Roncesvalles, Zubiri, Arre

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Roncesvalles
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Keynote:
Courage
Being able to summon the strength to take the first step in a journey. Allows the body to access the reserve of energy needed for the initial change into new ways of being.

As I sat in the pilgrim’s office in St. Jean Pied de Port, I wanted to begin my pilgrimage, but conventional wisdom suggested I had arrived at the starting point too late to do the first day’s 25km/15 mile walk up and over the Pyranees into Spain. Yet, I was very eager to start. Then again, part of me was unprepared to hike that day. I was wearing long pants and my bag was filled with extra food and stuff that I had planned to jettison before hitting the trail. But a group who had arrived on the train with me had decided to begin, so I quickly joined their pace and set off. I needed reserves of physical energy that first day when I climbed up and through the mountains. And for that reason the Flowers that I collected on those open plains and lush mountaintops helped to fuel the first leg of my journey. When I got to the first night’s destination of Roncesvalles, I knew the trail had already given me the gift of the strength to begin.

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Zubiri:
Keynote:
Flow
Allowing the momentum of you life to fuel its forward flow. Entering a state where expending energy on creative activities essential to your path creates energy rather than depletes your reserves.

Zubiri was a place that I passed through on my second day of walking. The trail wound down off the slopes of the Pyrenees and into the valleys below. The day was crisp and bright. The light, the land, and all the Flowers brought such joy to each step. I found that the forward arc of each of my feet, meeting the ground on the winding trail, recharged my body and spirit, much in the way that a hybrid car recharges itself as it drives.

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Arre:
Keynote:
Conviction
Trusting your life’s pacing and standing by it with fully centered and grounded conviction.

Albergues are the hostels just for pilgrims that line the route of the entire pilgrimage. Arre was a town with a beautiful albergue where I spent my second night. That day, I had walked over 40k/24 miles. I still felt the buzz of energy from the life force of the trail when I had an interaction that challenged me. I was sitting in a courtyard surrounded by ancient rose bushes and pilgrims’ laundry hanging out to dry when an Australian woman came and joined me. She was very chatty and told me and the other pilgrims I was sitting with her reasons for being on the trail. Then she asked me about my journey. As soon as I told her about where I had walked from and my excitement to move fast, she quickly opened up into a stream of disapproval. She told me that I was not listening to the trail and that my mode of walking was wrong. I was affronted, but knew that my wisdom about my own pace was in accord with my journey. We receive challenges like this from the universe all the time, those Angels in disguise that call us to stand in our truth, no matter what reasoning the outside world throws at us.

Puente la Reina, Los Arcos, La Rioja

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Puente la Reina:

Keynote: Clarity
Lightening your energetic load and being clear about whom you travel forward with. Learning discernment about who sees your worth and can actually support your growth.

Puente la Reina is the city where I spent my third night on the trail. Previously I had walked with a man from Denmark who had been part of the original group that I started with on the first day. During this day of walking, I walked ahead when he needed to slow down due to his knees. This departure happened on the outskirts of Pamplona, a city famous for the running of the bulls. This moment of moving ahead was one of clarity. It was a moment when I knew that I needed to keep moving forward and that there were other souls further ahead who could better support me in my journey. Because this man reminded me of a person with whom I hade recently parted, this felt like a big moment for me.

That night in the albergue I met a charming German boy with whom I had much in common. Like myself, he had been a teacher. Like myself he was trying to figure out his life. I was encouraged by my first taste of being with young people. Before this moment, the trail had felt full of older people either on their own or in couples. That evening, before everyone disappeared off to bed, I asked the young man if he would like to walk with me the next day. He told me that would be ok if we woke up around the same time, our pace was the same, and it just happened. “Yea sure, whatever.” he said. This was not the enthusiastic response I was hoping for. If he did not want to make the effort in the smallest way, then I needed to go on and seek people who would. The trail was teaching me discernment about my choices of traveling companions and my worthiness to travel with kindred spirits.

In Puente la Reina, I also lightened my pack by leaving behind my heavy, but brand new sleeping mat. I left it with a gulp in the albergue, but did not miss its weight and bulk on my back for one minute. On the trail everything in one’s pack must be essential. Flushing out all the things that were not needed was a favorite pastime. I found the practice could be almost completely translated to the all the things we carry internally as well. Hence I set off before sunrise in the company of two Italians who spoke not a lick of English, in an effort to lighten all types of loads.

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Los Arcos:

Keynote: Release
Finding the bravery to move ahead on your own and at the same time being open to support from unusual places and activities.

This was a particularly tough stretch of the trail for me. I was traveling with two souls that were very kind but spoke no English. This night we slept in a small town at the base of a beautiful mountain with ruins of a castle on top. The village was nearly deserted. The only life seemed to be the ice cream truck that rolled through town in the afternoon. The castle could be seen from miles off and when it came into view I had one of those experiences of recognition that is core deep, but often completely mysterious. The next morning brought me to another internal crossroads. One of the Italians had left before dawn and the other was having severe problems with his achilles tendon and the dreaded tendonitis, something I also was starting to feel. On the flat and empty plains, covered in nothing but grain as far as the eye could see, I set off walking totally on my own. I was solo for the first time on the trip. When I lost sight of my Italian friend behind me, I knew I was truly in the universe’s hands. What that morning brought was the narrow and winding streets of Los Arcos, the most delicious cookies I have ever eaten in my life, as well as the company of an older German man who wanted to practice his English with me. He shared with me that his mother was named Elizabeth, just like me. These gifts though small, helped me to feel taken care of. I walked on with the growing awareness that the trail would support me along its length.

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La Rioja:

Keynote: Creativity
Discovering your unique autonomy, cultivating your deep creative strengths, and then turning them into assets in obtaining the life you desire.

This essence came from a beautiful and very proud region of La Rioja. This small, but autonomous region is known around the world for its wines. Many hours were spent walking in rust red soil next to the fields where the grapes grew. This summer happened to be one of the rainiest in Spanish history and the trail beside the vineyards was both breathtaking and crazy making, because the mud was thick, wet, and deep. It would cling to the soles of your shoes, and could topple your wobbly balance at any moment. I must admit I took a few not so graceful falls, but I blame it all on my pack. As I encountered clusters of people out in the fields and the occasional lone farmer, it became clear that the grapes were a source of life both economically and spiritually for the people of this region and for that reason the land vibrated with the energy of respect and gratitude.

Belorado, Hontanas, Sahagun

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Belorado:

Keynote: Faith
Holding faith in the emptiness before the dawning of the next chapter when you will find your authentic and supportive community.

This dusty town was the place I slept after a particularly long and hot day. Much of the walking was along a dishearteningly ugly highway. Since the Camino has been in existence for over a thousand years, it’s route across the country is usually the most direct way to get from place to place. The modern Spanish government has not been blind to this fact. Roads, like the busy N120, have been constructed alongside the trail in a many places.

After a day of noise from cars and a longing for a more peaceful track, Belorado was a safe harbor. I found this a challenging stretch mostly because my body was now in full revolt from my ever-quickening pace. I had this feeling deep in my bones that there were young people I was meant to meet up ahead, so I pushed myself to walk farther and farther each day. This had caused my achilles to bunch up like tightened rubber bands and brought on tendonitis with each step. The church in the town was covered in large nests. Beautiful long legged storks had fashioned these nests to sit atop the spires. Somehow I need to remain calm in the face of another day’s journey towards community. I ate pasta, slept, and awoke at 5 am to begin my walk in the dark. It was a Saturday. As I took off into the outskirts of town, young Spaniards were still in the streets, awake from clubbing the night before. To them I must have seemed an apparition that their addled senses could not understand. That day I walked 50km/30 miles. I hardly stopped to eat. The road just fell away before me. At midday, I saw the city that was my goal and I knew I would reach it. That night, I met two American guys, who were part of the group that I would travel with until the end of the trail. They later told me that I seemed positively rabid to talk to them. I was rabid, for the part of my journey without community was thankfully over.

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Hontanas:

Keynote: Tenderness
Finding the inner kindness to listen to your body with compassion.

Hontanas was the first place I spent the night in the very distinctive region called the Meseta. The trail runs through the Meseta for about a week and a half. The Meseta is known to be dry, hot, treeless, and very flat. The towns are very compact in this area and sit like islands in the midst of golden heat. Of all the geography that the pilgrim encounters on the trail, this one is the most talked about. People note its intensity. Most have a strong reaction to the empty vastness one way or another. For some, it clears the mind. For others, it is endless tracks of the same as far as the eye can see. Hontanas was a town in the middle of the Meseta. For miles all that could be seen of the tiny hamlet was a church spire that look as if it were a few feet off the ground. The land was like being at sea; grass waving and the clouds reaching right to the edge of the earth. As I got closer to the town, the houses and old streets came into view down in a little valley, tucked against the edges of the only hollow for miles. This sweet and mellow town seemed unperturbed by the constant change in weather that brought blazing sun one minute and then torrential rain the next.

When I stopped in Hontanas, it was clear that the pain in my legs, or my ankles to be more specific, had finally caught up with me. I arrived at midday and would have liked to press on, but my body said no. I had to trust this wisdom. In return I had a very precious talk with a woman in the albergue and met up with my new American friends again. Let me tell you, listening to my body was not an easy task, but just as Hontanas was cradled by the Earth, this point on the trail compelled me to cradle myself. The restorative work I did that night was essential for all that would come for me in the following days.

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Sahagun
:
Keynote: Surrender
Breaking down the behaviors triggered by fear that cause us to push our physical and emotional selves beyond balance.

This Essence combination came from the Flowers collected around one of the more challenging moments on the trail in terms of my internal journey. I had met up the previous night with both the American boys and a much bigger group of three British guys, two British girls, two Germans, an Australian young woman, and a man from the Netherlands who had started the trail at his front door. It was suddenly a different trip, filled with laughter and companionship.

But I was still a bit edgy about slowing down from my spartan pace, so the next morning I walked beyond where the group had arranged to meet for the night. I don’t exactly know what possessed me to do so, but it meant that I walked in the blazing afternoon heat, ran out of water, burned my legs so badly that they bled, and generally felt physically scared for the first time. When I arrived in Sahagun, the albergue was empty. I felt bereft of my new community. I knew that I had pushed too hard and I needed to look at the personality pattern that drove me to that. The next day, I slowed my pace dramatically and walked only a few kilometers so as to meet up with the group again. As I sat in the grass and waited for the group to catch me, I realized that I was ready to look at the pattern and let it go with kindness. I think this Essence will be helpful for any that find themselves in a similar place.

Mazarife, Rabanal, Manjarin

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Mazarife:

Keynote: Joy
Keynote: Realizing the potential to create oases of color and joy in the bleak stretches of our lives.

This was one of the most lovely and eclectic places that I stayed the whole trip. The albergue was in the middle of the Meseta, but painted every bright color you could imagine. The people who ran it loved pilgrims. The front yard even had a pirate ship in it. As our group had talked about pirates frequently in our days on the trail, when we saw that ship, we knew that we had arrived in a truly magical place. We slept outside on mattresses tucked up alongside each other, and giggled as the sun went down. The town was in a minor draught and the water supply was turned off every day at midday. Somehow, this lack of necessities did not diminish our lovely evening one bit. I felt truly grateful for the gifts that Mazarife gave all of us.

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Rabanal:
Keynote: Empathy
Helps us to practice the art of containing other people’s stories with compassion and clarity.

The day that we walked through Rabanal was one of earthen tracks and deep conversations. One of the gifts of the trail is that you never know with whom you will walk and how that conversation will change your relationship or even your sense of yourself. On this day, I walked with my friend from the Netherlands who had already been walking for over three months when he joined our group. We talked of his life and he told me of his experiences with the death of his father when he was a young boy. After that morning, he and I had many nice moments of pure silliness. One was eating the best chocolate pie I have ever tasted during our afternoon in Santiago. Much of this was due to the fact that we had gone deep that morning. The trail had helped me to see and hear him as we walked and talked. In my experience of life, the gifts of a listener who can contain your story and stay connected to you after the telling is done, are the most precious gifts we can give each other. This essence is there to support us in this.

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Manjarin:
Keynote: Discernment
Finding the ability to look below the surface of a situation and feel into its energetic core. To break down the external worldview and be energetically discerning about what are true gifts and what are red herrings.

This was another magical night on the trail. As a group we decided that we wanted to experience an albergue that was a bit off the normal route that most pilgrims take. We aimed our day’s walking to arrive at a small albergue in an abandoned village high in the mountains, one that had been deserted for over fifty years. Some were a bit nervous about the reports of no running water, no bathrooms, and very rustic sleeping accommodations, but the consensus was that it was too much of an adventure to pass up.

When we arrived at the ramshackle buildings, they were colorful and cluttered. Kittens ran around our ankles. It was a place of life among the ruins of the village. We slept in a converted barn. Our generous hosts served us one of the most delicious meals of the trip. We bathed in the well down the road, and sat around the outdoor table until the sun went down. Our hosts were Knights Templar, members of an ancient fraternity who have supported and protected pilgrims since the Middle Ages. In ancient times, they looked after the pilgrim’s money so that it was not stolen while they walked the trail unarmed and defenseless. Here in the small deserted town, hundreds of years later, this small band of men, some elderly like the head of the albergue, who sat at the top of the table and told us of the history of this town, and others, like his son who was busy cooking our supper, gave us all gifts that we had to look below the surface to truly see.

Trabadelo, O’Cebreiro, Galicia

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Trabadelo:

Keynote: Truth
Finding the courage to acknowledge and let our old patterns go, even as we are unsure of what our lives will look like without them.

Trabadelo was a small cluster of buildings along a winding river right at the base of the last mountain range that we would traverse before the end of the trail. A few nights before, we met a man in his late twenties from Tasmania who had walked around the world on his pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. He had started nearly two years ago and had walked up through South and Central America into the States and Canada. He then flew to Russia and walked all the way across Asia and Europe to Spain. He planned to end at Fisterra where my friends and I planned to finish. Having now walked several hundred miles ourselves, we were in awe of his seventeen thousand mile journey. He was an interesting character, reminding me of a charismatic person I had known in my life before the Camino. I was drawn to getting to know him even as he gave me very mixed signals. This pilgrim gave me a great gift. He revealed to me a relationship pattern that had left me lonely. He helped me to see how I could choose more accessible people to be part of my life. As a familiar relationship paradigm played out at lightning speed, I realized I was not bound to continue a pattern that had not worked for me in the past. When this pilgrim woke me at 4 am to tell me he was walking ahead of our group and would not be stopping where our group was stopping, I said goodbye. Though it was tough, I allowed myself the chance for the first time to not follow this pattern. It took days to find peace with my choice, but the land and Flowers along this stretch gave me the courage to listen to my newly minted wisdom.

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O’Cebreiro:
Keynote: Strength
Accessing the strength to keep moving forward and leave behind the people and places in your life that you have loved yet know are not part of your onward growth as a soul.

On the top slopes of the entrance into the region of Galicia lies O’Cebreiro, a small town tucked in the clouds. It was a place that I stopped at for only a brief moment before moving on down into the valley beyond. The group I was traveling with had swelled to twelve, but suddenly the group was breaking into pieces. This was a complex moment, when I had to make a choice about whom I would travel with during the rest of the trail. I decided to move on with the two American guys and the three British boys. They were walking about 10k further than where the rest of the group was spending the night. As I walked down the backside of the village with this new smaller group, I was overcome with sadness about leaving the others behind and began to cry. One of my friends waited with me in the shade of a tree as I let the tears pass. I came to understand that this sadness was really about all the moments in my life when I had to leave behind people that I loved but knew I needed to part with. The sorrow was for all the loss, even in the face of the truth that it was the wisest and strongest decision for my soul. This essence of Galician Flowers is there to support us in all these moments of letting go, as well as to help us heal all the old scars of such moments we may not even know we still carry with us.

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Galicia:

Keynote: Grace
Moving with kindness and grace on your spiritual journey, even as you travel alongside groups of souls who are not, or have not been, on such intensive internal courses.

When our group entered the last stages of the trail, many elements of our day-to-day life were now second nature to us and we were thrilled to be so close to the end of our pilgrimage. One of the elements that we were not prepared for was the massive increase of people on the trail. One trail fact is that at the end of your pilgrimage most pilgrims go to the cathedral in Santiago to receive a compostela. This document establishes that you have walked the trail. It has religious significance for many. In order to get this certificate, you must walk at least the last 100km/60 miles of the trail. Hence many people only walk the last 100km.

Around the 100km marker in the region of Galicia the trail became clogged with teens in shiny gold sneakers, side shoulder slung backpacks and cans of soda as trail drinks. This was a jarring shock to all of us who had traveled from France and beyond. Before this point, when you can across people on the trail, they were like fellow warriors. There was a bond that might have been simply a nod of acknowledgement, or a lengthy talk, but always one of comraderie. Now we pushed through crowds of chatty teens who barely noticed our passing, or groups of couples that walked only with water as their bags had been bused ahead to their next destination. This was a new element and it took much patience and centering to stay connected to the arc of our journey.

As a community of Flowers, Angels, Nature Spirits, Dogs, Cats and even some People, Green Hope Farm can be a funny place……and I love telling you all about it!