2017! It seems much further along the timeline than 12 months from last New Years Day.
But 2016 was one full year! It broke my heart with loss and it filled that same broken vessel with new birth and joy. Those 12 months were quite the roller coaster ride and I have come through a little worn out but high on gratitude.
For the past 3 weeks I have been at my daughter’s home helping her and her guy with their new baby girl, Eloise,lots of sleepless nights, lots of fears and tension but buckets of love within which to bathe.
We have all developed a complete obsession with not only what goes into our tiny charge but what comes out the other end and sometimes, both ends. I have relearned a thousand ancient skills; how to get milk stains out of sleepers, how to fill a bottle with one hand while soothing a crying baby, how to jiggle, rock and walk all in a rhythm that settles a wee one out of gas pains and into sleep.
I have not applied makeup or styled my hair more than twice in 23 days, I did spiff up for Christmas Day and once to go and get groceries though I can’t say that generated any better treatment at the local Loblaws.
I have watched in awe these past 3 weeks as my baby girl has taken her first steps in motherhood, the circle of life spinning before me. There are events in life which make us happy and there are events which are happiness and we are unable to claim them as a personal feeling because they are too enormous to fit in one person’s emotional profile. They belong to the universe.
This morning while my daughter and Jon slept I cradled a milk drunk Eloise on my chest and simultaneously laughed on Facetime with my grandson Finn and my son.
I think time stopped in those minutes which my son unwittingly facilitated with his call. This was happiness in its full universal form. Thirty eight years ago today I became a Mother for the first time and the abundance that day has harvested was fully evident at 10:33 AM today.
So far I am thanking 2017 and no matter what else comes over the next 12 months, this morning is still logged as bliss. It is a very good beginning.
The courtly manners of a gentleman are rarely experienced and the last place I had expected to find them was in the in the kingdom of the famous. And then I met Leonard Cohen.
He had been a mysterious, distant character in the script of my childhood. Then I read Beautiful Losers and his poetry and music became the sound tracks of smokey university parties.
I wasn’t sure I always understood the words but I resonated with the sadness of this life which Mr Cohen articulated so poignantly.
When, much later in my life, I met the poet, the musician and the seeker in India I was amazed at the gentleness of his heart. I imagine that everyone who knew Leonard has a story to tell about his generosity and his kindness. Maybe some have stories that describe grand gestures but I have memories of simple things which left me in awe.
Leonard Cohen did not, in my experience , do kind things, Leonard was kindness. It was in the depth of his eyes and the complete attention he gave you in conversation. It was in his hands, too elegant for anything but refined gestures, music and words. His smile was a kind gift of reassurance to those on the outside of his angst. And then there was that voice, it seemed to resonate from his heart , from the core of his gentle spirit.
Maybe he lived so kindly so as not to add to the pain of life because he felt the suffering in the world so deeply. Or maybe he was what my Mother would have called, “well brought up”. Perhaps his spiritual search had led him to compassion and maybe it was quite simply the nature of the man to be so, how lucky for us.
Now in these days so near to the time he left us I find it difficult to see the image of his face and the sound of his voice can reduce me to tears. I barely knew this man and yet I ask myself did I do enough for him because this is what a kind person stimulates in others. It is an indescribable loss when kindness leaves this world.
Leonard Cohen was a man who made us want to be a better people and for all he gave us, that was amongst his greatest gifts.
I woke up this morning in the tail end of a disturbed dream. You know the sort – when the last scene actually plays out in your waking state. I was on an operating table about to undergo surgery which I was unlikely to survive.
The anesthetist placed the mask on my face and as I took possibly my last concious breath I was struck wide awake with this thought- breath is a stunning yet unacknowledged gift – it is the gift of living experience. This living we get to do for an hour or 97 years is the experience for which gratitude was invented.
The good- joy, passion, connection, love,dancing and ice cream and the bad- pain, sadness, loneliness, cruelty, violence and homework- all is experience that we are granted for a reason we will never know. Granted to do with what, we will never understand, though through history we have amused ourselves for endless hours creating the one just and right story which explains it all.
The miracle is that each breather inhales a totally unique experience but exhales into a shared experiential field.
In the border camps of Idomeni 14,000 refugees each breathe in the gift of their experience and process it as suffering and fear and hope. Make no mistake, as they exhale,their dreams become the air we breathe too. This is the unseen thread which binds us , that makes their lives and experiences part of ours and perhaps it is our exhalation of the abundance experience which feeds their hope.
March 8 is International Woman’s Day. Let us celebrate with a breathing meditation on gratitude and on our connection to each woman,man and child who seeks a new life today, a new experience of freedom and self respect.
Breathe in the miracle that is life and let gratitude filter into that air before we exhale it into a universal space where others also reach for the miracle of their breath.
Breathe deeply from our full bellies and express the gratitude slowly to send it gently on its way.
And again and again until our lungs are cleansed and our minds refreshed and awakened to creative ideas for living as one people sharing the amazing gift of life.
People have asked me – what did it feel like to be done? This was my last journal entry.
When I reached the final destination, Catedral de Santiago de Compostela, I sat on the square and cried.
Now settled in the hotel I feel “off the Camino ” and I don’t want to walk on the streets without my mochilla (knapsack) because I want still to identify as a peregrino.I have a whole stored suitcase full of clothes at my disposal but I cannot bring myself to change out of my hiking gear. I had lunch in the hotel dining room and I felt lonely for the first time on the whole trip even though I have often dined alone along the way.
For 12 days I have been in such a sacred space, there was so much room there and so much magnificent silence. Now the city and its people intrude on me.
I think there is also a fear that something will leave me, that the Camino’s magic will not survive the reentry. I feel the need to move slowly back into the world.
From my hotel room I can see out over the roofs of the city and past the red tiles and the white stucco glaring in the sun, there are hills and carved in the side of the tallest one is a path. I do not know if it is a Camino path but it calls to me. I yearn for that path like an absent lover.
I am grateful for this experience, grateful beyond measure.
I fell asleep last night at 7:30 so here I am wide awake at 5:30AM and the clocks changed last night so maybe it is only 4:30AM.
Today is my last day on the Camino de Santiago. Twelve days, alone, moving on the path, experiencing whatever shows up, uninterrupted, unhurried. This morning there is gratitude to everyone who supported me on this trek; to everyone I met along the way and to God for my health and ability to put one foot in front of the other for 11 days, so far.
As a peregrino you are comfortable wherever you are because everyone gets you. You don’t need to explain your strange clothes and your unkempt hair. It is about far more than your appearance. People in the Camino towns know what you are about, for these days; they understand the why of you in their space.
You have nothing to explain or excuse, you are mercifully free of the opinions and judgments of others. Oh I don’t imagine you really are completely free but that is your perception. I am sure the locals chat together and have a laugh over some of the get ups or they grumble about the noise and chatter of the groups but as you walk you are in this free space that quite frankly I have never felt before.
It is as if all the folks along the Camino work together to support the journeys of the peregrinos and they bring their heart to this work, how fortunate are we to experience this.
I am torn to leave the simplicity of the days here, the damp autumn smells of the paths, the vibration of ancient travelers that I feel beneath my feet, the sight of the sun filtering down between the trees and the morning mist rising in the valleys.
I have found a new strength on this journey
I have found the ability to live with my self perceived flaws
I have found great peace in the simplicity of the routine of a Camino day
I have found comfortableness in my own skin that I have never known
I have found a new faith in life here. There has been the sighting of perfection in its beauty and its pain. I understand just a tiny bit more about how it all works, us and this – all of it.
Gracias maravilloso Camino!
I was stopped beside a car at a narrow bridge, both of us waiting to cross when the way was clear. I looked into the car and saw what appeared to be a mother driving her child to school. She looked so impatient about the wait. I know that face it says, “I have a meeting at 9:30 and I still have to do the school drop and get to the office, come on let’s get moving!”
This is life.
In a small village as I passed an open window I heard a man and woman speaking to each other in tones I would describe as argumentative. This is life.
I watched a farmer mucking out his barn, weary in the shoulders as he leaned into it. This too, is life.
I will soon return to my driving routines, my metaphoric barn waiting to be mucked out and I may even pass a cross word or two with my husband, it has been known to happen. This is my life as well.
Will these realities mean that my Camino is gone from me? Will it all be a blur in the past? I don’t know, I hope not but I don’t know. I like to think the flavour of Jaki has changed over these past ten days, changed in a way which has shifted my perspective forever.
We will see if there is truth here or not…
This morning after I awoke I wanted to feel that connection again. I tried to think my way back into it but I discovered that the experience of the connection could not be created with the conscious mind. I recalled the dream as a vibrant encounter but I could not recreate that when I was awake.
It occurs to me that this limitation applies to human connection of the waking hours as well.
When you have that rare experience of deep connection, it is stunning, it is a gift, it is the very reason we live. Or so it seems to me because it gives us a glance behind the veil of the conscious world within which we usually function. But if we try to create a connection, to force our way into one, it just does not work.
I realize how much of my life, the twists and turns of my path have been shaped by my desire for connection. I have mistaken sexual attraction for connection and while they are sometimes both present, sometimes they are not.
I have also committed to relationships where there was connection but as it turned out it was not the material of a long term journey. That connection would have been better left in its individual moment and carried as a sweet memory rather than trying to build a house upon it.
We love connection so we tend to build romantic dreams around it. We take this random and rare gift and create stories about what it means and what should happen next and on and on, this is us trying to recreate the beauty of the dream.
But real human connection (which by the way can happen with animals) does not mean anything, it predicts no future nor demands no plan, it knows no time and needs no response. It just is the single most magically unrestricted human experience we can have.
On reflection this morning after my prayer I realized that for me dishonesty and self seeking are often the same thing. My dishonesty takes the form of misrepresenting myself, not being clear about or hiding what I want, need or think in order to make a certain impression on others, in other words to get what I want – other people to like me.
When I looked deeper I saw that I have not believed that I could be liked for myself, that the “true me” would not be acceptable to others. I therefore operate on the assumption that what I need or want or think is not good enough and once more fear is given the ruling hand.
I understand that much of that fear comes from my guilt which always stands at the ready to prove that I should have a poor opinion of myself. I proceed, acting falsely, driven by the fear that the “real” me will not measure up to the expectations of others.
It takes so much energy to be dishonest this way, so much guessing what others need me to be and so much wasted energy after the fact on the regret of the dishonesty.
I do believe that sometimes it is kind not to say everything that I am thinking as long as the effort is for the benefit of another not an effort for me to gain approval or affection.
Today I shall try to be honest in my representation of myself.
After all this introspective thinking I packed up and trekked down to breakfast. The waiter was doing double reception/checkout duty. I asked to check out and he smiled and said, “breakfast first”.
I filled up and checked out and as I was leaving the counter the same waiter said, “Please wait”. He ran into the kitchen and came back out with a sandwich wrapped in tin foil and an orange, he said,” for the path today”. He hesitated a moment then looking me right in the eyes he said, “You have a beautiful spirit”
I thanked him,”mucho, mucho gracias” and put on my knapsack and left.
I was two or three steps from the building when he opened the door, stuck out his head and yelled, “If you need anything, anywhere on the trail, call me I will come and help you”
This is what happened the first morning I decided to live honestly, acting just as myself. Thank you God, I get it now!
BTW, I did not stop to eat today on the path but I ate that sandwich and its accompanying orange tonight – it was the best sandwich I ever ate.
I got lost today and walked in a complete circle adding kilometers onto my already aching knees. Then I lost the section of my guide book that I needed for today’s walk and then my Camino App had a little nervous breakdown – must of been the circle that did it in.
I was alone, without tools, in a place I had not been before because I had wandered off the route. I did something I have never done in my life; I used the sun as my guide. I knew what direction I was headed in and I basically knew where the sun was at that time of day so I kept walking and I found the path once more and made it to my destination.
The whole experience made me think about how Grace shows up in our daily life. Grace was definitely on the path with me today. Grace needs you to have faith but it does not need you to make faith happen. In fact it is Grace which provides the required faith.
Faith is something the Camino teaches you, by Grace. Its lessons show up in the form of a fellow peregrino walking towards you, therefore showing you the way, when you are walking backwards and totally lost, or in the friendly face of a Spanish villager who points and says, “si, si a Santiago” when you are not sure if the way is left or right.
Grace even tears your map book from your hand and moves you on without noticing so you can experience the sun as your guide.
I managed to somehow miss all the restaurants on the road but I did eventually and painfully arrive at my destination only to find out that my luggage did not arrive!
Well if this is to be the rest of my life….
But in truth it may be.
I am 64 and the rest of my life will have many challenges, physically and emotionally in a variety of ways, such is the aging process.
Today the path got difficult, the wind whipped up, it was raining and I was in pain with every step, I started to cry. It shocked me, where was this coming from?
Yes, it is windy- big deal and it is raining – but I am well protected and yes my knees and legs hurt like hell but what else is going on here?
And then I saw the fear at the bottom of it all heating up the emotions and stirring up the pain. The fear was not about the rain or the wind or my legs and feet. The fear was not about today.
I was afraid that I would not be able to finish the Camino. Afraid that my worsening leg pain would stop me from reaching my long range goal. I was afraid of something that is not happening today and may or may not ever happen.
Thank God, some sanity surfaced through that mess. I was able to observe that today I was still walking, still making progress on the trail, snail paced, but progress. I saw this day as a bad day but there was Grace and that was my ability to keep on keeping on and to know that even on such days somewhere, somehow, all is exactly as it is meant to be in this moment of time.
Today is indeed a perfect metaphor for this stage of my life. In these years there is a blessing available that is not about overcoming challenges and winning at all costs. Instead this blessing is about how I accept that which comes and this is what will make all the difference to the quality of my life in the future. Will I find the fears behind the pain and face them? Will I risk the honesty of vulnerability? Will I face or deny my condition and my situation? Will I keep my sense of humor and my passion for whom and what I love?
Thank you Camino for another lesson in life.