Everybody’s Got a Hungry Heart

I’ve been away from Vancouver just over five weeks and at the albergue for about three weeks. It wasn’t an easy transition for a variety of reasons. I found myself at loose ends and feeling quite restless until about a week ago. I have been thinking over the last few days why I couldn’t seem to settle in and what is happening. I resisted these feelings with all the energy I could muster. And then a number of things happened which turned things around for me. Let’s start with my phone. 

I thought my phone was unlocked. When I arrived at the airport in Madrid I bought a Spanish simcard which included a data plan, text and talk. This was to be my means of staying in touch with people in Vancouver, given the nine hour time difference and people’s schedules. When I inserted the simcard, my phone didn’t recognize it although my friend’s phone greeted it with open arms. And so began a three week long episode of trying to get my phone unlocked. I don’t know how many frustrating hours I spent, or how many times I stomped back down the road to the albergue. Finally, I decided I was putting too much energy into the whole sad ordeal and just let it go. Two nights later I read something online about locked/unlocked phones and tried it out. Lo and behold, my new simcard had finally accepted my phone into Spain. 

Gratitude

One of my classmates in my massage program had spoken about having a knee injury and being stuck on the couch for a month. She said it started to drive her crazy until she thought every day for what she was grateful. I have a lot of things to be grateful for every day, every moment. I have friends and family who love me. I have people in my corner who would do anything for me. I have a friend who replied, when I said “I miss you”, “But Donna, I never left you”. I have the fortune to do something I love. I am able to see a new sunrise every morning and marval at the changes that five minutes passage of time reveals. I have people I work with that make me laugh. I have a new walk to start in a few weeks and who knows what that will bring, and for that I am grateful. 

Conversations with Vicente

A pilgrim came to the albergue a few days ago, a young Spanish man. We ended up talking about different ways people walk the camino. He talked about having a deadline to meet and needing to walk a certain distance every day. When I put forward the possibility that this might be lesson to learn, that you can just do what you want without worrying about a self imposed deadline, we got into a discussion about whther deadlines can be good or bad. He thought that planning everything wasn’t bad, and that we always have a deadline of death. I thought about this in bed that night and was very surprised in the morning to see Vicente there, that he had changed his mind about leaving, and maybe I had said some things he needed to think about. And then I got to thinking about how I was trying so hard to make this year at the albergue like last year, that it seemed I had made a plan, and was in some turmoil since nothing had gone according to plan.

Everything brought me back to being in the present. Whenever I forget to stay in the present, I lose myself. I like how things seem to unfold in a way that makes me question whether “coincidence” even exists. I always meet people or experience things when I most need to. I met a man at the albergue a few days ago. When he was leaving, I gave him a hug, as I do to most people. Some are not into hugs at all and only hug as much as they feel is necessary. But others give their whole body to it. And it’s a very powerful connection. This was a good hug. He emailed me a few days later to thank me, as it was the most genuine hug he had received for a long time. Perhaps it was something he needed right then and it wasn’t coincidence that he ended up at this albergue. He felt I had an open heart. 

And all these things changed my restless feelings into being in a good place feelings. I have to throw my heart into everything, full on, or what is the point? Do you hold part of yourself back, to protect yourself? Because that already lessens any experience you have. What will you remember with more pleasure? That period of time when you opened yourself up or that time when you didn’t, in case things went badly. Because I think if you keep a part of yourself safely locked away too many times, it’s always going to be like that. And every time it will be harder to recognize what makes your soul hungry and what makes it almost burst with joy. And I want my soul to be filled up.

   

 
    
 

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My Heart Will Shine

I asked a friend the other day “Is it weird that I like being on my own but also don’t like being on my own?” The last few weeks of my massage course were challenging. Despite going by quickly, I felt like they would never end. I skipped three days of the last week of school to spend some time away from Vancouver and from my classes. I swam in a lake, I drove a boat, I ate salmon. My mind calmed itself. I was both on my own but not on my own.  

 
After 5 frantic days of packing and last minute errands, followed by a full day of travel, I arrived in my hometown and a week with family. We talked, we drank wine, we laughed, and I went to church for the first time in 30 years. It was a place of peace, and yet my body and soul was feeling the pull toward Spain and the summer I had planned. There was a beach very close to my brother’s house where I practised yoga one morning and then ran like a child through the incoming waves. I was the only person there and I thought of people I wanted there with me. I was both on my own but not on my own. 

  
         

And now it is my last day in Scotland after spending a week with a friend from Vancouver who moved here last year. I’ve been staying up late most nights watching womens world cup soccer games. Meaning I need to take a nap in the afternoon, something I’ve never been very good at but apparently get better at with practice. Chatting with people in Vancouver is complicated by an 8 hour time difference, leading to some middle of the night conversations. The closer my day of departure drew, the antsier I was feeling. It would seem that transitions are hard for me. And despite having good friends around me, I felt homesick for Spain and Vancouver and Nova Scotia. All the familiar places and family and friends were so far away. I was both on my own but not on my own. 

  
       It feels like everything good is about to happen. It feels like my heart has been on the verge of bursting many times lately, both with joy and sorrow. It feels like so many things are possible. One of the last assignments in my course was for every student to write something about each of the other classmates. I held onto the 14 statements about me for 5 days before I read them. I have them with me and I take them out every now and then to read. They are like stepping stones that hold my spirit up. 

A friend of mine plays a beautiful guitar (and I mean he plays with beauty) and for some reason this song that he wrote lifts my heart and carries it along when I feel it is drifting. I don’t know how many times I have listened to it. “This time my heart will shine, and set my spirit free. Only this time things will work out for me.” I will post the song when I figure out how to do it.   

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Done! Starting!

Another camino begins right on the heels of one that finishes. I have just finished taking a spa therapy program. It ran 18 weeks and involved all manner of massage and bodywork instruction. As it ran its course over the weeks I realized the parallels to my other caminos. We started with much enthusiasm, settled into a vague routine after a week or so and then the daily grind began to take its toll. 

It’s a bit of an adjustment to be in an 8:30 to 5:30 program after being out of school and any regular routine for 30 years. Most of my classmates were younger. Tempers began to shorten and self doubts emerge. “I don’t really want a massage” was commonly heard. But then, as in my previous caminos, I hit the point where I knew I could finish. The last few weeks flew by as if in a time warp and then I was finished, holding the certificate in my hand. And saying goodbye to the people with whom I had struggled through the course. Some to remain in contact, others not. It was so hard. 

 

Only five days to get everything together for my next trip to Spain, back to my second family, back to the time and place that had a profound impact on the changes in my life over the past year. Those five days also flew by, much too quickly. 

I am visiting family in Nova Scotia, then a friend in Scotland, then to Spain. I will carry my massage skills, my happiness, my notes from my classmates, my sadness of leaving people behind, my anticipation of things unknown. 

I found two quotes that seemed to capture how I am feeling right now and how I want to act. 

“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.”

–Lao Tzu

“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.”

– Terry Pratchett

   
      

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What’s Your Camino?

I felt the urge over the last few days to write another post. The mornings in Vancouver of late have been clear and crisp. I walk 7 blocks from my house to the skytrain station for the trip to school. And as I walk at a fairly brisk pace, it being 7:30 and all, loaded down with my 20 pounds of books and food (more than what I carried on my Camino last year) I have been musing on what makes a camino.

Camino means a course, trail, journey, or way. In Spain there are many different Caminos, pilgrimages to Santiago de Compostela. I walked 800 km in 2013 from St Jean Pied de Port to Santiago. In 2014 I walked just over 200 from Astorga to Santiago. This year I hope and expect to walk again, I am not sure yet from where. But for now my camino is very different.

I found myself very changed after my walk last year. I came home, separated from my husband of 27 years, and enrolled in a spa therapy program. I am in school for 8 hours every weekday, and my brain is full of bones and muscles. I still don’t understand why I can remember lyrics to hundreds of songs but not the origins and insertions of 50 muscles. And so I walk to school, study, and am surrounded by my classmates every day. They are all on their own camino, not sure where it will lead.

For me, that is the beauty of it all. Everything is new and uncertain and exciting and hard and FUN. What do you want your camino to be like? Do you want to know every day which albergue you will stay in? Do you want to keep the same travelling companions? Do you want everything planned in advance, no surprises? That works for a lot of people. But so many things will be missed. So many possibilities that will wither, never having been nurtured into being. Life changing conversations that won’t happen. That anticipation every single morning, wondering what’s coming, who you might meet, what you might see that gives you pause, marvelling at the beauty of it.

I remember many moments last year while I was walking, when I felt I would burst with sheer happiness. And I worried I wouldn’t find that again when I came back to Vancouver. But there are many small moments for me. A very good friend visiting from Spain. A kindred spirit visiting unexpectedly. Little daffodils in a yellow swath, nodding as I go by. A little girl on her porch, selling me a picture she drew for 10 cents. A couple of boys selling cookies in front of their house (I got the last one!).

I know when I go to Spain again, and for the rest of my life, I will be ok not knowing what’s coming. The more open I am to not knowing, the happier I am. I feel like I am leaping into space, and it’s not so much that I know there’s a mattress to catch me, it’s that it doesn’t matter if there is one or not. Because finally, I don’t need one.

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Home Again, Home Again

Arrived in Santiago the morning of October 12. The previous day I had walked 35 km and surprisingly was only tired, not hobbling or in pain. I had just come out of a cafe after an orange juice and pee break and saw a fellow passing that I had talked to briefly about a week before, something about martial arts. We said hello and I fell in step with him. Many laughs and 35 km later, we made it. Both of us admitted we wouldn’t have gotten so far if not for the other person. I hadn’t laughed so much since leaving the albergue and it felt good.

I arrived in Santiago and received my compostela. I wandered aimlessly around the city and then went to check in at the albergue. Lo and behold, there was Barney, my previous day’s walking companion. And then, on my way upstairs, I saw the woman who had hugged me with the grace of god. “It’s you!” we both exclaimed. Hugs often appear when most needed. I went to the noon mass and saw the swinging of the botofumeiro. It was something to behold. And then I just stood outside the cathedral and felt very small. I heard someone call my name and turned to see Tomr and Courtney, two people who had stopped at my albergue while I was still a hospitalera. They had spent the last 6 months doing the camino three times, three seasons, collecting material and pictures for an edible guidebook of the camino. They invited me to dinner that night and it was very, very good. Barney came and along with the other invitees we consumed about four bottles of wine and a beautiful mushroom risotto.

I caught the train the next morning to Madrid and met my friend Javier and my two daughters. It was like coming home. But I felt like I didn’t want to leave Spain. Something about everything wanted to keep me there. It was almost as hard as leaving the albergue when Javier took us to the airport and it was time to say goodbye. I stared out the window for the flight to Amsterdam and thought sad thoughts.

I catch my plane to Vancouver in the morning and then it will be back to the usual. A friend told me that in a previous life I must have ben a Spanish woman. Who knows. But everything felt very right here. If all goes well, I get to come back next year to walk in Portugal, and then Spain, to Santiago again. And visit my second family in Pieros. I can’t wait.

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To Pee or Not to Pee

Everyone should try peeing in a field while the rain is pouring down and you are already a bit wet. The prospect of someone appearing around the corner or driving along the road just adds a little zip to the experience. Maybe that driver is so focussed on the road he doesn’t notice the figure crouched behind the hedge.

The weather up until a few days ago had been superb. A little bit hot but nothing more than low 30s. I was feeling pretty good in the energy department and had met up with a few cool characters. I recommended a couple of successive albergues to people and had suddenly become the go to person. If I could keep a straight face I would have strung them the banana blister treatment that Gareth was so successful in relating.

“So you know the best treatment for blisters?” And the pilgrims would give him their undivided attention.
“You take a banana and smush it up at the end of the day and encase your foot in it. Then you wrap the peel around your foot and leave it on until you go to bed.”
“But doesn’t it turn all brown?”
“Well yes, that’s when you know it’s time to change it.”
And then Erik pipes in to elaborate, “Yes, it’s known in the Amazon rainforest that bananas have lots of medicinal qualities.”
At which point I’m just about falling off my chair.

It’s still dark at 8 am, but I’m usually underway sometime around then. I seem to have energy to burn this time and once I walk for a bit and get warmed up, I pick up the pace. If I’m really feeling good, I start putting flowers and other interesting bits of foliage in my headband. I think it was sometime along one of these happy dancing almost running times that I met Dan from California who is here with his son Will. Dan and I chatted about various things and then parted ways, only to see each other the next day when I caught up to him at the beginning of a hill. I slowed down to walk with him and then asked if I could take his hand while we walked. And so that’s how we went for the next km or so. He commented on how it’s been years since he held a woman’s hand, although he’s been married for 37 years, and how nice it was. Hopefully I’ll run into him in Santiago.

But I digress. We have had rain the last three days, starting around 2:00. The first day I was almost at my destination so didn’t get too wet. The third day I put my rainpants on at the first hint of rain so didn’t get too wet. The second day I thought I was close enough to my destination that I wouldn’t need my rainpants. I ended up finally arriving but carrying an extra litre of water at the bottom of my pack cover. Yes, I put the raincover on my backpack but not on me. I arrived at the door a soaking squelching dripping puddle of misery. But it’s amazing what a dryer, woodstove, dry clothes and a good meal will do.

So now I am only one and a half days out of Santiago. I’ve met lots of people, talked to many, but outside of the people at the albergue and a few others, have felt more isolated. And that’s exactly how I wanted it.

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I’m Lost

I lost my way today.

I had wanted to take a route through the mountains instead of along the road.  One of the guys at the albergue told me how to find the turn off, but I went through the tunnel instead of past it and ended up on a godforsaken stretch of cement pathway alongside the highway. And I fumed and thought bad things about how my day was going from bad to worse.

I had been two days in my albergue. I had left the previous albergue about 7:30 and for the first time in my camino history walked straight through to my destination without stopping. No second breakfast, no cafe con leche, nada. So I got to Ponferrada about 11:30, too early to stop for the day. I started walking on, thinking I could get outside the city and stop there, making the next day really short. I ran across two French guys I had walked a short stretch with, and they wanted to take a city bus to the city outskirts and then continue. And my mind quickly raced to how this made getting to my albergue a doable 30ish km, instead of 35. For the low price of 1.40€ I was on the bus. Another 2ish hours of walking, and one camino bracelet and cerveza con limon later, I was back. I jumped through the door and surprised everyone as they were eating lunch. “Donna!!!!!!!!” I had one child hanging on each leg and four people hugging me.

It was a great two days. Much wine, much laughter, much general harassment. And then I had to go. I hugged fiercely, not wanting to let go. And with surprisingly few tears, I turned and left, hearing Gareth call “I love you” as I headed up the road. It wasn’t until I reached the turnoff into the vineyards and turned to look back at the village that the pain and sadness overwhelmed me. So I cried on and off the next 5 km to the next town. And then I took my wrong turn.

I reached a little village and walked through, seeing a group of three men, one carrying a tripod with camera attached. I asked what he was doing and he explained they were talking to people about their camino experiences and would I mind answering some questions. So I sat and we talked, sometimes in Spanish, sometimes in English, of how the camino changes you, what you hope to carry home with you, how it parallels real life, what you would most hate to lose along the way. And when we were done, and I hugged one of them with great calming breaths, I realized I hadn’t taken a wrong turn, that I hadn’t lost my way. My way had found me. I cried my way for a little bit, then plugged in my iPod and danced my way along.

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