Why I am walking the Camino

Why am I walking El Camino de Santiago, The Way? My simple joking answer is, “my sister told me to,” which in some ways is true enough. Di has been much more driven to do this trip and did not have any doubt about going. Reading the cousins blog along the Way in 2014, Di was enamored with the journey and saw the adventure and was captured by the sheer courage of doing this trip. I, on the other hand, had my eyes popping with reading about their long tiring days, falls that were near risks, the cold and the rain, and I was exhausted. Sitting in my house in the chill of October, I thought, I am glad it is not me.

But here I am on Sept 6, 2017 and I am leaving for El Camino in a little less than a week. Despite the concerns for being too hot when I walk and too cold when I sleep and too much to carry, and too far to walk, I am going, It truly does beg the question, Why?

Walking El Camino has become something other than a pilgrimage for many who begin. Some do it for the exercise, biking or walking it for the adventure, curiosity, and because it is there. Others enter from a religious Catholicism and walk it with prayer, reflection, and the heart of a pilgrim. Some walk from a spiritual perspective or with the deep history along The Way that has held many faiths, pagan, Christian, Muslim, to name a few. Some walk for a personal problem, a cleansing and renewal, to be forever changed.

While I believe that I bring some awareness as to why I am walking at this time, there will be more to unfold during and after that will cause me to reflect, that is why I went! But for now, I am aware of my family history. I have said many times that Catholicism is as deep as my DNA. It is steeped in family history with the angels, saints, the rosary, the Pope, priest and nuns, the Latin Mass, mystery and ritual. My family heritage is heavily French Canadian beginning in Canada in the 1600’s with the marriage of the daughter of a Huron chief and a French fur trapper. The Jesuits had Christianized the Huron village before it was destroyed and the survivors fled. Going back further we have Celts, Normandy, and even Ashkenazi Jew. We will be walking the path entitled The French Way that runs 790 km or 500 miles from St. Jean Pied de Port in France through the Pyrenees Mountains to Santiago de Compostela. We are starting in Leon for about 200 mile walk of the French Way. So, I walk partly because of family history and connection, religious heritage, and life transitions. I am currently not practicing Catholic weekly rituals but I don’t believe one ever leaves something that is so deeply embedded in their being and family as being raised Catholic. I walk with my sister and cousin to represent that family history. I walk as I am transitioning in employment. I walk as I feel I have reached a threshold age. I walk to meet other pilgrims on the Way from around the world. I bring with me a spiritual nature that guides my days and nights.

I am a woman who meditates daily, who’s life has been deeply affected and healed by a Hindu holy woman and saint, who sought a Master’s Degree in Theology and Spirituality at a Catholic University which healed and helped me to understand my religious past, who feels guided by angels, saints, spirit guides, Holy Spirit as well as teachings from Masters from various traditions. Who feels connected to and taught daily by the Buddhist text, the Dhammapada. I bring all of this with me on The Way as I do in daily life and pray for all of us on our journeys wherever they happen on this rotating earth. There is no longer a question of “why.” The response is, “I am.”

About El Camino

El Camino de Santiago has a long history pre St. James the Apostle. According to the camino “Bible” A Pilgrims Guide to the Camino de Santiago by John Brierley, “The earliest human remains ever discovered in Europe are to be found on a small hill directly on the camino”, dated over 900,000 years B.C. during the Pleistocene Age. Traveling through the Paleolithic period brings rock art in cave dwellings described as the “Sistine Chapel” of this period. Then the Megalithic period brings “mega stone structures aligned to the winter solstice sun,” the best being around the camino in Galicia. The Early Celtic period brought fortified villages mainly around Galicia with remains still seen in the countryside. The early Roman period brought Roman occupation. “Brutus fought his way to the end of the world finisterrae, a place of immense spiritual significance at that time.” Our journey on the camino will end at Santiago with a bus ride to the coast at Finisterre.

Legend has it that St. James preached in Galicia and Finisterre but that his mission met with limited success and he returned to Jerusalem. “Following his martyrdom, St James disciples brought his body back” in order to be buried at Finisterrae. Many centuries of religious wars were fought in this area. Today, statistics show that Spain, “until recently seen as a deeply religious society, has now just less than 20% population actually practicing Catholicism.” Yet, the numbers who venture into the Camino de Santiago as pilgrims from around the world “has risen tenfold in a decade.”

Of special note for me is the presence of the Knights Templar dedicated to the protection of the pilgrim, and with their mystery tradition became ”a corner stone in this ‘hidden’ heritage of the camino”.  As their influence became a threat to the Papacy, their Grand Master and many of the Knights Templar were arrested and put to death. With this loss of life was also loss of the esoteric knowledge, which is now preserved and honored as a fraternal order affiliated with Freemasonry. My son Brian has chosen the path of a Freemason in his spiritual quest and structure for education and service. He is not a member of the Templar order, but has filled the role of Lodge Master at his Masonic lodge in Minneapolis and continues to be involved in various charitable ways.  I will think of Brian when I reach the highest peak on the whole Camino at Alto Altar Mayor 4,920 ft. where the Knights Templar protected the Pilgrims, as the descent is a challenge.

It is all very humbling and gives me pause to be walking an area of earth with such a history of Crusades, warring, and the constant struggle between faiths. One of the first bits I will acquire when I arrive in Leon is a pilgrim passport. This passport will be stamped at every stop along my way until I reach Santiago and the Praza Obradoiro Cathedral and receive my final stamp and certificate for walking the camino. The certificate is given to those who walk at least a hundred miles. I will be walking about 200 miles from Leon. We will then attend a pilgrim mass in the Cathedral and hopefully be witness to the Botafumeiro (incense burner) swung high from the rafters by the monks.

To receive my certificate, I will be asked, “Why did you walk?” That is tomorrow’s reflection.

For a lovely short clip on the Camino and the swinging of the Botafumeiro watch on YouTube:

The shape of my heart: Redemption on the Camino de Santiago:

Where is Leo?

Where is Leo? Cambridge has a yearly all city game, Where is Waldo? The children go from store to store looking for Waldo in each store and recording all their finds for a gift at the end. Every time I tell someone about my trip to El Camino, the inevitable statement is, “Surely Leo will be joining you?”

As it has transpired over the year, no, Leo will not be joining me. With the uncertainty of my going and the shortened trip, Leo committed to a Boundary Waters trip and a trip to Missouri directly preceding and during the time I will be in Spain. Leo would actually rather walk the full 500 miles. So, who knows, I may return, as many who walk the Camino do, and want to go again. If so, I may want to also do the full 500 and Leo and I will have a trip to Spain in a couple of years. We shall see. But for now Leo is not going and that has been one of the concerns I have had to walk through as I prepare.

Leo and I have never been a couple that does “everything” together. With many long separations during Leo’s five years in the military and with each of us having very independent natures, we are used to making decisions, doing things we each enjoy that the other might not, and pursuing our own creative endeavors. We have even had some short travels without the other. This one feels different. A full month in a foreign country, living mainly out of doors day after day for a month. That is a Leo trip and as I prepare I think of the many ways I would lean into Leo for support on such a trip: Medical care as Leo always has a full array of medical supplies for every need. My brain when I am tired. The known companion who I do not need words for communication to happen. His jokes and his sense of adventure. These are a few that come to mind. All the ‘what if’s’ without Leo.

Being without Leo is part of the challenge that I have accepted to give myself on this trip. It has been 43 years since Leo and I had so many separations in the military. At that time, I ran the household decisions on my own, gave birth on my own, and raised my son alone for the first three months. It is not what I planned on nor would have desired but there it was. I found my strength.

This trip seems very small and simple in comparison but I am also 43 years older and quite used to leaning into Leo. Now that I have named all the areas of concern I simply walk forward with a curiosity for the journey. All will be well.

Here is where we will be walking, Leon to Santiago de Compostela.fullsizeoutput_2c40

 

 

 

 

 

I am not looking to change my life

When the trip to walk El Camino was first proposed, it was said, everywhere I read, “You have to go, it will change your life.” My reaction was, “I am not looking to change my life and if I did I shouldn’t have to go walk somewhere for 500 miles to do so.” Resistance. My life has changed many times throughout my walk of 66 years on this earth with many moves to new homes and locales, 13 in all by the time I was 30 years of age. Marriage at 19 and the births of three children were life changing. The death of our infant daughter catapulted me into life change. Meeting new friends changes me. Striving for a master’s degree in my 50’s, developing myself as an artist in my 60’s, living in Cambridge, meeting her Holiness Mata Amritamayi in my 40’s turned my world around. Walking with the deaths of parents and friends. Working as a Grief Counselor for 15 years has changed me. There are so many ways to grow and develop throughout life, do I need or want to walk in Spain for another?

Already the proposed journey has changed and evolved. Cousin Pat and her husband Bob will not be walking with us as Bob has suffered cardiac arrest, been revived and has gone through quadruple bypass surgery and is in recovery. He, Pat and Chris walked the full 500 miles three years ago and were excited to be returning. Bob’s life has changed dramatically and he is adjusting to the change.

Change in life is inevitable. Sometimes we willingly look for change and other times it is thrust upon us and at times it arrives gently and over time. Working as a grief counselor has shown me people’s resilience through the changes that the death of a loved one brings. Each is unique as to relationship, age, life experience, past trauma and loss. For some it is incredible suffering for others it is heartful pain with a sense of life beyond and a desire to move forward and there are many variations along the spectrum. Living in a long term marriage of almost 50 years has shown me a world of change and adaptation as we work to allow individual growth and exploration while keeping the strength of life and love alive as a couple.

Here I am gathering my stuff to walk in Spain. The invitation arrived and I accepted. I have no expectation other than to enjoy each day, to have fun and laugh, to be present and to see with open eyes and hands what arrives.

Planning the Journey

These days you will find me preparing to walk the Camino de Santiago (The Way of St. James) in Northern Spain, known as The Way, with preparations starting over a year ago in many different ways. First was the decision to go. Why do this? My cousins, Chris and Pat who walked the full 500 miles three years ago, invited us. My sister, Di was very excited expressing it was a long time dream of hers to do this walk. She very much wants me to walk as well. These have been my reasons for some time, because I am invited.

Buying the airline ticket brought me to another realization. It was a quick decision lacking in consultation with Chris and Pat, as they were unable to be reached. The ticket prices to Madrid dropped drastically and seats were slipping away. While agonizing over buying the ticket and pressing the accept button, I realized I really did want to go, not to be left out, not to miss something important as well as welcoming the challenge with a desire to shake things up with an adventure. Many decisions made each day are routine based on the day before. They are habits of convenience.

As the days, weeks, and months progressed concerns for the trip started to become clearer. The concern of 500 miles, the full distance on the French Way starting in St. Jean Pied de Port in France did not feel realistic from a time perspective and my fear of doing too much. Fortunately, the cousins decided this trip would be Leon to Santiago, a distance of 150 miles. That, I felt I could do. We shall see…

The next concern was bed bugs, the dreaded bed bugs. Considerable reading and preparing my gear to avoid them is the best I can do. This is another part of letting go and trusting, Prepare and then walk.

There have been countless hours devoted to reading, researching, trying on equipment and making decisions based on what I think I need to be comfortable and complete the journey. It has been important for me to embrace caring for myself, knowing my limitations, my personal health issues and concerns and allow room for my uniqueness on the journey. If the journey on a given day feels too arduous it is within me to call a taxi. The destination is not something outside of me but inside my heart where what we call God, love, Great Spirit, resides. Moving along The Way with other pilgrims is the metaphor for the journey within.

My current challenge is getting my gear down to a reasonable weight. That is the challenge and final decisions have not been made. There is also the concern of too much heat during the day as I overheat easily and then being too cold at night and being uncomfortable. I have to remind myself that while I am walking 150 miles we will not be in the wilderness. Decisions and purchases can be made. So here is the truth, what I really face is my life long desire to know as much about the future as one can so I feel more in control. I am not now nor never have been in control but I tell myself I can influence the outcome and joy of the trip by anticipating some known factors. What do I let go of? What do I leave behind?

Do I feel fear? No. Not now. Do I feel excitement? No. I am already on the Way so it is not something I am anticipating starting when I get to Madrid. I feel curious, I feel challenged, and getting out the door is always a place of relief for me when I begin any travel. I feel a desire to bring as much consciousness to this journey as I am able and to stay in the present moment, which is always and truly a connected place to reside.

For more info:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Camino_de_Santiago