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: 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

A red wheelbarrow

Glazed with rain

beside the white chickens.


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.


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

Little Camino, Day 23: Just As I Am, Just As Life Is

(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 read Kitchen Table Wisdom so long ago; it was published in 1997, and I read it soon after. It’s sold over 700,000 copies now in twenty-one languages. I didn’t so much remember what she wrote as how it impacted me. I wanted to sit at that table with this humble Jewish doctor and listen forever. Recently, I stumbled across a quote from the book that spells out much of my experience on the Camino. And this time, I hear her words like crystal notes of clarity.

“Those who don’t love themselves as they are rarely love life as it is either. Most people have come to prefer certain of life’s experiences and deny and reject others, unaware of the value of the hidden things that may come wrapped in plain or even ugly paper. In avoiding all pain and seeking comfort at all cost, we may be left without intimacy or compassion; in rejecting change and risk we often cheat ourselves of the quest; in denying our suffering we may never know our strength or our greatness. Or even that the love we have been given can be trusted. It is natural, even instinctive to prefer comfort to pain, the familiar to the unknown. But sometimes our instincts are not wise. Life usually offers us far more than our biases and preferences will allow us to have. Beyond comfort lie grace, mystery, and adventure. We may need to let go of our beliefs and ideas about life in order to have life.” 
― Rachel Naomi Remen, Kitchen Table Wisdom: Stories that Heal

The first line alone is enough; I’ve never heard it stated more concisely. It’s as if we who are still striving for some unnamed perfection, don’t realize we are saying in effect, we don’t love ourselves as we are right now. And that judgment gets projected onto all of life not being okay just as it is.

I didn’t get much encouragement in my life to love myself as I am. Did you? I was aware and made aware of all the ways I needed to improve to be approved. I’m just now learning in these later years of my life to consider this simple reality–to love myself without editing. That. Just writing that feels like relief.

Dr. Remen suggests I will be much more content with life just as it is–without a preference. I had so many preferences for how I wanted life to be on the Camino. “The guidebook said there shouldn’t be rain like this in late April!” “Why is there never any room at the allergies? It’s not fair!” “Why is there so much snoring? I can’t get any sleep!” (to name a few.) Remen says, “in avoiding all pain and seeking comfort at all cost, we may be left without intimacy or compassion; in rejecting change and risk we often cheat ourselves of the quest; in denying our suffering we may never know our strength or our greatness.”

In hindsight, even though I did not love myself or the circumstances well on the Camino, the pilgrimage taught me those very things. I grew in compassion; I saw the quest through; I learned about a greater inner strength. Yet that next line is the one that I hold most dear in my understanding from the Camino; that by not accepting life as it is, we doubt “even that the love we have been given can be trusted.” Without this basic trust in life just as it is and in the Love that has created us, I lose my way on the journey. This accepting and loving myself as I am is directly connected to love of life and basic trust in the way of Divine action.

So how does that happen–loving oneself? I ask that question not in a narcissistic way. I mean to love oneself just as we are, without masks or need to change. If I try then I’m the one back in control of this quest. My ego will form a list of how to love myself or my inner judge will comment on all the ways that I’m not loving myself. Oh yes, I can how easily I could make even this a way to fix myself again.

This turn to loving oneself is willingness on my part and grace on the part of Love. It’s a whole new orientation. As Remen says, “We may need to let go of our beliefs and ideas about life in order to have life.” Jesus said something like that too. (And he was Jewish.)

This orientation is dropping the belief that I need to be fixed and changed– to just letting myself be. What does that actually feel like or look like? I don’t fully know. It’s unfamiliar. But I’m open to learning.

I think I’ll just set this aim, trust that this orientation to self-love will unfold somehow in the mystery, and relax. That seems like a good place to live into loving myself, loving everyone else, and having a life, loving life just as it is. My Little or not so Little ongoing Camino.

Little Camino, Day 22–Little Miracles

(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)

At a recent book talk about The Long Walk Home, I started talking about miracles. Certainly, the miracles that are attributed to the Camino, primarily about St. James, (Santiago) and how he appeared miraculously to save in many situations. I also remember the miracles that others felt occurred on this ancient pilgrimage. So many miracles happened to Steve and I not only during the walk, but in our lives together, and even in the publishing process of this book.

The definition of a miracle has at least two distinct understandings:

  1. An event that appears inexplicable by the laws of nature and so is held to be supernatural in origin or an act of God.
  2. One that excites admiring awe; a wonderful or amazing event, act, person, or thing. synonymwonder.

I have been wary of saying something is a “miracle” in the past. I think we all have reason to have a certain amount of skepticism in naming something a miracle, meaning “supernatural in origin or even an act of God.” We know how that has been abused and used to deceive and scam. Drugs, treatments, creams, pills– all purporting to work a miracle. I am hesitant to claim I’ve “seen a sign” or “heard God’s voice” since many have been led into beliefs that have harmed, betrayed or even killed others. So I tread lightly with this topic. I don’t want to be gullible either.

Yet, miracles have happened in my life. And I have heard a voice. I was nine when told on the authority of specialists at the Mayo Clinic that my two year old brother had a zero percent chance of surviving a rare cancer in his arm. He had a few months to live. I prayed on my knees in my bedroom that he wouldn’t die, and heard a voice by my right shoulder that said in a loud, strong voice, “He will not die.” And he didn’t. He’s now 64. That really happened. I’ve never heard it again, but I’m not as skeptical as some.

I was brought up in a faith tradition that told me all kinds of stories about miracles that occurred by God’s providence. The Israelites saved by the parting of the Red Sea, manna in the desert, water from a rock, a burning bush. And then the stories of Jesus walking on water, turning two loaves of bread and a few fish into enough to feed 5000. Touching a blind man’s eyes with mud and then he sees again. Casting out demons of mental illness. Healing leper, a cripple, a woman bleeding for years. Even bringing Lazurus back from the dead. The basis of the whole Christian faith is the story of a miracle: Jesus dies and then returns alive in new form that walks through doors, can appear and disappear at will and ascends to heaven. All fantastic miracles and I could doubt them, but somehow I don’t.

I want to regain the wonder of what can actually happen to us and by us as human beings. If I let skepticism and doubt govern my life, my ego will feel secure, but I don’t want to live where amazement at things that are beyond my comprehension can’t abide and inspire. And what do I do with the verse when Jesus says: “Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” Matthew 17:20-21.

My small self is always afraid and lives with blinders on, keeping me from the deeper truth of human existence and how God works in this realm. I’ve glimpsed these wonders in many small and significant ways in my life–enough so that sometimes, I look at a mountain and contemplate moving it. It doesn’t matter to me if it moves or not. It only matters that I have the willingness to contemplate that God could do that through me. That keeps that grimy doubt from clouding my vision of life with despair and hopelessness, anger and hate–that’s my ego. It is not my essence that is of God.

Miracles are often explained away in today’s culture, unlike that of the Middle Ages when the Camino was at its height. Even I examine the origin of miracle stories and wonder about superstition or wishful thinking rather than reality. But I’d rather be a fool at this point, than miss “something that excites admiring awe, a wonderful or amazing event, act or person.”

So my ongoing little Camino is to play the fool, be open to mystery, transparent to wonder and believe in the possibility of miracles. That a mountain could move.

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