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