Category Archives: Spain

Walking Into Life’s Labyrinth — A Year of Walking With My Heart Open

Today is the one year anniversary of my arrival in St. Jean Pied de Port, France where I began Le Chemin de Saint Jacques, also known as El Camino de Santiago or the Way of Saint James–a Catholic pilgrimage across Northern Spain to the city of Santiago de Compostela. One year ago today, I stood at the entrance to the labyrinth that would guide me within myself and help me to balance my external and internal journeys. 

Huruki Murakami’s book, Kafka on the Shore, sheds some interesting light on the emergence and symbolism of labyrinths.

“The symbol of the labyrinth comes from the ancient Mesopotamians. They pulled out animal intestines–sometimes human intestines, I expect–and used the shape to predict the future, They admired the complex shape of intestines. So the prototype for labyrinths is, in a word, guts. Which means that the principle for the labyrinth is inside you.  And that correlates to the labyrinth outside.” 

The principle of reciprocity lies within the labyrinth. If you step into one outside of you, you are also stepping into the one within you.  

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A natural labyrinth outside of Burgos, Spain along El Camino.

Before I walked my dear friend and fellow pilgrim, James, told me that we’re always walking el camino–the way. The voyage itself is just the physical manifestation of the path within. But the way within is typically a very challenging and risky trail to follow. But like a labyrinth, you slowly wind your way to the center, and then back out again. You release, receive and return, hopefully with some clarity of mind and openness of heart. 

El Camino de Santiago is a giant labyrinth that sets the stage for you to turn within. Marked by yellow arrows and scallop shells, Pilgrims wind their way over mountains, across valleys, through woods, over rivers, and into the center of their hearts. Everything along El Camino is a poignant metaphor for life’s labyrinth. 

El Camino itself, perhaps the most obvious, is the way. The journey of our lives. But it is heavily peppered with many other metaphors. The physical pain a pilgrim endures mark the traumas of our lives. The sunrises and sunsets familiarize pilgrims with the cyclical nature of the soul’s journey. One metaphor I found truly persuasive was the pack I carried on my back. Weighing in at 9 kilos when I started (approximately 18 pounds), my bag was full of the things that I thought I needed. Creams, guidebooks, clothing, food etc. My bag, though not the biggest on the trail, was certainly a burden for my unacquainted frame. Smart pilgrims learn fast, lose the weight or else you suffer. Ditch the things that don’t serve you and trust that your community will provide the things you don’t have when you are in need.

El camino always provides. 

The coming and going of pilgrims was another strong metaphor. You meet someone, you walk with them side by side for days on end, and then one day you realize you will eventually move forward or fall behind. Letting your fellow pilgrims walk their own way, and respecting that you too need to proceed the way you feel best, can be hard. Though you may have known them for two or three or fourteen days, they are your support system, your security blanket. Letting go of people is just as hard on the camino as it is in real life. But it was an important lesson for me to learn. I walk my way, you walk yours. If our paths cross and we exchange lessons, you will remain forever in my heart. I do not need to cling to anyone, because  I can take care of myself– I am whole. 

El Camino taught me lessons about resistance. It taught me to let go, to trust, and to go with the flow. The practice of identifying and then releasing myself from the inner-resistance has served me thoroughly in navigating through life’s challenges and my/society’s heavy-set expectations. 

El camino also taught me about magic. In it’s own special way, that trail makes magic. Whether it is the collective energy of the pilgrims who walk, or the sacred and beautiful land, or both! There is something truly remarkable and indescribable about the magic of El Camino. When I finished I thought the magic would go away. That I would only be able to tap into it if I were there, but really the magic was just with me and lying dormant all along. the labyrinth of El Camino opened up the channels for my good-witchery to flow freely. 

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A labyrinth in Queens, NY at the site of the former sacred 5Pointz graffiti mecca.

Arriving in Santiago was one of the most amazing days of my life. Blistered and swollen, my feet rocked 500 miles of terrain and earned themselves some serious street creds. But what I feared most upon arriving in Santiago was how to keep El Camino alive now that I would no longer be walking its sacred path. But again, like the labyrinth commands you must always return to the external realm. You can not stay forever within, you must emerge. But you’ve touched center and can once again be reassured that it is there. Your equilibrium has been rebalanced and you can go about living your human life until the next time you desire to return to that place. The center remains accessibly where it has always been and forever will be, seek it when you need it. 

El Camino has lived a very vibrant life within me since the day I finished walking the trail. There has not been one time where I have thought of my 33 days on the trail and not had a volcanic eruption of emotions explode from my heart. Happiness, pride, nostalgia, awe and gratitude frequently swirl within me when I think back on this experience. 

So I guess James was right, I was walking the way before, though perhaps with my eyes closed. When I made my pilgrimage to Santiago, I walked straight into the wild labyrinth. Through my journey I opened my soul wide and I touched center. I’ve returned frequently to that place to leave offerings of patience with myself and kindness for others, gratitude for life’s lessons and above all a big bouquet of love upon the altar of my soul. 

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A beautiful labyrinth on Long Island.

 

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Attitude of Gratitude–Day 19: Bittersweet Transitions

There are multiple moments in my life where transitioning from something comfortable into the unknown has been electrifying, yet all together bittersweet. Leaving behind people and places in order to embrace the unfamiliar is never easy, and I have done this multiple times throughout my late teens and early twenties as I moved away from home and subsequently made my way all around the world.

Though I feel that this transition into some semblance of an “adult” life is well underway, it has brought up lots of of reflections on all the people and places in my life that were once brand new– all the strangers that became friends, places that became home.

I always think back on these people and places in fond reminiscence, and there are so many little triggers that quickly jog my memory of them. I can smell Burkina Faso. I can dance San Francisco. I can drink France. I can hear Morocco. I can walk Spain. These small things, which act as portals and transport me through time, if only for a minute or two, so that I can relive a beautiful moment, in a beautiful setting, surrounded by beautiful friends. And when I come back to the present, it’s always with a smile and a sigh. A smile of thanks for all the day’s that have been seized, and for all of the amazing people whose presence has graced my life. But also, a sigh of longing for the days gone by,and the people who are now so far away.

Thus, today I am thankful for the smiles and sighs, because I have been blessed with countless opportunities to discover the world and to befriend genuinely amazing people. They are a reminder that each one of my fond memories was once an uncomfortable new beginning, which blossomed into something worth longing for when it passed.

And if I am able to remain aware through discomfort of the new life chapter I’ve begun, I can let the wave of bittersweet memories wash up on the shore of the present moment, and offer up some gratitude to those people and places who have made my life so meaningful.  I must continue to breathe myself back into the present moment, so that I am able to create new memories here and now that will ultimately be worthy of a smile and a sigh sometime down the road.  There-were-some-memories-1024x884

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Attitude of Gratitude — Day 5: Camino Magic

Today, as I nested in my new apartment, I felt twinges of nostalgia and melancholy. While I neatly organized  7 years of photographs and items I’ve collected in my travels, I thought long and hard about each adventure and its respective boon. The grand picture that came into focus today was of the series of events in my life that have led me to where I am now. Each step and each decision has a cause and effect as well as an alternate reality of what could have been. Looking at all of my things, I recognize that they are not me, just mere symbols of my identity. However, the purpose they serve is to remind me how far I have come. 

To me, though, gathering all my things together is not just about how much I’ve done and how many “successful” moments I’ve lived. I believe, rather, that these belongings are filled with energy, and they release it into my present surroundings in order to elevate my own personal energy field. 

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As I crafted my symbolic ode to one of my life’s most significant experiences, El Camino de Santiago, I began to feel emotions of deep gratitude. El Camino changed my life because it taught me to trust the unknown and to faithfully believe in the mantra, “the Camino provides.” As a metaphor for life, El Camino showed me that it’s crucial to take your time and to open your eyes, ears and heart to the energy of the Universe. The feeling of magic, which pilgrims experience whilst walking the camino is difficult to describe. The only way I can explain it is that each day, the collective energy of past, present and even future pilgrims pulses along the trail bringing to each person a valuable lesson or gift.

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With my shrine put together and the camino on my mind, I began to radiate the magic, and the energy was felt world-wide. 

This afternoon I spoke with a dear friend of mine from the trail. He is someone whose brief sojourn into my life changed everything I knew to be true about life and love. Every discussion we’ve ever had has given me deep insight into my Self. Speaking with him today, we talked about the fact that had I not walked, I wouldn’t be in the exact place I am at this very moment–nesting into my new apartment on the eve of my new job. I explained to him how grateful I was for the series of heart-opening events that has led me here, and how, even though I’ve been feeling a little nervous about this transition, I am confident that I am capable of taking on this huge responsibility. 

As the evening came round, I received an email from a woman whom I had met at the airport departing from Santiago de Compostela. The day after I reached Santiago, I was scheduled to fly. With almost no time to process that I had completed my pilgrimage, I took off for the airport hustling to get to Barcelona. That early September morning, everything seemed like a blur. I couldn’t actually believe that after a year of preparation and 33 days on the trail, that this portion of my journey was coming to an end.

As I stood in line to grab a croissant and a juice, I crossed paths with another pilgrim. I asked her if I could eat breakfast with her. As we began to chat our hearts opened and poured out our stories to each other. Though we were complete strangers, we both desperately needed each other’s company on the brink of transition off of the trail. I told her how I had fallen in love on the camino and was flying to Barcelona, she told me about her son and how he was experiencing a rough patch in his life. Then she showed me photos of the people she walked with and told me stories of her journey. As we walked to security she asked me what seat I had on the plane. “34C,” I said. She was in seat 34D. We laughed at the serendipity, though we both knew it was the Camino’s magic. When we landed in Barcelona, the song “Home” by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros played softly over the speakers. I hummed along thinking about the times me and my best friends danced in the kitchen to this song and thought about the perfection of their lyrics. 

Upon our arrival in Barcelona, I gave her my email address and we parted ways. 

Every so often I thought about her, wondering how she was, but she had my email, I did not have hers. Today, as my phone chimed to let me know I’d received a message, I imagined it was one of the hundreds of e-newsletters I’m subscribed to. I didn’t recognize the name, and there was no subject message, but when I opened the email, this is what I read: 

Hi Lizzie,

 
You remember…on the airport of Santiago de Compostela… we both had to cry..
Today i was thinking about you, I heard the song from the airplane in Barcelona, you were in love..
How are you?
 
Kind greetings from Ineke (Holland)
 
I burst into tears feeling overwhelmed and in disbelief. Not only had I spent the entire day thinking about the camino, I had also spoken  with my friend from Barcelona for the first time in a long while, and now I was receiving this message from Ineke. It seemed to me, that the energy I was putting out into the Universe was that exact kind of Camino magic we had felt on the trail–pure love. Her message came to me in a time of self-doubt and transition as if to say, “Remember how strong you are? Remember how far you’ve come? Remember all of that trust you’ve cultivated?” Her message shouted to me to keep my heart open and to proceed slowly with alert awareness of my surroundings. If I do, it seems, the magical lessons and gifts will keep presenting themselves for me; there will be more peace, more generosity, more kindness, and above all more love. These are the real things of value I want to gather in around me, because with them, I can make my own magic straight from the divine source . 
 
Grateful to Ineke and her timely reminder of the Camino’s magic. Lots of love to you and your son, my dear! 
 
 

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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!

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