Easter has come and gone and the time is quickly approaching when I will take flight. I admit that I am not as well prepared this time around, as far as training is concerned. Just yesterday I finally got around to packing my knapsack and today did a 15km walk about, trying to get the blisters over and done with before the trip. I am having some trepidation about this adventure, as the daily stages are longer than the Camino Frances- about 30km per day versus 22km, and this route is less popular, which leaves me with more mileage to cover and fewer guides along the way. I have my guidebook and a Camino Portuguese App, as well as google maps… but it is usually to no avail- I tend to get lost. It’s just a thing with me. So I’m really hoping I will find a shepherd along the way to keep this dumb ass sheep going in the right direction.
The count down is on and in 7 short weeks I will return to Europe and walk the Camino once again. It was two years ago that I made my maiden voyage to the ancient path, and I am excited to return. I will be walking a different route this time, starting in Lisbon, Portugal, and traversing the coast northward to Santiago, Spain. My first Camino was life changing, seemingly signalling a seismic life shift. Not going to lie, the adjustment to life after the Camino was a challenge. It coincided with my milestone 50th birthday, the dreaded “empty nest”, with the kids finally flying away and the nest permanently disassembled, unemployment, and a confusing time of unraveling- trying to discern my mystical experiences from Camino from the manic depressive symptoms that ensued at the end of my trip. Happy to say I have slowly crawled my way out of my cocoon of depression and am unfurling my wings and preparing to fly “into the mystic” (Van Morrison). There is the concept of the “second half of life” as a time of experiencing the world from a more spiritual perspective (Carl Jung, Richard Rohr). Mystics would say we are not human beings having a spiritual experience, but rather spiritual beings having a human experience. I believe my first Camino experience was my gateway into this new way of life. I’m not sure what to expect as I walk to my final destination, a place called Finisterra, a three day walk from Santiago, translated as “the end of the world”. But I am excited to once again follow the arrows and see what the universe will reveal.
There is an inherent risk involved in any venture. Writing a blog means opening my heart, thoughts and experiences to anyone who cares to take a moment to take a peak into my sometimes messy life. Embarking on pilgrimage is also a risk- as one is never quite sure how the mind, body and spirit may be challenged. I have started a fitness regime to prepare my body and with spring’s arrival, have finally been able to get outside for a run without the risk of ice slippage. Yet one just never knows what a day will bring. Yesterday, as I was meandering along the street, not running, just walking, I came to an intersection and for no good reason, took a tumble into the road. Fortunately, there was no oncoming traffic as I lay dazed and confused on my back for a moment. Luckily my hands reflexively blocked my fall and my large Dutch milk maid breasts cushioned the blow. I credit their air bag like effect for saving me from a sprained wrist! That being said, we never really know what will befall us in this life. One minute you’re strolling along, not a care in the world, the next moment you’re turtled awkwardly in the road with people in passing cars asking if you’re ok. Yes, thank you, the only real damage is to my ego. And yet there is also a little niggling fear at the back of my mind… what if this was no random fall? What if the MS has returned? And as I think this, I come back full circle as to why I want to walk the Camino again. As the rock and roll poet Bon Jovi would say “ It’s my life, it’s now or never, I ain’t going to live forever! I just want to live while I’m alive. My heart is like an open highway….” (if you look closely into the mirror it says, “ I love you with all my boobs. I would say my heart, but my boobs are bigger!” 🤪
I have spent the majority of my summer in a somewhat self-imposed solitude at our place in Wasaga Beach. This year we witnessed the ever changing power of Mother Nature, who constantly transforms the landscape around us. This year, the water level was up about 2 feet, in contrast to several years ago, when all were confounded by the sudden drop in the water level. With the rise in the water level, a large deposit of stones was also dropped or perhaps unearthed by the shifting of the tides and “icebergs” (if lakes have tides and icebergs…. I’m not sure if they do?) And along with the stones I discovered copious amounts of “sea glass” (ok- beach glass, but any body of water could be a sea or ocean if one were to use their imagination). And so this is jar represents the result of my summer of beach combing. Every time I find a piece of glass, I’m reminded of the lyrics of the 80’s song by The Police- “I’ll send my S.O.S to the world, I hope that someone gets my message in a bottle.” So, to anyone that has ever sent a message in a bottle…a silent plea to God – or God-with-skin-on… or “the universe”, please know that it has been received and I am grateful to have received it.
It has been a year since I walked The Camino. It is hard to believe that a whole year has passed, as the memories are still vivid in my mind, and I still think about the Camino daily. I know I am not alone in this, as fellow pilgrims that I have kept in contact with say the same thing. One friend has shared his trip with large groups through the beauty of his photography, another has written a book, which is in its final editing stage. Yet another is travelling to an ashram to continue his spiritual seeking, a plan that was conceived during his pilgrimage. As for myself, I continue to process the lessons gleaned from my time away, and marvel how the Camino continues to reverberate through my conscience and seep into so many of my thoughts. Perhaps that is what happens when you take the time to do nothing but put one foot in front of the other for a month. It gives one the space to journey inward, and reveals both the beauty and the brokeness of the things we hold close. I have not reengaged in the busyness of life since I returned. As the words above say, “Walk slowly, because the only place you need to get to is yourself”. I am walking a lot more slowly through life now, as I did on Camino. It isn’t always easy, as being engaged and active provides purpose and identity. But it does start to anwser the question of who I am, what I value most as a human being ( and not a human “do”ing.) Trying to be still and know…
Ultreia is a word connected with the Camino. It is a Latin word meaning “beyond” and is a rallying call, either said to another or shared in song, to carry on, to keep reaching beyond ourselves, conveying the idea of surpassing oneself, both physically and spiritually, while on The Way. One of the most beautiful experiences of the Camino was the night I stayed in a hostel run by nuns. It was recommended to me by a fellow pilgrim who had stayed there the previous night. I had encountered this fellow several times and through our discussions, gleaned that he was not on the Camino for “religious reasons”. Yet, as he described his experience, he was rather in awe about one of the young nuns, whose singing had left quite an impression upon him. He said, “I don’t even know how to describe her…..just love. She was love and beauty.” He wasn’t wrong. The night that I stayed there, the hosts gathered together all the pilgrims for a time of sharing and singing. Her voice was angelic and she taught us the “Ultreia” song.
Now I find myself on the eve of another journey, heading to Rome, another place of pilgrimmage, and planning to complete a marathon (42.2km) and this same song and word are running through my mind. It has been almost a year since I walked the Camino, a year in which I have struggled to “carry on”, life feeling as cold and dull as the winter. But spring is here and the warm sunshine, like the birds, has returned. My mood is shifting like the seasons. I am determined to keep going, keep reaching beyond, keep moving onwards. I am inspired by the words of Martin Luther King Jr., who expressed this same idea. “If you can’t fly, then run. If you can’t run, then walk. If you can’t walk, then crawl, but whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward“. Ultreia!
Arrows were common on the Camino. Sometimes found on a stone marker, a sidewalk, road or wall, yellow arrows marked The Way from St. Jean to Santiago. As someone who finds themselves directionally challenged, I completely depended on them. My strategy was to follow an arrow, or follow a pilgrim. This was a very successful technique until I arrived in the larger cities where sometimes accomodations were off the beaten track. On those occasions, I was more than challenged and lost my way more than once. Not even GPS could help, as wifi was only available in restaurants, and technology is not my friend at the best of times. I envy my husband who has an innate sense of direction, born with a compass up his ass. He always knows which direction he’s facing, tells me it’s something about the sun… Luckily for me, the trail was well marked. An additional feature that blazed the trail was the graffiti left by previous sojourners. I enjoyed photographing the wisdom of others who had traversed this ancient pathway. This particular patch of wall is speaking to me now. It feels like my life has been pulled backwards a long way. In fact, I think the arrow got pulled so far back that it dropped out of the bow and fell to the ground… and got lost in the tall grass. However, the arrow is now back in the groove and I’m anticipating being “launched”. One thing I did to get through this difficult time was to set a target for myself. It needed to be a pretty substancial bullseye to get me out of my dark hole. Our farm supplies potatoes for Frito Lay Chips and in their effort to improve efficiencies, they often come up with clever motivational ideas to inspire their growers. So, to borrow from their concept, I needed to come up with a B-HAG – A BIG HAIRY AUDACIOUS GOAL. I decided to train for a marathon, as long distance running has long been my therapy for mood regulation. Sometimes I have been able to outrun the black dogs of depression. Therefore, three weeks from now, I will be travelling to Rome to run the “All Roads Lead to Rome Marathon” on April 8. Having run several marathons, I guarantee that this one will not be my best time, not a Personal Best (PB). In fact, I am quite certain it will be a PW (Personal Worst). They will close the race at 7 hours, and I hope to be done before that. However, as far as I’m concerned, this B-HAG has already served its purpose. Training got me out of bed and gave me purpose until I could reengage in life, and for that I am thankful. It won’t be a great race, probably not even good, but it will be good enough. I am blessed to be accompanied to Rome by a good friend who has agreed to help me navigate my way. While “not all those who wander are lost” (Toilken), in my case, I usually am. So fortunate to have friends who have been there to walk beside.
A year ago I was anticipating and training for my Camino pilgrimage. Many of you have inquired about my trip and some of you wondered how it all ended, as my blogging seems to have trailed off at the end. For that I must apologize. I had hoped to share much more of my adventure with you, as it was both amazing and life altering. As I indicated in previous entries, the Camino is a journey that tests the body, mind and spirit and some say that the true journey begins once the Camino ends. This has been my experience. I embarked on this journey seeking a spiritual experience, a chance to go inward and take time to consider the direction I would like my life to take. Turning 50 has indeed been a milestone and has coincided with other recent life changing/challenging events- completing my Masters degree, coming to terms with my diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis and Homer’s melanoma, our children leaving home (although they have been flying in and out for some time now- we have finally dismantled the nest), the terminal illness and subsequent death of Homer’s father. I thought the Camino would be a time to ruminate on all of those things, but that wasn’t the case. There came a point in the journey where the rhythm of walking and fellowship with other pilgrims became the focus. It was enough to live in the moment, enjoying each opportunity to see the beauty all around me; whether it was the magnificent landscape, the birdsong during sunrise, the interesting conversations, laughter and simplicity of life shared- and no media to remind me of the real world and its troubles. It was my vision of paradise, and were it not for the love of family and friends back home, I would have been content to stay. In fact, coming home has been the greatest challenge I faced. Having expereinced life on the mountain top, it was difficult to return to life in the “valley of the shadow of death”. Leaving the Camino and my fellow pilgrims was much more difficult than I anticipated, and I was suprised by my sense of loss and grief. Those who have known me longest, know that many years ago I was diagnosed with Bipolar disorder (manic depression), which I have managed to control throuogh life style adaptations, such as limiting caffeine, sleep hygene and long distance running. Unfortunately, at the end of my Camino journey, I experienced a manic episode, and my journey did not end as I anticipated. I have coined this part of my trip the “Manical Mystery Tour”. The challenge for me is that my mania, which has only occurred twice in twenty years, goes hand-in-hand with what I perceive to be intense spiritual experiences, resulting in confusion. How am I to process my thoughts and experiences, when mania changes my perceptions? How do I trust my thoughts, when it is my very thoughts that are altered by the mania? It’s a bit of a chicken or egg scenerio. Which comes first? Admitting this recent episode is a challenge, as I have trained as a psychotherapist and am on the cusp of starting private practice. As much as I practice and advocate for mental health, I still feel embarrassed by this diagnosis and have struggled this past year to get my head back above the water line, as the resulting depression has taken me down. It has silenced me. I feel as though I have been in a cocoon- awaiting the warmth and sunshine of spring, eager to spread my wings and rise above once again. It has been a long winter, but I’m getting there, slowly. “One day I will be a beautiful butterfly, and then everything will be better” (quote from Bug’s Life- which my sister Teresa does with a heavy German accent, and makes me pee my pants laughing… but that’s another story). I would love to share more of my Camino stories, and hope to get a chance. Sorry it has taken me this long to get over myself. Love to you all, Janette
This is a print my youngest sister Rhonda created entitled “My Three Sisters”. I look at it as I sweat out my depression on my treadmill, training for an upcoming run, and I am assured that all will be well.
“…We return coloured bright with the things we learned in the woods.”
It’s just a simple vase sitting on my kitchen counter. It held flowers that were sent in sympathy following the death of my husband’s father. Just an ordinary glass container that once served to remind us of our grief, but now useless as it sits overturned, probably heading to the local thrift store to be repurposed. And yet as the sunrise of a harvest morning streamed through the kitchen door, the most amazing transformation took place. This plain and simple piece of glass became an exquisite piece of art for a fleeting moment in time as it reflected the sun’s rays. Who knew that such beauty was hidden in its simple and functional form? I snapped a quick photo and as the sun rose a little higher, the magic disappeared. I think people are a lot like that vase. Sometimes I feel like that vase. I have not quite found my way back from my Camino experience and feel a little like an upturned vase, waiting for the next thing to fill me up and make me come alive. And yet,upon reflection, perhaps this sense of being alive is not something that happens from the outside, but has been within me all along. All I ever actually needed was the proper light and the insight to see things from a new perspective.
This weekend marks the celebration of Canada’s 150th birthday. I was born in 1967, a Centiennial baby, the year Canada turned 100, so this year marks my 50th year as well as Canada’s big year. I figure if I live to be 100, there will be a bit of hoopla- maybe a local politician giving me a photocopied letter from the British Monarchy, but I figure by that time, if I’m still alive and there is still a British monarch, I’ll be tottering about in a nursing home and more interested in the cake than some crummy piece of paper, so they might as well not bother. To that end, I am taking this year to celebrate my “coming of age” and milking it for all it’s worth, along with my fellow “50 and fabulous friends”. Please excuse the self indulgence! This milestone birthday was one of the reasons I chose to walk the Camino and the experience was worth every minute! I can’t believe I have been home over a month now, as the memories are still so fresh in my mind. One Camino friend (also turning 50, a day after me, and a fabulous photographer and fellow blogger) quoted another pilgrim, saying that the true journey of the Camino begins when the trip ends and you return home. I have found this to be true. Many people have asked me whether walking the Camino was a life- changing experience- a difficult question to answer. I would say it definitely felt like it was, but am continuing to process how it has changed me and wonder if those changes are temporary or lasting. I hope to continue to blog about my experiences for a time, as I still feel like a pilgrim, just in a different stage of the journey, now that I am home (and I still love to ramble!) Thanks to those who joined me on my Camino journey- feel free to comment, ask questions, keep following, or sign off!
On a final note, having returned home, I have come to see with fresh eyes the beauty and freedoms we have here in Canada. We aren’t perfect, and still have much work to do and many challenges to overcome when it comes to truth and reconciliation with the Indigenous people of Turtle Island (North America), but for me, there is no country in the world I would rather live in! Proud to be Canadian 🇨🇦