search intended, except each one lasted an hour with serial partners every day while we were all sequestered in lovely locales. After a while I got quite bored with telling my own background, and they were sick of telling theirs. So I took that opportunity to do a little research, asking each if they knew anything about the Camino. I was surprised to hear that a good number of them had done it, even more than once. And, to a one who had done so, they greatly encouraged me to do it, too. I was pulled to do the Vaughan Town adventure and knew there was a reason. Aside from returning to Spain after many years and having a great time getting to know Spaniards, I believe I needed to hear their encouragement. Otherwise, I probably wouldn’t be at the juncture of this 500-mile foot journey.

Legend has it the tomb of St. James was found by a hermit in 9 A.D. after a vision led him to the site in the Galicia area of northwestern Spain, now Santiago de Compostela. In the months since my decision to go, I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on this pilgrimage that goes back to the Middle Ages: the meaning of it and the multitudes who have gone before me, people searching for something or forced into it through Inquisition-ordered penance, better than being burned at the stake no doubt. The journey was a difficult one dealing with uncertainty and extreme hardship. Yet they went. Many didn’t make it home. Such extremes don’t exist on the Camino today. But it remains a multi-leveled challenge. A visit to any of the online pilgrim forums will tell you that.

The SpiritWhy do people continue to go? Why am I going? There’s something about pilgrimage, the holy places and those who go there with intent. There’s an energy that builds over time and remains resident in the very earth of a place. I think about the millions of feet that have traveled over the very places I will place my own. And I know I will feel, at the visceral level, the hopes, dreams, pain and joy—all those aspects of the human condition—that remain resident there as I slide my footsteps into theirs and uncover my own similarities and discover the gifts of the Camino.

This is what I’m holding right now, as I’m resting in the shelter of the threshold, considering what’s ahead.

My old friend Oscar Panizo and I are undertaking the Camino together. He’s the perfect companion on this journey. Oscar acted as translator, support and fellow space-holder for years in my spiritual travel programs in Peru. We’ve already experienced many flavors of pilgrimage together: the full range of ecstatic to difficult. We know we can depend on each other and have similar temperaments. We’ll officially begin the Camino on May 7 in St. Jean Pied de Port on the French side of the Pyrenees. But I think we’ve already begun.

To be continued…