Little Camino, Day 14:More on Being Human

Jack Kornfield quote: If you can sit quietly after difficult news; if in...

You may know this quote by spiritual teacher, Jack Kornfield, but I only heard it for the first time during a retreat this past week. Maybe like me, you thought he was referring to the ideal for a human being, only to be startled and amused by the last line. I burst out laughing, realizing in an instant how we are conditioned to feel we need to be perfect as human beings, or else we are somehow deficient. Actually, we are as we are, “warts and all” as another saying goes. And certainly not consistently able to be what a dog can be. As a dog cannot be what a human can manifest.

On my Camino, I consistently realized how I was not living up to my ideal of what a pilgrim should be; in one way, it was good to see my ego and to confess my inability to live up to it. Yet in another way, it was still the ego that was criticizing–the part of us that judges ourselves and others so harshly. I wish I could see then as I see now that there is no one right way to walk the Camino or to live our lives. And the way I did it was simply what it was. And if then, I could have simply recognized that I was being human, let myself alone, and enjoyed the journey, even with all its ups and downs. This becoming more human means to me a coming to allow all of life and not rejecting what is. As one of my fellow students on this retreat said, “It’s kind of ridiculous to reject Reality.”

I can laugh now thinking back on how not only did I want to be something like Kornfield’s description of a dog–faithful, unflappable, accepting, calm, happy–but I also wanted my Camino experience to be like that–sunny weather, welcoming and available places to sleep, perfect health, kind fellow pilgrims. In brief, I was being human, giving in to my instincts of wanting only pleasure and safety. I don’t judge that now, as it taught me so much about myself. But there was much more to learn in these years that have followed about just being with whatever is happening–sun or mud, kind or arrogant people that pass me on my journey, things that come easily or things I would never write into my script. Can I allow them all, trusting they are ALL part of what is unfolding, and even if not entirely sure, just be curious?

Now that the retreat is over and I am left with all this wisdom in my lap, I want to remember a quote by one of my teachers, John Davis: “We don’t come to this work to be different. We come to this work to be who we are.” And that takes years to slowly uncover and reclaim from all the hurts and wounds that cause us to hide behind ego. But with love, it is possible to find that freedom to just be ourselves, and how ordinarily extraordinary that can be. Something not separate from the Divine.

(When in doubt or wavering, let a dog lay its head in your lap, and remember.)

Steve and Dozer, dozing at the cabin.

Little Camino: Day 13, Becoming Human Beings

(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)

It’s our two weeks of autumn here in Alaska. Just a short season from when the leaves turn golden, the tundra turns red, and the tips of the mountain peaks bear their first dusting of snow– to when a strong chinook blows all the leaves off in a fabulous fury, and the valley lies naked until snowfall. I’ve been hiking with a certain intensity this week, wanting to feel the rustle of leaves under my shoes, and and watch those quivering leaves do their final dance to the ground. Driving up Eagle River Valley during these two weeks is a daily pilgrimage for me, drinking in the colors and vibrancy just before the vegetation completes its summer cycle, knowing it is a precious and brief brief moment–which makes it all the sweeter. I pass car after car stopped along the road, people taking pictures, or just standing dumbstruck like me at the sheer resounding beauty of the slopes, and the grey glacier river running through.

I walked down to the river yesterday with six other friends, wearing colorful scarves, holding flowers in our hands and sharing sweet memories about our dear friend who died two years ago on this day. She was as golden as those leaves and beautiful as those mountain peaks. She too completed her season on this earth in autumn, in the middle of the night while the wind blew like a banshee, echoing our grief.

When we reached the river, we read words from her journal, summing up what she had experienced after a pilgrimage we took together in 2009 to sacred sites in France, Scotland and Ireland. She wrote:

“I choose to believe in grace, which is to me a gifting of life in every moment. A life we create out of an unlimited abundance of choices. We come into this world a unique being, dust to dust, and yet with a continuing essence of Being that has moved in all of creation and appears it always will. So what is the purpose to life? In this moment my heart says it is to open our hearts to the oneness of all, and to receive the gifts and joys of this reality, as well as to share our unique gifts and joys with unconditional love.”

You see why I miss her so.

As I left the Santiago cathedral after Pentecost Mass, completing our journey, I was struck by the oneness Linda described as the very purpose of life, being in a pilgrim mass stuffed with people from all over the globe, all who arrived as we did, tired and elated. And on Pentecost, the holy day that remembers when people of many nations and languages gathered to hear about the message of Jesus. Again the oneness.

Linda and I leaving on our sacred sites pilgrimage 2009.

My little Camino will forever be to see my fellow human beings as all members of this Earth tribe–we privileged ones who are kept alive by this generous planet. We humans have the potential to destroy the earth and each other, but also the potential, and I think our birthright, to love beyond any condition, to give with no expectation of return, to create a sanctuary here where all belong and are welcomed. We realize our possibility as a human being and, as Linda wrote, make choices that bring about a dream we hold collectively– of peace and justice, beauty and truth. To walk the Camino of becoming fully human and all one.

Little Camino, Day 12:When Things Go Wrong

((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)

It was a rare sunny day yesterday when I presented a book talk and short walk at the Eagle River Nature Center. It was a lovely gathering of old friends who came to hear more, and of new people who were interested in walking the Camino themselves. Some had read my book and some had not. So I was speaking to an interesting crowd.

These blogposts are oriented around how the Camino continues to inform my life, and now that I am talking about the journey with so many, I’m surprised how often people make a correlation with their own lives as well. I asked the question, “What has been your Camino? In that, I mean, when have you had a journey that may have been challenging, but changed you? Was there a sense of longing in that journey?

And everyone did. It wasn’t a 500-mile trip, but each could name one or several experiences that had been significant. There was some satisfaction in that for those that shared. It was as if they were understanding their own Camino in a new way as I have.

Although I had gone out to the Nature Center the day before and checked that there were the right connections for my computer, there hadn’t been time to actually turn on the projector. So twenty minutes before the talk began, we realized I would need to export 96 photos to another program for it to work. I could feel my old anxiety arise and some self blame for not fully checking it out. And then….the Camino came to me. Trust in what is unfolding. I took a breath, felt my feet on the floor and knew it would work out. I could probably talk for the hour without the slides, but it added so much to see the places I was describing. I had resigned myself to letting go when my computer-savvy son arrived. As I talked for 45 minutes, he created the new program, and I was able to show all the slides. I have become willing to let things be a bit messy.

I have written a lot of how my basic trust in life grew on the Camino and in the years that followed. But it isn’t as if I “get it” or most anyone can live into fully. But yesterday, I learned I have changed, and my trust is quicker to have the louder voice when things go wrong. A basic trust that no matter what happens, I’ll be okay.

It’s such a good way to live. And so I ask you? What has been your Camino? How have you changed? Perhaps a physical journey, but perhaps an emotional or mental one. What happened to your ability to trust?

I’m beginning to trust we are all linked with a story like mine. We all have that book we could write.

Little Camino: Day 11; Nothing To Do

(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)

As I sat down to write my blog this week, and wrote Day 11, I thought, “What was I doing on Day 11 on my actual Camino walk? When I looked it up, I realized it was quite a significant day; we walked into the village of San Juan de Ortega, which was really just an ancient monastery, a small cafe and a church. The rest was of the old town was a rubble of stones. Here I heard a memorable story of how a woman came to walk the Camino in heels and pulling a rolling suitcase, was served garlic soup around a warm fire, and sang with other pilgrims as the priest led us. But what I didn’t remember until I re-read my story of Day 11 was this question I asked myself as I sat shivering on a stone pew during Mass: “What if this (walk) was an affirmation and an assurance, not some test or spiritual pruning?”

I had walked a third of the way to Santiago by then, and I had judged the walk as a pretty hard test. And I was judging myself regularly and eloquently as needing spiritual pruning. Yet the Spirit invited this new perspective of my journey as I sat there. I had never considered that it could be an affirmation and an assurance– if I just shifted my perspective from me trying so hard to letting myself by held.

This question was the start of a reorientation for me, although I didn’t recognize it then or act on it. But a seed was planted. What would my life look like if I lived in basic trust of life, as an affirmation and an assurance that I am held, loved, supported, encouraged, and belong no matter what happens? I don’t have to feel guilty, do penance, improve myself, fix my faults, or be pruned? I write this carefully, not meaning that self-improvement or spiritual practices have no worth or that awareness of ways that hurt others isn’t needed. No, I mean this spiritual work is the hardest work I have ever done. To believe this: There is nothing I need to do to be loved by God/Source/Creator.

I was raised in a church founded on grace, not works. I’ve taken communion bread and wine into my body and blood hundreds of times with that promise that I am loved unconditionally. I have preached it from the pulpit like a broken record, taught it to teens to open them to love, and assured those struggling to give them hope. There is nothing anyone needs to do, can do, required to do or can do to manipulate this promise into something that be controlled. I’m free to respond to that Love, but I cannot earn it, deserve it, or be worthy of it because that simply is not in the equation. Love is not bargained. It is freely given. And yet, it is the hardest leap of faith to move from this statement as a concept to a life of full surrender.

The Camino was founded in a medieval culture that believed one had to pay somehow to be in communion with God, to find atonement. Confess. Give alms. Lash yourself. Walk hundreds of miles on a pilgrimage with only the barest of belongings. Repent. Suffer.

There was that whisper in my Camino walk. Why did I push myself so many times I could have stopped and rested? Taken a few more days? Or even allowed myself to not finish it? The fatigue and suffering seemed so familiar and even comforting to my hidden martyr. It is so easy to relapse into a faith I control, a love conditional.

And yet, that question did start to grow in me over the years. Now when people ask if I’ll walk the Camino again, I say I might. But not because I need to do that for any reason. More to the truth, I feel now I could walk out my front door and find this same promise kept. I no longer have that same call to walk the Camino or fly to Spain or walk for days. All is here now.

My little Camino (which feels like a Big one) is to let this profound grace be true every day of my life. In my relationship with God, there is nothing I need to do.