Little Camino, Day 19:

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)

Sometimes I look at my book to see what I was doing on the day that corresponds to the day of this post. On Day 19 of our Camino, Steve and I were in Mansilla, this town marked by a very friendly albergue staff that were dedicated to using healing arts with the pilgrims. Many were lined up to be treated by a smiling woman who assured us that everyone would have a chance to be with her. I wrote that this place had an aura of refuge and rest. It was here that we took our second full day off on the Camino. Although welcomed by our bodies, it was hard to stop our forward momentum toward Santiago.

This is the little Camino that I still lingers with me–to practice and learn how to rest and receive.

This past weekend on retreat, I not only did no work, but I was fully waited on for my every need. I began to see so clearly how this still feels unfamiliar to me. Growing up on an Iowa farm, I can truly say that I never slept in until I was in college. I was up for chores and farm work by 6:00 a.m. every morning of the week. “Those pigs aren’t going to feed themselves,” my dad would say. The times of rest were after supper and on Sunday. After church, we had four hours in the afternoon to ourselves before evening chores, but we rarely rested. That was the time to meet with friends. Not working, not being busy was always named as lazy and getting soft. My dad would say, “Who do you think you are? Zsa Zsa Gabor?” (a famous actress of the time). Personal worth was work and achievement. And that is how I framed my life.

It is no wonder then that finishing the Camino in 34 days, and walking the entire length of the Frances route seemed as if there were no options. I couldn’t understand (and judged) those who didn’t. I see that now. While being a good worker is a good attribute for getting along in the world, it has taken a toll on my soul and my physical body over the years by not balancing it with rest and receiving the help of others.

I think a lot about surrender these days–what it really means and how it gets lived out. Specifically for me, I feel my ego creak and groan with the thought of surrendering my life to just being present, and letting my response to life unfold from that stance. Oh my gosh, you should hear the internal arguments! They range from making me feel guilty (there’s so much that needs to be done in this world), to shame (what kind of person gives into indolence?), to fear (well, what will you accomplish or who will you be?), to pity (oh, I guess you’re just aging), and if none of those work, the ego pulls out the guns (so are you just going to sit around and rust and die watching TV or staring out the window?) I actually know that none of these voices are the voices of my benevolent God who loves me like crazy just as I am– but still, they are there.

I do answer these voices, thinking of them as just scared little children. It’s not only okay to rest and reflect, it is in the way of divine order. As we enter winter time, I see how the trees, the animals, even the rivers slow down or hibernate and take rest. Everything will be okay. Of this I have sacred certainty. Everything will be okay.

Those scared egoic voices don’t understand that the surrender I contemplate doesn’t mean I won’t respond to the needs of the world and do nothing with the rest of my life. It means the surrender to knowing that I don’t need to do anything to be loved by the Divine or have worth. If I am called to respond, I will–but it will not be driven by guilt or shame or fear of reprisal. There will be ample rest, a slower way of being and greater compassion for my body and soul.

So there it is; the question I keep calling to myself: what keeps me from loving myself as passionately as I am loved by God? That surrender. That work. That way of being.

Little Camino, Day 18:The Hardest Thing

(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)

After reading my book on the Camino, several people have come up to me and said without preamble, “Those Germans!” And then we both laugh. I harbored such a grudge for the poor Germans on that pilgrimage, reciting all the ways I thought they were violating the way it should be done. Oh such judgment. And if you have read it, you know that it was not until I am in the cathedral at Santiago during mass, that the great “Ah-ha!” hits me–I’m German, or at least that is my heritage on my Dad’s side. As I was so self-righteously judging them, I was also judging myself for not doing the Camino as I should. I just used them as my scapegoat. It was terribly relieving to see it and so amusing I laughed out loud. And yet…

And yet, although I understood how I had projected my judgment onto others and let go, I hadn’t really taken the next step: I had not forgiven them. Not in the way a heart is changed. A little grudge prevailed. That feeling of being justified lingered.

Even writing about forgiving makes me feel a little guilty. I want to be the type of person that easily forgives, but at this moment, I still hold onto a couple of significant grudges; I need more understanding than just knowing about projection. I’ve preached plenty of sermons on forgiveness–how it doesn’t hurt the other person by not forgiving them as much as it does hurting myself. I’m bound up by my unforgiveness. And I know it’s foundational in my Christian faith–“forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” But all that knowing doesn’t change the fact that I still struggle with it.

I got some help this week from a friend who emailed me to thank me for sending her the book Ho’oponopono by Ulrich E. Dupree about three years ago. I had been impressed when I first read the book, but it had fallen off my radar. Ho’oponopono is the process in the Hawaiian culture to use for reconciliation and forgiveness within a community. Pono means to “set right, to correct, to amend, to adjust, to make harmony.” So ponopono means literally to set “rightly right,” emphasizing the need to stay in community with one another. There are four steps or really, four parts to a prayer, that at first sight seem to be an unusual way of forgiving.

I’m sorry. Please forgive me. I love you. Thank you.

Okay. Just that first part, always stops me. And my friend said the same; “I still had resistance to sending the message of “I’m sorry” to those who I feel have harmed me,” she wrote. It seems natural for the first part to be instead, “I forgive you.” What is so stunning to me about the Hawaiian understanding of forgiveness is that it begins with acknowledging our own part in the breach. Thus the asking for forgiveness, not the giving of it, followed by “I love you,” which opens the heart, and “thank you”which moves us into gratitude instead of judgment.
My friend shared her longer version of this process as she understood it:
“I’m sorry for judging you for being the way you are. Please forgive me for the times I’ve been the same way and for still holding that energy in the field.  I see how in doing so, I’m allowing the energy to remain because we are all connected. All there is is unity and this connection, even when I’m having my own unique experience. I love you. The part of you that is connected to me and all that is in this grand web of experience. Thank you for giving me this opportunity to see differently.”

This way of reconciliation relies not on blaming or judging, but recognizing how we are part of the problem. And then, moving toward relationship in love and gratefulness. My Little Camino this week? You can guess I think–I’m taking this old wisdom into praying for my current grudges. And I will be truthful; my ego is gripping onto them. But not the Self that is who I really am–a human being not separate from any other human being.

As I write this, I see the very real potential for Ho’oponopono to transform my little grudges; I can feel my part in them already as I visualize the person and say the four sentences. But I try to imagine forgiving someone for a really big hurt–like rape or murder, and it seems impossible for ME to say I’m sorry or ask for forgiveness. I sense I have much more to learn about this process and the dedication it must take, the patience it must muster and the compassion that must compel it. I wait and as always, ask for grace.


Little Camino, Day 17: Holy Hope

(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)

I’m writing about hope today because I don’t fully understand it. What I do know is that even if I have questions about living in hope, I don’t want to be without it; I’d rather have hope than be hopeless. But if I hope for something, does that mean I’m not content with what is? Do I need to hope for something other than the Reality of what’s unfolding right in front of me? Is it up to me to decide what to hope for, what outcome? This is my conundrum.

In my book, I mentioned Gerald May, one of my teachers in the spiritual direction training I took twenty years ago. When I met him he was not well physically–I believe his heart was failing as a side effect from cancer treatment. He was thin and frail-looking, but his eyes were so bright and his spirit so alive and full of childlike playfulness that he disarmed me. It was rumored he didn’t have long to live, and in fact, he died less than two years later. He was writing a book at the time, which would be his last, called The Dark Night of the Soul (Harper Collins, 2004.)

The term “the dark night of the soul” seems a little sinister at first, but is not “necessarily a time of suffering and despair, but rather one of deep transition,” says May. “Our liberation takes places mysteriously, in secret, and beyond our conscious control.” And certainly I feel that my pilgrimage had many of the aspects of this kind of dark night.

I mention his writing now because in this book, he also writes of hope (pp. 190-194) in a section called Hope in the Morning. He bemoans the fact that he is always attached to the idea of making progress in his spiritual journey and “yet the truth of the journey completely transcends my petty notions of progress.”

“So in the end I am left only with hope. I hope the nights are really transformative. I hope every dawn brings deeper love, for each of us individually and for the world as a whole. I hope John of the Cross was right when he said the intellect is transformed into faith, and the will into love, and the memory into….hope.”

Here is the line that I contemplate the most: “It is not a hope for peace or justice or healing; that would be an attachment. It is just hope, naked hope, a bare energy of open expectancy.”

When May visited with survivors of the Bosnian War–people who literally had lost everything–he was surprised to sense a shining hope in them. He asked if they hoped for peace. “Oh no, it’s gone too far for that,” they replied.
He asked if they hoped for U.N. intervention. “Oh, no. It’s too late for that.” He said there was simply nothing they could think of to hope for.
So he asked, “How can you hope when there is nothing to hope for?” They answered. “Bog.” The Serbo-Croatian word for God.

Brother David Steindl-Rast writes in his book, Gratefulness: The Heart of Prayer (Paulist Press,1984), that hope is by definition openness to surprise, similar to what May called open expectancy.

Both of these definitions are saying in effect, that we are not in control and we don’t know. When I dug a little further in my library, A.H. Almaas, in his book, Facets of Unity (Diamond Books, 1994), speaks of Holy Hope vs. egoic hope. “It is the activity of the ego which does not trust Being or God is doing everything, will do everything, and, if one surrenders to it, its optimizing thrust will spontaneously deliver us. This striving embodies egoic hope, as opposed the the flow that expresses the optimism of Holy Hope. Egoic hope makes us react and disconnect from our experience, while Holy Hope makes us relax and open up to the unfolding that is carrying us harmoniously to fulfillment.” (p. 274).

Holy Hope then to me is not helplessness. It isn’t striving for what I want. It isn’t my agenda. It is, yet again, surrendering. How often it comes back to this.

Does this answer all my questions about hope? No. It feels mystical and maybe I will never by my own reason come to fully understand it. I will come again and again to it. But I can hold all the things I hope for–for myself, for loved ones, for the world–with a lightness, with trust, not helplessness, that things are unfolding as they should, no matter how different that looks on the surface. As in the Dark Night, God is working in ways unseen, with a perspective we can’t understand, with a love we can’t fathom. These wise teachers guide me toward being relaxed. To living a life that I don’t control, but rather a life with openness to surprise. (and yes, I confess–I still want that surprise to be what I define as a good surprise..sigh. Surrender yet again.)

Little Camino, Day 16: Watching My Endings

(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)

To Live without pretending,
To Love without depending,
To Listen without defending,
To Speak without offending.

I see these lyrics everyday taped to a mirror in my bathroom. Actually it’s taped to the mirror in the guest bathroom; evidently I feel a need to share this wisdom with others. It sums up so much of the true spiritual journey. And each time I read it, one of the lines stands out more than another as I review my day. But as I searched to find the author of these words for this blogpost, I discovered that it was widely attributed to a Canadian rap singer named Drake. However, in a comment on his site, a woman named Nina Robert Baker asked him why he didn’t attribute the quote to her as he had previously done, and had adopted it as his own? (This happens too often.)

I then found her website (there are many Nina Bakers) and have what I now believe to be the original quotation. There are two more lines to the quote that were dropped by Drake–

To Give without ending,
To Build without rending.

What I also discovered is the title to her writing: Watch Your Endings. It made me smile.

How is this all part of my continuing Camino? I’m not sure really. Except that each line continues to remind me of a time I pretended, depended, defended, offended, ended and rended while walking the Camino. And how, as I’ve talked recently, this is being human. As I reread my book (it’s amazing what I forgot I wrote), I find myself less judgmental of all those Confessions I admitted to. If I knew then what I know now, I would have noticed what I was feeling, but I would have just been curious, instead of putting myself down. It’s a matter of discrimination: being conscious of when I am being run by my ego, and yet not flogging myself with regret. Again, saying to myself with light-heartedness, “Oh there I am, being human again.” Yes, truly with a light heart, not guilt, but compassion. I now am grateful for what I learned from those confessions. And confession can truly be good for the soul, in letting things go and receiving forgiveness freely. I know I’ve said this before, but it’s like the spiral staircase I reference in the book–it’s the same issue, but seen from a higher perspective. I’m more and more able to see myself as a human being that is imperfectly perfect. How much better life is without the weight of judgment, shame or guilt. You may disagree, but I have come to feel certain that any voice that makes me feel “less than” is not the voice of a Loving God. In fact, shame and guilt to me are the primary barriers to our relationship to God, the Holy, the Source or whatever name you give this Essence.

At the same time, this quotation/poem keeps me aligned with how I wish to live my life. I will continue to “Watch My Endings.” I’m glad to have the new verses to add to my post on the bathroom mirror as well. And if I were to add my own, “To love the Truth without bending.” But that may be something I explore in another blog. As I “Watch My Ending” of this blog, I give thanks to Nina Robert Baker for sharing her wise soul with me.

Little Camino, Day 15: Who Knows?

I was cleaning out a drawer this week and came across something I’ve always cherished–the writing that visitors left in the journals at the Listening Post when it was located at the Transit Center at 6th and H Street. It was this place that I describe in the epilogue of my book on walking the Camino. After returning in June from my pilgrimage, I immediately knew that a Listening Post was what I wanted to create in Anchorage–a place where the marginalized were listened to with confidentiality and respect. In the eight years we were there, several journals were filled with incredible entries of vulnerability, questions, life stories, prayers and wisdom. Here is one entry from those journals, written by a wise young man who is also schizophrenic.

“Once upon a time a king asked his council for something to make him happy when was he was sad–but sad when he was happy. They consulted and then presented the king with a ring. Inscribed in the ring was, “This too shall pass.”

This was my mother’s mantra as well. Underneath its apparent truth is the way of being that is content no matter what life presents, whether happy or sad. Spiritual teacher, Jeff Carreira, says, “If you can’t be content no matter how you feel, then you will always be in a position of being somewhat victimized by circumstance. Your contentment will always be dependent upon certain conditions existing to allow you to feel content, and if that’s the case, then you will constantly, consciously and unconsciously, be trying to manipulate the circumstances of your life to be those that make you feel content. And, of course, life doesn’t cooperate, and at some point you realized this is a losing proposition.”

Being content as a human being is an elusive thing if that contentment depends on exterior circumstances; it is only achievable by allowing all experiences while maintaining an inner ground of basic trust and choice to surrender to what is actually happening in the moment.

“Easy to say, hard to do” is the proverbial comeback to that statement. And it is. Most people, including myself, live their whole lives dependent on being content by controlling their experiences–which is a perfectly fine life. Doesn’t always work, but I get by. Yet there is this option, this potential freedom to live with the conviction that no matter what, I’m okay. And content with life as it is.

Even as I write it, protests arise in my mind; “No! We can’t be content with what IS. There’s so much we need to fix in this world. How can you say that?” Good argument! But what if that voice is the one inside us that wants to be the one in control? Wants to be the ultimate judge of what is right and wrong? When I listen to that voice I get tight inside, defensive, self-righteous. And that doesn’t feel like the voice of Holy guidance, the voice that shows me how to respond to life, but not to react. Responding with love and concern in this world comes from our true heart, one dependent on grace. Reacting with judgement comes from our ego. Period.

When I was a senior in high school, my high school Sunday school curriculum contained this lesson. Even now, I can hardly believe that I received this Chinese wisdom in 1969 in Sunday School. It has a few versions but it goes like this. (And even if you’ve heard it, it bears repeating and reflecting.

Who Knows? A Chinese Fable

Many years ago, a wise peasant lived in China. He had a son who was the apple of his eye. He also was the proud owner of a fine white stallion which everyone admired. One day this horse escaped from his grounds and disappeared. The villagers came to him one by one and said: “You are such an unlucky man! It is such bad luck that your horse escaped.” The peasant responded: “Good luck, bad luck. Who knows?” The next day the stallion returned, followed by 12 wild horses. The neighbors visited him again and congratulated him on his luck. Again, he just said: “Good luck, bad luck. Who knows?

As it happened, the next day his son was attempting to train one of the wild horses when he fell down and broke his leg. Once more everyone came with condolences: “It’s terrible” Again the the wise peasant said, “Good luck, bad luck. Who knows?” A few days passed and his poor son was limping around the village with his broken leg, when the emperor’s army entered the village announcing that a war was starting, and they were enrolling all the young men of the village. However, they left the peasant’s son since he had a broken leg. Everyone was extremely jealous of the peasant. They talked about his sheer good luck, while the old man only said, “Good luck, bad luck. Who knows?”

I never forgot this story, even though I haven’t lived it out. Yet, I still believe that it is possible to live with the perspective of that wise peasant. My little Camino this week and for my years to come is to practice being content with what life actually is, without my meddling. And remembering that no matter what, this too shall pass.