It’s been many months since my return from walking El Camino de Santiago with my daughter in June and it has taken this long for me to share it with you.
When I first got back, the stories of my journey flooded through me onto paper and at the same time I sensed a seismic shift in my psyche that I found extremely difficult to verbalize. Words and thoughts just weren’t there to articulate what rumbled in the depths. That’s why you haven’t heard from me in a long while.
But now we are in the Black Friday, Cyber Monday, & Giving/Travel Tuesday frenzy and I just feel compelled to share with you one the things that deepened within me on the Camino ~ Mother Earth has freely gifted us an abundant and incredibly beautiful natural world and we are utterly blessed to be given it.
One of the things that I loved while walking the Camino was being in nature for 7-8 hours per day. The path was strewn with flowers as if someone had walked along the 500-mile path with seeds falling out of their pockets. We were greeted by daisies, poppies, aquilegias, foxgloves, hydrangeas, buttercups and some hot weather beauties whose names I did not know. From day one, I kept stopping along the path to take pictures of the flowers basking in the warm Spanish sun.
By around day 20, we arrived in Leon and stayed in a convent. I went to an evening mass that they held for pilgrims. I was struck by the ‘hell and strife’ quality of the hymns which was in contrast to the peace and camaraderie we experienced as we journeyed with people from all over the world.
Towards the end of the service, the priest invited pilgrims to go forward to be blessed. The man sitting next to me realized that I didn’t speak Spanish and prodded me to go forward. But I had a deep guttural feeling not to – I thought to myself “I’ve been walking through the most beautiful countryside for day upon day. I, and everyone else, is totally and utterly blessed to live amongst such beauty. And if I don’t know that now, no blessing by a priest is going to change that. None of us needs blessing by another person. We are all blessed by the gift of the earth.”
When I came home, I felt disorientated and really, really missed the simple life of the Camino and spending all day, every day, in nature. For the first few weeks, I would cry at the drop of a hat and felt what I can best describe as grief. Foolishly, I didn’t expect it after the high of our journey.
One morning, I woke up before dawn and felt the urge to get on my bike and ride through the dawn chorus. A few yards from my house, I started crying. I didn’t know why but I just let the tears run as a cycled. I went along a beautiful old railroad bed near my house and relaxed as nature soothed me and I enjoyed the morning air, sunrise, and birdsong.
After a few miles, I felt the grief rise again and I just started to sob, big gulping sobs of grief. Wave upon wave just convulsed through me. What I was present to was the absolute beauty and richness of the natural world and that we’ve been given and that we/I just haven’t appreciated the gift and loved it and cherished it and honored it. We’ve trashed it, dominated it and extracted from it. And present to that, heart broken open, I just sobbed until I ached with love and sorrow.
And now, Black Friday/Cyber Monday rolls around and I just want to remind you – and me - that there is a Sacred Sunday is in between. That fresh air, flowers, trees, connection, intimacy and aliveness don’t have to be acquired. They are our birthright, a gift given in love and all it takes to ‘have’ them is to take a moment to still our minds, and become aware of what holds us in love – step outside, breathe deeply, and look and listen, or pay attention to the twinkle in someone’s eyes or their smile. It’s precious and free and it’s for you.
And now, after a few months of disorientation, I am slowly and steadily re-weaving the threads of my life to align/true it to maximize that feeling of being fully alive. For me, that means less complexity, more simplicity, and more time in nature – and more trails.
I’ve been hesitant to share any of this with you because its personal, raw and messy. But, I guess that’s what life is, and certainly what the Camino experience was for me. So, I do hope that it has some value for you.
“The only dream worth having is to dream that you will live while you are alive, and die only when you are dead. To love, to be loved. To never forget your own insignificance. To never get used to the unspeakable violence and vulgar disparity of the life around you. To seek joy in the saddest places. To pursue beauty to its lair. To never simplify what is complicated or complicate what is simple. To respect strength, never power. Above all to watch. To try and understand. To never look away."