Tag Archives: pilgrimage

The Messies

On the Way to Cirauqui, 11 May 2014

I’ve taken on a Lenten discipline of writing 50,000 words in 30 days, for the month of March. (Some of you may recognize this as NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, typically undertaken in November.) This is an excerpt from my novel, with very little editing because that’s against NaNoWriMo rules. My heroine is Martha, a newly-retired 5th grade teacher walking the Camino de Santiago by herself. In this vignette, she’s been on the Way about ten days, and strange things are happening.


I am a mess, she thought. I am just a mess. Maybe I’ll always be a mess. Maybe being messy is just how it is. Maybe the trick, the work, is to do the work of being myself before I feel ready, before I feel prepared, in the midst of all the mess.

Of what does this mess consist? Memories, plans that never saw the light of day, abandoned goals and desires, anger and sadness and grief and pain. Walking by myself I can’t be distracted.

The lid wiggles loose and the messies start to crawl out. Am I big enough to contain my messies, she wonders? There are a lot of them and they seem vaguely malevolent. They’re wild and angry, exulting in their newfound freedom and room to roam. They surge out of the jar and crawl all over my insides, latching on with their tiny claw-like appendages. I can feel them on my chest wall and hanging on to my heart. They’re crawling all around inside me. They crawl up into my arms and down to my hands. They gleefully grab my organs and find their way down my legs. The messies are so glad to be free! They’re blue and black and red and green, with wild fur and eight legs and googly eyes and fangs. I’m afraid of them. They’re a little crazed, a little frantic.

I really am going a crazy, Martha thinks. But let’s go with this.

I’ve taken the lid off – the lid has wobbled loose on the Camino. Day after day of walking has jostled the lid loose. Day after day of being a stranger in a strange land has jostled the lid loose, and the messies have taken their chance. They’ve rushed up and out. They’re now crawling around my insides – around my chest between my lungs and chest wall, around my heart, up to my shoulders and down my arms. They seem to like the bones for traction. My mind is going crazy with dismay and worry.

Yet… It feels good to have the lid off. It took energy and effort to keep them hidden. It feels good to give in and let the messies have their way. As they squirm around I see that they’re different things – some of them are dreams. Many of them are emotions. Some of them are memories.

It’s like I have a jar into which I’ve stuffed the inconvenient things for so long – the messy things, because being messy wasn’t okay. I have to loosen the lid if I need to stuff another messy into the jar. They squirm frantically and resist, and then they try to escape whenever I open it. I’m usually quite competent at keeping them contained, through other-focus, codependence, addiction, busyness and distraction, rule-following.

But now, here on the Camino, as I walk mile after mile, the lid has loosened enough that they’ve popped it off and they’ve escaped.

“Hóla, Marta! How was your Way today?” they’ll ask me tonight at in the albergue.

“Well, here’s what I found out today,” I’ll say. “In my heart I keep a jar full of what I don’t want to know – the messy things – the inconvenient truths of my life. The sadness I don’t want to feel. The unkept promises and failures. The losses and the rage. The dreams I’ve let languish. The pain and the betrayals I didn’t want to see. All the stuff I didn’t want to do but I did anyway. All the things that didn’t fit with being perfect. Now they’re out. And they’re crawling all over me, inside and out.

Don’t ask too much of me. I have to keep the messies in. Don’t let loose, don’t let down your guard, or the messies will get out.

That’s how my Way was today. How was yours?”

She walks, smiling and weeping. She’s beginning to suspect there will be many tears on this Camino. Every pilgrim she meets, she sees their jar of messies. We all have them, she sees. We all have our sequestered messies. I want them to become peaceful drops of love, she realizes. I want to hurry them along – to metamorphose them into beings that make me feel proud and comforted. I want them NOT to be what they are – inchoate yearning and longing and feeling that cause me distress.

The jar is very old. It was given to me when I was a little girl. “Here’s your jar,” they said. Please put into it everything about you that we don’t like. Don’t ask questions. Just do it. No messies allowed. Or aloud. Either one. Your job is to sequester your messies so they don’t bother us. We only want to see the smart, pretty, nice bits. Thank you in advance for your cooperation in this matter. We’ll teach you how to identify, capture, and contain said messies, since you’re just a girl. Before you know it, you’ll be so good at it you can do it without thinking. Expect to feel listless and depressed at times. That’s a sign that you’re doing it right. Anytime you want to do something irrational or have a feeling we don’t like – catch that messy and stuff it into your jar. And NEVER let them out. Oh. Yeah. A little joy goes into the jar with each messy. And it takes a lot of energy to keep the lid on – so you can’t commit to anything else, and you have to hold back some energy at all times so you can contain the messies. So no going flat out and giving something all you’ve got. That’s not safe.”

Stay tuned for more of Martha’s adventures by following the blog. Stranger stuff is happening…

The World’s Heart – A Mystical Camino Moment

On the Meseta, Day 22

On the Meseta, Day 17 (22 May 2014)

A chilly rainy day on the Meseta. May 22, 2014. Camino Day 17. I was walking by myself, surrounded by other peregrinos. Tired, cold, and wet.

Walking, and walking, and walking.

Then – the dawning awareness of a massive heart beneath us, in the Earth, supporting us and buoying us. Loving us. My heart was connected to this heart, as were the hearts of all the pilgrims around me. All our hearts were tethered to this one great Earth Heart.

Through this Heart we are all connected.

I’m connected, through this Heart, to the child atop the Mumbai garbage heap, to the American sex trafficker, to Donald Trump.

I’m connected, through this Heart, to all the woody green tree hearts, the flinty granite rock hearts, and the wild blue ocean heart.

I’m connected, through this Heart, to raven hearts, rattlesnake hearts, and otter hearts, too.

I think it’s probable that Earth Heart is connected to Moon Heart, Mars Heart, Orion Heart, etc. And that all those interstellar hearts are connected to Universe Heart. But I don’t have any data to back up my hypothesis.  😉

I think our connection to Earth Heart is what we call “God.”

This connection is how prayer works.

This connection is why my choices matter.

This connection is why I must heal what’s broken in me.

Because we’re all connected through this Deep Heart.

All of this is, of course, completely unprovable by any quantitative measure.

And I know it’s true.

Crazy, Cheesy Gratitude – Part 3

Rooted in Hope

Rooted in Hope

Why choose gratitude, when it feels unfamiliar, conspicuous, silly, or unsafe? Why do the work of retraining my brain for gratitude?

Two weeks ago, you went along with me on the “coach ride from Hell,” when I experienced a small gratitude miracle. Last week I explored some reasons why I think maybe we resist gratitude. This week: why choose gratitude and acceptance over complaining and resistance.

Reason 1. The part of our brains that’s hard-wired for negativity is a primitive part. A more recent evolutionary development is our cerebral cortex that is capable of higher order thinking skills, what I called “HOTS” when I taught these concepts to middle schoolers. We can, with practice, literally rise above the fearful lizard part of our brain into the layer of our brain that’s capable of abstract thought. This takes work, and it’s work worth doing. When we stay with what’s fearfully familiar, we cement the neural connections that keep us fearful. When we make the effort to practice gratitude, we move up into our HOTS and strengthen those neurons. Over time, gratitude will get easier and we will feel more peaceful and centered.

Reason 2. When we’re feeling anxious and fearful, a whole cascade of destructive nastiness happens in our bodies. When we choose negativity, our sympathetic nervous system, which evolved to save us from actual short-term, time-limited dangers such as saber-toothed tigers, is constantly working. Rather than getting us geared up for a specific threat to fight or flee from, adrenal cortisol stays at constant low levels that wreak havoc. Gratitude short-circuits the sympathetic nervous system response and brings our calming restorative parasympathetic nervous system back on line. We will go to fear instinctively. It takes practice to activate our HOTS and our parasympathetic nervous system. We have to choose to do it, because for most of us choosing gratitude doesn’t come naturally.

Reason 3.  Eckhart Tolle says “When you complain, you make yourself a victim. Leave the situation, change it, or accept it. All else is madness.” Right on, Eckhart! There’s lots of awesomeness about being a victim: I can be irresponsible and lazy when I choose victimhood. So much easier to moan and groan about what’s wrong than to practice discernment regarding a situation. So much easier to complain and whine than ask myself “Can I leave this situation? Can I change this situation? Or is the only choice to accept the situation?” Discernment requires a choice. It’s work to climb out of my lizard brain up into my HOTS and actually think about what’s going on. It’s not natural or easy. But the payoff?? The gratitude payoff is that I take control of my life and put myself back in the driver’s seat, which calms me down. If the only choice in a situation is acceptance, as it was on the coach ride from Hell described in part one of this series, then gratitude is the best way into acceptance that I know.

Reason 4. Gratitude is the faithful response. Sarcasm, whining, constant negative judgment, and cynicism are unchristian. That’s a blunt statement, isn’t it? Here’s why I say gratitude is required of Christians: I believe that God is constantly working for good and that the Holy Spirit is constantly inspiring and healing. Therefore, I must stay open to the possibilities and potential of the present, and I must be stay available to being used by God in ways I don’t expect. I must “pitch my tent in the land of hope,” as Peter says in Acts 2:26 (The Message).To stay open and available, I must drop my attachment to what I think should be happening and what other people should be doing that they’re not, which is the content of most of my complaining. Gratitude is faithful.

Reason 5. Like attracts like. Positive energy attracts more positive energy. I’d rather hang with positive, affirming, hopeful people, and I want to be that person for others.

Okay, those are my top five reasons why gratitude is healthier for our souls, minds, and bodies than complaining and negativity. Please add your reasons and responses in the comments, and tune in next week for some tools to make gratitude a habit.

Crazy, Cheesy Gratitude – Part 2

Rooted in Hope

Rooted in Hope

Last week I took you along with me on the coach ride from Hell. I described the small miracle that occurred when I chose gratitude over resistance and complaining. And I told you that choosing gratitude felt cheesy and Polly Anna-ish and fake. Why is that?

I’ve come up with four reasons why gratitude feels wrong and foreign. I’m sure there are more, so please bring ‘em on in the comments!

  1. Gratitude feels unfamiliar. Our brains are hard-wired for negativity – the “negativity bias.” The human nervous system, writes Neuropsychologist Rick Hanson, “scans for, reacts to, stores, and recalls negative information about oneself and one’s world. The brain is like Velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for positive ones. The natural result is a growing – and unfair – residue of emotional pain, pessimism, and numbing inhibition in implicit memory.” So it’s normal and natural to notice and focus on the negative. It’s how we kept ourselves safe in the age of the Pleistocene.
  1. Gratitude feels conspicuous. We live in a culture of criticism. Our media pays a lot of attention to disasters and threats, and not just conservative outlets like Fox News. Our local evening news is full of scary stuff. And liberal commentators like Jon Stewart and Larry Wilmore make their living skewering people they’ve decided are wrong. (I usually agree with them.) Gratitude stands out in a sea of negativity.
  1. Gratitude looks and sounds stupid, at least to me. I think in my family “smart” sounded like criticism and sarcasm and judgment. Keeping up a running commentary on what’s wrong and how we could do it better is what intelligence sounds like to me. I know this is nuts, yet it’s in there pretty deep. I’m working on it.
  1. Gratitude feels dangerous, if we believe that it’s our negativity and judgment and criticism that keep us safe. I wonder if we believe that if we drop the constant scoping for what’s wrong, we’ll find ourselves doing things we don’t want to do and going places we don’t want to go. “I’d better remember that I don’t like x or I’ll find myself doing x all the time!”

So there are a few reasons why I think gratitude sometimes feels cheesy and fake and dumb and hard. I’d love to hear yours in the comments. Next week, I’ll share reasons why I believe gratitude is a better choice than resistance and complaining, for our minds, bodies, and souls.

Crazy, Cheesy Gratitude – Part 1

Rooted in Hope Camino Journal 28 May 2015

Rooted in Hope

I was plenty miserable on the Camino, at times. I had big blisters on my heels, my body hurt, I was tired of sharing bedrooms and bathrooms with snoring strangers, I was cold at night, albergues and bars were sometimes dirty and smelly, and I was just over the whole damn thing. About half my waking hours were spent simply enduring.

But hands down the most miserable three hours I spent on my 2014 Camino was not on the Camino. This is the story of those three hours and what I learned from them.

Jed and I flew home from Spain through England. Getting from Santiago to Southampton, where our daughter lives, was an eight-stage journey: walk from hotel to Santiago bus stop, city bus to airport, RyanAir to Stanstead Airport north of London, van to Baker Street Underground, tube to Victoria Station, walk to Victoria Coach Station, National Express coach to Southampton University, walk to Becky’s flat.

This post, the first (and longest) of a four-part series, concerns stage 7: a National Express coach trip from Hell. We hit London rush hour on an 85-degree day (hot for London), and the coach’s heaters were running full blast for a three-hour drive that normally takes 75 minutes. The driver tried everything he knew to turn the heaters off. We were drenched in our own sweat, desperately keeping our flesh away from the blistering hot heaters at our feet. Our only alternative was to wait for a replacement coach, which would leave us on the side of a busy motorway in the heat waiting for a coach to be delivered through the same rush hour traffic that had slowed us to a crawl multiple times. We voted to continue.

Here’s an excerpt from my journal: “It was awful. Three hours of hell. And what helped was choosing gratitude — for the trees, the clouds, the landscape, buses, planes, people, cities, creativity, cute English cars, motorways, the number 8 … that Becky would be warm on that coach this winter (because it would never cool off), the well-behaved people on the bus, that some air was occasionally moving, that we did occasionally make progress and did eventually arrive, the sun through the clouds … so much to be grateful for and it really, really helped. And it was a choice. And it felt cheesy and Polly Anna to make that choice. The cooler, hipper response would be anger and irritation and expressed frustration — to have chosen suffering, in other words… There was nothing I could have done about the situation, short of getting off the coach, except choose my thoughts. Traveling is like that. I give over so much control to other people and infrastructure and systems – all I can do when I’ve done all I can is to choose my thoughts. I chose gratitude. I’m glad I did.”

I am so proud of myself that I chose gratitude! It was a small miracle, really. I think because I’d spent the last six weeks on the Camino, with constant opportunities for self-reflection and self-knowledge, I recognized the choice point: gratitude and acceptance or complaining and resistance. I knew in a way I had never known before that choosing resistance and complaining would result in more misery than I could bear at that moment. In the words of a former therapist, “My cheese would fall off my cracker.

I wonder – why did choosing gratitude in that moment feel so cheesy and airy fairy and fake? How do we know when grateful acceptance is the appropriate response? Are there times when complaining is the right thing to do? Why is choosing gratitude over resistance the best choice for our bodies, hearts, and souls? And how do we go about implementing gratitude instead of complaining about a situation? I will be exploring these questions in the coming weeks.

Lessons Learned: “Re-Camino” Week 6

Camino Journal 12 June 2014 Santiago de Compostela

Camino Journal
12 June 2014
Santiago de Compostela

“It’s closing time. Time for you to go out to the places you will be from… Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end… I know who I want to take me home… Take me home.” –Semisonic, “Closing Time”

Jed and I walked into Santiago on June 11, 2014 – a little over a year ago. I’ve been intentionally revisiting journal entries and photos from our walk, a discipline I’ve come to see as “Lectio Camino.”  As this Lectio Camino draws to an end, I’m reflecting on what I learned from walking 500 miles across northern Spain, from southern France to Santiago de Compostela.


Here’s what I learned on the Way:

  1. Just say “no” to other people’s Caminos. Corollary: Walk my Camino.
  2. The big things (parenthood, marriage, vocation, big grief, big journeys, etc.) are never finished.
  3. I can do hard stuff. It’s much easier to do hard stuff when it’s what I want, however. See no. 1.
  4. There’s always enough.
  5. Hospitality and community are necessities.
  6. Spirituality and religion are heart-based, not head-based. Like swimming or riding a bike, we learn important things by doing, not by thinking.
  7. I am my body.
  8. I know so little about most things, so stay curious and stop needing to be right.
  9. Do, make, create, and stay present, rather than consuming and escaping.
  10. Practice gratitude. Gratitude is the way to accepting what cannot be changed.
  11. Take the first step, and trust that guidance for the next step will appear

Thank you for walking the Way with me, again.

¡Buen Camino!

Camino Journal 11 June 2014

Camino Journal
11 June 2014

Cultivating Curiosity: “Re-Camino” Week 5

“Give up caring about being right. It’s time. Major barrier to love. Probably the only real barrier.”

I wrote these words in my journal one year ago today, in Salceda, Galicia, Spain. Jed and I had completed Day 35 (of 37) of our 500-mile journey across northern Spain on the Camino de Santiago. I’ve been revisiting my journal and the many photos Jed took as we walked the Way of Saint James – my Lectio Camino. Here’s today’s Lectio Camino page:

Galician House and Deep Thoughts, 9 June 2014, Spain

Galician House and Deep Thoughts, 9 June 2014, Spain

Last night here in Bend, Wings facilitator Sherrie Frank shared her “Ten Steps to an Authentic Life.” Step Nine is to cultivate “child-like curiosity and openness.” This morning, as I was rereading my Camino journal from June 9, 2014, I noticed a congruence between being curious and not caring about being right.

Being curious is easy for me, as long as I’m curious about other people and processes outside myself. But staying curious about my own beliefs, and the beliefs of friends and family, is a lot harder for me. I love being right. I love knowing things. I enjoy the feeling of superiority and self-righteousness I get from believing that I’m right and I know how things work.

Here’s the thing, though. Being curious feels a lot better in my body than being right. Curiosity feels open. Curiosity feels free. Curiosity feels worshipful of the wonders and surprises around and within me. Most of all, practicing curiosity means I can access the resources that are present to me right now, right this minute, rather than living in my past. When I’m simply curious, I’m free to be who I am today, here and now.

(Important note: Cultivating curiosity does not mean staying silent when bullshit is afoot or cruelty is happening. It does mean we respond respectfully and humbly, I think.)

My husband will tell you that I’m still working on giving up my attachment to being right. I’m grateful for the reminder from Sherrie, and from the Camino, that being curious is a more peaceful, enjoyable way to live than being right. Curiosity is a cure for many mindsets that cause us suffering: attachment to outcome and fear of failure among them.

I wouldn’t claim that I’m right about this, though. I’ll stay curious and see what I find!

Camino Journal 4 June 2014

Camino Journal
4 June 2014

Camino Journal 5 June 2014

Camino Journal
5 June 2014

Camino Journal 6 June 2014

Camino Journal
6 June 2014

Camino Journal 7 June 2014

Camino Journal
7 June 2014


Loving from the Center: “Re-Camino” Week 4

Camino Journal drawing 28 May 2015

Camino Journal drawing 28 May 2015

Commitment, fierce focus, discipline, and love… These are the themes that are consistently popping up as I continue my daily “Lectio Camino” discipline.

(My husband and I walked 500 miles from southern France to Santiago de Compostela from May 6 to June 11, 2014. This route, known as the “Camino Francés,” one of many ways to Santiago, is the most common route for modern pilgrims. I am revisiting my journal and our photos one year later, “reading” them for what they have to say to me today. You can read Jed’s reflections here, and read more about the Camino here.)

Gretchen Rubin, in her latest book Better than Before, says this: “Research suggests that when we have conflicting goals, we don’t manage ourselves well. We become anxious and paralyzed, and we often end up doing nothing (p. 223).”

Duh? This seems obvious, doesn’t it? But when I read this a few days ago I felt like a pattern of mine became illuminated in a new way. To wit:

  • I want to make other people happy so they won’t be mad at me, but I also want to be myself and use my unique gifts.
  • I want to stay aloof and separate from life because that feels safe, but I also want to be fully committed because that’s where the juiciness is.
  • I want to get my work done, but I also want to take long walks, read books, and watch a little TV now and then.
  • I want to fully love myself and other people and Creation, but I also want to judge and criticize and feel superior to others, because that feels safe and familiar.

I don’t think I’m unique in experiencing these inner conflicts. (Can I get an “Amen!”?) What I realized while walking the Camino, and what I’m seeing with renewed clarity today, is how much this dividedness saps my energy and keeps me stuck.

Paul, in his letter to the Romans says this: “Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it (Romans 12:9, The Message).”

I think Paul nails the solution to dividedness. Self-criticism, judgment, separateness, distractions, and managing others’ impressions of me are all born of fear and a lack of trust in my own goodness and strength. When I’m mean to myself and critical of others, it’s because I’m believing the lie that I’m not good enough and precious enough and loveable enough. (Can I get an “Amen!”?) When I’m afraid to show the real me, it’s because I don’t believe I’m strong enough to handle the disapproval of others.

Eliminating distractions, focusing on what’s really important to me, and committing to my heart-centered life is how I love. These habits are the polar opposite of selfish. Cultivating the habits of authenticity, fierce focus, consistent action, and loving from the center of who I am takes immense courage and persistence. Just like the Camino, it’s not for weenies.

But here’s the thing: we build our courage muscles by using them, not be sitting around waiting to feel courageous before doing hard things. We become courageous by doing what scares us. The Way is made by walking.

Camino Journal 31 May 2014

Camino Journal 31 May 2014

Camino Journal 5.31.14

Camino Journal page 31 May 2014

Camino Journal 2 June 2014

Camino Journal 2 June 2014

Camino Journal 1 June 2014 El Cruz de Ferro

Camino Journal 1 June 2014
El Cruz de Ferro

Lectio Camino: “Re-Camino” Week 3

Jed and I walked the Camino de Santiago last year. We walked out of St. Jean Pied de Port in southern France on May 6, 2014, and walked into Santiago de Compostela on June 11, 500 miles down the road. I’m revisiting my journal and the photos that we took on our Camino — a variation of Lectio Divina that I’m calling Lectio Camino.

Here are some images from my 2015 “Re-Camino Journal,” Week Three.

El Hospital del Alma, Castrojeriz, Spain  May 21, 2014

El Hospital del Alma, Castrojeriz, Spain May 21, 2014

Another rainy Meseta day  May 22, 2014

Another rainy Meseta day   May 22, 2014



May 24, 2014

May 24, 2014

Poppies on the Meseta  May 20, 2014

Poppies on the Meseta May 20, 2014

The Way is Made by Walking: “Re-Camino” Week 2

The Way is made by walking.

The Way is made by walking. La Rioja, Spain. 14 May 2014

“Wanderer, there is no way. The way is made by walking.”

I find these words, a translation of a line from Spanish poet Antonio Machado’s “Caminante no hay Camino,” both frightening and comforting.

On the Camino we didn’t really “make the way by walking.” We walked an established, usually clearly marked, often paved path. We had a clear destination (Santiago de Compostella) and plenty of maps, and if we got lost there were muchas people to ask for directions. If we got tired or stranded, we could take a bus, a taxi, or a train to a town closer to our goal or even all the way to Santiago if necessary.

Out here in the “real world,” however, I find that “making the way by walking” is totally helpful and completely how things work. When I wait for certainty before trying something, I will wait and wait. “Making the way by walking” gives me a way to tolerate the ambiguity of not knowing how something will turn out before I start. Making the way by walking helps me to take the first step that I AM fairly certain about, then the next one, and then the next one after that. I think I know where I’m going, but it’s entirely possible that I will end up somewhere completely different than I intended when I began.

The Camino taught me to trust my heart, and that the Way was there for the finding when I took the first step in trust.

We’re all on a journey, whether we know it, admit it, and accept it, or not. Here’s my prayer for pilgrims and wanderers, walkers and wayfarers.

Holy One,

You’re the God of a wandering pilgrim people – Adam and Eve, Jacob, Abraham and Sarah, Moses and the Israelites in the desert, Babylonian exiles, Jonah and Elijah, Ruth and Naomi, Mary and Joseph, Peter and Paul and Thecla – all wanderers. All pilgrims on holy journeys.

We bear the name of a wandering itinerant preacher, a man who began wandering in the womb, whose first act of intentional ministry was to flee to the desert for forty days, who referred to himself as “the Way.”

Help me to remember that the Way is made by walking. That any certainty I may have about an outcome is both illusion and delusion. That my job is simply to take the first step. Then the next one. And then the one after that.

Help me to remember that to reach new places I must follow new roads. That faithfulness to your invitation to grow requires change. That when I respond to your call to be who I am in You, to live my life in You, I will be taken to places I do not expect. That true rest will only be found in Divine Upwelling You, and that the only stability I will ever know is floating in the River of You – always moving and growing and changing. And that all actions and choices that I make faithfully are good, despite appearances to the contrary.

Help me to trust that I have all I need for this journey.

Help me to commit whole-heartedly to this road, and always to be thankful for its gifts – each moment, each breath, each step.


(This is the second of a series of blogs reflecting on my 37-day walk along the Camino de Santiago from May 6 to June 11, 2014. You can find the first post here, and my husband’s blog here.)