Little Camino, Day 27: The Language of a Common Humanity

(Keeping my pledge to write thirty-four blogs on how walking the Camino keeps impacting my life, the same as the number of days that I walked this 500-mile pilgrimage.)

On Day 27 of my Camino, I was in the mountain village of Ruitelan at an albergue where the owner had left his successful restaurant in southern Spain to provide hospitality to pilgrims. He told us people are nourished in both body and soul by a good meal. And in that spirit, he set a table where everyone of us could sit, lit it with candles, and served with a meal that indeed nourished us body and soul. Despite the fact that we were speaking many different languages, we were speaking the language of a common humanity that night by the warmth we created–the language of those who are kind to one another, who support us on our journey, and give of themselves for others. Some even sacrifice.

Tomorrow night I will serve a meal for twenty friends or family or so. I feel teary-eyed just thinking of being with them as we have for so many years– the children are now the parents and we the grandparents. From generation to generation. We have all changed over the years and explored life differently in some ways. But we gather at Christmas because over the years we have been kind to one another, we have supported one another, and we have given of ourselves to each other, sometimes sacrificing to do so. It is a great thing to have received such love. To have sat in that joy.

I think of that hospitalero tonight. I think of the care that he gave to the table, to the meal and to our welcome. And I thank him. And I intend to pass it on in a slightly different way than I have on past Christmases where we served a buffet and people found places to sit around the house. Somehow I will set a long table where we will all sit down together. My son will sing “O Holy Night”. I will offer a prayer. And we will join in our common humanity. I believe it is a way that the Christ would feel welcome, a love that He came to reveal, and a time to live out the one commandment that he gave: love God and love your neighbor as yourself.

My little Camino is to keep opening that table in my heart as I learn more and more about being in common humanity with each person I meet on walk on this earth. That all can sit at the same table. That I learn to understand their language and they mine. It won’t be simple or easy. But I do know we are not separate, and we are all walking toward home. Christmas revealed.

Little Camino, Day 26. News Comes.

(Keeping my pledge to write thirty-four blogs on how walking the Camino keeps impacting my life, the same as the number of days that I walked this 500-mile pilgrimage.)

Last week I was musing and muddling on joy—what gives me joy, what it is as an experience, and what if– it is me? I’m still muddling about it. So, it’s strange that what comes this week in my awareness as I sit down to write is joy’s sister; she is beloved for her depth and way of honoring, but she is never entirely welcome; she is grief. 

I learned this week of the accidental death of a friend from high school. We numbered just sixty-eight of us, so we all knew each other well. I’d stayed in touch with he and his wife over the years when I went back home, class reunions, and once when they came to Alaska. We weren’t close, but we had that rare treasure of being old friends who knew each other when we were young and figuring out life. It’s a way of being known that is never duplicated. He drowned in the Virgin Islands when a rogue wave threw him into the rocks, and it is assumed he was knocked unconscious. His brothers are still there waiting to bring the body home. 

It was so sad to hear this news. Sad for the loss of this friend, Wayne, and sad for another high school friend, Joe, who was his best friend over all these years. I can sit here writing and remember how the two of them would laugh together—so full of life that a few shenanigans would inevitably unfold and get us all in trouble. Sad for his wife, his high school sweetheart.

Strange how one loss starts calling home all its friends, especially at Christmas time. I start remembering my other classmates who have died–four this year. And then my sister, Jayne who used to be my companion in creating Christmas Eve plays. My dad who loved Christmas more than any other time of the year and always bought way too many presents, probably to compensate for the Christmases he never had. My mom who baked and cooked nonstop through the holidays and passed on the love of lefse. My soul friend, Linda, gone now two years who always brought deviled eggs, Caesar salad and lemon meringue pie to our Christmas Eve parties. Their spirits all come clustering around now, waking up memories, sweet and painful. 

I met so many fellow pilgrims on my Camino who were walking primarily to heal from the pain of loss of a loved one. It’s strange how the Camino calls them to take that walk with grief. One had just lost her mom and flew in from Belize after reading a book about it. Another had lost her husband just two weeks prior, and was urged to join her friends on their trip as a way to help assuage not only her grief, but her guilt. Had she done enough to care for him? One young girl was grieving both her parents, wondering where now “home” would be. I listened to each of them, knowing that grief too. Walking somehow did help. As if the movement forward kept life in front of them as they coped with death. Or was it that when a person is faced with the reality of physical death, the soul feels a need to seek the deeper meaning that pilgrimage often brings? Was it that the walking toward the holy site of Santiago, so renowned for miracles, bring the miracle of relief from the pain. I don’t know. But I know the walking helped. Grief takes many steps, and the Camino can hold the pain and struggle. That is its history and mystery.

My little Camino? To keep letting myself walk with the grief, whenever that unwelcome sister comes to visit my joy. She has things to tell me, teach me, and trust me to hold. Just keep walking.

Rest in peace, Wayne. I miss you. (You really shouldn’t have pulled out those cigars and started smoking at the back of the graduation bus—but then, I remember that, and not a single word of the speeches.)

Little Camino, Day 25: Being Joy

(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)

This past Sunday the Joy candle on the Advent wreath at church was lit–another promise of the season. It got me musing about joy. Joy to the World plays this time of year. Holiday cards wishing me peace and joy. Signs in shops, sweatshirts, lights declare JOY! So much awareness and expectation of joy at this time of the year. I do love the word and the feeling it evokes. I feel joy to see the colors of these midwinter sunsets or wake up to a winter wonderland. I have joy in listening to Handel’s Messiah and joy in watching my grandchildren get excited about the season. I have deep joy in a quiet dark morning meditation. I recognize joy as this deep upwelling in my soul that seems to spill out and make my experience glisten. And like all things of my soul, it’s connected to love. It’s not something I can make happen. It just arises when I am aware.

But what more is there to joy? The spiritual teacher, A.H. Almass, talks about joy in a way that shakes my understanding of joy. Not only is it not something I do to receive, but he proposes that we are joy. I am joy? Wait. What does he mean? He writes,

“We are always looking for pleasure, frantically seeking happiness in many ways, and totally missing the simplest, most fundamental pleasure, which actually is also the greatest pleasure; just being here. When we are really present, the presence itself is made out of fullness, contentment, and blissful pleasure.
Our habits and conditioning lead us to forget the greatest treasure we have, our birthright–the pleasure and lightness of existence. We think that we will have pleasure or delight if we fulfill a certain plan, if a certain dream comes true, if someone we care for likes us, if we take a wonderful trip. This attitude is an insult to who we are. We are the pleasure, we are the joy, we are the most profound significance and the highest value. When we understand this, we see that it’s ridiculous to think that we will get pleasure and joy through these external things–by doing this or that, or receiving approval or love from this or that person. We see then that we have been misinformed; we have been barking up the wrong tree.” Diamond Heart Book Three, p.12).

Fifteen years ago, when I walked the Camino, my joy was oriented to the externals of that journey–whether I got a bed for the night; whether the weather was good or at least not raining, whether my back hurt, or whether we reached our goal of Santiago. Yet the learning of the Camino was how little I really needed those external things. So much of that was stripped away over and over, as my ego and its fears were exposed again and again. It was relentless–and such a gift (only in hindsight!) That was the essence of my Camino. Learning that joy doesn’t come from external things.

But what Almaas is saying takes my understanding of joy into unfamiliar territory. Joy does not come from getting or doing external things. I understand and agree what Almaas is saying. Yet I do have joy from experiencing external things. To move from knowing joy within me to being joy and seeing it as my birthright–that’s a big step. I say it to myself– “I am joy. I am pleasure.” Simply who I really am. Could it be? I wonder if it is the fact that I am joy, that I recognize a true joyful experience, I see through the lens of joy, I choose joy from my being joy? I have never considered this. I know that simply because I am joy that all life experience will not be joyful. As Almaas said, it is not dependent on my external experience. I believe he is saying I can be joy and know joy independent of the external things which may be pleasurable or not.

I feel the freedom in that possibility.

I’m not writing this saying that I know I am joy after reading Almaas’ book. But I am willing to be shown that reality on my little Camino of daily life. To see if it is true. It’s nothing I can comprehend. Yet I have long heard the good news that I am of “profound significance and highest value” in being claimed by Christ and his teachings on the way of Love. I have not claimed that birthright fully, the just being here, the simply being me. I relax into the wonder of that now and know I share that birthright with every human being. I relax and wait and wonder. After all, it’s Advent.


Little Camino, Day 24: The Value of Rest

(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 been a week now; last Monday night I felt this scratchy throat coming on and thought, “Oh, this is how my colds used to start.” I’ve used up so many tissues that I’ve given up and gone straight to a whole roll of toilet paper instead, walked around bleary-eyed in my house trying to convince myself it’s not so bad, and sneezed and coughed enough that I’ve given my abdominal muscles a good workout. I haven’t had a good old cold since January of 2020. All this to say, I’m sniffling my way through writing this blog and not knowing what to write about on how the Camino has kept influencing my life.

But I can say this: we did schedule two rest days in the thirty-four day journey, exactly as was suggested by our guidebook. And on both occasions, it was difficult to take a rest. Not that our bodies didn’t need it. But we had become addicted to walking and achieving those next fifteen miles per day. When I read my own book, there are places I want to shout at myself, “Take a break! Stop pushing so hard! Your body needs a rest!”

Learning to rest has become my adult practice; my first teachings about rest were a combination of the following: “Work hard now–there will be plenty of time to rest in heaven.” “Get the work done first, then you can rest and enjoy it.” “God gave us six days to work and one day to rest.” “Rest is rust.” Rest was not valued. In fact, rest was considered a slippery slope to laziness. I didn’t know what “sleeping in” was until I went to college.

I remember when we came upon a real shepherd on the Camino. He was leaning back against a tree, legs crossed, watching his sheep. A string ran through his hands, attached at each end to a tree and a bell. I didn’t want to gawk so I’m not sure how he used it, but I assumed he rang the bell every so often to get the attention of the sheep. I wrote in my book how we watched as he got up, all the sheep stood at attention and as he ambled off, the sheep followed with little need for a dog to herd them. What strikes me today is how differently this shepherd did his work. So relaxed. Time for rest. There was something about his whole demeanor that impacted me. He seemed so authentic and so in tune with himself, nature and his flock.

This time of being sick, giving in to the need for naps, reading on the couch, watching British mysteries on T.V. hijacked me from the intended list of things to do for Christmas. I have been resting. I didn’t feel like doing anything on my normal routine– meditating, exercising, cooking or getting my daily long walk in. I’m slowly learning to value “being” over “doing” in my life. But it’s harder than I want to admit to change the groove and belief that my work is my worth.

Isn’t it ironic that ultimately it’s not what we do, but what we receive as grace? In a spiritual sense, there really is nothing I need to do. In fact, my greatest practice is learning to receive.

I have received the gift of rest this week, so perfect for the time of Advent, the time of waiting and wonder. I’m not minimizing my discomfort with having a good old cold, but the Camino did teach me that the times of discomfort and difficulty were the very times that broke through my old habit patterns and showed me something new. A Camino without struggle isn’t a Camino that transforms.

So I relearn the value of rest this week. And walk a little further on that path.

A shepherd in Spain as I walked the Camino