For the past five years I have been a grateful member of Al-Anon and I have worked my way through 11 of the 12 steps of that program. For those who do not know our community, the Fourth Step is your personal inventory. This is the often painful exercise of revealing your character defects or coping mechanisms as I like to call them. It can be a tough exercise but it provides the material you need to continue with your amends. I came to the fire pit to burn a page of my Fourth Step.
I knew that burning this page of my inventory was symbolic and I did not expect the sky to open up when the ash blew to the sea nor did I expect to hear God’s forgiving voice. I just felt this was something I had to do; sometimes ceremony is required to mark life’s milestones.
So I set fire to the paper, burning my thumb in the process because it was a particularly windy day. I stood guard until my sins were transformed to dust and then I began the walk back to town.
I was thinking about my sore knees and where would I get some food when suddenly I realized I actually felt lighter. It occurred to me that the weight of guilt had been released.
As I walked I thought about the crucial distinction between guilt and the regret which I still have and expect to always have.
Regret allows me to look at what I have done in the past and to live more or less comfortably with the self knowledge of it while guilt makes made me want to shut and lock the door on my past.
Regret is part of who I am, part of my more aware self and it informs and shapes a better today. Guilt on the other hand haunted me, painfully cutting me off from any learning from the past that could possibly have increased my effectiveness today.
Tomorrow I move on to the next stage of my Camino and I pass the halfway mark. After the fire pit exercise I have designated these next days of my Camino as the beginning of the rest of my life. I am open to what may come as the sun rises on day six and I begin to walk with the knowledge and peace of my past not the weight of it.
A few days ago I came upon a woman walking with a man, most likely her partner and a younger man, perhaps a son.
The”husband” was sort of Italian grumpy, the “son” not so grumpy but reticent. The woman was vibrant and wide open. She and I exchanged just a glance. We shared a mutual look of exhaustion after a hard climb on the path as we all arrived at a rest spot. When she left the picnic area I was still sitting and she waved goodbye. I returned the wave with a smile.
I felt such a strong connection to her. I had seen her early in the day on the trail and had felt the connection then as well as we nodded in passing, offering each other the traditional peregrino greeting, “Buen Camino”.
Today, two days since the first encounter, I was walking back from the lighthouse in Fisterre and she and hubby and son were walking in the opposite direction towards the lighthouse. She saw me on the sidewalk maybe 60 feet away and flung her arms out wide, I did the same.
When we met we hugged. She said in her Italian spiced voice “I am so glad to see you.” There were tears shared but we were beaming. Then we said goodbye and I went on to town and she and her men went on to the lighthouse.
These are the moments for which life is made – no reason, no future, no plan- just is.
I think this process happens with age because it is enabled by self awareness. The more we understand how we operate, the nature of our personality and the traits from our conditioning, the easier it becomes to see them for what they are – attributes, habits, coping mechanisms layered over our essence.
This is not a mistake or an error on our part; it is how we play out the human experience. These traits and attributes are what differentiates us, one from the other, what makes us interesting and unique in our human flavor.
The Camino reveals us to ourselves and in that revelation, if we are most lucky, we find acceptance of ourselves. The acceptance is key because once that comes the fight stops, the battle with our self is over, and we unclench our fists and wait. In God’s time, always God’s time, we begin the journey home to that which we have always been.
I started the day walking with a young man from Korea who told me he was walking the Camino because he was going through a divorce and he thought if he could make this journey then he could survive that journey of his heart.
He is the first person that I have met who asked me why I was walking. I did not really answer his question but I held it for later review.
Why am I doing this?
He told me that 300 or 400 km ago he had thrown out his guide book and was trusting God and the signposts of the Camino.
I asked myself could I do that? My pockets are stuffed with maps and I have two apps on my phone and if all else fails a compass.
I began to hear the Camino speak to me, “let go”
My pace today was very fast and I made it to my goal within three hours. I considered continuing along the path. It is to rain tomorrow and I could have a day of rest but in the end I decided not to continue. I stopped where I was checked into Casa Loncho and for the first time had the energy and the time to explore my destination. I walked the streets of the small hamlet of Olvieroa, I bathed my feet in a cool stream and I enjoyed a yummy lunch and some excellent albarino, yes there is a theme here with the wine, just supporting the local wineries.
As I returned to my hotel after lunch church bells began to ring. I was drawn to this sound and there I found a middle aged, female “Quasimodo” in a sweater set pulling the bell chain. She rang that bell for 20 minutes and I sat on the ground in front of the church and felt the sound vibrate through my body.
It seems the bell ringer was also the cleaning lady and when she finished she entered the church and began to sweep. I stood in the doorway tentatively, just wanting to thank her, but also sneaking a peek inside the old stone building. She gestured for me to enter. She went off to clean and I knelt on a prayer bench in the dark, cold church.
I do not know if I was praying I only know that at some point I felt the tears on my cheeks. The Camino had begun to work inside me; in those moments of meditation I could feel it.
We shall see what tomorrow brings, besides the rain, but for today I am grateful.
I began walking behind a group of Lithuanian Christians who were carrying a full size crucifix. Each time they came to a church or cross they would kneel and pray, something I envied as I have been unable to bend my knee all day.
(The knee issue proved to be quite an unexpected problem when I needed to squat in the forest to pee later in the day!)
As I passed this group of earnest pilgrims they pressed a small card into my hand. The card provided an explanation of their patron saint and ended with the words, “Trust in Jesus”. There it was – my first reminder to trust.
At one point I came to a T junction, on my right was a sign which indicated turn left. But 20 feet to the left on the opposite side of the road was a sign which indicated turn right. So I started trying to figure this out – which way to go, when a Frenchman came up behind me and said,” I have done this route before – go left.”
I went left and then it was revealed- a tiny road hidden by a hedge onto which we turned right and walked down through a village of stone houses and gardens.
Trust the signs Jaki, in this case literally, and take the next step because you never know what may be around the corner!
A few hours later I came upon a young woman walking the opposite way. She was returning to Santiago, a path I will take in a week. I have been worried about the return journey because the path is not marked in the opposite direction and I have heard that the way is very confusing.
I asked this young woman how she had found it. She said it was difficult but help always came and “you just need to trust”. She said these words three times. There it was again, my reminder to trust.
About half way I came to four way junction and looked about for the Camino stone marker to show me my way. There was no marker. I took out my directions, read them and set off in the wrong direction. I became doubtful about my decision and returned to the four way junction where a kind gentleman from Munich smiled and pointed to the ground. There on the pavement was a faded yellow arrow pointing the way. It seems the markers are often just painted on the ground. I did not know this before but now I do. Help can come when you need…trust.As I walked on I got very tired, I guess day two has a cumulative effective on the muscles. I began to worry that I could not make my goal for today. Then I noticed small white signs posted on trees every few kilometers. These signs advertised a taxi service that would come and get you, right there on the Camino! How wonderful, if you are too tired to continue, they will come and rescue you…trust! OK I get it!
P.S. I did not get a taxi and I did manage to hobble to my next hotel.
My Journey Home to Myself – 12 Days on the Camino de Santiago
I arrived in Santiago de Compostela on October 13 to begin my journey on the Camino de Santiago. I had chosen the Camino Finisterre route, the original pagan Camino which is a 200KM path beginning and ending in Santiago de Compostela.
Over the next while I will share here some of my thoughts while on the path. For me this was a deeply personal and meaningful journey. I walked alone, only sharing the way with others approximately five hours out of the twelve days I was on the Camino. In that solitude I found a part of myself which had I had lost.
The Eve of the Journey- October 13
Today I am full with God.
I arrived very early, shortly after sunrise. My room was not ready so I wandered in the city. After a time I made my way to the Tourist Office where I understood I could get my credential. This is the document on which, as you walk, you collect the sellas (stamps) in order to receive your certificates of completion.
At the Tourist Office a friendly woman explained that since I was walking a 200 KM route and returning to Santiago I could possibly receive an official Compostela certificate of completion but perhaps I needed to pick up a different credential at the Pilgrims Office.
So off I went to the Pilgrims Office. Here one stands in line and watches as other pilgrims still dusty from the road cheer in joy upon receiving their certificates. Some of these folks have been on the Camino for 2 months and this official completion is very moving.
I was told that my walk, known as The Finisterre Way( the original pagan Camino) was “not the real Camino” and so I could not get a certificate. There was a long explanation some of which, perhaps most of which, I did not understand – so I may or may not get my certificate. But needless to say the evaluation of my Camino as “not real” took some wind out of my sales. I am not walking for a piece of paper so I will get the stamps each day as required and in two weeks, we will see what happens.
Next I decided to walk the first 2 KM of tomorrow’s route just so I would not get lost in the first half hour of my journey. I stopped at the first official Camino marker in a stunning grove of oak trees. I am ready now!
Then I went to the Cathedral to do the audio tour and perhaps to light a candle to seek blessings on my pending journey.
The Pilgrims mass began shortly after I arrived and visitors were required to join the congregation or leave. I joined the pews filled with mostly “completed pilgrims”, you could tell from their shoes.
At one point in the mass we were invited to offer each other the handshake of peace, “peace be with you” the traditional greeting you offer to those seated near you. I remembered a Christmas Eve mass 37 years ago when I was over 9 months pregnant, as the woman next to me took my hand she nodded towards my considerable belly and said, “Peace be with you, it looks like you will need it soon.” I was moved to tears today by this memory and the passage of time and shift of place that is our life story.
My last treat was a lovely lunch of pulpo a la plancha and not one but two glasses of Albarino!
Now I am back at the hotel to prepare my bags for the trip. I leave tomorrow at 7:45AM. I am so excited; I am not sure how I will sleep!
Last year on International Women’s Day,I shared with you the work of an innovative philanthropic organization called Kiva. Kiva connects people through $25 loans and facilitates our ability to celebrate women by supporting the dreams of our sisters in need.
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Dreams are the hope which lives in every heart and at every age. This year on International Women’s Day Kiva will help you to make dreams come true.
Please celebrate 2015 International Women’s Day by becoming an active participant in the fabulous gifts of Kiva. Then come on back here and share how that felt and why you chose to celebrate women the Kiva way.
On March 8, we honor the dreams of a group of people who have been told not to dream. A group of people who have been told “they can’t” more times than they have been told “they can.” A group who has faced abuse for being born the way they are. A group of people commodified and enslaved. A group who brings life into this world, but who are often powerless over their own. We honor women.
To celebrate International Women’s Day – and the days that The follow – Kiva has launched Kiva.org/Dreams to spotlight the The power of women because it’s their dreams that make our world better.
By visiting Kiva.org/Dreams, you can back a dream by choosing a woman whom Kiva should lend $25 to. There is no cost to you. By choosing her, you help her to follow her dream of starting or growing her business, sending her children to school, and ultimately, gaining financial independence.
When women have the resources to make their dreams a reality, the world changes. More children go to school, more food is grown, and nations are more peaceful and prosperous. A case in point: if women farmers had equal access to farming assets and finance, they could increase their crop yields up to 30% and 150 million people who go hungry every day would be able to eat.
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Longing is a desire for something distant or unattainable.
Don’t we spend our lives longing,seeking,desiring for…?
It could be love or power or money or prestige. It could be position or freedom or peace. Satisfaction is a fleeting human state and even that we long for at some point in our lives.
What will be our last longing?
For what or who will we stretch out a thin hand as we offer our last breaths to this world?
When my father was dying we were all gathered around his bed. We were watching his every breath as if we could keep his heart pumping by the power of our watchful gaze. Dad looked around the bed,serene in his observation,he saw each one of us and then he smiled and said, “No man could be more loved”.
Those words were a gift to his children and grandchildren who had gathered to hold him as he went the way of our mother just 3 months before. Those words told us each that he felt loved,that he had received and revelled in what we had sought to give.
To understand the exceptional quality of my father’s words you need some history on the man. My father was a lifetime entrepreneur. He had experienced some sucess and some great failures. In the end he had done well but not to the expectations of his dreams. He often felt that he had not “made it”. Personally I think that is the dysfunctional aspect of the otherwise positive character of a lifetime entrpreneur- always looking for that next great thing.
As I aged myself and I was 52 when he passed,I came to believe that my father’s greatest accomplishment was his family and the love we had for him. It saddened me that he did not seem to see that and that it appeared to be overshadowed by his self perceived failure in business.
So when he uttered those last words,it was particularly poignant.
I wonder if my father’s last longing was just that,to know himself as well loved and to let us know that we had loved well,to release us from the self doubt that we had not done enough, been good enough or loved this sweet man sufficiently.
I wonder when this longing began to take root in his mind and heart. Had it been there all along but lay dormant? Or did it just come to him in his last hours?
As last longings go, that was a pretty darn good one.
Our journey to creativity begins in many different ways. In the following guest post Susan De Garmo tells us how she sweated and exploded her way into her creative self.
Susan’s book “Many Paws” is an altered book and in it Susan explains that “an altered book is a form of mixed media artwork that changes a book from its original form into a different form altering its appearance and or meaning.” Well guess what… that is also a perfect description of the process of aging. Every year of our life our appearance changes subtly and as we experience living our meaning in this world shifts as well. But the stunning and unique artwork which is each of us remains as testimony to the creative force in our life.
Susan’s book celebrates the process by reminding us to laugh and smile and come o, pop up boobies…don’t you want to buy 10 copies?
When I was about 47 years old, I put some eggs on the stove to boil. I went downstairs to my office to grade papers and before I knew it, I heard explosions coming from my kitchen! I ran up and saw exploded boiled eggs sitting in a pan with no water, exploding because I left them in there and totally forgot to take them out.
That year when I had my yearly check-up, I told my doctor I thought I was going crazy! I couldn’t remember the simplest things. I was starting to leak when I laughed, I sweated in bed, had hot flashes in the day, my eyesight was getting worse and my middle was spreading! She patted my hand and told me that I was going through the change. I couldn’t believe what she was saying! At 47 years old I started getting “old”. She handed me a paperback book that she said would help me understand what my body was doing.
That night I relaxed in the tub and picked up the book and began to read. The words were sweet and delicate. “You’re still a woman even though you can’t have babies anymore.”
I couldn’t take it! I tossed it in the trash.
My doctor wouldn’t give me anything to get rid of the symptoms. “It’s perfectly normal”, she said. So, every day became a new adventure with the symptoms of menopause. Thank God my family still loves me!
Since I couldn’t find a book that shared the in-your-face experiences of menopause and getting older with a bit of humor, I decided one day while teaching my altered book class at a local design college, I would make an altered book on the subject and it would be about my experience. Why did I come up with that idea? It was freezing cold outside, my head was beet red, sweat was dripping down my face and my students looked at me like I had a third eye! I just shrugged and pressed on.
I found an old book that had a by-line…the years of change. I took that book and altered it to create “Many Paws, the Years of Change”. Each week I did a spread in the book. Depending on what challenges I was going through, that is what I wrote about. We had a show-n-tell in the class every week to show off the work we did in our books. I showed mine to the students and there were lots of “yuck”, “my mom’s doing that”, and sometimes laughter. I wasn’t trying to appeal to them, just critiquing the pages.
At the end of the semester, we had an Altered Book Show. The students and myself would have our altered books on display for the faculty, staff, family and friends. Of course, my whole experience with menopause was there for the whole world to see. It wasn’t long before we heard laughter. Not only from the moms and older women of the college, but from their husbands! Oh no. I was totally embarrassed, but come to find out, they liked it! They started telling their stories and wanted a copy for themselves or to give to their girlfriends. So that’s how all of this started.
When my daughter was 15 a young girl her age was abducted in our small town. Within hours of realizing the evil that had occured search teams combed the wooded areas organized in long lines of worried parents and sympathetic neighbours. The police questioned every imaginable suspect or witness.
The whole town sat the vigil that was her parents’ nightmare. I remember thinking, how could I sit still? How could I rest when my child had been ripped from the safety I trusted I had built for her? How could I shut down the horror stories playing in my brain and how could I breathe through the fear in my heart?
I worked in the school system at that time and was called to the classroom where this young girl’s empty seat waited for her safe return. Her classmates circled the space of that desk with looks of fear and bewilderment.
She did not return. Her body was found two weeks later, curled in the fetal position and left in the woods like yesterday’s litter.
Our town was small and this event shattered the illusions we had of security. Doors were locked and children were driven to school. On the day of her funeral, thousands lined the streets to say goodbye and to offer our support to her family. We never came back from that event, the peace and order, illusory as it may have been, was never restored fully. Every parent or grandparent, aunt or uncle, neighbour or friend lost a tiny part of their heart to that young girl.
This was one child in Canada. Today it is 276 in Nigeria.
Today it is millions who are touched by the plight of young girls who dared to dream of an education. Each of those stolen children is someone’s daughter. I find myself struggling to know what I can do, where are the woods I can search for these children? I am haunted by my powerlessness in the face if such an atrocity.
What can we do when a tragedy of this magnitude prevails in a country which is distant and unknown to us? Have we become too good at turning away and assuring ourselves we can do nothing?
When the tsunami hit Sri Lanka foreign aid poured into that country overnight at unprecedented amounts to comfort and rebuild. So why did it take so long for us to react to the abduction of almost 300 school children? It took a week for this event to become big news in the western world. Our media spent their energy on first world problems while God knows what was happening to those children of Africa. Eventually the outrage began but it seems to have had little effect, other than drawing out the perpetrator to boast his responsibility on the world stage and to taunt us with his plans.
The world’s children are the world’s future and we are delusional if we believe that future is contained in geographical or cultural boundaries. Are we not the village it takes to raise these children? Then we need to act like it, now.