Monthly Archives: October 2013

33 Days of Dying

I awaken in the darkness. A corpse, a living corpse.

The dim stars emit light from the body of the cosmos.  Imperceptibly dead.

The dawn’s first light creeps up on the horizon; the pointed rays of day have come to slay night.

An eternal battle fought between the sun and the moon.

Each day– fearless– sun and moon gracefully embrace death.

In all their wisdom, they understand that death begets life.

Each day I Die with the moon and Awaken with the stars. A living corpse,

I am Reborn anew with the sun.

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A Tango With Ego

Whether I was taking long elegant strides or small, syncopated steps, each day I danced a passionate and very personal tango with my partner–ego.

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The composition of a partner dance are equal parts lead and follow. Each dancer, with his or her own purpose, comes together in a dance of mirrors in order to achieve unity. If the lead moves forward with his left, the follow steps back with her right. A harmonious yin yang of communication, in which the most accomplished dancers use their physical connection to incorporate the creative suggestions of their partner into their own style.

Anyone who has  ever tried to dance with a partner knows how truly complicated it actually is to achieve this unity. Thus, my dance with ego often looked more like the “white boy shuffle” than an elegant and well rehearsed tango. There were days where I strongly and confidently danced the lead. Other days I danced the follow, surrendering to my ego. No matter what position I took, when I followed the flow of awareness, the movements felt intuitive. However, when I tried to lead when I was supposed to be following, I would awkwardly trip over myself in a struggle for control.

I discovered very early in my journey that I was there to shed light and awareness on my ego. Guided by the teachings of Eckhart Tolle’s book, A New Earth, I embraced the challenge with determination and compassion. The 33 days that it took me to complete the Camino were very significant, because it was a sufficient amount of time to submerge myself in the depths. What’s more, the trail presented me with ample opportunities to come up close and personal with my dance partner.

My first tango was physical. As I laced up my boots on day three to set off from Larrasoaña, my left ankle felt as if it had been deeply bruised. The pain was excruciating and nothing, not even a good Spanish dose of ibuprofen (1 gram!) would make it feel better. The pain was hard to ignore and my ankle had swollen to epic proportions. Panic swirled in my chest, and the doubt began to eat away at me. I had anticipated knee problems and back problems, but not achilles tendonitis. I was scared, but  felt that my spirit was committed to Santiago and I was going to march on. The friends I had made in that first week were my motivation to keep up. I needed them. I needed the feelings they made me feel–comfort and safety.

It wasn’t until the end of my first week as I crawled 30kms into Logroño, however, that I became cognizant of my ego. As a result of trying to keep up with my friends, I was doing physical harm to my body. They had planned another 30km for the following day, but I knew it was going to be impossible for me. My legs felt like lead and my ankles were turning into cankles…terrifying on many levels. As I woke with the herd of pilgrims at 5:30 am the following morning, I looked at my friends and began to sob. I had to do what was best for my health, and I had to be OK with the idea of slowing down. No matter how hard it was on my ego to admit that I couldn’t walk on with them that day, it was one of the most crucial decision I made along the Camino.

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These sandals walked for 3 days when the boots were impossible.

Bringing awareness to my ego began the journey and the dance. From then on out, any time I began to feel the ego surfacing, I knew that I needed to find unity with it. Sometimes the ego manifested itself as a big hill to climb or a physical limitation that  forced me to slow down. Most times, however, it came as a comparison of myself with other pilgrims.

These comparisons often disguised themselves as small talk. How many kilometers had they walked that day or what time had they left the albergue whirled and twirled with my ego? Other times it was judgment of character that caught me off guard. When I found myself disliking other pilgrims for one reason or another, I had to ask myself, what is in them that makes my ego feel weak or challenged? What are they mirroring back to me that I am afraid of in myself? This question led to the most important question of all….

Who am I?

The ego, is essentially the I, me or we plus an identity tag. So, what is my identity and in what ways does this identity assert ego? More importantly, however, is there something that I can attach to my concept of “I” that neutralizes ego and brings balance and harmony?

Thankfully, the answer is yes.

Camino lesson number 2: “I am” energy and “I am” love. 

Quite simple really. No further explanation necessary.

Dance on.

El Camino: Talking the talk, walking the walk

The first time I ever heard about El Camino was from a German couch surfer I hosted in Sete, France in the early spring of 2012. From the way she explained it to me, El Camino was a “really long walk” across Spain.

Why would anyone ever want to do that?

Slowly but surely, however, without even knowing it, the Camino started to work its magic on me. I started meeting walkers left and right, all with different tales of how the trail  enriched and changed their lives forever.  The Camino snowballed into my life, getting bigger and bigger. The more people I met, the more experiences they shared, I began to feel excitement in the pit of my stomach at the idea of one day walking it too.

As I set off for Morocco in September of 2012, I was already mentally walking El Camino. I had spent the summer obsessively perusing the REI Web catalog and finally bought my boots and pack just before leaving the States. I also carried with me my rock–the one meant for the Cruz de Hierro. It was a beautiful slate-green rock I selected with care from the top of Mount Mansfield in Stowe– my home, and a symbol of my roots. This rock travelled with me, absorbing all of the energy I put into it for months on end.

As time ticked away, a year and a half flew by and I traversed continents, cultures and languages. In this time, I also told everyone and the mother that I planned to walk the Camino Frances.

Fast forward to the last week of August 2013. I’m sitting in my friends apartment in Paris, wondering if I’m really cut out for this. I was filled with doubt. My mental conversations went a little something like this,

“500 miles…that’s like, really far.”

“Will my knees hold out?”

“What if I get lost?”

“I’ll  be fine…I might die…No no, I’ll be fine…Right?”

“I have to walk, I told EVERYONE AND THEIR MOTHER I WAS GOING TO. Fuck.”

But the fact that I had told everyone I was doing it propelled me forward. I bought a guidebook. That made me feel in control. I bought knee braces and blister kits, a quick dry towel, and a camel pack. I felt sporty. I had train tickets and plane tickets and then one day, after a verrrry long  day of train transport,  I arrived in St. Jean Pied de Port, a green on green town cradled in the bosom of the French Pyrenées.

Still not sure if I was ready, but I was there nonetheless. I had talked the talk, and now it was time to walk the walk.

Camino lesson number 1: Just show up.

Honestly, nobody is ever truly prepared. You are not alone. No matter much (or little) physical training you’ve done, you’re feet will still hurt at the end of the day. No matter how light you think you’ve packed, there is still something lurking in the depths of your bag that is utterly useless. You will meet hundreds of people with suggestions on how to ameliorate your experience. Take some of them seriously, take others with a grain of salt.

So if you’re like me and you’ve over packed and under trained, fear not! You have approximately 33 days ahead of you to fine tune the details, to be blindsided by even more challenges you never could have anticipated, and to work through (walk out) the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual kinks you showed up with.

So just show up. A journey of 500 hundred miles begins with a single step.

Buen Camino.

ImageDay one: 765 Kilometers to go!

El Camino de Santiago : Note to friends and readers

Dear friends, 

I have heard of much anticipation of my Camino blog post(s). However, the mere thought of writing out my experiences makes my fresh fingers feel lethargic. If you want the short version. I walked 500 miles across a country (Spain) in 33 days. My feet hurt real bad (say this in a Napolean Dynamite voice please), I saw beautiful landscapes, met beautiful people, and learned multiple lessons in generosity, ego, love, resistance, endurance, and time.  

If, however, you want the long version, please read on. I will be posting blogs on the aforementioned themes throughout the next few weeks.

Walk with me, 

Lizzie

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