Category Archives: Walking

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 38: The Labyrinth

Release, receive, return.

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I took a deep breath centered myself and walked into the labyrinth. As I snaked around the first corner, I asked for guidance, for clarity, for peace, for answers. No sooner had I wound the second slithery turn did I begin to unleash the truths within.

Walking in, I experienced an emotional release of energy that has been building up within me for months. I let the tears fall as I released my pent up fear of being secluded and alone, which has been amplified to elephantine heights by my recent move to Long Island. You see, although I am a highly independent being with transience pulsing through my veins, being in a new place prods at a very needy shadow that resides within me. This neediness shows itself when I am most vulnerable, and it turns me into a very irrational being. I bcome full of demands and expectations of those close to me, and these demands are impossible to fulfill by anyone except myself.

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Early this morning, as I wept to my friend about missing home, missing traveling, missing nature and feeling so uncomfortable in so many aspects of my life, she comforted me and asked me what I was going to do to center myself today. I had no real answer to her question, though I placated her by saying I’d be extra kind to myself. Later, when I arrived at the train station in Oakdale, I drove right past my home and into the town of Sayville. I didn’t want to mope in my apartment so I went for a nice lunch at the health food store. There, a goofy looking kid behind the counter chatted me up. I told him I was new here and looking for community. He asked me if I did yoga. When I replied, “Yes?” he said to me, “You’ve moved to the right town!” Unbeknownst to me, there is an amazing community of spiritual beings in Sayville and I needn’t look much farther than Mainstreet to meet a few souls that could support me. He told me of a few yoga studios and some other nice meditation centers in the area.

As today was an incredibly beautiful day, I decided to walk down the street and happened on a store called Guru’s. In the shop a sweet Indian couple greeted me and let me be as they tended to another customer buying crystals for her son and daughter. I noted this mom, who looked so unassuming in her mom jeans and tee-shirt. I was amused by her regularity. No dreadlocks, nothing hippy-dippy at all. Yet there she was, talking crystals with the owner and her little children. That’s kind of awesome. I want to be that kind of mom!

After the mom and her children left, Navi, the owner, turned his attention to me. He asked me if I wanted my aura read. Sure, why not? I held my palm out as he held a copper spiral on a string above my hands. As the spiral began to spin in small clockwise he told me my first chakra, my root chakra, was in balance. As he hovered the object over my ring finger, it began to swing forward and backward and he noted that my sacral chakra was blocked. “You’re giving and not receiving and it’s draining your energy,” he told me.  My heart chakra, unsurprisingly, made the copper object swing in gigantic circles, denoting my very open and emotional heart. We went through each chakra and he gave me a quick run down of what I needed to do to find balance.

Standing in his store, I began to feel better by the minute. He handed me a bracelet made of carnelian and told me it is the stone of the second chakra. It’s also the stone of gratitude, and that whenever I see it I should offer up a thought of gratitude. I liked this VERY much (obviously)! He also told me it would give me confidence and eloquence to speak my mind, which unbeknownst to him, is something I’ve been working on for the past few days. Sold.

Then he pointed me outside and told me that I should go walk the labyrinth.

Oh, my heart did a little flip of joy when it heard the word labyrinth! I’ve been borderline obsessed with them since returning from El Camino and have even decided that my very first tattoo will be of a labyrinth and a the camino shell. I thanked him, took my new purchase and headed directly for the labyrinth.

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As I released the fear I began to hear my angels speaking to me. They told me I am never alone. And I must say, what a message to receive there in the labyrinth.

As I rounded the last corner and came to the center of the labyrinth my being came to center as well. I stood there breathing for quite some time, and received the message. I wrapped my arms around myself and gave myself a much deserved hug. I received the love and felt a sense of peace and clarity wash over me.

As I returned out the way I came in, I thought about the fact that I now lived in a community that had a labyrinth in the park and goofy kids that work at the health food store and moms that buy their kids healing crystals and a cute little Indian couples who read auras… And for some strange and disturbing reason, my feelings towards this place might best described by Old Gregg….I think I could like you, Sayville.

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And while I know that this place is still very new and foreign, I don’t actually have to fret too much about finding people whose souls are as old as mine. They are here. I just need to remain open and they will come.

I am never alone, and I am so grateful.

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Attitude of Gratitude–Day 29: Leggo my ego

Like any self-driven human being, I set standards, expectations and goals. It’s a way for me to measure my successes and to track my personal growth. Though the legitimacy of my progress is evident with just the slightest bit of self-reflection, I often run the risk of not living up to my own expectations. What’s more, I am also frequently let down by the actions of others whose standards, expectations and goals do not match my own.

Today I’m writing this post for multiple reasons, though particularly as a chance for me to acknowledge the fact that yesterday I failed to write. Not writing yesterday isn’t something I feel any panic about, though I do feel a sense of self judgement and disappointment because I didn’t complete my task sans flaw. I know I could just write two posts today and call my guilt good, but I’ve decided against that course of action because I want to reflect on the validity of leniency and letting go.

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Every so often we need to cut ourselves some slack. I once had a yoga teacher who said, “I don’t make my classes hard because I want you to push yourselves beyond your limit. I make them hard so you can recognize where your ego is telling you to do more than you are capable of on this day. When you find your personal limit, you are not weak for backing off, you are strong for telling your ego to let go.”

I remember being wowed by this statement, and it has never left me. I needed this reminder while I was walking the Camino. One day I pushed myself too hard and walked 40km. My tendonitis flared back up and, though it killed me to do so, I had to let go of the idea of walking every kilometer of the trail. It wasn’t going to be possible in the time frame that I had so I took the bus. GASP. But the lesson I learned that day was perhaps more valuable than the walking itself. I had to tell my ego, which wanted to boast that it walked EVERY SINGLE STEP, to be quiet. On that day, I couldn’t physically walk and I was stronger for recognizing this and taking the necessary measures so as not to hurt myself any more.

This lesson can and should be applied to ourselves as often as possible, but it is also very useful in relationships with others. I’ve had relationships, both friendly and romantic, where I’ve pushed myself to my limit in the search for perfection. My ego, is the part of me that registers disappointment in others. It’s a comparison of my desire with theirs that, when unequal, generates hurt. When my ego rears its head, which it does every so often, it takes the strongest part of me  to tell it to back off. My ego wants to attach itself to a story of disappointment, but my higher Self is so much bigger than that.

Letting go in relationships is probably the most challenging thing we, as humans, can do. In an attempt to control and perfect, we fail to see that everyone is on their unique journey through life. I’ve seen this with parents who push their children to be something they don’t want to be for the sake of monetary gain and “success”. I’ve also seen this with friendships and romantic relations where, though their paths have diverged, one or both of the people cling desperately to the past out of fear for the present.

What I’ve learned through both observation and experience is that the healthiest relationships are those grounded in non-attachment. This doesn’t mean that we don’t  care for and communicate to our friends, families, and partners, rather, it recognizes that their journey is transpiring simultaneously alongside our own. In order for them to live out their personal truth, they must go forth, alone, with your blessing, support and love. Attachment stunts those we love. Ego is attachment, love is its opposing force.

So today, my dose of gratitude is for yesterday’s non-post. I am grateful, once again, for the life lessons I’m learning through this writing experience. Sometimes these lessons come from a place of quiet awareness and non-action, and I’m grateful that I was attentive enough today to see this. I am truly grateful to my higher Self, which took the opportunity to learn as opposed to judge, and I am grateful to my ego for letting go of its self expectations.

 

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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 3 : Transitions

Today I am grateful for the most uncomfortable and emotional moments of my life — transitions. Embracing the transitions that occur throughout our lives can be challenging, and it’s much easier to resist life’s inevitable changes. But to live within my comfort zone is a lifestyle that I have personally chosen to reject.

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As I transition into my first career job as a school director, I am stepping out of my comfort zone into the unknown. However, the reason that I embrace transitions wholeheartedly is because they are periods of enormous growth and learning. 

I live for the moments in life when I look back and realize how much I have developed. From year to year I continue to reflect on how far I have come. How many friends I have made and how many places I’ve called home. All of these people and places have taught me about my personality; they’ve divulged the light and dark sides of me and taught me a myriad of lessons, which have enfolded with time and a lot of patience. 

So today, though making this new transition feels slightly overwhelming, I take comfort knowing that I’m equipped with self awareness, patience, Spirit, community, and will power to walk through the transition, and for that, I feel so incredibly grateful. 

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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!