Heather Conn Blogs

spoutin’ about by the sea

A pebble in the sea: My Camino pilgrimage completes a circle

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A portrait of my pebble
before it enters the Atlantic Ocean



I threw my pebble into the Atlantic Ocean at sunset, by the lighthouse outside Finisterre, a fishing village on Spain’s northwest coast. It was late June, more than a month after I had picked up the small, speckled pebble on Roberts Creek Beach back home on Canada’s west coast. This tiny memento had come from the Pacific Ocean, and now it was returning to a colder, faraway sea.


I had carried it with me for my entire Camino de Santiago pilgrimage, to this coastal spot about 90 kilometres northeast of Santiago. Along the route, at different times, I had reached places where I could have left it: at rock cairns, where pilgrims had piled small stones, and at Cruz de Fer (Iron Cross), the highest spot on The Way. This giant cross stood on a mound of stones left by pilgrims, mostly in memory of a loved one or as a personal gesture, as if to say: “Look, I’ve done it.”


It never felt right to me to leave my pebble in any of these places. Along The Way, I pondered what this small grey-and-white stone symbolized for me. My father had died almost three years earlier, yet it did not represent a memory of him. Nor did I think of it as something to honour my elderly hiking friend Peter Jolly, who had died just over two years before. Throughout the Camino, I had thought of both of them, and their essence had stayed with me as I walked. I did not need a pebble to commemorate that.

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The lighthouse at Finisterre on Spain’s northwest coast

No, this wee weight, kept inside the zippered pouch of my fanny pack, in a corner next to my crush of coins, represented some element of home to me, my beingness, my minute place in the interconnectedness of life. When I threw it past the tall boulders below the lighthouse into the smooth sea, it felt as if I was completing a circle of sorts, symbolically joining two bodies of water. I was sending the pebble home. Although this transfer spanned thousands of kilometres separated by land, the pebble was going back to part of the same salty waters that had shaped it.


Before it had landed on Roberts Creek Beach, from where had it begun? How big and how old had it been?


“When you drop a pebble in the water, there are ever-widening circles of ripples,” writes Robert Anderson in the play and movie Tea and Sympathy. “There are always consequences.” Indeed there are. During the walk, I had met hundreds of people from around the globe. With many, I felt camaraderie, closeness or gratitude. With others, I grew frustrated, impatient or irritated. Each encounter could elicit a different response, depending on my mood, tiredness, hunger, pain or desire for silence or solitude.

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I’m at the 0 kilometre marker by the Finisterre lighthouse on a windy June evening. Once in Santiago, many medieval and modern pilgrims choose to continue their walk to Finisterre.
Due to time constraints, I took the bus.


Yet like the connection of land and seas, we pilgrims were all a community, all travelling to the same place, all nudging each other along in some way, like pebbles in a stream. In the vast waters of life, we all tumble and flow. Within this broader journey, what are we going to do with our beingness, our pebble of personhood?


After Finisterre, I was going home. The Camino was over for me, yet I would carry this experience of a shared community, a sea of souls, with me, like a pebble in my pocket. Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh suggests that people can carry a beautiful pebble, carefully washed, in their pocket. Every time they put their hand in their pocket, they touch the pebble and hold it gently. They can use it as a reminder to focus on their breathing, with awareness.

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Fishing boats in Finisterre

When someone is angry, the pebble becomes the person’s dharma or Buddhist teaching: while holding it, calmly breathe in and out, and smile. Hanh admits that this might sound childish, but he acknowledges the value of this practice. Holding the pebble brings you back to yourself. It is a tool to create mindfulness.


We can think of the pebble as a rosary or prayer bead; it reminds us that our teacher is always with and within us. The pebble allows love to be born inside us, Hanh says. It helps us to keep that love, and our version of enlightenment, alive.

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Finisterre at dusk

On the Camino, I did not use my pebble with such conscious awareness. Perhaps it offered teachings that I was not yet ready to receive. Regardless, I have let it go, and now I can begin learning again. I can make every day my Camino pilgrimage.


This ends the Camino-related story on my blog. I have written 34 posts, one to commemorate each day that I spent on the pilgrimage route. However, I plan to augment this content into a book. If there are any particular aspects of what I wrote that you would like me to expand on, please let me know.


I’ll return to my regular blog content after a brief break.   

June 23, 2014 at 12:10 pm Comments (2)