Little Camino, Day 31: Not Knowing

(Keeping my pledge to write thirty-four posts on how walking the Camino continues to impact my life, the same number as the days I walked this pilgrimage)

I’m in Hawaii, listening the waves hit the shore just below the condo. Seven days into this trip, the ocean has shushed away my little anxieties, bringing me the whispers of whale songs, the steadiness of its presence, and the reverence for all the holy it holds. I often use the ocean as a metaphor for my relationship with the holy: I am a wave in the ocean, distinct from other waves, but never separate from the ocean itself. I have a deep reverence for ocean–its power to create and destroy, its tranquility and ferocity, its life-giving and life-taking, its watery depth and breadth and vast evocative mystery. What indeed lies beneath? That thrill and awe of not knowing the ocean, not knowing the vastness of God is like a magnetic pull. I want to know while I do not want to know.

I was often in the paradox of wanting to know and not knowing as I walked the Camino de Santiago. On one hand I knew how to trust and to walk Meister Eckhart’s Wayless Way, believing the way forward would simply be revealed. That was often countered by a complete loss of trust and a deep wanting to know that I would be okay, that I would find a place to sleep, that my body would keep working and that I could finish the journey. Unlike this moment by the ocean, my ego anxieties were chattering, analyzing, justifying, organizing, planning to keep holding the reins of my experience. Yet as soon as the journey ended in the plaza in front of the cathedral in Santiago, I wondered why I had worried at all.

It is a long walk home to living in trust, not knowing, never really knowing what will unfold in each day. We all know at some level, we could die. It’s not likely, but the oncoming car could cross the line or the heart could stop or…. Being here in Hawaii with the sun shining, the aquamarine water crashing, the hibiscus showing off their riotous colors and the banyan trees spreading their quiet protection, I could forget. And yet the ambulance sirens scream down the street at night, and then I think, I know I do not know the hour or the day.

I started this blog not knowing what to write about. That’s how the title of this post emerged–not knowing. “Just write,” I said to myself, “and something will come up.” In a way, I am that vast ocean. Inside of me, there are depths I’ve not explored. I never really know what my fingers will create when I begin to write, what words will come, what my soul wants to say. It surprises me that I came to writing of my own mortality today. I realize that it might come from the loss of four of my beloveds during the pandemic, and my own cancer surgery. The ocean is bringing up these vulnerable places for me to metabolize here is this healing place. Yet I’m not being morbid. It’s natural to grieve. It’s just looking at the reality of my body dying. My individual wave absorbed into the ocean again. Yet I will still be—in a form that I cannot yet know. Again, not knowing.

Being willing to not know is a great freedom. A great freedom from the frantic ego. It keeps me in this moment, fingers typing away, waves crashing outside my window, sensing my heart beating, my friends’ voices as they talk and laugh, the smell of toast from the kitchen.

I do not know what this day will bring. My Little Camino is to rest in the luxury and wisdom of this way of living, trusting that no matter what does come, all shall be well.

Little Camino, Day 30: Don’t Count Anything

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.)

If you read the title to this blog, you may have thought I meant to say, “Don’t count on anything.” But no, I did mean–“don’t count anything.”I was at lunch with my friend Rebecca when she told me about this spiritual exercise of not counting. It came from the following excerpt from an Easter challenge by Cynthia Bourgeault, Episcopalian priest and mystic. I first encountered her teaching twenty-five years ago or so through her book, Wisdom Jesus. To read the full text and to make more sense of what she refers to, go to: https://wisdomwaypoints.org/2022/04/cynthias-eastertide-message-invitation-2022/. She is encouraging a life with more awareness of our inner being.

As much as possible, fast from counting. Do not count breaths, do not count calories, do not count the days left in Ascensiontide…. It will drag you right back into the deficient mental structure. Do all that you do either through simple, unquantified obedience to the aim you have set, or (when and if it descends) in that rush of timeless spaciousness from that other intensity. But do it, one way or another.

Eat, drink, socialize, be in the world as you see fit. It has been redeemed; it can be rejoiced in. But keep on your toes in accordance with your aim. Do not let “enjoyment” become an excuse for lowering your state of being, any more than you let hypervigilance and spiritual pride accomplish the same dirty trick from the other end.

I immediately thought how much, how often, how dependent I am on counting. I count how many hours of sleep I get. I count my steps every day on my Fitbit. I’ve been counting the days until I leave for an upcoming trip. I count how many people show up for an event. I count how many minutes I meditate. And among many other examples, I counted just before writing this, how many more posts I have until I reach 34–the goal I set for this blog.

Obviously, counting is needed in this world for some practical reasons, (coming from a family of seven kids, my mom often counted to be sure all the kids were in the car!), and there’s nothing wrong with keeping track of things, but here I am speaking to how counting is related to keeping ourselves asleep and unaware of our true selves. How we don’t just trust what is unfolding.

We fall under the illusion that how our ego/personality perceives the world is the truth of who we are. And our inner judge’s job is to keep us guilty and regretful about the past and worried about the future. So much is lost that is happening right in front of us that touches our soul and wakes us up to our beauty and potential.

I think Bourgeault was pointing out that counting could easily be related yet again to keeping the ego self in control, focused on having things turn out the way we want them. I have a daily judgement on whether I get my eight hours and 10,000 steps, for instance. I’m beginning to see that is based very much in ego. Not that these are aims are wrong, I just see that if I make my goal, I’m in control. And somehow that translates to being a better person. My pride shudders realizing this. I haven’t yet fully realized that the core of me, the core of you, is a pearl beyond price. There’s nothing God is counting.

I remember how every day of the Camino I was so focused on counting, I see it clearly. I was constantly aware of how many kilometers we completed each day and how many days to Santiago. And if I kept track, I was somehow safer or less overwhelmed by all that was happening. I can be kind to that self of fifteen years ago. That was just how it was then. But the way I see it now, I could imagine having the pilgrimage be like the day we lost track of time in Burgos and thought it was a Sunday when it was Monday. Losing track made us laugh. I even said, “Oh maybe the Camino is doing its work on us.”

This is my Little Camino for the week. To notice when I’m counting and then to sense into why. That’s it. To explore what Bourgeault offers as a spiritual exercise. What will that open in me? How will I walk differently

Little Camino, Day 29: It Could Have Been Otherwise

(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.)

I dedicate this blog to Jane Kenyon and offer her poem called Otherwise.

I got out of bed
on two strong legs.
It might have been
otherwise. I ate
cereal, sweet
milk, ripe, flawless
peach. It might
have been otherwise.
I took the dog uphill
to the birch wood.
All morning I did
the work I love.

At noon I lay down
with my mate. It might
have been otherwise.
We ate dinner together
at a table with silver
candlesticks. It might
have been otherwise.
I slept in a bed
in a room with paintings
on the walls, and
planned another day
just like this day.
But one day, I know,
it will be otherwise.

I fell down a mountain yesterday. I was being very careful, had my ice spikes on my boots and was descending in a series of steps in the snow. But then I hit snow blown hard as a rock and glazed with ice, where even my spikes couldn’t penetrate. In an instant, I was flying downhill, picking up speed, with nothing to grab. I was rolling, out of control. I lost my hiking pole. lost my hat, and thought, “This is not good.” And then as quickly as it had begun, the sheet of ice became a soft snow bank and I plunged into it, plastering my face.

Maybe fifty, maybe a hundred yards down the slope. I won’t go back to see.

Everything was so still. What hurt the most at first was my frozen face. I sat up, scrubbing off the crystals from my neck and head. Then I marveled that I could sit up. And I just stayed still, slowly taking stock of my body. My husband soon hurried up behind me, asking if I was okay. I shook my head, not quite knowing yet. My right leg felt like I’d gotten hit by a baseball bat. Maybe I’d hit an alder branch. My shoulder felt wrenched but I could lift it a little. I was stunned and shaky. It all happened so fast. And yet. And yet. I was mostly okay.

It could have been otherwise.

I have osteoporosis in my lumbar spine. I could have fractured it, but I didn’t. I could have kept falling another 100 yards before I hit trees. Broken my neck. Hit my head. Broken my femur instead of getting a good bruise. But I didn’t. There were a lot of things that could have been otherwise. I was more okay than not okay. I got up and walked down the mountain, warning hikers heading up of the danger. I spent the rest of the day with ice on my leg and shoulder, pondering what could have been otherwise. And like Kenyon, I noticed all the sweet details of my life: the warmth of my bed; the nourishing taste of the salmon chowder I’d made the day before; the sunshine on the birch trees; and just that I still get to be a guest on this planet.

In her amazing posting this week in Marginalian, Maria Popova writes,
In a universe governed by randomness and impartial laws, chance has been kind to us–a kindness so immense it feels like a benediction. Here we are, drifting through the austere blackness of pure spacetime on a planet just the right distance from its home star to have an atmosphere and water and warmth for life. And what life! a cornucopia of creatures moving through lushness beyond measure, born of blue oceans and shimmering shores.
It didn’t have to exist, not one bit of it–not the oceans, not the redwoods, not the octopus, not the miracle of consciousness that turns back on itself to stand wonder-smitten by the majesty of it all. And yet here it is and here we are, children of the flowers, captives of the wonderland, lulled by habit and hubris into dishonoring our benediction by forgetting the staggering improbability of it all.

Yes, this too could have been otherwise. I feel I had a wake up call, yet again, with this fall. It reminds me of the time on the Camino when I thought Steve had been hit by lightning. The same incredulity, the same stunned and shaken sense of being, the same knowing it could have been otherwise when I finally saw him across the green wheat fields.

We are so privileged to be here now for whatever time we have. My little Camino is one I renew often–to pay attention and honor the benediction of being alive, to be grateful for everything, to stay capable of wonder and reverence, to love what I love with abandon. Until it is otherwise.

I’ll end with another poem that has lingered with me for years, just like Jane Kenyon’s poem. It is by William Carlos Willams.

So much depends
upon

A red wheelbarrow

Glazed with rain
water

beside the white chickens.

Amen.



Little Camino, Day 28:

(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.)

I write this just after a much-needed shower and some unpacking from six days at our wilderness cabin. With family and friends, we took in the beauty of Denali, skied and snow-machined, ate well, slept long, had a roaring fire, reflected on the year past and celebrated the coming of the NewYear 2023. I wrote some of the following for my weekly reflection about spiritual practices for my church’s bulletin.

“There is a practice that is traditional for this first day of the New Year. But I’m not so sure it is a spiritual practice. We’ve all done it—making resolutions for change in the year to come. The most common are to exercise more, lose weight, make a budget, start or finish a project, and/or be better at ­­_____. (fill in the blank)

There is nothing wrong with making resolutions, but I think the reason they so often fail is that the resolution comes from the wrong source. Our ego and our inner critic usually make our resolutions, implying that there is something inherently wrong with us. And thus, the resolution feels like punishing ourselves in a way, even if it’s what we really want to do.”

I am unorthodox in my Lutheran tradition in my rejection of the concept of original sin, that we are born sinful and have no escape. I’ve never been able to adopt that part of the dogma because when I see any new baby, I only see a being that testifies to the essence of God in each of us. Before that baby has experienced any teaching, trauma, culturing conditioning, shaming or rejection that will inevitably cover this purity, it is simply a being that opens our hearts, touches our sense of perfect beauty and tells us the truth of who we really are, no matter what our age.

“But isn’t it a good thing to have goals and objectives,” asked a friend of mine.

It’s a good question, and I don’t mean to be misunderstood. But it takes a lot of awareness for a healthy goal not to become the source of judgment of ourselves, whether we make the goal or don’t make the goal. That is mistaking who we are for our ego, the thing with blinders on, unable to imagine our potential and our birthright as the essence of all Being.

It wasn’t a New Year’s resolution, but I resolved to do many things in walking the Camino: I would walk every step. I would walk it in thirty-four days. I would walk it in a “relaxed manner.” I would be kind to fellow pilgrims. I would trust that God would provide.

And when I only achieved that one about arriving in San Santiago in thirty-four days, I took no comfort in this compared to all the resolutions I was unable to keep. I judged my self harshly not only at the time, but really for some years afterwards. My ego’s pride and need for perfection could not come to peace about it. It wasn’t that making those goals were bad, but I thought they reflected who I was. I’ve always wondered how hearing that I was born a sinner affected me all these years, and how deeply that teaching imprinted itself on my soul. It seems connected to how easily I believe my inner critic, that has such a loud voice and can point out so clearly where I don’t keep my resolutions.

It’s not that I am without aspirations for the year to come. But I call them “aims” now. For me, aims are what my essence makes when it’s in touch with Essence. They are loving and attuned and are not kidnapped by my inner critic. I feel the rightness of them for myself and for others, but without the heaviness of needing to succeed at them, only cooperate with what is already unfolding. There is a gentleness about my aims. There is still discipline inherent in them, but not punishing. It’s the discipline that is a pathway to becoming more of who I really am.

As I write this, I realize I actually haven’t made aims, as much as they have simply started becoming part of my routine. Those aims, as beautiful as a newborn baby, need love and care and holding in the same way.

If you have made resolutions, perhaps your inner judge isn’t as tough on you as it can be on me and I applaud your intentions! But since we all have that inner judge, just check in now and then and see if those resolutions have any sense of heaviness about them, or are they making you feeling “less than” in any way?

I can only remind you and remind myself, you are not and never have been “less than” anything. Relax. Receive the truth of these words–and the happiness in your soul.