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A week from today, I’ll begin walking the Camino de Santago de Compostela, an ancient pilgrimage trail in Spain. I’m flying out Wednesday, then arriving in St. Jean Pied a Port on Friday. I’ll take another day to acclimate, then begin the 500-mile journey on Sunday, April 28.

The photo above is a card with a drawing of the Camino shell, signed by my co-workers, all wishing me well on my adventure. As much as I was ready to leave the job, I’ll definitely miss all the wonderful people with whom I worked!

The backpack has been packed, the house readied for MamaNell’s imminent arrival, and the garden weeded (though it will be a mess by the time I get back). All I have left to do was look over my Camino guidebook. There are several out there, but I chose the one written by John Brierley.

In the beginning chapters, he talks about what to take with you and how to prepare physically. Then he talks about the spiritual preparation. On page 38, he states:

While pilgrimage can be a way of breaking through resistances (releasing blocks and realizing insights as to what prevents us from being all that we are) it is wise to start off with a relatively balanced state of mind. If you feel you need psychotherapy, counselling or other help, seek it. It will be disturbing enough when previously dearly held belief systems start to break down. A mental and emotional checkup might be useful, even necessary, before you start embarking on an inner quest.

Oops! Too late for me to make an appointment with a counsellor!

To be honest, though, I am at a transition point in my life, and awhile ago, I talked with a shaman about ways for me to best use the trail’s energy. So hopefully that advice will do the trick!

Going back to the guidebook, Brierley lists a set of questions to ponder both before and after the journey. The questions have to do with life purpose and identifying what might be holding one back (if one is indeed feeling held back).

I won’t put my all my answers here. But basically, what’s holding me back is fear. Fear of failure, fear of success, fear of screwing up so royally that I can never recover financially. Fear of repeating the past, fear of creating a new future, fear of being noticed, fear of being ignored. Fear of following my heart, fear of staying put. Fear of risk. Fear of change. Fear…fear…fear!

Funny that all this thinking about fear reminded me of something the shaman told me: rather than focusing on a life without fear, I might contemplate diving right into life, following my heart and living boldly.

So I’m hoping my time on the Camino will help me make friends with my fears in such a way that they no longer rule my life.

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photo courtesy of Microsoft

Some time ago, I swore I would stop reading books about other people’s experiences walking the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. I felt I had learned enough about what to expect on my walk, as well as what to take and how best to prepare for the walk. But mostly, I didn’t want my own expectations of the walk to be colored by other people’s experiences.

That pledge lasted perhaps six months.  Then, a few weeks ago, I saw a list of favorite Camino books on an internet forum. One title happened to catch my eye: “To the Field of Stars: A Pilgrim’s Journey to Santiago de Compostela” by Kevin A. Codd.

This book was written by a Catholic priest and, as such, has much more of a Catholic perspective than the other books I’ve read. I enjoyed it immensely, and will probably purchase a copy to give to MamaNell, who is a practicing Catholic herself.

Because I’m no longer Catholic, I’m not quite sure how to appropriately reference the author.  In the hope of not offending, I will call him Father Kevin, since MamaNell refers to her parish priest by his first name.

So, back to the book.   I was reading along at a fast clip, loving Father Kevin’s humor and his references to mystical experiences.  (At one point, he feels the presence of former pilgrims walking with him.)   Then I come upon the chapter on  suffering.  At this point in the book, Father Kevin has been having a bit of a tough time.  His backpack is heavy, and his feet hurt and are blistered.  At one point, he gets a painful bout of tendonitis. He recounts having a conversation with a stranger in which he mentions something along the lines of, “what is a Camino without suffering?”    The stranger answers something along the lines of, “if there’s not joy, then why do it?”

Father Kevin, like many others I know, feels there is value in suffering and that we can transcend/heal through the pain.  I agree that suffering can open our hearts and make us more compassionate.  I also agree that pain is a part of life, and since it’s there, why not use it for something good.  Offer it up, if you will.

Though, this chapter got me thinking:  does one have to suffer in order to walk the Camino?    I certainly hope not.  In fact, I’m spending an inordinate amount of time training in order to be as physically prepared as possible.   Blisters may be inevitable, but would it be so awful if I were able to prevent them?    Judgments about other walkers may come up, but what if I were to look at my prejudices ahead of time and perhaps work through and release some of them pre-walk?      What if I were able to plan for my dietary restrictions so I don’t go hungry?   Does that make me somehow less of a true pilgrim?

I guess the issue might boil down to how one defines pilgrimage.  For me, this walk is not about atoning for sins.  It’s about a deeper connection with God.   And I’d personally like that deeper connection to be as joyful as possible.   Yes, pain is a part of life.  But I’d like to learn to transcend the pain by choosing to see the joy, the love, the divinity in every situation.  Of course, I’m not quite there yet, but I figure a nice, long walk to contemplate the matter might help me along.

So my intention, which I am loudly declaring, is for my Camino (and my life) to be joyful!

 

 

 

 

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image courtesy of Microsoft

I took off a few days last week, determined to be lazy. After all, it’s the middle of summer and hot, I’m not going anywhere on vacation and I’m flat-out unmotivated. If ever there were a time I should be allowed to be lazy, wouldn’t now be it?

Apparently not.

I was doing my best to just hang out, read some, and watch a little Olympics … But then I started noticing the ants. Hundreds of them. Around my dog’s food bowl. ACK!

So I picked up the dog bowl, threw out the remaining kibble and washed the bowl vigorously. I took the mat upon which the bowl sits outside and washed that down too. Then I mopped the kitchen floor using an industrial-strength cleaner.  Ants gone. Phew! I could go back to being a bum.

Later, I went back into the kitchen to get some water, and what do my eyes behold but more ants around the dog bowl!  Mind you, this was a clean dog bowl that had no food in it.  On the clean mat which had been dried in the hot, baking sun.  Why were these ants still coming in and hanging out in that one area? DOUBLE ACK!

I am not proud to admit this, but I got out the vacuum and proceeded to vacuum  up the ants. (My sincere apologies to all the little ants whose death I caused.)    Problem solved!

Until the next time I went in the kitchen and saw hundreds more ants,  marching around the dog bowl and mat.   Out came the vacuum and the mop.  Vacuum, rinse, repeat.    Several times.  Until I finally realized that those ants were there to tell me something.

So I pulled out my trusty Animal Speak by Ted Andrews, and looked up the meaning of ant.   I knew a little of what I would find, mainly that ants are industrious.   Great!  Just when I want to be lazy, I get a sign saying I need to work hard.  Is the world not fair???

After a mini-tantrum justifying my absolute need to be lazy, I read on to find that an ant totem can show up to help one recreate one’s life from the ground up.  Ah, now that’s more like it!

I’m currently  exploring ways to make money out of my passions, and to live life from a place of joy rather than one of  fear.  And I’m starting to publicly declare that I will leave my job in April, a week or two before I walk my Camino.    That’s a very scary thing for me to say, much less do, since I’m not sure how I’ll make money once I’m back.    But, hey, ant has come to help me out!

The ant totem also can help one’s work be of highest service to all.   Ant may help one realize that if the effort is true, the results will come; all one has to do is release attachments to those results and be patient.

Confession time: I’m not very patient.  When I decide I want to do something, I want results right then.  Forget that it might have taken me years to create a problem, I want it solved in a day.    And I tend to think that the very things that bring me joy (gardening, cooking, working with the earth and animals) are just a tad selfish.  So I really need ant energy to show me how I can realign my hobbies into a soulful career that is of service to others and the earth, and to be patient with the outcome, knowing that all roads lead to …  something.   In other words, enjoy the journey and don’t worry so much about the destination.

So I’ve been calling on the ant totem to help me with these situations.  And wouldn’t you know that, as of last Sunday, when I walk by the dog bowl, there are no ants?

Now to find out the meaning of that roach hanging out outside by the back door …

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Today was JR’s memorial service. A former co-worker of mine, JR passed away in January.

Now, when I say co-worker, I don’t mean to imply an equal status. I have basically a “push papers” job; JR was a professor and dean. But you would never know that you weren’t on equal footing with JR. She treated everyone with dignity and respect.

JR was not a religious person, so her memorial service consisted of co-workers, friends and family speaking their remembrances. Several themes resonated throughout their remarks. One was her joyous attitude toward life. Another was her desire to “build people up” through friendship and mentoring. She was also a valued researcher and colleague, a leader in her field of pulmonary medicine. And she just loved life. She definitely took advantage of the time she had here on earth.

JR was in her early 50s when she succumbed to cancer. I’m not that much younger than she was. And while I believe in reincarnation, I also think that I shouldn’t waste this time around.

I’ve used her passing as a reminder that I need to get a move on. Why put off for retirement what you can do today? Why stay in an soul-less job out of fear? Why not take risks? What do I have to lose?

So, in today’s service, I asked JR if she would serve as my guide in  all things having to do with bravery, joy, and living life to its fullest.

Then, interestingly enough, one of JR’s friends read the following poem:

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it is over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.
— Mary Oliver

JR definitely didn’t just visit this world.  She left her mark on everyone she worked with.  May her spirit guide me in leaving my own mark, and in helping me to be brave enough to live a more authentic life.   May she also rest in peace.

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GrannyB and MamaNell’s friend Margaret passed away this week. I hadn’t seen Margaret in years, but heard through the grapevine that she had been sick, so it was no surprise to read of her passing in the newspaper obituaries.

I went to Margaret’s funeral today and enjoyed hearing stories about her life. The priest recounted when he first met Margaret: she came up to him after his first mass and complained about his homily. He realized later, or so he said, that the points she was making were correct, and he came to cherish their talks.

Margaret wasn’t rude, but she definitely stated her piece. I can remember numerous times my “oh-so-genteel” southern relatives were taken aback by Margaret’s honesty.

Originally from Scotland, Margaret chose to walk everywhere rather than obtain a driver’s license. She also lived in what could be called a marginal neighborhood, with lots of violence and drugs. I have to admit that I would not have felt comfortable living there, much less walking the neighborhood after dark.

But walk Margaret did. If it were especially cold or rainy, or the distance too far, she would accept a ride. But most days she preferred traveling by her own two feet.

A devout Catholic, Margaret was also very loyal to her friends. She would frequently visit my grandmother when GrannyB was in the hospital, listening patiently to her complaints and praying with her. I learned that she did this with others as well.

Margaret lived a full life, and while it’s often sad when people leave the earthly plane, I got the sense she was ready to go. I didn’t feel the need to pray for her safe journey to heaven, since it felt like she was already there.

What I did do was ask for her to act as a guide for me while I train for my Camino. And my heart burst with joy when I felt a resounding, “yes!”

So I’ll be calling upon my training angel, Margaret, for strength, safety and endurance during my walks. I will ask for her assistance in speaking and acting in an honest manner. I will ask for her guidance in living boldly. And I will call upon her (as well as my other guides and angels) when I need reminders that I am always divinely protected and watched over.

Thank you, Margaret, for being my training angel!

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Here’s a little story about how I came to love rocks.  Yes, rocks.

Ten years ago, I bought my first (and current) house.  I had wanted a 1900s farmhouse or a 1920s mill house.  But no such luck.  My dream houses were either out of my price range, located in an area where I did not feel safe living, or situated on too small a plot.  I wasn’t asking for much land, mind you.  Just an acre or two to grow my own food and perhaps develop a small CSA.

So instead, what I ended up with was a 1950s ranch bungalow situated on a highway outside the city limits.  People around here like to walk down the highway and throw trash.   Or leave trash in their yards…

My bungalow is situated on about an acre of land, but unfortunately I learned that the nice long “field” in back floods in the spring and only receives about half a day’s sunlight in the summer.  It is not conducive for growing most summer vegetables.

The house was also a major fixer-upper.  At the time, I thought it would be fun.   And why not, since working on houses looks so easy on “This Old House.”  But come to find out  it’s way more fun if you have some carpentry, electrical or plumbing skills.  Or if you have enough money to easily pay people to do what you cannot.

Long story short,  it’s a decade later, quite a few dollars shorter, and my house is still not finished.

Then there’s the yard.  Ah… the yard.  Compacted clay, combined with piles of trash in the corner as well as more trash that somehow got dug into the clay.  (Did I say that people around here like to leave trash in their yards???) I did have fun digging up old pharmaceutical bottles that I now use for vases.  Though I do have to say that the “George Wallace for President” license plate was a frightening discovery.

If I had only known how easy the trash was to clean up compared to the bamboo…

Anyway, suffice it to say that I have  been a busy bee over the past decade, clearing bamboo, hauling trash, and working the soil.  I’ve trucked in yards of dirt, compost and manure to break up the clay and provide nutrients for my plants.   I’ve got several areas of garden beds, with more to be created.  My goal is to have minimal amounts of grass and maximum amounts of fruits, vegetables and flowers.  And to create some sort of ritual space in the shady field.

If I think about where I started, both inside and outside the house, I’ve come a long way, baby.   But, for many years, I had this bad habit of focusing on what wasn’t done.  I would then get very frustrated and overwhelmed and curse the day I bought this house.  I’d push my lawn mower around that long, useless field, look at the bamboo creeping back into my yard, and start crying.

Then one day a few years ago, I noticed a rock on the side of my property.  Now, this was not just any rock: it was shaped like a heart.   I stopped crying and started smiling.  That rock felt like a gift from my yard.  Call me crazy, but it felt like my yard was telling me that it appreciated all my hard work.

For the next several years, I left the heart rock where it was, so that every time I saw that rock, I stopped my grumbling and smiled.    Eventually, I began shifting my focus to the positives rather than the negatives, and I moved the rock atop a cairn near the field’s edge:

Soon after I discovered the first heart rock, I started noticing more of them around my house.  Then I began noticing them on walks.  I soon began collecting them and placing them around my yard.  They act as reminders to focus on love, not fear, as well as to bless the areas where I’ve placed them.

The rock above was in the garden beds in my front yard.   I’ve put it on my front steps to remind me that I am taken care of at all times.  You see, last year there was a high-speed car chase down my street.  One of the drivers lost control of his car and plowed through my yard, taking down a crepe myrtle and destroying my garden beds.   Dirt, baby garlic, and the wood from my garden boxes were strewn everywhere.  This rock was thrown over my car, landing safely on the other side.

The car came through my yard about five minutes after the dogs and I had returned from a walk.  Five minutes earlier, and we would not be alive today.   Unfortunately, my cat Atticus was not so lucky.  Bless his kitty heart.  He lived a nice long life for a feral cat (8 years), so I just have to think that it was his time, and not ours.

This heart, though barely a heart, was also in my yard.  I placed it in this little tree grotto after my 2010 trip to Ireland.  I loved how the Irish made little altars everywhere.  This particular altar also includes a memento honoring St. Brigid.

This heart sits beside one of my compost piles, blessing the contents of the pile.

This heart sits by my clothesline.  I love my clothesline!  And while I don’t enjoy people throwing trash in my yard, I do enjoy living in an area where I can legally hang clothes out to dry in my backyard.

This heart sits next to one of my rain barrels.  I love my rain barrels!

This heart sits right by my new dual-fuel heating system.  I LOVE LOVE LOVE my new dual-fuel heating system!

This heart lives on one of my altars inside my house, along with a bell heart, some feathers, and a beautiful picture of the Camino, where I’ll be walking in 2013.  I look forward to finding a heart rock along the Way!

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It’s the dawn of a new year, and I have to say, “hallelujah!”

But before I set my intentions for the new year, I want to honor the blur that was 2011.

The year started out so promisingly. I had recently returned from an enlightening trip to Peru and was intent on learning as much as I could about Quero mysticism and energy work.

I was going to get together with like-minded friends for meditation and ceremonies. I was claiming my power as a co-creator of my life. Most of all, I felt very positive about my life and my purpose this time around.

Then, about February, one of my dogs simultaneously injured her front leg and began exhibiting unsettling signs of dementia.

After running around like a chicken with my head cut off trying to ease Bailey’s pain and anxiety, I soon realized that no matter what I did, I couldn’t cure my dog. I just needed to pay attention to what was mine to do and to be a loving presence for her.

It was a long year of running to vet appointments, spending a lot of money, and sleeping very little. Somehow, my best-laid plans of focusing on spiritual interests went right out the door!

I did accomplish a few things, including finding closure on an old family hurt and developing a better relationship with a “challenging” person.

I also had a very productive spring garden, and have vowed not to travel extensively next summer so as to stop potential problems before they get out of hand. Deer, squash bugs and weeds: you are on notice!

And I finally got over my fear of canning and began preserving some of the produce from my garden.

One positive from this past year was my reading (and re-reading and re-reading again) the works of several spiritual teachers/life coaches, including Wayne Dyer, Jennifer Hoffman, and (most recently) Julia Rogers Hamrick.

What I am trying to absorb is something very simple: set intentions, then get out of the way and trust that life will unfold in divine right order.

So, with that overarching goal in mind, here are my personal intentions for 2012 (in no particular order):

    I intend to get healthy. This past fall, I have had a cold/flu/allergies for months on end, then a stress fracture, and now more respiratory stuff. Enough already!

    Along those lines, I intend to lose weight and honor my body with an increased focus on healthy eating, exercise, and sufficient sleep.

    I intend to find and/or create soulful work that also provides me with financial abundance.

    I intend to walk the Camino de Santiago with ease. I would like to go sooner rather than later, but I leave the timing up to the Universe.

    I intend to increase my efforts for healing work for the earth and its sentient beings.

    I intend to live in Easy World! This one sums up a lot of things I’d like to accomplish: living in the flow, with no need to judge situations or others, and truly trusting that my highest good is unfolding.

So, in a nutshell, get healthy, create meaningful work, step out onto new horizons, stop judging, and be more loving.

A tall task, but since I’m living in Easy World now, no need to worry!

Happy New Year!

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