The End is Our Beginning

            We had arrived in Santiago de Compostella, which is the endpoint for many people who choose to do the pilgrimage of Camino de Santiago.  The film The Way popularized this bucket list journey.  The most traditional path is to take the Camino Frances route, which begins in St-Jean-Pied-de-Port France, and then transitions into Spain through the Pyrenes mountains and traverses for 500 miles.  Generally, one needs to do at least 100 kilometers to receive a certificate of completion.  Regardless of how many miles one walks, generally the destination was our starting point.  

            It was our initial day in Spain, and we were beginning our journey at everyone’s end.  On our first night, we went into the Cathedral, that houses the remains of the apostle St. James.  For hundreds of years people have walked to this location for this specific purpose, to see where St. James lies.  It seemed taboo.  Had we earned the right to visit without yet putting on our walking shoes?  Our walking journey was to begin the next day, but we could take in the evening’s festivities of this celebrated town. 

            I am not new to the Spanish culture.  This was my 21st trip to Spain, and my second time embarking on this pilgrimage in Santiago.  Yet this time our route was to end in Finistere, also known as the end of the world.  It’s been said that this Celtic path predates the Catholic pilgrimage.  We were hopeful the exploration of the city that evening would massage out the kinks that occurred at the airport hours before.  We were lucky it did.  

            After securing a walking stick, a delicious meal of tapas and patatas bravas, a tasty pastry, and rations for the next day’s journey, we strolled the streets to see what the night would reveal.  The tourist shops had now closed, and it was solely bars that were open at this hour.  Then we stumbled onto an archway by the church.  It served more as a portal.  Generally during the day, a musician plays his bagpipe, demonstrating the Celtic traditions that still exude in this land of Galicia.  But at this hour, the bagpipes were packed away, and were replaced with an opera singer.  

I love most street performers.  They move an audience to stop the busy-ness of their lives and slow down, and simply take in the gift of music they are sharing.  The opera singer sang several popular opera songs, the crowd slowly started to build.  Then the tunes changed, and he began singing “My Way,” which generally isn’t my favorite song, as it reminds me of an American middle aged drunk man’s go to karaoke song, as a bar closes.  But there were other people in the audience that seemed to enjoy it.  A tiny group of three older people who looked as if they were tourists and friends had their arms around each other.  They swayed and sang.   The opera singer appreciated their immersive experience.  When it was time for the chorus, the opera singer pointed to the trio and allowed them to take the stage.  “I did it my way.”  People had stopped to sit on the steps, and observe this magical moment.  For a brief passing period of time, we were all connected.  I couldn’t help but cry witnessing this beautiful example of collective gratitude and mindfulness.  These were not tears of sadness or worry for my future.  These were tears of joy I was able to experience this moment of collective bliss.  

            Perhaps starting at the end wasn’t a bad decision.  It was how this journey was to begin.  We could harvest the beauty and love shared from the evening onto the next day’s 23 kilometer trek.  I couldn’t wait to see what was next in store. 

Awaiting the Camino

 
The journey for a pilgrimage begins as you prep to go to the airport.  Regardless of your method of accessing the airport: walking, metro, bus (we took all three), it’s all part of the Camino.  It’s interesting how your zen center can be tipped off balance easily, with pushy fellow passengers, a lack of air conditioning, overcrowding, people coughing behind you without masks, or the joys of going through security check and dropping your laptop.  All happened, and therefore I wanted to relax and have a cappaccino and asked the barista if there were espresso shots in the cappacinos.  He said yes, but I did not see him or anyone prepare them.  They were premade espresso shots.  I asked for espresso, and therefore he made a separate shot, he double charged me.  A small cappaccino somehow equated to 6.70 euros.  Lost in translation, he complained to his coworkers about me, and I internally repeated the conversation complaining to myself.  This is all part of the journey, and I am writing this now to decompress and realign myself with my chilled nature.  
               My friend and I are flying from Paris to Santiago de Compostella to embark in part of the Camino.  Yet this part of the voyage is a walking pilgrimage from Santiago to Finisterre, also known as the end of the earth.  Pilgrims have taken this voyage for hundreds of years. 

               You don’t want the beginning of a spiritual pilgrimage to be tainted with tiny aggravating occurrences.  But one cannot be blissed out for an entire trip.  We are human who deal with other irritating humans.  The goal is to not avoid all stressful situations, but  how to bounce back, find your center so it doesn’t ruin an entire trip. 
               Perhaps for you it’s taking several deep breaths, or listening to music to drown out the world, writing, or walking to a secluded area of the airport.  Do what you need to decrease that sympathetic nervous system and align with the chilled you.

Adjustments to Meditation

        My mother is visiting for 10 days, which is lovely.  BUT whenever I have a visitor, or whenever I travel, my morning spiritual routine must shift.  I have grown accustomed to living alone and making my morning sacred :  journaling (morning pages), gratitude, breathwork, meditation, yoga, spiritual texts.  But now it has to shift, my mom even said this morning « no time for yoga when I’m here. »  and so I must improvise.  My meditation shifts to the evening, or I am reminded that walking my dogs is a walking moving meditation.  This is what it must be.  The trip is time limited, and just because for several days it has to be altered, it doesn’t mean I must lose the essence of the practice .  

      Years ago, this was the problem with my meditation practice.  I became attached to what it had to look like.  I only meditated using one particular method, and if it did not fit that mold, then I viewed it as if I had  failed at meditation for the day.  But over the years, I’ve learned to have more self compassion for myself.  I’ve learned to be flexible, and to include other aspects of life into my meditation.
       It’s easy in some ways to live a spiritual life on your own, or while you are on a meditation retreat.  But what about when you get thrown into the everyday world ?  Things must shift, and so it has.  And this is okay.
       We can still live with intention, even if our days are jolted a bit.   We can appreciate it for what it is versus being irritated it does not look a particular way.  We can turn towards the beings that are in our atmosphere and learn to mold our spiritual life to wave like strands of long grass in the wind.  Flexibility is key to our daily lives, even with our morning discipline. 

What are you waiting for?

            Yesterday I wore a dress for no particular reason for the first time.  There was nothing special about the day, an impromptu market stroll, lunch, and beach time.  But I decided since I’m on holiday, why not?  I had brought the dress with me, what was I waiting for?  So often with “premiering an outfit,” (as my friend Erica says), I feel it must be for a particular occasion.  But why?  If this is the case, I may be waiting for a day that never arrives.

            Last year, I had gone shopping at a vintage shop in Bury St. Edmunds, and debated to by a fascinator for my hair.  I didn’t think I had a fancy event to wear this to, and said it aloud to a friend.  The store worker said, “every day can be special or fancy.”  Her words of encouragement stayed with me.  I bought the hair piece.  She was a great sales lady, but also spoke poignant words.  I need to remind myself this.  It’s like when people are deliberate of what dishes to use for guests or themselves.  They wait to put out only the good silverware or expensive plates for guests.  Aren’t we enough to celebrate? 

This may seem trivial to think of our precious belongings we own, and our desire to savor them for the right moments.  But expand your view of what this is representative of.  The time is now.  Life is short and if we take this mentality, there is value and worth in every moment.  It doesn’t have to be captured on film or be filled with other people wearing expensive attire to count.  Our life is full of moments available for us to participate and luxuriate in.

 “One can make a day of any size and regulate the rising and setting of his own sun and the brightness of its shining.”

– John Muir.

Stumbling onto the past

Recently, I found myself lost after getting off at a metro stop.  I had plans to visit the local hammam, which was a six minute walk, according to my GPS.  Yet, when I followed the GPS, I found myself getting further and further from the destination.  Minutes went up, but the arrow was off.  I found myself walking in circles, and found myself by the Pantheon. I had just visited there the week prior.  As I walked in the direction I came, the minutes went down.  I got closer to the hammam.  But I stumbled on something else.  A Roman Arena.  Arenes de Lutece.

I had heard about this place the week prior.  It is located in the 5th Arrondisment, and according to history, it was hidden for centuries.    It was constructed in the 1st Century AD, could hold 15000 people, and existed to demonstrate the valiance of gladiators.  Romans once ruled the land, and throughout time were overtaken.  Eventually the arena became a cemetery.  More and more was placed upon this site.  Over time people knew the arena once existed, but the exact location was unknown until the 1860s when it was discovered by individuals wanting to build a tramway on the site.  Allegedly, there were protests to stop the demolition of this historic site.  One person who fought to preserve this was Victor Hugo himself.  

I felt guided to visit this place, perhaps this is why I was lost with my GPS.  My eyes were alert to go to this arena. I have lived in Paris for several months, and visited many times before, but never heard of this place.  Locals informed me this is hidden from Paris, and I can see why.   Arenes de Lutece has turned into a special park, that has a sense of tranquility from the busy-ness of the city.  I went on a weekday, and the stands had people sharing lunch with their friends, or reading, or journaling.  It’s located in the Latin Quarter, and it’s a quiet spot to simply be.  

I appreciate the little ways this town continues to surprise me with it’s history, allure, and magic.


“You can’t escape the past in Paris, and yet what’s so wonderful about it is that the past and present intermingle so intangibly that it doesn’t seem to burden.” — Allen Ginsberg