Camino’s Ordeals and Offerings

(This post in lieu of Friday’s usual photo and poem.)

Portuguese Coastal Camino
Stage 2: Vila do Conde to Apulia

“Travel is travail.
The ancient Greeks taught that obstacles were the tests of gods, and the medieval Japanese believed that the sorrows of travel were challenges to overcome and transform into poetry and song.”

Phil Cousineau, The Art of Pilgrimage, 1998

Quest. Pilgrimage. Hero’s journey. Each entails encountering and overcoming challenges and ordeals. Religious historian Huston Smith in Phil Cousineau’s The Art of Pilgrimage (1998) describes four aspects to pilgrimage: singleness of purpose; freedom from distraction; ordeal or penance; and offerings.

And so it was that on this 20 km, second stage to Apulia, blisters made their appearance. Given my feet would walk me to Santiago, I took their care seriously, each day rubbing them with foot glide, taping hot spots, and yes, even talking to them with words of encouragement and gratitude for their strength and resiliency. The last time I’d travelled internationally, I was recovering from an excruciating case of plantar fasciitis. Then, working with my chiropractor, putting indoor pickleball on hiatus, and packing a couple of pairs of shoes and Yamuna foot balls, I succeeded in walking pain free for three weeks. So yes, I took my feet and their care seriously.

This time I’d bought and broken in shoes a half size larger to account for swelling, and brought umpteen pairs of socks, finally arriving at the right combination of cushion, wicking, and comfort with Darn Tough merino light-weight hikers, socks that arrived just days before departure. My hefty but compact “foot care” kit included several sizes of COMPEED plasters, Rock Tape, moleskin, needles and thread, tweezers, scissors, antiseptic wipes, polysporin, bandaids, and while I was prepared, short of entirely taping each foot, I had no idea until that day of walking across varied surfaces, in growing heat, for six hours, what would be the rub and where the result. Rub identified – the outside heel edge of my insoles – and resolved with moleskin, several days later I was pain free and simply needed the COMPEED to do its work.

Apart from myriad details, and the hours and energy involved in planning and preparing for this first post pandemic international trip – researching equipment and resources, designing my packing systems for easy access, “rehearsing” during my Saturday Camino walks – I made sure to reserve time the week before departure for two vivifying activities: embellishing the pages of my travel journal with washi tape borders (tape I’d found resembling Portuguese tiles) and “touchstone” inspirational quotes; and preparing tokens of gratitude to gift people along the Way, to enact and realize my intention of walking in appreciation and gratitude.

“When you leave home, you are a stranger, and a stranger is always feared. That is why the wise traveler carries gifts. To make a peace offering at every stop of a pilgrimage is to recognize the sacred nature of the journey with a deep personal purpose.”

Phil Cousineau, The Art of Pilgrimage, 1998

I had discovered a collection of bronzed metal maple leaves – what could be more Canadian! – and golden elm leaves in my craft kit, a couple of cool swag pins from my radio station, and some other small tokens that I wrapped in colorful tissue and a sealed with floral stickers, making for little lightweight packets.

Paula fitting me

After returning to Lisbon’s famous glove store, Luvaria Ulisses (1925), to gift Paula, the delightful saleswoman who the day before had spent a good hour fitting and teaching us about the shop’s exquisite handmade collection – and making two sales! – I learned to always have some packets tucked in my purse to gift to the right person at the right time.

From my journal, May 11, 2022, STAGE 2: Vila do Conde to Apulia: “Another beautiful walk, so diverse as we passed thru morning residential neighborhoods with kids going to school, people stopping for morning coffee; then along the beach and back on the boardwalks. Delighted to meet some local women sitting in the sand, plucking and cleaning their harvest of sage-like greens (though not for eating, indicated with head shakes), and the kind fellow who interrupted painting the beach W/C for me to use (that morning coffee!). Learning I was walking the Camino, he regaled me with his own Camino stories and phone photos. I gifted him with a ‘Keep the Circle Strong’ pin which delighted me as much as him, seeing his surprise and joy. ‘I’ll put this on my Camino shelf,’ he smiled, wishing me ‘Bom Caminho.'”

I wrote Monday’s post days before the US Supreme Court voted to overrule Roe vs Wade, the historic federal legislation ensuring and safeguarding a woman’s right to choose. While I live in Canada, I know it to be both naïve and privileged to think such matters don’t affect me. The personal is political, a truth ever and exceedingly so.

When a friend said she couldn’t wait to begin her Camino to get away from it all – not an uncommon urge – her words gave me pause to consider. I knew I wasn’t walking to get away but rather to deepen into life as it presented itself. And so with “singleness of purpose,” and “freedom from distraction,” I remained tuned in enough to know about and walk with my feelings and prayers for:

  • the millions of people affected by storms that devastated Ontario and Quebec, news of which reached Portugal and Spain. I knew my nephew, a supervisor with Hydro One, would be leaving his young family to head up a team and taking as long as needed, would together undertake significant safety risks to repair transmission towers and poles to restore power.
  • the people of Buffalo, New York in the aftermath of a strategic, race related mass shooting. As my birthplace and always visually present in my childhood and youth having grown up across the river, and with family who have always lived there, the shock and grief felt by its people carried across the sea to me.
  • the families and community of Uvalde, Texas. What can I say that hasn’t been said, watching Americans I met walking the Way shake their heads in grief, with shame for the hundreds of school shootings and children killed in their country?
  • the ongoing devastation caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Again, no words.

Many mornings I’d be awakened early with powerful dreams seeded by the previous day’s events – near and far – and the “loosening” created by walking kilometers by and in the elements. Deserving of my attention, I’d be preoccupied and silent during breakfast and as I walked, working through to their wisdom. Too, daily tending to my body’s aches and blisters…navigating long distance family matters…and weighing heavy, the worry and risks of misjudged and insufficient preparations rubbed, creating its own blisters: insomnia, injury, illness…

Given my intention, walking the Camino – and now writing about it – I couldn’t disconnect from life, people, and the world around me. The paradoxical gift being that the weight of these ordeals kept me present in my body, on the path, in my life, and in the world I inhabit. Now home, some blisters have healed, some are callused. Others remain tender to the touch.

From my journal: “I wondered this morning that if by walking shorter stages, by ‘sauntering,’ enjoying the vistas, meeting people, taking it all in, if this is enough? Should I be carrying a full pack, walking longer stages? If that by allowing one to encounter and deepen into oneself, easefully, is this the true Camino experience? But as I write, I am answering my own question, and go back to why now and in this way? To walk in love and appreciation. To notice the beauty and encounter people. To go slow and easy…with de-light and in joy. And while I’ve yet to write a poem or paint a picture, I’m gathering the pearls of impressions to string together a beauty.”

“Only through a journey such as this could I come full circle in my life and touch something sacred that could revitalize my life.”

Phil Cousineau, The Art of Pilgrimage, 1998

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

Faith

It’s Sunday evening, the time I usually sit down in my office to tap out Monday’s post, stringing together impressions from the last week, often inspired by something I’ve read or heard. Classical choral music, hosted by one of the stellar announcers on my radio station, CKUA, and the purr of the space heater create an aural ambiance, and some needed warmth.

I’d thought I’d write my more-or-less annual “word for the year” post, wherein I sing the praises of having been introduced to the notion by a dear friend several years ago, then more recently shored up by a twelve-day discernment process hosted by Abbey of the Arts. Last year, in hindsight, I wrote about the prescience of having had HOME “arrive” as my 2020 word, given the onset of COVID which had all of us everywhere staying put for months on end. And that I’d arrived at NATURE as being most apt for 2021, given how much solace and settling I had found being in nature during these past nearly two years of Covid’s continued destabilization. This year FAITH came, inspired by reading something in my friend Shawna Lemay’s recently published wondrous novel, EVERYTHING AFFECTS EVERYONE. Already primed for signs and shimmers, I was alert when one of her characters, quoting Alan Watts, said:

“We must make here a clear distinction between belief and faith, because, in general practice, belief has come to mean a state of mind which is almost the opposite of faith. Belief, as I use the word here, is the insistence that the truth is what one would ‘lief’ or wish it to be. The believer will open his mind to the truth on the condition that it fits in with his preconceived ideas and wishes. Faith, on the other hand, is an unreserved opening of the mind to the truth, whatever it may turn out to be. Faith has no preconceptions; it is a plunge into the unknown. Belief clings, but faith lets go.”

I’m not sure why or how, but reading those words on that brilliantly sunny but brutally cold morning between Christmas and New Year’s Day, while Annie napped beside me on “her” loveseat, grokked my word for 2022. I let go of sense making, meaning making, and trusted the thud of certainty that landed inside, having faith that FAITH it was, and FAITH it would be for 2022.

I have just finished preparing an early dinner for us – veal marsala, pasta with a mixed wild mushroom cream sauce, sautéed carrots, perfectly matched with the Amarone gifted from friends for Christmas – the ingredients purchased and menu heavily influenced by pranzo yesterday at the Italian Centre, where we again enjoyed our vino rosso with porchetta panino only served Saturdays. While sitting in the café sipping and chewing, watching a steady stream of folks order their espressos e dolces, I talked about what I most missed about this, hard to believe nearly two years’ living a covid-curtailed life: travelling abroad. That while I occasionally miss being out and about town with friends, I most deeply yearn for the new impressions that travelling brings me.

A great traveler…is a kind of introspective; as she covers the ground outwardly, so she advances fresh interpretations of herself inwardly.”

Lawrence Durell describing Freya Stark in Phil Cousineau, The Art of Pilgrimage, 1998

I know I’ve done a pretty good job of keeping fresh those self interpretations here at home – walking with Annie, or during the Saturday Camino walks in the river valley, noticing the ever changing, ever constant beauty around me, and making photos and poetry from what shimmers; chronicling those impressions in my now second photo-journal of Covid life – my pre-determined final volume because at the rate we’re going, this could be another never ending story! Immersing in contemplative online learning programs and engaging in online poetry readings that inspire creative expression. Reading. My recent experiments in needle and hand work. Cooking. My biweekly circle gathering. Yes, through it all, even with grieving the loss of my professional life, and now nurturing a new one, as I reflect, I have navigated this time well. Still, I miss travelling.

And so I reminisced with him about the first time I ate a porchetta panino, at the little café in the piazzetta around the block from L’Accademia in Florence, as I waited my turn to see Michelangelo’s David. And then in Siena when we toured Tuscany and Rome together. Weaving up and down the cobblestoned streets, we suddenly found ourselves in front of the shop with the tell-tale pig sign and proscuitto legs, and scent of garlic and rosemary beckoning us in. Taking one to go, with a slice of panforte, it became a signature Sienese dinner that night in our room at the villa.

Waxing on, I told him that while there are vistas yet unseen I wished to experience – hopefully some with him, a less enthusiastic traveler – maybe due to my European roots and inexplicable fascination with Moorish design and culture, returning to countries I’ve already visited – Germany, Italy, France, Spain, Morocco – held the most allure, to deepen those already etched impressions.

“the need for sacred beauty…we can only discover the real thing though deep observation, by the slow accretion of details”

Phil Cousineau, The Art of Pilgrimage, 1998

Earlier this week my friend from Germany called, she with whom I lived the three months I travelled solo in Europe in 2011. “Come and stay with me for a few months,” she, recently retired and finding her footing, implored. If only it were that easy. And maybe it is, or soon will be, albeit with safeguards and precautions.

Perhaps that’s where faith comes in. Rings its bell quietly to remind me that one day, I’ll return to and visit anew, those places of my heart’s desire, to delve deeper into myself, by way of the world.

“Pilgrims are poets who create by taking journeys.”

Richard R. Niebuhr in Phil Cousineau, The Art of Pilgrimage, 1998

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

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