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7c2d2eb513d38a1acdc619192fbb4f8b“Onward!”

I love words and I often find myself looking up word origins or the proper definition of a word. With that in mind, I am defining this current phase of my life as my mid-life catharsis and once I read the following I knew it was perfect.

Catharsis (from the Greek κάθαρσις katharsis meaning “purification” or “cleansing”) refers to the purification and purgation of emotions—especially pity and fear—through art[1] or to any extreme change in emotion that results in renewal and restoration.[2][3]

The last few years I have really started to distance my head from my heart and have found myself not really liking the person I have become. The things in my past that made me proud and centered are becoming a smaller and smaller part of my being. Those things start with being a good friend to others, being creative, seeking and generating inspiration and just generally looking at life as a journey of possibilities. Although I have always been prone to depression, a really devastating heart break and losing a job that had become my identity completely altered my reality. I have become about self-preservation, not rocking the boat, minimal challenge, risk and thus reward. I am often bored and have developed some pretty negative routines that just help me continue this drab ho-hum spiral. That being said, I have tried a lot of things; working with kids, exercising more, moving and moving and moving, open mic nights, committing to making more time for my family, growing a couple of local friendships with amazing people who are not allowed to have any expectations of me, getting a dog, etc…. While these are all beneficial activities, I still find myself on my couch watching too much tv, not connecting with very important people, overweight, insecure, withdrawn and just plain lost. Disconnected feels like the right word.

I have also felt a bit like an elementary school kid thinking “maybe I’ll become a fire fighter!” or “i’ll be a pop star!” or whatever craziness comes into my head. That with my business experience, I’m frequently figuring out how I can market my desire to make some real $$$. But nothing has resonated beyond a brief fantasy and so I continue to work a minimum wage job while (phew!) getting a hefty severance paycheck and feeling like I am putting off “real life”. ??

Last Monday a colleague called me about a job. I thought “I need to take a job in my career field with a good salary and a 401K, etc… etc…” I kept hearing myself saying the word “should” and not feeling any excitement. I promised to send him an updated resume that night. The next day I had not emailed the resume, using excuses that I have a new computer and needed to download Office knowing that if I was passionate and engaged, he would have an updated resume asap. The next day my head was spinning with ideas and I called my mom with less than five minutes to spare and asked what she thought of me hiking the Camino de Santiago. My practical, southern, money conscious mother did not hesitate and said “sounds like something you should do honey”. I said it might take six months, I had no idea what I was saying – I knew nothing about it other than hearing part of an NPR story and seeing the trailer for the movie “The Way”. I spent a good quality thirty minutes on the internet that night and that was all it took for me to know I was going.

The Way of Saint James (a.k.a. The Camino de Santiago) is a 500-mile spiritual pilgrimage across the Pyrenees, through the provinces of northern Spain, ending at the Saint James Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela. Some people take months, years or weeks to do it.

Since then, I breathe the Camino. I have a phone app that links me to a wonderful forum where people post questions and they get very meaningful responses. I have watched numerous youtube videos, read personal blogs of others experience, and continue to feel inspired, excited and beyond secure in my decision. Fast forward to seven days later and you will find a girl with a plane ticket in September to Paris, France and home from Santiago de Compostela, Spain after an estimated 41 days.
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Simple autumn morning

I am sitting in a coffee shop reading while morning light peeks in through tall windows enhanced by the pale yellow walls. Thought provoking music plays and the stories in my head dance slowly, none attaching but drifting like clouds. A group of four men have met. Laughing, checking in. Probably in their 70’s and I assign stories to them. The progressive logger, the psychologist, the consultant, the professor. They’re all
retired now. Funny how something as simple as four friends getting together chatting to be such a source of warmth, artistic even. Their gentle laughs. Two sit legs crossed and the other two lean forward legs out wide. Each of them committed this time, got up from their warm beds, their nests and went out in search of connection. Taking a mental snapshot. Was just away for a week for work. Glad to be home.

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Choices

“Darkness deserves gratitude. It is the alleluia point at which we learn to understand that all growth does not take place in the sunlight.” -Joan D. Chittister

Today I made some good choices.  I woke up early. Instead of choosing to distract from the world around me, I chose to put on tennis shoes and head to a coffee shop. I didn’t want to. I tend towards being at home. Alone. Which I think comes from a combination of being avoidant of being seen because I am embarrassed by the physical shell of myself and just not being excited or interested in much. I started walking and soon realized the day was beautiful, that my dog was pleased by my choice and I chose a much longer route than originally intended. We were exploring. Choosing alleys, meeting cats, talking to birds and squirrels. Arriving at the coffee shop, I chose to sit at the café for a moment before heading home with my to-go cup. I saw a family with a beautiful young 1-2 year old joyful boy. I walked home to feel just enough energy to choose a book instead of my computer (tv). I sat outside instead of inside. My dog jumped into my lap contentedly on a cool sunny day. Eventually I stared into space without any particular thought. I texted a friend what I was doing. Just statements of fact. I think there might have been an implied happiness and as I continued to stare off, I felt like hearing music and I turned Pandora on and heard Patty Griffin’s song “Florida”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZAXgscqhlg0

I don’t think it was the words but maybe the key, the loose languid style of Patty’s voice on the song but what started off as me quietly singing harmony quickly turned into deep aching sobs. And I thought .. am I sad? It did feel painful. But necessary. Not the whole cathartic, now I can move on feeling but just an acknowledgment. Sometimes when I think of emotion, it’s like I am talking about someone else. Thinking about someone else and not experiencing anything internally. Not feeling the feeling but thinking about it. Intellectualizing it. Rationalizing it.

I chose to hike the Camino for so many deep seated reasons and I still struggle with many of the same themes. Having dinner with friends the other day they asked me if I missed the Camino. I do. So much. Not even sure I am really back here. I often wonder if my obsession with the Camino is just about escape and I think it is probably much more complex than that but there is probably some desire to escape. They told me they thought I was different. God I hope so. But I am not sure I agree.

I feel gratitude for so much. I live in an adorable 1920’s cottage painted my favorite color by my amazing friend and now landlord. I have a loving and hugely entertaining puppy. I have loyal, hilarious, thoughtful friends. I have a faithful mom who tries her best to understand me. And I don’t have to mention my sisters because they are part of my friends that I mentioned earlier. And for that I am truly lucky. I have a great job which allows me the joys of being creative and to try new things. And yet.

Somewhere I hear someone screaming “wah! get over yourself” and of course I realize the suffering of so many in the world and I can’t justify why I entertain so many cruel and mocking internal demons. In an odd way it feels overly indulgent.

I can’t handle crowds or social experiences that require my full attention. I am glad that I enjoy and often hike alone and with friends and I always feel comfortable doing that. In my skin. Positive. Clear headed. Sometimes even insightful. I wish life was only hiking. But while that seemingly on the surface may sound healthy there is apart of it – my avoidance of most else – that screams “You have a tremendous fear of being alone with your thoughts” “You are so insecure that you don’t want to be around people where they look directly at you.” When I hike I listen to podcasts so my mind is still not allowed to just be. And when I am at work I am often able to focus on the task at hand and therefore lose sight of the struggle of being in my skin in front of other people.

I know I am writing in a very public way but once I stopped sobbing I felt this deep need to write. This blog provided me a tremendous amount of comfort during the Camino. It felt good to write and I can’t articulate why. Why this forum.  But it did. I wanted to embrace a moment where I wanted to be in it. In the moment.

I feel like I am pretty self aware and I know good choices can lead to improved mood and more good choices. I feel like I know what dictates a good choice for me – Exercise. Books. Music. Writing. Friends. I started off my day with four of those. So even though while I have been writing this I have continued to cry on and off, I still recognize the dappled light streaming in from my back door and the soft, cool wind coming through the window. My sweet, post-walk dog laying by my feet. The letter I received this week from my friend on my bookshelf.

I guess that is what I wanted this to be about. I feel pain. I feel gratitude. I can savor the beauty of both. Today I can. Today I am. And right now that feels okay. Feels like enough.

Also as you may have noticed, today I am really enjoying periods. I guess I am in a short. incomplete sentences. kind of mood.

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Oh what a difference a year makes..

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Last year at this time I was wrapping up my job as a Training & Operations Manager at a national healthcare company. I was tired, burnt out, overweight, directionless, insecure and muted to my surroundings both internal and external. Today I still struggle with much of the same things but I am so very different. Here I sit in a coffee shop in my very soggy hometown feeling so full. Full of something so overwhelming welling up inside me mixed with sadness, happiness, disappointment, forgiveness, pride and joy. I feel so incredibly lucky and very blessed.

Today I was offered a position in my field on my career track. Not only that, it is right here in my hometown. A town that has never even had such a position ever available. Part of me feels silly to say that this is because of a higher power or energetic rumblings in the universe - there are many much more important things going on than my job hunt. But this feels destined... I took a year off, with no plan and I only applied for two total jobs upon return from the Camino and this one was posted in October and I applied the last day of December. They wanted someone with a strong educational background of which I don't have and yet here I am with the job. It just happens to be for a job that I've been doing nationally in a town that as I mentioned has never had a similar job ever. It was recently created. Okay Paige don't get carried away here. It's a job and what have you learned this last year? That you're more than a job, you're more than what you do but that who you are is so much more important. But it's all really intertwined isn't it and to deny that is just to lie to myself. Or at least that is how it feels to me and yes, I am having a conversation with myself via this blog. :)

Coming back from the Camino has been its own very important phase of my life. If you want to know how I am doing mentally you would just need to consult my walking calendar and the more I am walking the happier I am. So this last week leading up to this decision, it didn't look so good. But I knew it was temporary and that happier days would be ahead. When I thought of having financial security again, I thought of things I wanted to do with that money and last year I don't think I would've been able to say that. I was so deadened to life that there was little to nothing I wanted. I know that sounds overly dramatic and there were waves that went up and down but the up often felt just above the water line.

After getting back I went on a hike with a friend who had just completed hiking Mt. Kilimanjaro. We had talked before our big treks about our expectations and dreams and were both surprised to find out that we came back with the same big prominent lesson learned that the people put on our path were the most valuable part of the adventure. Heading into my second interview on Friday, I closed my eyes and took a deep breath and thought of the people who were with me in that moment. This last year I have been so blessed to have people put in my path that have taught me tremendously valuable lessons of grace, love, forgiveness, humor, humility and acceptance. I have learned that my family is capable of more than I ever gave them credit for. But I do feel lucky. Some people are resistant to that word but I have made some very bad choices and wrong turns. I have hurt people and myself. I have been selfish and unkind and immature and yet here I am with tremendously amazing friends, having had an incredible adventure (the Camino) and with an exciting job ahead of me in the town of my dreams.

This blog has taught me that being vulnerable, though tough and at times embarrassing, can bring incredible insight and form deep connections with others. In this next year, I am hopeful. I would like to continue to be more physically active, to commit more and more to my friendships (my family included of course), to be open to romantic love and to celebrate who I am and the journey that I am on. In May I celebrate being forty years of age and I couldn't be more excited and hopeful about the woman I am becoming.

Since this blog has all been about the Camino, I will bring it back to that. The Camino taught me that I am stronger than I think and that even in a dream like situation, there is pain. It is easy to say but there is always tomorrow or another sunrise etc... None of that ever meant anything to me before. But once you do get up, put everything you own on your back and walk. Just walk. No matter what your burdens are you feel empowered. So I have no real answers for myself or anyone else about what the Camino meant to me but more than ever I value the act of walking and communicating openly with others. They both have acted like salve to a wound. It doesn't heal but it helps.

I was so hopeful that my last blog entry would be some beautiful poem or incredibly wise but this is what it is - just like every other entry here. Thanks you for being apart of an incredible experience with me.

And of course, Buen Camino! Ultreia!

Contact: paigehamm@gmail.com
Photos: http://www.flickr.com/photos/73473273@N06/sets/

Much love to you,
Paige
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Listening

I arrived into Muxia by bus planning to stay at a hotel. I thought some alone time might be good for me but, as it often happens on the Camino, my plans changed. The place I was planning to stay in was closed and a Hungarian man told me about a really nice albergue just down the street. I went in and really liked it. It was comfortable, the hospitaleiro was very kind and it had a ¨hippy¨ vibe to it. I thought I would feel like an imposter staying at an albergue when I did not walk and so I put my things down and went for a walk along the ocean. Muxia is a very small, quiet town and that is just what I needed. I walked, read, walked and stared and within a couple of hours two pilgrims I knew who had walked from Santiago greeted me. They decided to stay at the same albergue and that evening we enjoyed dinner and the local roaming dogs. One of the pilgrims and I grabbed a bottle of wine and went to sit on the huge rocks overlooking the dramatic ocean watching the sky as it darkened into evening. It was misting and the waves were crashing. The conversation on the rocks was with my young male German friend and it quickly turned into a very deep one about some painful memories both of us had and while there is pain within the threads of the stories shared, it again reminded me of how healing and important it is to share yourself with others. My friend reacted to my stories very kindly and did not overreact or show any pity. As has often happened on the Camino I felt that he was put in my path that day and that moment purposefully and I have been learning to let fate guide me and to not try and control situations such as forcing myself to stay in a hotel because I originally thought I would prefer to be alone. I ended the evening playing music with another young man and went to sleep quite late but preparing my mind for a very long hike to Finisterre the following day.

Waking early I decided that I did not feel it was wise to walk. I was originally excited to walk with another pilgrim who said we could sing the whole day long but the break in my foot is quite swollen, the blisters are red which I have heard indicates they are infected (I don´t want to say there are since I am not sure), I am still having numbness in my big toes and …. yep, I have to make excuses for not walking. There is a lot of guilt involved in this choice, like if I don´t suffer I am not worthy. That is a much larger problem than me not walking – that is a common theme in my life. ¨If I don´t suffer, I am not worthy.¨ (I know my any past boyfriends and all close friends are nodding up and down right now) Unfortunately the only advice I have heard to change this is to tell myself I don´t have to. Sounds good but that has not worked yet as I have a hard time listening to myself. Yet slowly I am showing signs of listening. The albergue felt good and I stayed there. The German man had a genuine and kind smile and so I walked down to the rocks with him when I had originally planned to read alone. I thought I should go to sleep but then a guitar was brought out and so I played. And today was the day in which I think I was really listening to myself. Of course I realize none of these examples are tough choices and yet they are small, incremental ways that I am teaching myself to listen.

My friend decided to stay with me in Muxia and we planned to take a taxi to Finisterre. The hospitaleiro offered to drive us himself and he took a more remote route that lead us to his favourite surfing spot. My friend ended up taking his clothes off and jumping in the very cold ocean. I took pictures for his wife. Funny situations this Camino provides. I spoke to the Hungarian hospitaleiro and even sang him the new Hungarian song I have learned on the Camino and some of the phrases I have learned. He is a very interesting man who has lived all over the world, speaks many languages and has walked the Camino numerous times. It was a really lovely drive and when we ended up in Finisterre and turned the corner, I was taken aback by the commercialism of Finisterre. It didn´t have the same peaceful energy of Muxia and I was immediately uncomfortable. My friend and I got out of the car, said our goodbyes to the hospitaleiro, had tea at a café and immediately jumped into another cab and headed back to Muxia. Sort of crazy to do but now I will now stay in Muxia another two days before I head home. Luckily for me the albergue is only 9 Euros a night so it sort of offsets the price of two rides back and forth to Finisterre and now I can say I have been there. Plus the first drive with the hospitaleiro was so enjoyable and worth every penny.

I love the little albergue here, the two Hungarians working there and the peacefulness of the town and I plan to spend the next few hours reading on the rocks. We have had a reprieve of rain (phew!) and today is beautiful. At times I have loved having this ¨extra¨ time – the result of walking more than I expected to the first few days and not walking onto Finisterre and at other times I feel ready to go home but now that I am in this very serene town, I look forward to the rest of today and tomorrow where I will explore the beaches, read and write. At times I feel guilty for having all this time. It feels like too much luxury for one person to have so much time to relax and enjoy. All this damned guilt and unworthiness, insecurity and anxiety but luckily these feelings are matched with a sense of calm, peacefulness, joy and pride.

I am very glad that two days ago a sweet young Wisconsin woman was put in my path (mentioned in the post ¨stillness¨), yesterday I felt so happy that this young German man was put in my path. Every day or two this happens – just the right person at just the right time. I think these people live in my town too but I am not as open to these experiences there. I hope to continue to have these daily adventures in good ol´ Eugene, Oregon very soon.

Also although I cannot say that I walked from one side of the country to the other, I can now say I have been from one side of the country to the other. Buen Camino!
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Stillness

Be-still...

When you lose touch with inner stillness, you lose touch with yourself. When you lose touch with yourself, you lose yourself in the world. – Eckhart Tolle

Today is my third day in Santiago de Compostela. I have had no way to describe my mood over the last few days. I have sat with coffee, sat with tea, sat with water, sat with wine, sat outside in the rain, sat under the cover of buildings and stared into space. I have watched others. I have shared in the pilgrims joy at completing the Camino just by sitting in a cafe across from the Pilgrim´s office where you receive your Compostela. If I try to write, I just sit with no discernable thoughts, no discernable mood, nothing written on the page. If I try to read, I don´t turn the pages just look at the page as if it were a complex piece of art. Today I came to an internet cafe to catch up but mainly I have sat listening to music staring off into space.

Today I thought all of the pilgrims I knew had left but then one woman walked into a cafe where I was drinking tea and next thing you know I was one of the ten lucky people who got to eat a nice free pilgrims meal at the very fancy Parador Hotel (10 pilgrims get in free each day for breakfast, lunch and dinner). I conversed with everyone and enjoyed the moment but had this very peaceful, quiet feeling throughout it all. Instead of concentrating on the words people were saying, I noticed their smiles, their breathing, their energy. I felt honored by one of them in that she was very open with me about her personal journey and I was glad that she felt comfortable to share so much of herself with me.

Tomorrow I will head to Muxia by bus and then the following day I will go to Finisterre where I will likely catch up with fellow pilgrims who will have arrived on foot.

I don´t know what I will do with the rest of my day but I think that sitting and staring will likely be a major part of it.

Santiago

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I did it. I am in Santiago. 500 miles/800 kilometers walked over 33 days. It is so hard to describe this experience and really I think that you will never really understand it unless you do it but writing has been a very important part of my process and so although I know I cannot do it justice I will write out some thoughts.

This second attempt at the Camino has been tough. My feet are covered in blisters and one toe is almost completely numb. Walking with a limp has caused me to have knee problems in my right leg and my boots are heavy and painful. It has rained every day but one. It is colder. I jumped into an already established Camino family and had trouble finding my ¨way¨. I have been sitting around for 35 days in between each Camino and my muscles are weaker because of it.

It has also been good for me. I have learned that even when my body fails me, my perseverence continues. I feel that some of the social challenges I experienced more closely resembles ¨real¨life and each experience is an opportunity for personal growth. As time goes on, I feel I will continue to learn many lessons from the Camino.

I haven´t written for a few days and I´ve had some ups and downs. Two days ago I struggled internally very badly. I could not get out of my negative head space and it didn´t help that I didn´t see anyone on the trail that day. My feet really hurt but by the evening, I found a nice albergue. I also found I had… the dreaded bed bugs. I had bumps up and down one arm and was scared that everyone would react like I had the plague. People were incredibly kind – one person gave me an antihistamine, another medical cream, another a new towel so that mine could wash and the woman who ran the albergue started a load of laundry for me. I sprayed down my bag and other things but wore very little clothing because I wanted as much as possible to be in the wash. My hair was wet from the shower and there was no heat in the albergue and I was very cold and having back spasms. Even with all of this, I again felt revived from a nice pilgrim meal with fellow peregrinos. Conversation was easy and Paul from Ireland who is a phenomenal published poet said many inspirational things that I think will stay with me for years to come. Countries represented this evening were Sweden, Ireland, Australia and Germany.

The next day my Swedish friend and I decided to walk together and to try and walk farther than recommended in order to have a short walk into Santiago the following day and to make the 12pm mass. I had thought many times of taking a day off but when I thought of arriving in Santiago, a big city that many of my previous Caminoans had said was slightly disappointing, and not knowing anyone – it made me sad so I had decided to keep up the pace in order to see friendly pilgrim faces when I finished the Camino. I really enjoy my swedish friend. She is a very honest, deep and happy person and our conversation can flow from the very serious to the very light. We walked slowly and took many enjoyable breaks but as it got later and later, and my knee started to hurt and my blisters were at a very high pain level it became a major challenge. We started walking at 8:30am and found our way (we thought we passed the place to stay, went back and learned that no… we had not missed it) to a hotel at 7:30pm. We were exhausted. I was way past the point of being able to find the journey fun or funny. My feet ached like I have never known. We had an incredibly expensive but also incredibly enjoyable meal and went to sleep. One of the highlights of the day for me was when I told Carina the story of The Quiltmaker´s Gift (http://www.quiltmakersgift.com/) – my favorite children´s book. When I was finished I turned to look at her and she had tears streaming down her face and said that I just given her a very special gift. This made me very happy.

Today we only needed to walk 10 km to Santiago. My blisters and tight, heavy shoes made the walk very difficult. I went from feeling emotional and overjoyed knowing we were almost there to feeling short of breath from the pain, frustrated, and at times I lacked the ability to focus being distracted from the pain. As we turned the corner to see the cathedral we walked arm in arm and there were tears in our eyes and I felt great joy and a peaceful reverence for the journey´s end. We got our compostella where I had to define if I did this for religious reasons, spiritual or for sport. They explained that this determined what kind of compostella I would receive. I felt like saying I did this for sport really minimized my experience but I am not religious so at last I chose spiritual. We walked out and saw friends and sat down to have a coffee. I think people thought I was tired because I was very quiet and stared off into space but I was just overwhelmed by the experience. I can´t even say what I was feeling – if it was good or if it was bad even, just that I was sitting in a cafe full of people – many excited to have completed the Camino and I sat staring at nothing.

We all went to mass which was good because although I didn´t understand a word of it, it gave me a moment to be quiet and to sit in a room full of peregrinos which made me reflect and feel connected and grounded in the moment. The man to my right was Catholic and had a lovely voice and I enjoyed him singing as most people weren´t Catholic and weren´t participating in the service because they weren´t sure how to. At one point, we were to greet our neighbors and everyone gave big hugs or warm handshakes and I teared up and noticed others did as well. They unexpectedly had a botafumeiro ceremony during mass which generally only happens once a week but some anonymous donor had paid 300 Euros to have this added to todays service. We all felt very lucky and it was a beautiful way to honor such a momentous journey. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Botafumeiro

I thought of so many pilgrims from my previous journey and although I want to say I was in the present and just happy with who was there knowing it was destiny that brought us together at that moment – I missed my previous Camino family. As I walked I often would think…I wonder what Peter or Gail thought of this section or I bet Denise and Robert would´ve laughed at that sign or wouldn´t it be nice to have a hug from Dave, Bob or Daniele right now. I would think of Joanne who did not finish and get excited about what she will see when she goes back knowing which parts I think she will enjoy the most and albergues she will love.

I also had feelings of sadness that I had not completed the journey at one time wondering if this lessened the accomplishment. I was disappointed that this second part has been so tough physically for me wondering who this person is – this slower and weaker self. And also wondering who this very insecure person is but understanding her more than the physically weak one.

And even with those thoughts I also felt strong and powerful and proud and that word is so important to me right now. Proud. I am all of the things mentioned (weak, insecure, disappointed) but damn it – I am also proud, really proud. Even while writing this I am tearing up. How often are we proud of ourselves? I don´t think it is often and it feels amazing.

I am recognizing that my body is telling me to rest and that is what I will do tomorrow. I will stay in Santiago and honor my aching body. I also plan to sit quietly and journal and read – two things I have not done at all on this second part of my journey. I am staying in a pension with my swedish friend and meeting many pilgrims at 7pm for dinner and I am now sitting at an internet cafe with Paul, the poet I mentioned before. I hope to walk to Finisterra the following day. Many say this is the true ending of the Camino and it will add 89 kilometers to my journey. Crossing fingers that I am able to accomplish this. I think it will provide yet another valuable layer to an already full experience.

I am glad I will be in Spain until the 14th. The reason I chose to do this was in hopes of walking to Finisterra but either way, I feel I need time alone to process this experience. Yet… I miss my life and my tremendously supportive and inspiring friends. I am looking forward to re-connecting with old friends that I have let go by the wayside that are very important to me. I look forward to celebrating this journey with them and finding out what adventures they have had. I love my little cottage and amazing landlord-neighbor and I especially love my puppy, Wallingford Bigglesworth and cannot wait to see him. I love my city.

I will leave you with a poem from Paul: http://www.basilbuntingaward.co.uk/media/download_gallery/TheDrowned.pdf

Buen Camino!

Palas de Rei

I have had two days walking since my last post. Today I thought that sometimes I wish my body were a machine that took in internal or external criticism and put it through a series of filters and determined what, if any, adjustments needed to be made (if the information provided allowed for improvements) and then of course it would discard any waste. There I would be, possibly improved, having had no emotional reaction to the information. Instead I am often in my head providing frequent analysis of my behavior/thoughts which often results in low self-esteem, second-guessing myself and of course the fun of being able to beat myself up because of something as trivial as not opening the door for someone or feeling fat (ie.. attaching judgment such as I am lazy or gluttonous). Yesterday I started off the day in a low mood – being self-critical (we don´t need to go into about what) – and all it took was walking into a cafe and seeing smiling pilgrims call out my name and wave for me to come and sit with them. I ended the day on a high celebrating another pilgrims birthday and just generally feeling accepted, connected and present. Today I started out on a high as well. I woke up without being sore (yay!) and although I was walking alone in the pouring rain with the cold wind, I was thinking of so many back home that helped me prepare for this. I was smiling. I wasn´t singing but I was very much enjoying the music playing on my borrowed ipod (thanks Katy) – and if Tony is reading this, I have been listening a lot to ´Here We Go´which is perfect for the trail and I love hearing his and Darrin´s gorgeous voices. Okay back to the story – I then went into a cafe, saw some friends and had an odd conversation with a fellow pilgrim about American stereotypes in which I became quite defensive and left feeling very low. I tried to reason with myself about it…. thinking maybe I started it, as you can see from previous posts, I have an odd love-hate relationship with being from America or perhaps my defensiveness showed that he touched on something that resonates with me personally as true – mainly I was just thinking ´what was that about truly?´and ´what can I learn about myself from that?´ but instead of learning something and making it a positive experience, I just felt generally crappy and disappointed but unsure exactly why. When I get like that, it turns into a series of self-depricating thoughts on a whole series of topics. Luckily for me, I ran into Marin – a wonderful German woman with a big smile and light, easy-going spirit. We walked the rest of the way together and she left me in Palas de Rei and went on to the next town. Today was a 16 mile day and with the cold rain and the wind, I was done. I have a huge blister, heavy stiff boots and a limp which can get me pretty far but I know my limit.

I had planned to splurge and stay in a hotel tonight but it is closed. I went to a pension but I felt like I wasn´t very welcome and so I ended up at the albergue which is actually quite nice and I am in a small room of only six beds. I am rooming with some rather loud Americans that seem to fit the stereotype my fellow pilgrim referred to this morning but I am sure there is much more to them than these judgments and perhaps they have been put in my path for a reason and so I will practice grace and openness tonight. Again the Camino is providing what I need and not necessarily what I want but overall I know I am better off for it. I was invited to dinner tonight with a nice group of pilgrims and I am sure it won´t take long for me to continue to turn things around. Mainly I brought this all up just to say how I have noticed how easy it is for something ¨good¨or something ¨bad¨ to affect my mood around and so I will focus on being more centered/grounded.

I have enjoyed these much longer walks in that they provide a lot of reflective time. Although my feet are not very happy my body is feeling stronger again and I look forward to gaining strength as the walk progresses. My mom wrote on my blog and this seriously made my day. I sat in a wonderful little cafe with a fireplace and ate lentil soup with Marin – we were the only pilgrims there which was odd (and welcomed!) because it has gotten very crowded as new pilgrims join to finish the last 100 kilometers. I had many dogs say hello to me today. Ultreia!

Sarria

Today was a struggle. I think it was the hardest hike I have ever been on. I am exhausted. I still enjoyed it but it was pouring rain and I walked through flooded roads and went the wrong route which added 6.4 km to a challenging day. Most of the time my mood was still very good and the cows and dogs would always boost my spirits. I found a wonderful albergue where I have a bed without a top bunk – score! I now have a huge blister and my boots that are helping keep my foot safe feel like lead and are so hard on my feet. If the Camino does provide what you need and not what you want, then I think I needed a big slice of humble pie. I am looking forward to food, wine and going to bed very early tonight. I think having to go home and now being back, I cannot take a moment for granted and feel so lucky to be here even on such a grueling day. Buen Camino! – I am adding this later… just want everyone to know that I think the main reason I had such a hard time is that I am just out of shape and out of the routine of the Camino. Many others I saw today were doing quite well and although I think the downpour was tough for everyone, some people recovered much more quickly. Also now that I have had a shower and food I want to say how nice it is to feel like you accomplished something during your day. I am also very glad to feel passionate about something.

Villafranca to O´Cebreiro to Triacastela

spain

So many emotions… I always have to tell myself not to edit these posts and just write freely – this way I will hit post but it also means the writing may not be very good. I have found the process of writing and especially of getting the feedback I have received to have been very good for me and made me feel deeply connected to those that read it but I do not purport myself to be a writer.

I arrived in Villafranca late in the evening and stayed at a hotel – I would have much rather stayed in an albergue but I thought it was too late. I went to the square in hopes of finding pilgrims but only found a few. I was a little disappointed to find that the town was dark, quiet, cold with few pilgrims. I reminded myself that the Camino provides what you need, not what you want and of course I was still excited to start the next day. I ate a pilgrim´s meal which I do not recommend after sitting on a plane and then a bus and then a taxi. A pilgrim´s meal should be had by someone who has hiked all day. The next morning, I awoke quite late and figured this meant I wouldn´t see any pilgrims as in September they got up very early to begin walking. I was very wrong. Things have changed. People get up at 6am-7:30am and leave much later – as late as 8 or even later if they grab breakfast. This means they might not get to have a siesta but sleeping in seems to provide plenty of sleep. No one needs to worry about getting a bed – there will always be beds. I think I will like this schedule.

I have met another group of fantastic people. I have become quite close in just two days time with a wonderful swedish woman. I was really struggling my first day. I had planned to hike 8 miles but all the albergues on the way to the destination were closed as of …. the day I started walking. I was struggling because I have been sitting around doing nothing but resting my foot and eating for 35 days and it was not my foot that was a problem – it was my breathing and my muscles. The book says it was a tough day (18.7 miles up the mountains) so I am hoping this makes it okay for me to have had such a difficult time. Although I had walked briefly with a wonderful woman from Madrid and a man from Belgium, I tried to walk alone so as not to hold anyone back. When I met Karina from Sweden, she seemed to want to walk at my pace but as the uphill climb became too much and I had run out of water as I planned for 1/2 the hike I started to get dizzy. I asked her to go ahead and she did but came back for me. She said it was because she was scared of the wild dogs and there was one up ahead but either way, I needed her. She walked the last few hours with me and I don´t know what I would´ve done without her. I saw both people from earlier that day in the albergue and I felt so happy to be back in the routine of the Camino. I was invited to dinner with a group of people and met this wonderful Italian woman who hugged me and treated me so warmly.

I won´t bore you with all the other details of my day – that is what my journal is for but I just want to say that I am very happy. Yesterday we had gorgeous weather and hiked way up into the mountains and it was breath-taking. I again met interesting people and had strong connections and felt at home in the routine. Today it was raining with incredibly heavy winds and it was also a wonderful day. I walked with Karina again and a german woman who I very much enjoyed. We laughed even as we were blowing in the wind at how crazy the weather was. The rain and the fog did make the view going down the mountain amazing. The fog would come in and out and give you a different perspective every few minutes. There were sheep, cows and horses in the fields but also chickens, dogs and cats walking down the street with us. There were nice, warm and friendly cafes serving excellent coffee, hot soup and there of course was more laughter.

A few pictures from today – a beautiful red flower in a pasture of green grass – a handmade swing hanging from a tree at the top of a hill in the middle of nowhere – a couple in their huge rain coats that cover their backpacks holding hands – me and my new friends singing some folk song from Sweden.

My foot is holding up just fine but my fingers are crossed. My friends from today have gone further to the next town so I am meeting new people again tonight. I am staying in such a nice warm albergue with a fireplace, stone walls and nice high dark wooden ceiling beams. A nice thing about traveling this time of year…. plenty of bottom bunk beds. A bad thing… your clothes do not dry. I just had a conversation with someone new where we talked about our fears, insecurities and internal challenges on and off the Camino. Wow. Where else does this happen so naturally? I feel blessed by our talk and honored in her openness. This is one of the many reasons I love the Camino. As I said in another post, on a rough day, I hope I remember today.

Returning to the Camino de Santiago

Today is the day that I return to the Camino de Santiago. I have spent 30 days in Texas getting free healthcare and recovering from a compound fracture I developed in my foot over the first 390 miles of the Camino. I will fly into Madrid from Dallas, TX and arrive tomorrow morning where I will board a bus to Villafranca del Bierzo and I will find an albergue or pension, sleep and start out on the 31st of October. I will be taking it slow – the first day I am estimating 8 miles, the second day another 8 miles. This will be a very different experience for me. There are sites that talk about torrential rain, snow, closed albergues and much fewer people. I am not sure how accurate that is – I know I will be walking off-season but not quite in the middle of winter. Either way, I am looking forward to it. I like that it will be different. If I could possibly compare it to my first attempt it might lose its beauty and this way I can’t compare it to anything else. Also although I learned a lot on my first trek, I didn’t really learn how to relax. Taking this section of the Camino so much more slowly I hope to learn how to be with myself without my home distractions. At first I was sad that this journey would not be with my original Camino family but now seeing how we’ve connected and how they are still apart of this journey in spirit – I feel so much more excited to return. I also realize how incredibly blessed and fortunate I am to have this opportunity. People dream of doing things like this and I do not take it for granted.

I re-read my blog posts and was mixed. I over-exaggerated some things – at times it sounds boastful – self-depricating – etc… I have had experience with very manipulative people and always want my intentions to be pure and am so disappointed when there is a thread or huge piece of cloth of an attempt at selfish gain. But (I like starting sentences with but – my junior high teachers would be cringing) I read a piece of Dostoevsky’s journal in an book on Existentialist writers that I only skimmed but this piece resonated with me. I wish I could find the exact piece but he was writing a story and then wrote something that suggested that what he re-read was over-exaggerated and was written with an aim to inflate the story. He wrote then that he would not mark it out – that he would not mark it out ON PURPOSE! That part I remember exactly because he stated that he wanted to own the truth of what that represented about him. As I write more and more, I often think of that. I feel the same way and have such a desire to live very truthfully. I don’t know why that has always been so important to me. Sometimes it feels as if I am wearing my desire for truth as some moral superiority badge when truth can be hurtful to others and to myself and is always subjective anyway. Plus I certainly have my skeletons. Take the quote from Dostoevsky – that came from a book that an ex-boyfriend was reading for a class, that I glanced at while he was getting ready and so I can’t be sure that I am referencing it correctly. I also think I remember what the cover looks like and that I learned many existentialists are from Ireland and now that means that I have an affinity for anyone from Ireland. Sounds like an iron clad well thought out and researched reason to generalize, don’t you think? Okay I am getting off-track. All this to say that as my fellow Camino family read my posts – please understand that me and my ego wrote this and that not all truth lies within but it is the goal.

I do not plan to check Facebook or email but I do plan to write on occasion on the blog and comments always make my day and makes me feel that my journey is somehow connecting with others. I will return to Oregon on November 15th where I hope to stay for a long while. This journey in Spain and in Texas has helped me to take stock of my priorities and Oregon seems to the best place for me to be happy. I look forward to going back and re-connecting with my friends/family and certainly to hugging my amazingly gorgeous dog Wallingford Bigglesworth. I’ve heard from some Camino friends that going back was much harder than going to or being on the Camino and I think that will probably ring true for me. It’s easy to maintain a simple life full of healthy and positive routines when they’re carved out for you on the trail. I will need my friends to help me maintain the momentum I’ve started. My friends at home are healthy and happy people who are always working to better themselves but when I’ve struggled I often have distanced myself from them and now that I have been so open about sharing the truth of who I am in and since the Camino has reminded me how people inspire me to be my best I feel like I can develop some routines at home to keep the momentum going. Even in re-reading that, I started to criticize how selfish it all sounds. Oh well, as I said before I am a work in progress but at least I’m in progress. My mom asked me the other day – what DO you like about yourself and I immediately said “my friends”. I felt like the company I keep really does say a lot about me and it must be something pretty good because I seriously think I have the best friends in the world. That sounds like something a junior high kid would say but I seriously mean it.

Speaking of junior high kids, I have been speaking like one and loving it. I say words like awesome and super-duper and have been more free about ending letters with love because it feels genuine and fun and happy. I have also been a stickler about taking time to “cheers” at meals because for me it means I am taking a moment to recognize the people I am blessed to share time with and those moments are worth taking stock of and taking a mental picture of. My memories are often what propels me in difficult times.

Another random post – thanks for reading and I can’t wait to share my next stage with you.

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