Tag: reflections

The Wabi-Sabi Path

At this writing I’ve been home from travels twelve days after leaving home nine weeks prior. My pilgrim certificate says I finished the Camino in Santiago de Compostela on June 14, my pre and post Camino not counted. Yet it all seems so very long ago. Perhaps it’s due to an enhanced “now-ness” I’m experiencing. The past having served its significance and the future unpredictable, not yet reality; the present doesn’t feel like limbo but something solid at every moment.

Somewhere along my Camino I realized there were two significant aspects in play. The first had to do with clearing mental, emotional, spiritual elements given perfect opportunity to arise through the physical challenges that came about. In an uncanny way, the walk had become my own personal healing timeline stretching way into the past. Thought forms would come to call uninvited. Some quite old to see if there was still any charge. Others newer to see if I would attach or if resolution had occurred. It was a test, a way to walk out the kinks if I needed to do so. Sometimes I did. Clearing is required before anything new can truly emerge. Otherwise the path remains cluttered with things that should have been ejected long ago.

In the very beginning, I made mention the Camino would show we pilgrims what we’re made of. It does. That’s its gift. I also found what I could depend on within myself, and to the depth I held certain values.

The second thing had to do with such appreciation of simplicity and humility, the imperfect, and respect for the path walked.

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In Japan they have an art form, a practice of embracing the world, as much as it is in the creation of something. It’s about finding beauty—to acknowledge what may otherwise be passed by.

Wabi-sabi is underplayed and modest, the kind of quiet, undeclared beauty that waits patiently to be discovered. It’s a fragmentary glimpse: the branch representing the entire tree, shoji screens filtering the sun, the moon 90 percent obscured behind a ribbon of cloud…Sabi by itself means ‘the bloom of time’.

Within a few days of coming home, the Japanese wabi-sabi art of kintsugi came to my attention. On one level it involves mending broken things, in this case china. On another level it’s so much more. In the three-minute video below young craftsman Shimode Muneaki gives an introduction, “Traditionally, lacquer is used to reconnect shattered pieces of pottery and gold leaf is applied along the repaired fault-lines to accentuate and celebrate the fissure, rather than to hide it.”

View The Art of Broken Pieces.

Kintsugi is a visual manifestation of finding beauty in things that didn’t quite fit, perhaps broken, and putting it back together in a way that’s noticeable and acknowledges a new way of being. In the ways I speak of here, my Camino became—for me—a wabi-sabi path of renewal and simplicity.

All these things have shaped what comes. Whether the Camino delivered me beyond whatever threshold I’d foreseen before beginning my walk remains to be seen…but I believe it has. This imagery keeps coming to me: I’ve got one eye where I place my feet, the other eye given to peripheral vision…while my Third Eye is sensing what’s ahead.

I’ll Know I’m Home When

Somewhere along the way, once I got the rhythm down pat, I began to note somewhat tongue-in-cheek differences between daily life on the Camino and home. But the more I listed the more I realized it’s an intimate glimpse of common pilgrim experiences you normally wouldn’t be aware of unless you’d undertaken the journey. I also began to have insights, reminders and resolutions related to some of them that I’ve included at the end.

I’ll know I’m home when…
   … I’m no longer looking for markers every few minutes to tell me where to go, except perhaps subliminally.
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   … I’ll no longer be walking continually for 4-8 hours on a daily basis, with the exception of a brief rest or rest day.
   … I’ll no longer be so consistently in nature.
   … I’ll no longer hear the continual click-click click-click of walking sticks telling me that a pilgrim is coming along the trail.
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   … I’ll no longer hear the well wishes Buen Camino spoken to me by nearly every pilgrim and so many locals, or say it myself, as we pass each other.
   … I’ll have a cat in my lap not observing one from a distance.
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   … I’ll no longer sit people watching, daily, at an outdoor café while having café and croissant, or a glass of wine and tapas.
   … I’ll have more than one change of clothing.
   … I’ll have more choices to wear on my feet than hiking shoes or flip flops.
   … I’ll keep my belongings in a closet or chest of drawers rather than a backpack.
   … I’ll no longer do my laundry on a daily basis rather than weekly.
   … I’ll no longer be required to vacate my lodging each day by 0800, or be restricted in any movement or slight noises between 2200-0630.
   … I’ll know on a consistent basis where I’ll lay my head each night.
   … I’ll no longer wear ear plugs.
   … If I’m sleeping in a roomful of people, I’ll know them all ahead and never in numbers between 12-100 in one room.
   … I’ll have as much privacy as I choose.
   … I’ll be able to sit upright in my bed without bumping my head on the bunk above me.
   … I’ll be sleeping between sheets, not in my sleeping bag.
   … I’ll take a shower for as long as I like without pushing a button every ten seconds to keep the water flowing.
   … I’ll no longer speak three languages, daily, sometimes all within one sentence—the latter because my brain isn’t adequately sorting.
   … I’ll no longer hear five or more languages around me or engage with so many different nationalities at once at any given point, daily.
   … I’ll be drinking French roast—strong and black—in the morning rather than café con leche.
   … I’ll return to my normal diet, rather than the “pilgrims menu” offered in restaurants.
This statement probably needs some explanation. Nearly every restaurant on the Camino offers a lower priced 3-course meal, limited options for each course, with bread, wine, coffee, or water included, typically between 9-12 euros. While offering benefit to pilgrims in the amount of food for a lower cost, they’re high carb, meat and potato meals, nearly devoid of vegetables, no fruit. Lots of gluten. Also typical of the entire other-than-pilgrim menu in Spain. I consumed more gluten, dairy, potatoes and meat in these two months than I’ve eaten in at least five years, maybe more.
My Take-Aways…
   1. It’s important to be alert to the lay of the land to avoid becoming lost or overlooking tell-tale signals that things are off track or hidden. I resolve to sharpen my peripheral and x-ray vision.
   2. Flexibility is a virtue. It’s also important to set your limits and abide by them. I resolve to identify with even more depth and breadth what is true for me.
   3. A simple life in the best sense is a pure one, devoid of clutter in the mind or unnecessary material goods, anything that weighs down the spirit. I resolve to uplevel my sorting and pitching process.
   4. Nature is a great gift, healer and stress reliever. I’m fortunate to live where I do. Nature—miles of it—is just outside my door. I resolve to do these things more: hike, take breaks, sit on the deck, notice the wildflowers—however small—and watch the lizards, birds and other wildlife. Absorb energy given by the moon, sun, stars, wind and rain with intent to return it in ways that are life-giving.
   5. Diverse encounters—people, places, new ways of doing things—make life rich and support intellectual, emotional and spiritual growth. I thrive on diversity and already seek it out but miss it at home. I resolve to discover more opportunities to insert myself in such foreign lands locally.
   6. I undertook this journey through willing choice. If you look at the list, you may notice there are aspects that are similar to those whose lives often aren’t through choice but circumstance. In a certain way, I had a light taste of what it’s like to be homeless, to experience restriction. The more days I walked the more this awareness settled on me. It increased my compassion toward anyone who finds themselves in such a place and has difficulty finding a way through. There’s always a way across a threshold. It also deepened the great gratitude I hold for having the life I do, and the capability of coming up with strategies to navigate the tricky times.
   7. The pilgrims I met on the Camino came from different walks of life, ages, cultures, circumstances, personalities but all held one thing in common: an intent to deepen their lives in some way. That’s the Spirit of the Camino…or any challenging spiritual journey really. It’s an initiation process, one so worth undertaking. You meet yourself coming and going resident in the land you travel and those you meet. You discover who you are. Then the grandest part of the journey is taking it all home to shape your daily living from that point on. I resolve to do so…as gracefully as possible and forgive myself when I stumble.
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   This may seem like quite a list of resolutions, maybe overwhelming. But…for me…it boils down to something core. Being present. When I think about it, that’s what the Camino reinforced to me overall. Be awake—fully. Then all starts to fall into place bit by bit: small adjustments build upon themselves and create alignment. That’s absolutely doable. It’s something I know.

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.

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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.

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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.
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  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.

When the Spirit Catches You Or…Days 28-32: June 7-11

Sarria-Ferreiras-Gonzar-Palais de Rei-Melide-Arzua

This is the way it happened. I was sitting in a small but lively Italian restaurant in Sarria at a table to myself. A woman with long whitish hair walked in. I thought to myself, she looks familiar. She came over to my table and asked if she could join me, introducing herself as Lydia. I realized I had not seen her before. We quickly fell into conversation. She said she was from the Netherlands. I mentioned two Dutch sisters who introduced themselves during the communal meal at the albergue the night before Day One on the Camino in St Jean. I ran into them off and on as time went on. They’d begun to travel with three new friends from the U.S. also present that first night. I hadn’t seen them for a long time but ran into them all in Sahagun, the last night they were all together. One of the Dutch sisters had to go home as scheduled, the rest also ending their Camino time for other adventures. I shared a train seat to Leon with the remaining sister, and we then went our separate ways.
Lydia laughed and asked, “Did the sisters mention a friend who was traveling ahead?” I vaguely remembered a mention at the first communal meal. She said, “I’m that friend!” We talked until 10 PM, the latest I’d stayed up to date, finding a number of things in common. Now what are the chances we would end up at a table together in this particular restaurant…when there were many to choose from and in this particular village?
Some time that night I told her about a Swiss man I’d met very early who started the Camino by walking out his front door…in Switzerland. We both marveled. I hadn’t seen him since that brief passing. But the next morning there in Sarria? I met him again just leaving town.
I took both of these synchronous occurrences as a good sign. There existed a sense of excitement in the air. This is where a number of pilgrims begin walking the Camino, perhaps because they have limited time…and you can still get the completion certificate if you walk these last 111 km. There were a number of fresh, hopeful faces–probably exactly the way I looked on Day One–and carousing by young ones. The anticipation was catching…and I took it on.
Sarria
Sarria
Plus the realization that I was actually nearing the end. I was like a horse headed to the barn.
And I was falling in love…in a way I hadn’t for a very long time…with this region of Spain called Galicia. image
The next night I spent in Ferreiras, a place so small I almost missed it. If I hadn’t looked up at just the right time I would have passed the albergue on by where I’d made a reservation. I awoke quite early the next morning, having to wait for enough light to set out. That’s when the true magic of the region became apparent to me through the morning mist. Forest, wildflowers,  fields and tiny villages that probably hadn’t changed much in seventy or more years. My footsteps became quite light. My heart was full. My mind was quite still.
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I realized that somewhere along the way I’d stopped conscious wazifa practice. I wouldn’t presume to say I’d embodied the Beautiful Names I was working with. But I would say they were working me beneath the surface. Hard to describe. But I could feel it.
This morning along the trail through the forest I actually came upon someone walking more slowly than I was. Not due to an injury but because it was evident she was just as enchanted as I was. She’d stop and look. Just like I did. She began singing a soft song in German. It added to my day. I finally passed her by. She may be out there singing still.
Traditional corn crib.
Traditional corn crib.
Tonight I’m staying in Arzua in O Albergue de Selmo, a wonderful place. Not because it’s fancy. It’s not. This little slice of heaven has no more than two bunk beds in an actual cubicle–with a curtain sliding across the entrance for privacy, something quite scarce–a bedside locker for valuables, separate men’s and women’s bathrooms and showers–an adequate number for a change–and a super helpful owner. And because I was the first to arrive and check in, she gave me a cubicle with only one bunk bed, at the farthest end. It’s now late for check-ins. No one is in the top bunk. I must be well loved.
I topped off my day with Caldo Gallego, a bowl of hearty traditional Galician soup–their specialty with cabbage, beans, a little bit of sausage and the ever-present potato–thick crusty bread and vino tinto.
Santiago de Compostela is now within my sight. Only 40 km away to the 0 km marker.

Contrast Or … Days 25-27: June 3-5

Leon

There’s always contrast on a journey. Things that get your attention because there’s an unexpected juxtaposition. I chose Leon for mine. It’s a city of about 130,000 that grew up around its historical center having significant importance to the Camino. I’m staying toward the train station. Hence, in a more urban area. The first thing I noticed is how beautifully stylish the Spanish city women are. Their fashion sense reminds me of Paris in some ways; what amazing things can be done with jeans, a scarf and the right shoes. Of course, I can tell you…we pilgrims have none of these things. We’re into function no matter where we’re from.
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The second has to do with art. After weeks of appreciating Medieval art, I was ready for a change. I stumbled upon a place on a hostel website. It turned out to be family-run Hotel Quindos. What attracted me was its tag line: For the love of art. One review said, “Weird art.” That cinched it for me. Where have you stayed in lodging that has original artwork in every room, every few feet, including the one where you sleep? I almost feel like home.
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Well, there’s one piece I can’t quite figure out. At first I thought it was a political statement having to do with Franco. It’s a large work and takes a while to sort it all out. Now looking at the image I took…not so sure. Interesting anyway.
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I asked the man at reception about the contemporary art museum. He said they just have rotating exhibitions. I decided I was game. When I returned he said in perfect English, “Sometimes these artists like that don’t let us know what they’re thinking.” Enough said…except I’d rather see edgy art than something made solely for commercial purposes. Art in its best sense documents culture and makes a statement. After all, what we know of the past is well said through art and literature, or tells of the future, reaching deeper. So much more than meeting criteria: It must fit over the sofa perfectly and match the decor color. That’s probably what I appreciate about Hotel Quindos. They don’t care what you think.
Then I wandered down to the historic area and was surprised to find an early Gaudi.
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Then there’s the queen: Cathedral de Santa Maria de Leon. There’s an unusual delicacy about its soaring spires and buttresses. But the same could be said of a number of cathedrals I’ve seen. What makes it so special is the interior “play of stone and light”, as it said in the guide recording. They were referring to all the stained glass, one next to the other with out-of the-ordinary color schemes and images of any I’ve ever seen.
In Michener’s Iberia, he tells of a time when a prominent local coerced him into coming to the church plaza at 3 a.m.–after a few bottles of Rioja–saying he had a special surprise. This would have been about 50 years ago and Leon was a mere shadow of its present-day self. Few were out. The night had wound down. But suddenly as they were standing out in the plaza…all the lights inside the church flipped on, shining through all the stained glass into the night. The local had a confederate inside who performed this trick just for Michener…who said it was a sight to behold. But nothing like when they went inside with full lights illuminating all the glass. It’s difficult to capture all within the format limitations of a camera. But here’s an untouched photo to get the idea.
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I also also spotted an interesting relief on the outside mixed in with the others. I’d seen others similar elsewhere. Built on the backs of men?
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The rest of the time I spent people-watching and couldn’t resist this dog, too.
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Tomorrow I’m headed to Sarria on a train from Leon, to make up for time I was laid up, where it is my intent to finish those last 111 km walking into Santiago. All good thoughts welcome. I appreciate the time-out in the city, but I’m ready to return to the relative quiet of the open path and villages.

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