My Favorite Tee-shirt

The day finally came where I must lay my favorite white tee shirt to rest.  Purchased at the Victoria & Albert Museum during the Frida Kahlo exhibit, it read the words “I am my own muse” in royal blue letters.  Yet the shirt appeared to be a puzzle for many, as it was written backwards, and could only be deciphered when the individual could view herself in the mirror.  This simple fitted white tee shirt seemed to be packed in my luggage for numerous travel adventures: a girls trip to Miami, walking into the pyramids of Giza, climbing trees in a National Trust forest in the United Kingdom, and finally completing the Camino de Santiago in Spain.  Even though a tiny hole was forming under the left armpit, I vowed to keep her.  But the last journey of the Camino ruined her, as she was stained from the remnants of my pink sports bra, after massive amounts of sweat was secreted.  I tried cleaning her with bleach, hoping the stain would be removed.  Yet the time has come for me to release her.  She served her purpose.  She transferred the power and feistiness from Frida to me when needed most .

Universal Humility

After completing 114 kilometers of the Camino de Santiago from Sarria to Santiago de Compostella, there are numerous insights I want to share.  Yet one that stands out is this concept of universal humility.  I have been part of numerous groups, retreats, learning and work experiences over the years throughout the world.  Regardless of the people, there always seems to be a sense of one upmanship.  One exemplifies their status through their brand of clothes they wear, accessories, the newest tech gadgets, who they have studied with, or over the top bragging of career accomplishments.  It may not be overt, perhaps it is subtle, but it is always there.  

       But when I walked the Camino with my tour group of 15, this did not exist.  Barriers were broken of status, age, country, and experiences.  It did not matter where we came from, what mattered was we showed up each day for the journey.  One has no choice but to be humbled every morning and evening, as we cared for our achy feet, blisters, back pains, or sore old wounds that re-appeared.  All struggled and were humbled by the process. 

       It’s hard to be full of oneself, when one is malodorous.  Together we walked, struggled, and smelled day after day.  Similar clothes were worn, in addition to our accessories of backpacks, walking sticks, and the conch shell symbolizing our status as pilgrims. This is what humbled me, or humbled us. We were choosing to walk 114 kilometers, in a day and age where everything is instantaneous. We were walking through rural landscapes, of pastures filled with cows, dirt roads, or tiny villages.  We were not travelling to be tourists or take in the luxuries of the Spanish lifestyle.  We were travelling for the sake of being a pilgrim, whether this was an adventurous bucket list item, spiritual vow, or as a way to mark transitions in our lives.  We were walking out questions in our lives, through the peaks and dips of unexpected hills, pain, joy, monotony, silence, noise, and comradery.   

       Through allowing oneself to be humble, it’s easy to remove the ego.  There’s no need for defenses, as everyone else is bowing down to the Camino.  As egos our dropped, authenticity can be revealed.  And this is one of the most precious gifts I found of the Camino. 

       I am aware as I write this, fellow peregrinos may be biased for people who choose to do the Camino with a tour group and only the last 100 kilometers.  There may be preconceived notions that this is not the full 500 mile trek, and we cheated for walking six full days is not the entire experience.  

Yet, I do want to share the group I walked with, our hearts were pure and ready for this pilgrimage.  For many of us it’s not something we did to check off the list, but an opening towards the pilgrim way that exists within.  I’m reminded of words of wisdom I heard that the arrival to Santiago, is only the beginning of the journey, not the end.

       May you continue to reflect, grow, and be present on your current journey.  And maybe one day, you may meet your soul and others on the camino. Buen Camino. 

Last Minute Prep For My Camino Taster

The Camino has called me for the past seventeen years, and I am finally saying yes to the quest.  I was 25 years old when I first heard of the Camino de Santiago.  I was on my first solo backpack trip across Europe, and had just left San Fermin in Pamplona.  This event is also otherwise known as the Running of the Bulls (this will be saved for another post). Exhausted and excited, I was headed to Barcelona via train and found myself talking with fellow travellers.  They were an American mother and 20something son, who shared their recent summer holiday  walking the Camino Frances route of the Camino de Santiago.  They wanted to spend time bonding together after the son had graduated from college.  It intrigued me.  Why would anyone walk 500 miles?  My family never went on hikes.  I never had the urge to do a marathon or anything to overly physically exert my body.  I was already having a difficult time navigating Europe with a backpack and large luggage, while using public transportation.  But walk?  I understood this was a pilgrimage, but had never had met anyone in person that accomplished such a feat.  I also was the first of my family and friends to backpack Europe, and I realized jet setting in this capacity exposed me to a world of people I was unfamiliar with.  These people were true wanderlusters who embarked on journeys for the sake and story of adventure.  They were not the bourgeouise, who only stayed in five starred hotels and popped from city to city on a one week vacation.  They were not tourists but travellers.

         Over the years, the Camino seemed to pop back into my life.  One modality was the film The Way starring Martin Sheen, which was a beautiful story that shared several characters journeys of why they took this endeavor.  The characters were all of different ages and life experiences, but walked with intention.  Camino de Santiago has theoretically been a pilgrimage on and off for over 2,000 years.  Traditionally it was taken by Catholics, to walk towards the location where the apostle St. James’ remains were buried.  In addition, reportedly, it was a way to spend less time in purgatory.  But more recently people not only choose to do this for religious reasons, but to mark transitional moments in their life, to prove one’s physical and emotional strength, for health reasons, for the adventure, and even to walk towards an answer.  The path takes on average four to six week to complete, and there are multiple starting points depending on the path (Frances, Portuguese, del Norte, Primitivo, Ingles).  To receive a certificate of completion, one must complete at least 100 kilometers walking or 200 kilometers bicycling.  

         On another trip, I was in Malaga Spain, alone for Christmas.  I chose to stay in a hostel and met loads of fellow travellers.  One individual was a female social worker from a Nordic country.  She shared her stories of walking the Camino de Santiago. She used to work in an adolescent correctional facility.  One amazing thing the country offered to these individuals was the potential opportunity to transform via this pilgrimage.  One dozen adolescents were hand selected each year, after having written an essay as to why this journey would be beneficial for them.  One staff member would accompany this individual on this walk.  They would walk together for the six weeks.  This seemed surreal to me.  The national government offering a pilgrimage opportunity in lieu of time served?  The program had gone on for decades with numerous stories of success and emotional development. She also shared that she was assisting in gathering data for an upcoming book about this practice.  For this she interviewed one of the first participants who took the journey 30-40 years prior.  After she spoke with him on the phone, he automatically left to do the journey once again.  He was reminded of what a monumental life changing moment this was and vowed to repeat it.  

         I was hungry for this transformation, but thought a journey like this was totally out of the question for me.  As an American, I received only three weeks off per year, which is inclusive of sick days.  When would I have this amount of time available just to walk? Then I met a previous American Camino voyager in the Shakespeare Bookstore in Paris who felt the same way.  She nudged me I can still do this and offered what she had done.  Each year, she took a different part of the journey, and collectively made one long Camino.  She reminded me I don’t have to do the journey one particular way, there are multiple paths to get there.  Some take longer than others.  This still counts.  

Interest in the Camino is growing in 2019, over 350,000 pilgrims received a certificate of completion. In 1985, there were only 1200 people who completed this. Even in 2020 with the pandemic, over 53,000 people completed it.  Once many of us here of this journey repeatedly, it’s as if the Camino is calling us.  

         I thought of this for years, and finally during the pandemic I decided to take her advice.  I began to search for organized walking tours that I could sign up for.  I paid a deposit with one organization, who postponed their remaining trips for the year.  Disappointment loomed, maybe now was not the time.  But I was able to locate another tour group who were doing one last tour in the month of October.  I signed up, and now am ready to begin. 

         Why am I doing this journey now?  I’m in a transitional period in my life.  I am leaving my full time job as a clinical psychologist in the UK and jumping into the world of being a creativity coach and author. The past six weeks have already been busy with travel, both in the United States and the United Kingdom.  I have not had much time to process this pilgrimage which has been brewing in me for years. And therefore for the past twenty four hours I have been trying to absorb as much as I can about this path, which includes listening to podcast episodes of fellow travellers sharing their tales. One individual shared that the Camino does not give you what you want, it gives you what you need.  

         I am dipping my foot into the Camino world with walking 100 kilometers in a span of 7 days with an organied group.  The Type A in me is already comparing myself to others who have been able to do the whole thing.  Yet, I remind myself that this is a possibility for the future.  What I am offering to myself is a gift of the Camino Taster.  The best part is I still am eligible for the Pilgrimage passport and certificate.  As they say on the path, Buen Camino.

Cog In The Wheel

         Several weeks ago, I was at a dinner with friends of friends celebrating a birthday dinner.  It was one of those times where you knew few people, and did the pleasantries of finding out about each other’s careers, current stance in life, and goals.  The topic drifted to the realm of entrepreneurship.  My brother is a successful entrepreneur and was at the table with me, but was not part of this particular conversation.  The person sitting next to me shared his previous life in the theater world, and I believe became a little disenfranchised.  He wanted a simple life of stability.  “I want to just be a cog in the wheel.”  

         For some reason this statement activated me.  Why would anyone want to be a “cog in the wheel?”  Although I personally do not view myself as an entrepreneur, I do value autonomy, creativity, passion, and excitement.  A life where I simply complied to what others expected or solely supporting businesses in their dreams, seems infuriating.  I chose to keep my thoughts to myself as these individuals were basically strangers.  I was only meeting them for the evening and had no plans to see them again.  His words ruminated in my mind: “a cog in the wheel.”  I mentioned this to my mentor the following week, and he nodded noting my dismay.  He later said, “that person played his role well in your life that night.”  

         I am aware that not everyone is meant to be an entrepreneur or free thinker.  How would our world run if this was the case?  Me and this man had a completely different set of values: his primary being stability and mine being authenticity.  We all do not have the same primary values, but it is quite interesting to have a conversation with someone whose values completely conflict with yours.  When was the most recent conversation where this took place for you? 

One Full Summer

As I sat on top of the Glastonbury Tor this morning, I thought I have had a full summer in 6 weeks.  I’ve explored more terrain and landscapes in this period, than people may have in lifetimes.  The art district of Philadelphia, the busy-ness of New York, the hipster footpaths of London, the refreshing waters of Miami beach, the wonders of the Colorado mountains, the small market town of Bury St. Edmunds, and now the mystical legends of Glastonbury.  And all were not solo journeys, but some were in depth travels and conversations with friends, family, and new acquaintances.  Surprisingly, this was inclusive with some days at the office, and in the midst of the ongoing pandemic.  

         Although there has been constant movement, I recognize the importance in being able to slow down, take it in.  There’s a Native American lesson that when we travel to other lands, we need some time for our souls to catch up with our bodies.  I’m allowing this to unfold.  There’s necessity to ground, for how can one integrate lessons learned if you solely just continue to have new experiences? 

And this is what I am allowing myself to do now, as I sit in my Glastonbury Bed and Breakfast, hearing the rainfall, observing the fall foliage emerging.  A new season is upon us.  The summer sun is creeping back, and making space for autumn to arise.  I treat myself by adding whipped cream to my instant coffee provided.  This is the perfect temperature for the luxury of hygge comfort and reflection.