Little Camino 10: Road Companions

(Keeping to my pledge to write thirty-four blogs, one every Monday, on how the Camino continues to affect my life– the same number as the days I walked the 500-mile pilgrimage)

Recently someone asked if I had made friends on the Camino and if we were still in touch. The answer is both yes and no– to both questions.

Yes we made Camino friends. It was so easy to share introductions, to compare our journeys, to share our joys and challenges of walking the Way. The path itself was a path of Love, as the priest in San Juan de Ortega told us that night we ate a peasant soup of garlic and bread. I didn’t like everyone I met, but there was an underlying sense of wishing them well, of Buen Camino, of the fellowship of this ancient pilgrimage path. I name so many of those friends in the book, but we did not exchange contact information. Our time of friendship was for the moment and that seems perfect to me now. And yet, each of those Camino friends is still with me. I hadn’t realized this until I sat down to write. They were brief friendships, but not casual. Somehow a whiff of each of their souls lingers in me. It is sweet and precious and authentic. Strange how I only know this now, sense the Love that bound us, and has endured in me. I walk with them yet.

I value friendship so deeply. I have friends from high school, college, P.T. school, spiritual director training, and seminary that have endured as well. And such good friends in my Alaska life. However, I have realized over time that being a good friend for me partly came from an ego need and fear. If I have a lot of friends, I must be a good person. If I am a good friend, I will be loved, safe, and belong. If I felt a friend drifting away, I would feel intense anxiety. If I lost a friendship, I felt adrift, even when I knew it was a friendship that had been good for a time, but didn’t fit anymore. I don’t judge that. But slowly over the years, I learned I can be a good friend, but it doesn’t serve as my identity or as a way of finding love. If I let that baggage fall from my hands, I am much freer to be with my friends just as they are and just as I am. There is such a deeper richness in friendship that feels true to the Love I felt on the Camino.

Perhaps it is best expressed in a card by Amber Lotus Publishing illustrated by Michael Green (








My little Camino is to bring this vow ever more truly into my friendships. Bringing freedom and joy and peace.

I am adding a photo of friends of 40 years, plus or minus, who have helped me with this vow, who don’t mind camping in the rain or listening to my pain, who laugh often, and who hold me with open hearts. And I just can be myself. Blessed Be.

Little Camino: Day 9: Keeping Darkness at Bay

(Keeping to my pledge to write thirty-four blogs, one every Monday, on how the Camino continues to affect my life– the same number as the days I walked the 500-mile pilgrimage)

Somehow I missed watching the trilogy of The Hobbit. I read the book so long ago, and always meant to watch the movie, but it wasn’t until a recent rainy day that I began the first one, An Unexpected Journey. In it, Gandalf the Wizard tries to explain why he invited a small hobbit to go on a quest to retake Erebor, the former mountain of the Dwarves, from Smaug, the fire-breathing dragon. They complain that Bilbo Baggins is small, simple, has no weapon, and is not physically strong. How can he help turn back the evil that is creeping over Middle Earth? To this Gandalf says, “I have found that it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folks that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love.” ~ Gandalf (J. R. R. Tolkein ~ The Hobbit)”

The subtitle of my book, The Long Walk Home, is Confessions on the Camino. And I have yet another confession to make about my continuing pilgrimage on this planet and facing evil.

Confession: I am normally an optimistic person. But lately I have succumbed to wondering about this human race and whether our propensity to be afraid, violent, greedy, in control, lusting for power, full of hate for our fellow beings, and a willful disregard for the planet will lead to our eventual elimination. You know the headlines–the many wars and conflicts ongoing, the plight of immigrants, the trafficking of innocent people, the corruption in governments, our part in global warming. Etc. etc. etc. Are we going to make it?

In the poem, “Frosted Fields” by Eric Trethewey, one line reads, “Why are we not better than we are?” I wonder this often. Although there are many ancient stories that explain our fall, it will remain for me, a mystery. And a deep sadness.

Yet just when I am slipping into a place of hopelessness, it is indeed those “small everyday deeds of ordinary folks” of “kindness and love” that resurrect hope. Yes, a listening ear. A card. A phone call. A hug. Showing up when someone has died. Bringing soup.

On the Camino, I was able to keep going on my journey with a cup of garlic soup given with love, by an albergue host who found us a bed, or by the man who brought us blankets on a cold night. I remember the host who gave up his job as a chef at a high class restaurant to cook meals for passing pilgrims. Or the old woman who came out on the road to bless us and wish us Buen Camino. I was discouraged many times on our journey, and not everyone was kind. But most of those ordinary folks were. And it made all the difference.

Right now, my nephew and his wife are raising a foster baby after their own sons grew up. Members of a local church are growing fresh food in their garden for the food pantries. There is a group of people in Anchorage who listen with the homeless and the sick in body, mind and spirit. There are the doctors and medical staff at the hospitals who gave of their hearts as well as their talents in saving others during the pandemic. There’s a big drive right now to provided school supplies for children. I could write on and on of these small acts of kindness and love that would fill up pages and pages and pages.

This is also true of our human race. Ordinary people do these things without need of thanks or recognition.

My little Camino is to not give in to despair and discouragement; it is to become one of those ordinary people who by small acts of kindness and love keep the darkness at bay. One day at a time. It is to remember that we as a human race have known this wisdom for millennia. In the word of the prophet Isaiah, written nearly 3000 years ago: “If you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday.” (Isaiah 58: 10)

Love matters.

Little Camino, Day 8: Seek and Be Found

(Keeping to my pledge to write thirty-four blogs, one every Monday, on how the Camino continues to affect my life– the same number as the days I walked the 500-mile pilgrimage)

Without planning to, I’ve ended up talking about many of the Ten Commandments of the Camino in these recent posts. But one I haven’t reflected on is the Fourth one: The most important luggage that a pilgrim carries is an attitude of seeking. “

This commandment makes me curious; what was the writer trying to say? It seems so obvious to me that the Camino or any pilgrimage exists purely for the soul that is seeking. In the Middle Ages, it was often a way of seeking penance, seeking healing of body and mind, and certainly on the Camino, it was a seeking of a miracle. That is still true today of pilgrimage in some aspects, as well as the seeking of adventure, the pull of travel, the discovery of what is not known. Underlying all of that is, for most, there is another sense of seeking that is hard to define.

Phil Cousineau calls the seeking a “cry of the heart.” Ibn Battia, another spiritual traveler, calls it “an overwhelming impulse.” St. Augustine called it “restlessness”. Emily Dickinson suggested “a thirst.” The seeking emerges from a sense of something missing, an emptiness, a a lack, a hole to be filled. It can be covered up by busyness, distraction, addictions of any sort, worldly success and achievement, and lots of plans for the future. But sometime, the sense that not all is complete emerges in every soul, I believe, if only for a moment. And in my experience, I name it as the separation we feel from that which created us–God, Source, Love, the Universe, the Divine, the Holy or any name that holds the Ineffable, the Mystery.

In the book The Songlines, by Bruce Chatwin, he writes, “There was an idea in the Middle Ages, that by going on pilgrimage…. you were reinstating the original condition of man. The act of walking through a wilderness was thought to bring you back to God.” Seeking implies movement; it is not staying in the same place. The soul is urged forward. But in the case of pilgrimage or any meaningful travel, it is the pull of the whole person, body and soul into that which is not known; it is a seeking without knowing what one will find or even what one is looking for. And in so many writings on pilgrimage, emerges the word “transformation.” The seeking of something to fill the hole in the soul– and to do this by walking. There is an alchemy. The seeker is changed into something new.

Even as I write these words, I can remember that insistent urge that wouldn’t leave me alone. I knew there was More. And even More to the More. And it set me out on the five hundred mile walk of the Camino Frances. And I, for one, was transformed by it. At first, I couldn’t speak about it. I hardly told anyone of the inner change, as I couldn’t really understand it with my usual mind. It felt precious, as if I would lose it. But now 15 years later, it is still here. I can see in retrospect that it was a change that kept evolving, moving. Over the years that followed, what I learned of love and trust and suffering on the Camino deepened. I’ve had lots of time to practice, and I am still practicing these continuing Little Caminos.

Yet what I didn’t realize until writing this blog post was this: While I still believe there will always be More to the More, and I love to continue to be led and guided on that journey, I no longer feel the intensity or the depth of being incomplete, or that yearning that compels me, or that restlessness that won’t rest. It’s a miracle to me to realize this. I am growing content. I am able to be still. I am trusting what I was seeking is already here. There is no more trying. Even to say that I am seeking, takes me out of being present to what is here now–heaven in this moment.

I’ve always been drawn to the words that Jesus spoke to those who listened. “Ask and it shall be given. Seek and you shall find. Knock and the door will be opened unto you.” Perhaps this week my Little Camino is to simply to rest in the fuller knowing and granting of those promises.

I have been seeking and I have been found.

Little Camino: Day 7. Those Germans

I’ve been talking about my book with friends, family, and some book groups these past few weeks. And without exception, someone brings up my frustration with “those Germans” that figure often in the narrative. Those Germans who were so numerous, so efficient, so in shape, so arrogant, bossy– and got up earlier than the rules allowed at the albergues to get the best beds at the next one.

The Sixth Commandment of the Camino (see prior posts on these) is: The camino is an opportunity for a constant encounter of self with the other. I didn’t fully appreciate what this commandment meant until the very end of the pilgrimage. It was during the pilgrim mass at Santiago that I came to realize “those Germans” were me–both genetically, psychologically and spiritually.

My father’s family came from Germany in the mid-1860’s and settled as farmers in Iowa. I came from stock who were hard-working, physically fit and yes, efficient. And I was that as well. Unconsciously, I was seeing myself in the Germans who frustrated me. And that is where the psychological part arises. Of course, I was judging them. When I first heard in a college psychology class that the thing I most hate about another person is the thing I most hate about myself, I rejected that idea immediately. And then I took a little self-test using a person whose behavior I did secretly hate. With great chagrin, I realized the professor was right. It was a huge insight which I seem to selectively remember.

So the Germans were walking too fast. I hated that about myself too. They had cellphones to call ahead and make reservations. I wanted that phone. I wanted those reservations. They seemed to be so fit and having no physical problems. I was hating my back pain and how it hindered me. They were bossy. Oh, I could so want to be the boss and tell everyone how they should act.

The judgment was so great that it took me a while to realize that I had lumped all Germans into one profile. But, of course, I met several Germans who were wonderful people, particularly a young couple near Ponferrada. They were so excited to be able to make this trip and since they spoke excellent English, we shared our joys and troubles of our journey. We met them on the last day as well, and walked into Santiago at the same time.

The Camino was a constant opportunity to see myself in the other. And I did see and feel my judgment acutely–felt its affect on my body (it tensed up), on my mind (it felt righteous) and on my heart (it felt angry.)

But interestingly, my Little Camino these days, is being aware of the balanced way to look at my judgment. I need to have compassion for myself. In essence, we all judge. We get it from our history of watching and hearing people being judge or being the one who is judged. In fact, judging becomes this loop of judging others and judging self.

As Byron Brown says in his book, Soul Without Shame, “There is nothing wrong with judgment; it is common human capacity and activity. You don’t have to feel defensive about having judgments. But if you bring a degree of self-recognition into your communication that allows more space for real contact, the other can feel you in your judgment rather than just the judgment.”

I did come to some self-recognition about my judgment; I did hug the German woman who sat in the pew with me at the pilgrim mass and saw her as a beautiful individual, not one of “those.” But what I didn’t do then, which I strive to do now, is to not then criticize myself more harshly. There’s a good humility in recognizing the error of our ways and admitting it. But there is no healing if I take all that judgment I had for “those Germans” onto myself. I came home from the Camino with shame for my judgment for thinking and speaking so harshly of them.

With a more compassionate view now, I did encounter myself in the other in not just these encounters with Germans though. There were a myriad of ways that weren’t critical. I venture now to say that the Jesus-like nature of the hospitalero in Ventosa could also be a part of me. That I saw a part of me in the funny women who stood on their heads and sang Beatle songs to avenge the cold. Or the brave Brazilian grandmother who walked by herself. With compassion, I can see myself in the frustrated bishop who I bumped into as he was trying to recess. And as I write, now I feel like I could name everyone I met as an opportunity for encountering myself–just as they are, just as I am. That is what the mystical part of the Camino points to–we are not separate. We are walking down this road together.

There are thick books written about this subject of judging self and others. There is so much more to say. And in prior blogs I have emphasized how that inner judge is the biggest barrier to knowing our true selves and those of others. But I want to end this blog with the awareness of the Sixth Commandment of the Camino. I have the opportunity with every person I ever meet to encounter a part of myself. If I see a part of myself in this encounter, I am less likely to judge harshly and more likely to understand myself and also to understand them as fellow human beings.

I sit here thinking that this will be a very hard Little Camino. But “one at a time”, says a small voice from within. “One at a time.” And. “Compassion for when you don’t.”

Little Camino, Day 6: It’s Not a Marathon.

((Keeping to my pledge to write thirty-four blogs, one every Monday, on how the Camino continues to affect my life– the same number as the days I walked the 500-mile pilgrimage)

The First Commandment of the Camino is: The Camino is not a marathon. I knew that when I started. It is not a race. It can be a test of endurance and faith, but it is not a race. I confessed many times, however, in my book that it was very hard to let others pass me on this ancient pilgrimage path. I would subtly up my pace or not take the break that I needed if I had just passed a group of other walkers. Despite knowing it, confessing it, and agreeing with the fact that the Camino isn’t a marathon, I could only fake a relaxed and slow way of being on that journey. I was powerless over my worry and hurry, addicted to going fast, being efficient, multi-tasking and achieving. There was a deep worn groove in my soul that had been carved there by my parents, my church, my school and the culture in general that affirmed me for these qualities–gold stars, A’s, awards, pats on the back and nods of approval. When someone asked my leadership style, I answered confidently, “A quiet but big bulldozer.” I would get it done, and if possible, be first or close.

But at the end of the Camino, I saw that although this drive got me to the finish line right on time, I felt I had lost anyway. My deepest nature, what I sensed was the authentic me, really did want to learn how to slow down and “walk in a relaxed manner” like we planned. I could feel that not only my soul wanted it, but my body as well. It really wasn’t a marathon, this thing called my life.

That was fifteen years ago now. And with awareness, teachers, practice and grace I am slower, but it is yet my daily and difficult little Camino. Slow down. Not just how I walk, but how I talk, drive, make bread, take a shower, wash dishes or do laundry. It has been one of the most difficult practices of my spiritual life. In short, it was losing my familiar and seemingly successful self. And it was scary. Who was I without those supports? And yet there was no turning around; I knew it was one of the gifts of the Camino that I couldn’t give back.

So it goes like this. Don’t jump out of bed. Sense my body first. Give thanks for the day. Roll out slowly, giving my body time to adjust. Take a breath noticing where it feels tight or open in my body. Bless and then drink a glass of water, feeling it go down my throat. Check in with myself. What’s here now? Stretch first or meditate? Notice if I’m hungry yet. See what I hunger for. Open the door of the fridge with curiosity. What can I create to eat? And so it goes–on a good day. I drive below the speed limit, don’t run yellow lights, don’t tap my foot waiting in line–on a good day.

It is both so rewarding and so agonizing. Old voices come in ALL the time to question this apparent slowness, judging it as being almost lazy, inefficient for sure, boring, ridiculous and over-reacting. I choose not to listen. I’m like a kid learning to play a new game. I’m kind of clunky at it, but I trust I can learn this new way of being.

I don’t mean there isn’t a time for being fast, efficient and multi-tasking in my life. But I want to use these as tools when needed rather than as my identity.

I’m on retreat this week with the teachers Hameed Ali and Karen Johnson. The subject is TIME. And I’m beginning to glimpse how it could be possible to slow down and relax so much, that what I accomplish isn’t by me, but through me. It’s even more efficient that me trying. That wonderful feeling of flow.

It was like that on the river this past week, floating down the Nizina and Chitina and Copper Rivers in Wrangell St. Elias National Park. I was carried along by a force greater than myself. There was a measured slowness to the days, putting on drysuits, packing the rafts, setting up camp, eating when hungry, absorbing beauty. Wilderness can be stormy and surprising, but this trip it was all sun and calm. It held stillness at its depths and a way of being that knows going slow and waiting with long-practiced elegance.

The First Commandment fo the Camino is my ongoing mantra; The Camino is not a marathon. Life is not a marathon. Each day is not a marathon. It can be so slow and full of presence that all is held in a full, vast and pure moment.

Pullout on the Chitina River