We seekers

Day began in the pre-dawn half light, stretched out in front of the fireplace, the heat warming the stiffness from my body, watching the steam curl up from a small pot of tea, while gathering my thoughts for this blog. It is another typical Pacific Northwest early spring morning with a quilt of dove grey clouds hanging low over the valley with a few peaks to the east nestled into its soft underside. A sliver of pale light is struggling in vain to separate valley and cloud. This, for me, is the golden time when my mind, unfettered, tends to embrace all the possibilities of another new day. It seems, these days, I find myself winging back across the Atlantic and onto the Camino. I don’t want to obsess on the experience but it certainly has gripped (perhaps embraced is a better word) both Robin and I in a way that we can’t (or don’t want to) let go of.

Why did we go? To some it might seem reckless to run off to a foreign country and set out to walk across a good portion of it. What about this, and what about that? Have you ever done anything like this before came the questions from well meaning friends. Of course, we had no experiences to match up with what we proposed to do, but we also had a sense that all would be well (hubris or faith?). Is this the way others set out? Who could know, but in one sense it didn’t matter for once we were there it became obvious that we would simply walk our own camino. After all, there is no standard to follow. Just follow the markers and your heart. We all have a point of departure and a point of arrival in mind when we travel. It frames the journey and provides context for the time and effort spent to get to our destination. Plus, as part of our human legacy, we are more comfortable with known limits. Our journey started out in a somewhat similar fashion. Get to the point of departure, join the camino, set a goal for each day and walk that plan until you arrive in Santiago. Seemed easy enough. Oh, also be open minded enough to realize that all plans are subject to change (hmmm…). We got it (we thought), and were ready to go.

After one night in St. Jean we started up the valley route to Roncesvalles. That first day was exhilarating as we engaged the pitch of the pass adjusting our steps to the cadence of our upbeat mood. Everything just felt right for both Robin and I. We were finally walking the Camino. We were still bone tired from the trip to St. Jean, but with perfect weather for our ascent our fatigue slipped away, and as we climbed we realized a joy unlike any other we could remember.  A call had been answered and we were on the Camino and underway at last. But, what about the “why” of the journey? I haven’t forgotten.

Amazing grace

 I apologize for my infrequent posting but work has set me upon the road attending a variety of meetings in various parts of this very large country. So, rather than doing what I enjoy most (writing about the Camino), I have of late found myself compressed into economy class, with my Kindle for companionship, crossing time zones surviving on cold sandwiches and little bottles of red wine. But now I’m back along with the echoes of gravel crunching under my boots, and fond memories of the freedom of spirit that so characterized our camino. The story resumes on the southern flanks of the Pyrenees with our bodies adjusting to this new line of work and our minds awash in the magnificence of this moment. But, wherein  lies the “why” in all this? Let’s get to that.

We are restless beings, always on the move, seemingly never satisfied. Where are we headed? On the Camino after Zubiri is it Cizur Menor? And after that, now where? What guides us onward? What is our true destination? Does arrival in Santiago put us finally at rest. Physically, perhaps, but is that the essential purpose of this pilgrimage? Who could know? Does the restlessness disappear? Does this pilgrim road ever end? Is it meant to? Are you okay with that? Yikes, I just thought I was going for a walk albeit a bit of a long one.

I have found we are drawn Home to the Oneness, the peace/love, that was our issue at the beginning. That, to my way of thinking, is where Robin and I (and I suspect everyone else) hopefully are bound. All of our lives are pilgrim journeys, always afoot, always seeking the grace that we, at our very core, must reconnect with. All the rest is dross. Distractions from the main event. Whatever your religious beliefs are, or are not, I would offer that the times in your lives when everything just seems right have nothing to do with things or accomplishments (the sense of satisfaction is fleeting, isn’t it?), but everything to do with accepting the hand of the One who guides us. Pure joy is found in these precious humble moments of insight (ah! hah!) when we discover the Way we are meant to follow. That is what led Robin and I to the Camino. It was an unscripted response to a sense that it was time to walk this particular leg of our journey Home. We felt something to be learned awaited us as we unconsciously prepared by peeling away distractions (shedding unnecessary weight), airing out our minds, and embracing contemplation and prayer. In that spiritual freedom our daily camino stages were transformed into walking meditations which I surprisingly enjoyed. It was the last thing I expected. It wasn’t my plan, but it was the one I walked, and that made all the difference.

We search for the bread that once partaken forever satisfies our hunger, and the cup that once consumed forever satisfies our thirst. Is it just up ahead? Is it further down the Camino? Will it be on our way home? Not to worry, just keep walking (Ultreia!). Find and follow your Way.  Your heart will lead you on a truly peaceful journey and even if we get lost…grace will lead us Home.

Buen camino

Intersections

One of the remarkable things we discovered on the Camino is the way people suddenly come into your life with a purpose and a message. At first it seemed as though these encounters were just the usual passing acquaintances we experience in everyday life. But when we had a moment to reflect further they seemed almost scripted, set in place, as signposts, to lead us somewhere. We all meet people throughout our lives but the Camino seems to shine a spotlight on these encounters. Perhaps it is because there are so few distractions. In the end it is just eating, sleeping and walking. Pretty simple life, right. Let’s see.

As I was warming in the flickering glow of the fireplace this morning (spring here in the Pacific northwest is still unseasonably cold and wet) thinking about this post I thought of a satellite looking down on the Camino tracking all of the many pilgrims unaware of its presence. But patterns could be discerned as tiny figures inched towards meeting places and each other. This thought of people from all corners of the earth and all walks of life moving inexorably towards some place where their lives were going to intersect and somehow be changed was striking. Robin and I met several people while we were on the Camino and we realized that from each of those encounters a message was passed and wisdom was gained. All we had to do was put our story on hold and listen. And listen we did. A Spanish pilgrim who emerged out of nowhere and disappeared again but not before passing on his message of the importance of kindness to others and sharing while on the Camino. Was this meant for us specifically? Who could know, but the message holds universal truth and deserves to be passed along even as a reminder. Thank you, mysterious pilgrim.

Another encounter was with a Japanese man living in a small Spanish village. He saw us in a bar and pursued us with kindness (sharing food and drink) and eventually pulled a chair up to our table. He had a tale to tell and it could not be contained. His story centered on a woman back in Japan who he was in love with but his need to get free from the constraints of the Japanese culture caused him to flee to rural Spain leaving a heartbroken women behind. She begged him to return, he would not answer her letters. She sent him airline tickets. He sold them to cover his bar tab. In short he erased her from his life. Now almost forty years later he is haunted with guilt for the way he treated this woman. He never reconciled with her and she eventually died. His sadness was visible and his need to get this story out was palpable. Why us and why now? We were just pilgrims sitting in a bar. Again, who knows but his message was clear. Always reconcile the many differences we experience in life. The burden, if you don’t, is simply crushing. Wow.

Another memorable encounter was with a young South African man, Derick, in Ruitelan. We met walking but shared much more over a couple of glasses of beer in a bar on the flanks of O’Cebreiro. The fading afternoon light had brought a chill to the mountain air but inside this small bar our worlds warmly comingled as our messages were passed along. This was like a transfusion of energy and purpose as we worked through the why of our meeting and the impact on the way ahead. I always find these situations fascinating and intriguing. And I can’t help but wonder why they happened?

A final thought. One afternoon, as we walked through occasional rain showers on the road to Muxia, we hailed a passing car and asked for directions. The driver, an elderly farmer, told us to go the “cruz ” and turn left. Well in Spanish the word for cross is also the word for intersection. Perhaps this symbol, the cross, which for centuries has been a source of spirtual comfort and guidance for beleaguered pilgrims also reminds us that, whenever our lives intersect (cross) with others, we form a community of seekers looking to one another for help with our journey while sharing the hope of  finding healing, wisdom, and grace. The cross always beckons, but it’s mystery is only unlocked when we choose to respond.

Buen camino

Thoughts on a friend’s wife passing

As Robin and I returned from a friend’s memorial service this afternoon, for his recently departed wife, we could not help but reflect on the fleeting nature of our time in this life and the complexities of reconciling life and death. I would guess that we all have a spiritual relationship that usually hides quietly, for some, behind an artifice that screens our true feelings. This is not a revelation but simply a recognition of how guarded we are when it comes to talking about the inner journey we all experience. Organized religions compete for our pastoral care and our contributions, but when one really drills down, how different are we? My guess is that the answer is not much. To that point Robin reminded me of two transcendent Native American poems that capture eloquently that sense of universal loss, hope, and reconciliation that we all struggle to embrace as those we love depart.

A Native American Prayer


Do not stand at my grave and weep. 
I am not there. I do not sleep.


I am a thousand winds that blow, I am the softly falling snow,
I am the gentle showers of rain, I am the fields of ripening grain.
I am the morning hush. I am the graceful rush of beautiful birds in circling flight.


I am the star shine of the night, 
I am in the flowers that bloom,
I am in a quiet room,
I am in the birds that sing, I am in each lovely thing.


Do not stand at my grave and weep, I am not there,
I do not die.




A Lakota Prayer


Oh, great Spirit


Whose voice I hear in the winds, and whose breath gives life to all the world,
Hear Me ! I am small and weak, I need your strength and wisdom.


Let me walk in beauty, and make my eyes ever behold the red and purple sunset.
Make my hands respect the things you have made and my ears sharp to hear your voice.


Make me wise so that I may understand the things you have taught my people.
Let me learn the lessons you have hidden in every leaf and rock. 


I seek strength, not to be greater than my brother,
but to fight my greatest enemy, myself.


Make me always ready to come to you with clean hands and straight eyes. 
So when life fades, as the fading sunset, 
my spirit may come to you without shame.

As you reflect on these words let us be reminded that we are all travelers on this earth each sharing a piece of the universal truth of why we are here and what we are meant to do. Our charge is to find the language that allows us all to converse and share, as eloquently as we can, about how each of us effects change in the hearts of those we encounter.

Peace be with you…

Once and future pilgrims

A few short months have passed since our return from the Camino, but in a sense we never left it. Each day we talk, to some degree or another, about its impact on us. We nibble around the edges of a variety of scenarios that all lead us back to Spain to that unique fulfillment that the Camino experience provides. Hospitalero training and volunteering, longer routes, shorter routes, no established routes all are in orbit as possibilities as we consider the next step in our relationship with the Camino and the community of travelers it embraces. Time and money are the two practical matters that loom ever present. Sometimes those matters are in the foreground but mostly in the background as we don’t want constraints on our dreams. In our experience audacious plans have always found a pathway to fruition. Why shackle one’s imagination. Life really is too short to undershoot or sell short what your heart calls you to do. Sure there will be trade offs and sacrifices but dreams can become reality and should. Caution, security, and stability all have a place in our lives, but these concerns should be tempered so as not to be allowed to limit our lives, cripple our imaginations, and strip us of hope.

Think back on any work environment and see what becomes of youth after a career of sacrifice, caution, and dreams denied. It is pretty chilling. Obviously, work careers are not always that bleak, but frequently enough, they are. Enough of that, as we each know where our particular balance point between acknowledging our responsibilities and converting hope to action lies. My point being (at last) that our peace will never be discovered on a field of trepidation. Find the courage to dream large and stop living in the future as the present is all we truly have and can count on.
So, taking our own words of advice Robin and I will be looking to return to the Camino next year. Our hope is that we can have a plan in place by next summer to walk the Arles route into Spain, via the Somport pass, and then continue down the Camino Frances to Santiago and on to Finisterre. This is a longer route (about a 1000 miles total) and a bit more rigorous as there is a fair amount of mountain walking, but courage mes amis, along with the prayers of pilgrims past will win the day. Our preference would be to start in the fall so as to arrive at Finisterre by mid December and allow time to be home at Christmas. Robin promised her choir director that she would not jump ship over Christmas again. Some constraints, as we see, are simply there.
Courage

감사합니다! (greetings to Korean Pilgrims)

카미노여행중 가장놀라왔던것중의 하나는 많은 한국인들이 이순례자의길을 알고있고 또 참여하고있다는것이었다. 내가 한국을 떠난지 26년이 지났고 그동안 많은것이 변했지만 여행중에, 특히 이 먼순례자의길에서 모국인들은 만난다는것은 기쁜일이 아닐수없다. 더많은 세월이 지나기전에 남편과 함께 다시한번 카미노순례를 하기원하며 또 그때에는 Hospitalero서 봉사하는것도 계획하는중이다. 그때 만날 모국인들을 위하여 내가할수있는일이 무엇인가를 늘 생각하고 있으며, 작은것이라도 도움을 줄수있기를 기대한다.
카미노에서 만났던 모국인들, 그리고 지금까지 우리블락을 읽어주신 모든 분들에게 감사드리며, Buen Camino!
로빈

The Arles Route

Click to enlarge

I am starting to research this route to identify what times of the year when risk outweighs reward. Robin and I would love to do it in the fall or early winter. We were very lucky with our Camino Frances this past winter as the weather was unusually clement. I suspect that bit of luck has now run its course and we therefore must expect, and plan for, a mountain winter with lots of snow and cold temps. The question is always how much snow and just how cold? One thing that I am realizing is that weather in these mountain ranges is absolutely unpredictable. We just want to be as sure as possible that the weather extremes at the time of year we travel will be survivable. No fools us. We are attracted to the road less traveled and I notice that this route seems to fit that bill. This can also be a point of concern as one might ask the question why that is the case. I need to better understand that. This route ends at Puente la Reina, but we would hope to continue on to Santiago and Finisterre as well. We shall see. We are in the early stages of our planning, but already I sense a growing restlessness to be back on the Camino. So for now I am enjoying the pre-camino planning, dreaming, and preparing that I find so compelling and encouraging. It is this interim of anticipation that gives us time to gather our strength, relish our dreams, and smile at the challenges. We shall see what reality comes later. But for now, we are beckoned, and at the end of each day, a prayer is offered that soon we will feel the good earth of the camino under our hiking boots once again.

The story continues

I have long been absent from this blog as business and other distractions have competed (and prevailed) for my time. I know it is not fair to anyone’s readers to just depart from the story without explanation, but in the blog world this just seems to happen. I must admit it is a strange etiquette that we sadly get accustomed to. Perhaps it is because bloggers are at once both intimate with and yet distant from our readers that we grant ourselves permission to behave differently (perhaps even badly). My apologies.

To the story…much has happened since my last post. Robin and I, looking at our finances and making an accounting of what we might do in the time we are gifted with, have decided to opt for retirement. This seemed like a straight forward decision, but as the months have passed my mind has been flooded with the consideration of the consequences (both intended and unintended) of walking away from a career. This I have found is a separation process that simply requires working through. It is not as though I am bailing out early. I will be 65 in November and that just seemed like enough time devoted to the comings and goings of life at the office. So now what? In the short term it is completing the separation process, getting our finances settled down, and simply enjoy walking in the autumnal glory of the Pacific Northwest. It is interesting to note that since returning from the Camino last February Robin and I have hardly missed a day walking. We seem to do at least five miles a day (after work) and the ten miles on a Saturday and Sunday as events allow. It is just what we now do. I also cannot deny the impacts that future Caminos have on our walking schedule. Let’s just say we are trying to stay “Camino ready.”

The Arles route still has its strong calling. We had hoped to be able to start this coming winter but a March pilgrimage to the Holy Land has intervened and it now looks as though the earliest we could start will be October 2012. That would give us the time to continue on to Santiago and Finisterre and perhaps on to Muxia again before returning home for Christmas. Another option, offered by a friend, is to walk Cadiz, Seville, Santiago, Ferrol. We will get our plans in order this winter as we settle into retirement and just see how things work out. One way or another we will be back on the Camino just as soon we can. In the meantime we will fully enjoy each day that comes our way.

A few weeks back Robin and I climbed a local mountain, Larch Mountain, with our Camino packs (17 and 20 pounds respectively). It was great to feel the weight of our packs and to enjoy the challenge of crossing the Pyrenees in Portland once again. Left at 8:45 and found ourselves in the base lodge bar at 4:45 after 14 miles (roundtrip) and 8000 feet of elevation change (4000 up and 4000 back). A cold beer never tasted so good. Knees hurt like hell for two days, but loved every minute of it.

Ultreia!

Columbia River from the summit

There is a longing in my heart

Robin and I saw the movie “The Way” yesterday and found ourselves dealing with a cascade of emotion as we were brought back to our time on the Camino. I particularly was drawn to a comment in the film that said no one walks the Camino by accident. I believe that is true. Yes, admittedly it is hard to understand just how all this would work when people walk the Camino for so many different reasons, but are those reasons really so different. Therein lies the mystery. Perhaps there is a connective thread of sorts that weaves its way through the many pilgrims and their personal journeys to and along the Camino. We have a Canadian friend, Daniel, who we met on the Camino, who would say that, regarding the Camino, we all start as walkers but finish as pilgrims. After his three Caminos I trust his wisdom on the subject. It is almost as though the prayers of all the saints and all the pilgrims past transform us as we make pilgrimage to Santiago. For people who have other views (or none) of religion or spirituality they try to resist this feeling because it is such an alien concept. But, with All Saints Day just around the corner I feel particularly connected to those who have proceeded us in this life especially those who, over the past thousand years, have made their way along the Camino. Whatever mindset you bring to the Camino the prayers of those many pilgrims past will be your constant companion and comforter even if you choose to believe that the many wonders of the Camino are just a bit of good luck.

Reflections

Daylight is struggling to shift the morning mists to a paler shade of grey. Portland to the south, shrouded in fog, is lost from view. The nearest trees are just vague dark smudges, hardly silhouettes. Robin, got a lead on me today as she rose early to prepare her music for an ordination mass this morning. I followed an hour later, gathering a bit of breakfast and some tea (Bamboo Mountain) along the way. As the trilling of scales upstairs signaled no conversation was forthcoming I reached out for the book nearest at hand. It was John Brierley’s Camino Guide. A few days earler, Robin and I, had been caught in a Camino moment (again), and dug out John’s book to clarify a name. It has since been close at hand (why bother to put it away). Some, as I have read, feel John’s writing is a bit too reflective. They just want the practical bits. But, I thoroughly connect with him, and enjoy his inner musings. The Camino for Robin, and I, presented many of the same challenges that John relates in his guide. After all, don’t we all share the same human weaknesses? It is clearly important to have a full understanding of the route, the equipment you will need, the terrain, and the weather, but it is also became clear as we walked along that there was an inner journey that emerged which we had not fully considered or prepared for. Of course, I don’t know how one prepares for that sort of thing, but that companion journey turned out to be more compelling than the physical one. I guess I would just simply say to be aware for the blessing of silence and the freedom from distraction. What that enables on your Camino will be your personal discovery, and joy. For us, it was in those many quiet moments, as we made our way down the Camino in December and January, where our faith awakened, and a connection to the Camino was forged forever. Robin often refers to this experience as a love letter from God. She just might be on to something.