pilgrim of truth
you see, i had an appointment. on the last day of the year, i met her there on that empty beach. my assignment had been to live a year, a holy year, along the camino de santiago pilgrimage route. i had few instructions, one or two of my own questions and a name that was given to me before i arrived. the instruction was only to live the experience. my own questions asked for a deeper understanding about who i really am and what is it that i have to give to the world. the name that was given to me by a teacher is kundön neyjama. these tibetan words translate into peregrina de la verdad, or pilgrim of truth.
on becoming the path
before you can travel the path, you must first become the path itself. – the buddha
it would be by the side of the ancient pilgrim’s trail in an ochre colored house that the camino requested my presence and attention. instead of making my way as a pilgrim, i was asked to stay still by the side of the road for a while. to learn to become the path. and to let the world come to me. the peaceable kingdom sits just about halfway or so between st. jean pied-de-port (one of the main jumping in points for the camino frances just over the border into france) and finisterra. there, in the middle of the spanish meseta, where the infinitude of a ‘big sky’ can make any good pilgrim a little wild of mind, is the small village of moratinos. this funny little pueblo is where i would come to spend many a moon smoothing out some of my rough edges and maybe gaining a few where i was much too soft.
just off of the calle ontanon is a private home (known as the peaceable) that is generously open to wanderers of all kinds. the place has grown organically in these past four years from the dream of american writer rebekah scott and her husband, artist and englishman patrick o’gara. it seems that the camino chose them to put down their roots in this small village of crumbling houses made from earth, with its 14 or so inhabitants that range from kind to curious. it hasn’t been easy for reb and paddy. from the beginning, they have been tested and tried and asked by the camino more than once if they really meant it and were committed to being there … and then stretched just a little bit more for good measure. (you can read more about their story by clicking on the three-legged una dog in the sidebar on the right)
and so, through the cold winter, into the deep red poppy bloom of spring and maybe just a bit longer, i became part of a strange tribe. a place where the existence of god is debated daily and the presence is felt even more often. mice are chased, wine is had, prayers are layed down and each day brings something or someone new. change is constant and flows over a foundation that has grown strong and sturdy. and it was here within these walls that i got down to some gritty soul work. i had the opportunity and privilege to care for pilgrims from all over the world—some blistered, broken hearted or mixture of both. i became hospitalera to the hospitaleros. had great adventures with wild dogs (and a handsome cat) all with the oldest of souls. i ran in the fields under skies as wide and blue as the sea that had i left behind. i chopped wood, carried water. cleaned out coops, shoveled poop. discovered the zen of dishwashing, learned to love european football, enjoyed good meals and became famous for salads and soulful stones. i tended the small but mighty labyrinth, wrestled my ego, felt grouchy sometimes. expressed it. was loved anyways. held space for healing and had space held for me. and it happened there, in through the cracks of everyday living and being, that the deepest of daily lessons seeped in —the ones about love, forgiveness, acceptance, compassion, boundaries, kindness, receiving, giving, humility … and a much needed clarity of the difference between service and servitude. this subtle grace shimmered a fine light into the dusty corners of my soul and it was in this space that i practiced ‘the leaning in’. leaning in for a deeper understanding. for truth, without attachment or aversion. to be near and listen from the heart. to come to a simple knowing that we are all on our own spiritual journey, without exception. that we all want to be loved, to be understood, to be heard, to be seen and to know that we have the right exist. we each have our own unique story filled with dreams and longing, failures and disappointments. and no one’s is less important than the other’s. we have all known, at some time in our lives what it is like to suffer. we all want to be free of suffering. we want the freedom to be who we truly are. and through this practice of learning to see with the eyes of the heart and to stand in the stillness of a place of knowing the truth of who i really am and who i am becoming, i am beginning to understand that each time i lean in to others, i am also leaning in towards myself. thanks Peace (with all of your people, creatures, pilgrims and wanderers) for your mysterious spirit that has provided me with the time and space to learn about becoming the path.
traveling the path
and when the time was right, with my pack pressed close to my back, i set out. from the monastery of san juan de la peña along the camino aragones, i began to make my way. slowly following the path of the sun. it was a long road. a strange road. by no means an easy road. but for sure a most beautiful road. i learned about living close to nature and with very few ‘things’. to witness my ‘thoughts’ and the way that i have been perceiving the world. that circumstances don’t matter, but only our state of being matters. what is it that is really true? during these months on the trail, all that i met along my path became my reflections. i can’t say more now, only that it will take me some time. yes. i need some more time to understand.
i arrived on foot to finisterra, the end of the land, after walking for four days from santiago. the longest day was 35 km in the cold, wild wind and rain. for good measure. i have learned to meet this road where it is and to love all that the camino serves up. because, there are always the strange gifts after these storms. and i do not have the good words to describe what it was like for me to come to the place on the hill where i could see the sea for the first time after almost a year inland. i had almost forgotten the vastness of this ocean. funny thing is that it was there the whole time. while i stomped, staggered and shuffled my way along the long road, through fields of wheat and tops of mountains. the big blue had waited patiently for my return. when i landed on that beach, with my backpack still on my back, i wrote my name in the sand. do you see me, universe? it’s me. and i made it. … and then, on the last day of the year, i went to the spot where one year earlier i had buried the message in the bottle. the landscape had changed a lot in all of this time. i felt moments of despair when i thought i might not be able to find it. it is lost forever. then, i took a deep breath and laughed when i remembered that as a little girl, i always used to build my sand castles close to the waters edge. life is risky. this joke was one me. i heard a voice inside me say, go on, then. try again. so, i lined myself up with the old pine tree, the patch of rock, the big clump of seagrass. i began to dig. now, i know what pirates must have felt like when they hit that top of the treasure chest. i hooted and hollered like a maniac to the empty beach. woo, hoo! found it! there it was. i sat there in the grassy sand dunes with that letter for a long time. i looked each way down the long stretch of beach. maybe i was expecting to see ‘her’ walking up to me at any moment. shit, maybe she wasn’t going to show. deep breath. another. and then, with the sun shining down on my face and the soggy letter falling apart in my hand, i felt a wave of peace come over me. a sense of lightness. ah, ok. i get it. she was already here. and the ‘she’ is me. yes. i am here.
big old sun
i hustled the 3km up to the lighthouse. the sun was setting fast and i wasn’t sure i would make it in time. wait for me, old sun. in one hand, my trusty walking stick that i had received from that kind bird-watching hospitalera in jaca at the very beginning of my camino, in the other, the hole-y shirt that made me look like the loved-so-much skin horse in the children’s book the velveteen rabbit, and on my head, the warm cap that my dear dad had given me before my first camino almost seven years earlier. and with perfect timing, i found my place on the large stone that looked like a whale surfacing out of the sea. on the ground at my feet, the flames danced across the fabric of my old shirt, transforming its journey into ash and light. in front of me, a silhouette of a pilgrim who had walked for so many months from the czech republic performed his own ritual to the gods of salt and flame. he danced and cried out in what sounded to me like a native american chant. and there behind a large rock to my left, tucked in and out of sight, the pilgrim from texas sang a hebrew melody about a meeting with the angels. i was there in good company. and somehow, we harmonized together as i hummed my own little ditty by neil young. at the end of the earth on this last day of this most holy year, we sang that old sun to sleep.
it will appear as does the poem to the poet
it has been a long story. i have done my best to be authentic and to share the beauty of a journey with you. to show, through my experience, what is possible when you make the decision to set out on your own road, a road to the soul. it is my greatest wish that you will find the courage to make your own way. that you come to understand that all things are possible and experience a deep knowing of how close we all are to what some might call miracles.
i arrived here to this road with very few things. only with the intention to keep my heart open and to hold all things loosely. as i sit here in this moment, i can hear the words of that old poet and the coffeehouse shaman reminding me of what lives within me and a name that contains the potential of who i could be. who am i really? and what do i have to give to the world? and in the words of the man on the road, jack kerouac, one day i hope that i will find the right words. and they will be simple. until then …
ultreia. and namasté.
kundön neyjama. peregrina de la verdad. pilgrim of truth.