Un-tying the Inner Knots

I gathered up all my stuff which now fits neatly into a 12 pound backpack, and walked down the stairs of the Refugio. It´s 6:45am and all other pilgrims seemed to have left already. Filled up my water bottle at the large sink and almost didn´t see him standing at the door until I heard a voice, "will you help me, please?" Walking alone, a little weary of some of the men, I hesitate for a second. He points to his shoes and then moves his shirt to show me the stump on his right arm. "Of course!" How could I have been so blind? He has no arm. I hold back the tears and neatly and quickly tie a knot on both of his shoes. Not wanting him to feel my sadness, I go back to my pack as matter-of-factly as I can and he leaves on his journey.

It´s hard to imagine how life must be for him each day. The simple things that I take for granted, like putting on my backpack, twisting the cap on my water bottle without thinking about it, quickly climbing up to the top bunk of the bed, getting into my sleeping bag and zipping it up, or tying a double-knot on my shoelaces. How many little things to be grateful for each day. Each day is a gift.

Six hours later a Polish man passes me on the road, bright blue eyes and a big smile. He points to his shoes. "Remember you help me this morning" he says in his broken English. I smile back broadly this time, because I no longer feel bad for him, "yes, yes, it was not a big deal." "Thank you for your help," he grinned as I wished him a good journey and walked on.

For some reason I don´t worry about how he will tie his shoelaces tomorrow. I have a feeling he will be taken care of. He has his gifts just as we all have ours. What I worry about is if I will allow small fears to build walls around me or if I will be able to un-tie my own inner knots and take advantage of the opportunities to serve.


Camino de Santiago

Every time I´ve tried to sit down and write a blog entry about the pilgrimage, I´always find myself at a loss of words to share this experience. Camino de Santiago is the oldest pilgrimage in Europe. Many feet have walked through the path that today supports my journey. And many will follow. It´s a constant stream that keeps moving. Many routes lead to Santiago. Some people even start walking from their home in Europe. All the different routes end in a town called Santiago, the Spanish name for ¨James,¨ one of the main disciples of Jesus Christ whose remains are buried there. Camino de Santiago literally means the ¨Way of St. James,¨ referred by pilgrims simply as ¨the way¨ or ¨the camino.¨ 

I´ve chosen to walk the five-week long Camino Frances, which starts in Southern France then crosses the border into Spain and goes along the northern width of the country, ending at Finisterra, which opens into to Atlantic ocean. In ancient times, people believed this was the end of the world.

The reasons for why people walk this ¨Way¨ are as diverse as the number of people walking. There are people here from all over the world -- Belgium, Germany, Janpan, Southern Korea, France, Canada, U.S., Brazil, Portugal, India, Switzerland, Australia, Holland, and of course Spain. There are Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, Multi-Faith, Non-religious Spiritualists, and even a couple of Atheists. And people are of all different ages, surprisingly many over sixty-five.

Generally, I walk an average of about 25 km a day. So far I´ve made it a point to walk alone and in the evenings I end up spending time with others in the Albergues, which are set-up for the pilgrims for a small fee or on a donation basis. It´s interesting to spend a large part of the day in silence and then hear the stories of other pilgrims in the evenings. Albergues so far have had anywhere from 8 to a 100 bunk-beds in a room so you get to know everyone really quickly. And at the same time, it´s not the same people each day since everyone walks at a different pace and might stay in another town. I´m walking alone and at the same time feeling that there is a strong solidarity with everyone else that´s walking. People pass each other on the road with a hearty ¨Buen Camino¨ meaning good journey.

It´s been a lot more demanding physically that I had expected, especially with the coldest May in Spain in the past 130 years. In the last 17 days, I´ve seen snow, hail, and mostly rain with temperatures ranging from 30-40 degrees in the day. However, I think the luck is turning around because the sun´s been out the last two days so it´s starting to get warmer. Regardless of the weather, it´s daylight until around 10 o´clock at night which is interesting since most of the pilgrims are tired and in bed by nine while the light is still out.:-)

Each day feels like a life-time waking up at six in the morning and walking through different towns. There is no concept of time. I have to write down the day and date to have an idea of where I am in time. Sometimes the road seems endless like I´am walking to end of the earth and other times I reach the next town before I know it. It´s a completely different life each day.

Until next time, wishing you all a Buen Camino!


The Sacred Hour

Under the cover of darkness
a symphony of snoring souls
rest their aching bodies
on a single row of bunk beds 

An old Spanish bell tower
glows high above
A supreme witness of the pilgrims
for centuries past 

The road is wide open
ready to be taken
I slip onto the dirt path
joined only by a light drizzle
from the skies above 

The most sacred hour
of the day --
a gap between
the darkness and the daylight
Only prayer seems appropriate 

Even the green hills stand still in awe
And the birds line up on the trees
to witness the miracle
of another birth
of another sunrise 

Feeling like the only
person in the world
I savor every moment
knowing it happens
only -- once a day.


Heavy with Rain

Earth --
brown like my eyes
holds me
one step
after another 

Unlike the black asphalt
Or the sharp rocks
Or the red clay mud of La Rioja
that clings to my feet
and weighs a ton
like impure thoughts
heavy with rain 

that need to be scraped off
skillfully on a rock
or walked gently off
on wet morning grass.


Dear Pilgrim

I´m on day 4 of the pilgrimage. The first day was painful and wonderful all at the same time...fourth day the body is struggling less and finally starting to get accustomed to walking everyday. Mind is getting stronger too. Each day is so full. Hope to write more when I have better internet access. It´s a bit limited in most towns but here´s a short poem I wrote today that I can share. Hope you are all well.
Walking through the earth
tread lightly, dear pilgrim.
Leave no trace that you were here
for tomorrow you will be somewhere else.

Be kind to those around you
who also have aches that you cannot see.
A warm smile and gentle encouragement
may carry them through the coldest mountain.

Take only what you need
you will breathe easier,
and walk with a straighter back.
Some things might look enticing
but they are not necessary,
they will only burden you in the end.

Worry not about tomorrow
it will come soon enough,
and greet you with it joys and sorrows.

Embrace the joy with open arms,
make certain that you don´t miss it,
staring deep into your eyes.
Learn from the sorrows,
know that you have lessons to learn,
that can only be taught in this way.

Above all -- be grateful.
For gratitude and misery
cannot co-exist in your heart.

What else do you need?
A bed to rest,
clean clothes to wear,
and a simple meal.

And remember when the sun shines upon you,
and the flowers bloom in your path,
don´t forget to smile back.

Be grateful that you are given
yet another day.

With gratitude for all the beautiful people in my life. :-)