Tag: Reflections

Spring Camino 2014: A Tale Of Two Caminos

IMAG1117-2I met Dan McCarthy when I was walking the Camino Francais from the Spanish border with Spain to Santiago De Compostela in October 2012.  Dan was back in 2013 and guested the Spring Camino blogs here in 2013.   He has just returned from his most recent walk this time on the Camino Portugese walking from Lisbon north through Portugal to eventually cross the border with Spain and walk into Galicia to Santiago.  Dan’s yearly commitment astounds and humbles me, not least because he will be 80 this year.  He has given me kind persmission to publish his reflections on the differences of these two caminos.  Dan offers “A Camino is in a way a life time in miniature.  It does not lend itself to facile analysis. But here is my effort.

“In my beginning is my end” says TS Eliot in East Coker, one of his Four Quartets. I happened to be reading East Coker for a discussion group in which I participate and have found several passages which seem to help me to articulate my thoughts about this Camino. I hope TS will forgive me if I totally distort the meaning of his great poetry in bending it to make some sense of my experience.

A first impression of a major difference in the two Caminos, the Camino Francais which I have walked eight times, and the Camino Portuguese is the difference in their beginnings. And I believe that difference colored the whole experience for me.

The first day or two of the Camino Francais is a 15 mile climb up the northern slope of the Pyrenees to the Monastery of Roncesvalles which commemorates the setting of the eighth century battle of the rearguard of Charlemagne’s army which is enshrined in the Song of Roland, an epic poem of the French language. The monastery has been a refuge for pilgrims for close to a thousand years. One of the high points of the stop for me is the Pilgrim Mass at 6PM when the celebrant announces the places around the world from which the pilgrims who arrived that day have come. After Mass The celebrant blesses pilgrims in their native language and then in a darkened Chapel we all sing in Gregorian Chant the Salve Regina.

For the next couple of days pilgrims negotiate a rather steep incline, struggling in places and stopping at a couple of lovely small towns, to arrive at the magnificent walled city of Pamplona.  The pilgrim hostel in Pamplona is across the street from the Cathedral where on Sunday you can attend a Mass sung in Gregorian chant. Leaving Pamplona and arriving in Puente La Reina I stay at a monastery of the Padres Reparadores and attend Mass in the 12th Century church of Santiago.

Two characteristics summarize “my beginning” in the Camino Francais, the spectacular natural beauty of the climb up and down the mountains and the availability of a nourishing liturgical life. In fact I had not reflected on this latter blessing until I thought of the contrast with the Portuguese Camino. Another characteristic of the Camino Francais I should mention is the presence of other pilgrims along the way.  In the early years of my walking usually just a scattered few up ahead or behind, now many more some times too many.  For me all of this creates the aura of THE CAMINO that is palpable.  I have said in the past I experience the Camino as a country 10 yards wide and 500 miles long winding country  across northern Spain. It becomes my land, a place where I feel at home. Much of the Camino Francais is not actually so rich in Liturgical experiences. Churches are often not open and the surroundings are not always so uplifting. But that beginning sense of being at home endures. And the company of other pilgrims who seem to share that same sense of belonging is constant.

I am now entering risky territory, a comparison about which I have some strong feelings.  Comparisons are odious. If you are thinking of doing the Camino Portuguese please consult other impressions to form a more objective opinion.

I began walking the Camino Portuguese not from the Cathedral in Lisbon the traditional starting place, but at Moscavide, a suburb of Lisbon about 6 miles into the first stage beyond the beginning at the Cathedral. I took this short cut because I was already getting close to my limit of days to walk. I had taken three days off to visit the Azores and going into Lisbon from the Airport would have cost me another day while Moscavide was five minutes from the airport and had a Youth Hostel on the Camino, although it had no official relationship to the Camino. Also starting 6 miles into the Camino reduced the first day’s walk from 19 miles to 13 miles of city streets through some industrial areas, some picturesque walks along the river Tagus. I stayed that night in a pensao, a B&B with no particular connection to the Camino. I had not seen any pilgrims that day and was the only guest in the B&B. Most of the walk during the first week or so was on city streets or highways

I continued this routine for the next four or five days. No other pilgrims, no signs of any religious institutions, not churches, not monasteries, not albergues and not another pilgrim. The route was flat but long; 18,19 mile days long, staying in pensaos usually the only guest. While there were way marks they only marked where the route turned. I am used to marks frequently along the way and when they disappear I am aware I missed one. The more sparse marking requires much greater vigilance and consequently I got lost several times, once adding about  5 miles to a 19 mile day. Feeling lost began to be the predominant emotion of the walk a vivid contrast with the sense of being at home on the Camino Francais. Once in a wooded area the way marks disappeared entirely because the trees that had been marked had been cut down for some construction. Some workers got me back on the way.

This beginning as you can see turned into an uncomfortable anxious experience. A friend with a Buddhist background reminded me that desire causes suffering. So I began to reflect on what was the desire that was causing this anxiety. At the most superficial level I realized it was my concern about finding a place for the night. When you’ve been walking for six or seven hours with no end in sight incipient panic rises. But in my effort to get these desires under control it dawned on me what a powerful form of ascetism it is to give up your place of rest. It was what Jesus didBut Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens to live in, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place even to lay his head.” Matthew 8:20.  The holy men of India are said to sleep by the side of the road. I struggled with the sense of being lost, of not being at home on this. Camino for the rest of my walk. “In my beginning…”.  I never felt at home as I do on the Camino Francais. I do wonder if this anxiety had something to do with my physical problems at the end.

What to do with this feeling of not being at home?  It occurs to me that in a couple of weeks I will complete 80 yrs of age. It’s harder and harder to ignore that I am in the land of seniorhood. And some of this land feels a bit strange. My body is of course weakening and memory is a bit vague at times. My eyesight is not as sharp as it used to be. And hearing is slightly impaired. Was the Portuguese Camino a vivid  introduction to THIS new land? Here are some of T.S. Eliot’s thoughts about the land of seniorhood from East Coker:

Old men ought to be explorers
Here and there does not matter
We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
For a further union, a deeper communion
Through the dark cold and empty desolation,
The wave cry, the wind cry, the vast waters
Of the petrel and the porpoise. In my end is my beginning

In order to arrive there,
To arrive where you are, to get from where you are not,
You must go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy.
In order to arrive at what you do not know
You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.
In order to possess what you do not possess
You must go by the way of dispossession.
In order to arrive at what you are not
You must go through the way in which you are not.
And what you do not know is the only thing you know
And what you own is what you do not own
And where you are is where you are not.

Do not let me hear
Of the wisdom of old men, but rather of their folly,
Their fear of fear and frenzy, their fear of possession,
Of belonging to another, or to others, or to God.
The only wisdom we can hope to acquire
Is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless

100 Days Of Awe: Day Ninety Three – Reflections

Day 93: Reflections

IMAG5161“Should I kill myself, or have a cup of coffee?” ~ Albert Camus

I knew this photo I took last week had a story to tell.  I didn’t realise it would be story about suicide.  I am glad that it was Albert Camus that posited the choice between suicide and coffee.  I don’t think I would have been brave enough to articulate my experience of dipping into suicidal waters in this way if he had not gone before me.  Suicide is not a subject to be touched lightly and I apologise in advance if anything I have to say appears frivolous or callous.

I assured myself that any contemplation of suicide on my part was dramatic posturing even though all the drama occurs in the privacy of my own head.  Over the years I have got used to the comings and goings of my inner drama queen; cue enter stage with a flounce and a huff  ‘WHAT is the point?‘ wail, ‘What have I got to live for?‘ gnash, ‘Look at all my failures’ followed by the a list of the ‘specials’ of the day and more wailing and more gnashing.  This little scene may be a matter of minutes or hours with variations on a theme.  On occasion it is a long rehearsal spanning days or weeks.  It is not a great place to be and there was a time when I believed this character that I was playing and wondered if I should be honourable and follow through.

I managed to ride the cycle without mishap until a raw conversation with Laura Kenyon*, an insightful homeopath, about 18 years ago now.  I knew I had to talk to someone about these feelings.  She gave me a perspective that has served me to take the charge out of this recurring drama.  She suggested to me that I was in reaction to the impact of circumstances beyond my control, that when life is not playing out as I would like there is a part of me that looks for something to take control of and comes up with this whole notion of taking myself out of life.  In this space I assume that my true value and right to be in life is predicated by external validation.  I observed the truth of what she said then and I see it each time this drama comes up.  I do not suggest that this is the same for everyone.

When I ask myself is this what I want to believe my answer is no.  I refuse to accept it as true.  Now this drama is a hook that allows me to acknowledge that life is not playing out in a way that gives me external acknowledgement or love.  Yes it feels real and if I am unwell or exhausted it is even more intense; I prefer to stand well back on the tube platform and avoid heights and knives.  I can see that suicide could just be a choice away – as easy as will I kill myself or have a cup of coffee? –  but the choice I make is to wake up and smell the coffee; to choose my heart and what I love in that moment, in the simplest of things.  I know now that there will be other times when I will face that question and have to make a choice. I don’t intend to take myself out but if I do please no angst for me , how could anyone expect to be there for me in that slow motion minute of that choice.

I have no idea whether my experience is true for everyone but in the past week I have had two conversations about suicide.  One with a friend who told me how they struggled with suicidal thoughts after a litany of financial failings and then suddenly realised that these thoughts were a control strategy.  With that realisation he was able to turn his life around, to stop his striving for financial success, to be and embrace the love he already had in his life.  Things are not easy but he loves his life, the work that he does and the freedom from working like a hound from hell.  The second conversation was with a friend whose partner committed suicide a few years ago.  It was a conversation we had never had, one in which my personal insights seem trite and irrelevant.  All I could do was listen.

I want to emphasis that what I share here is but a shard in the big picture.  I think there are as many different relationships with life and death as there are unique human beings.  All I write about here is what I am perceiving from the bunker of my reality.

100 Days of Awe is a playful project I set up to bring my attention to awe in my daily life. I see awe as wonder, a mixture of amazement and respect.  I expect the experience of awe to be about perception shifting awareness and that demands a reframing of some sort.  I am excited to see what will awe me on this journey.

Anne K. Scott is an imagination technologist, her work to teach, facilitate and deliver innovation for individuals and business.  She is the creator of FindYourMojo a FREE iPHone productivity app. If you are interested in what intuitive coaching can do for you or your business please do contact me.  I support clients all over the world.

*Laura practises at a number of clinics in London and the South East.