((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.