Tag: what to take


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.

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.