Leaving at 6:30 a.m. from Santa Catalina, walking alone in quiet, I saw the sun lift into a sky of muted pink. The peaceful simplicity of this natural start to a day embraced me as I walked, surrounded by rolling, thick rows of heather. These radiant mounds of purple and white, next to yellow bushes of broom, were as tall as me. I had never seen heather grow so high; their presence brought wonder to my journey.
It was June 21, my twenty-fifth day on the Camino — only nine more days until my destination of Santiago.
While walking in a lively wind under overcast skies, I allowed the gusts to nudge me along, through the glorious array of mountains and brash colour. Swallowed into nature, I let myself wallow in the luxury of solitude and boundless beauty. A phrase came to me: “This is the gift.”
All day, I walked on footpaths, seeing few people amidst scrub and conifers, feeling energized by the cold, clouds and wind. I passed dozens of wind farms on distant hilltops, an audience of skinny figures both still and moving.
Later, the steep descent down to Acebo, full of a lot of loose shale and stones, demanded my concentration and slower movement. My ankles and the bottoms of my feet were aching. I took an ibuprofen. For a considerable time, I heard the constant squeal of a cyclist’s brakes as he went down the same route.
At least three times, with no one else around, I stopped to rest my feet, express gratitude, and drop more fully into the landscape. At these times of stillness, I felt as if the fields of dried grass heads, waving in the wind, were linked to me in one energetic flow. It seemed as if they were the sole motion that mattered.
The next day, I wrote in my journal: “One awareness that came to me yesterday was that it’s all there in life and nature — it’s just up to me to stop, find the stillness, and connect to the peace that is everpresent. This is not an earth-shattering awareness and it’s not as if I didn’t know that before, but I feel as if I got it at a visceral level. It came to me in such simple clarity. It is always there. It is up to me to decide to tap into it or not. I create any state of ‘not peace.’”
Rather than through walking, my usual gateway to this felt sense of oneness has been through the stillness of seated meditation. With eyes closed, focused on my breath, I don’t have the distraction of my moving body. At such times, my mind seems more willing to slow down, even if it’s only briefly. Author and Zen Buddhist Natalie Goldberg says of this form of meditation: “The great ground of being opens up and holds us. Sitting still joins us to that true marriage.”
At times, I wondered if my mostly constant movement on the Camino worked against me in finding this sense of stillness. I thought that a meditation retreat, with prolonged periods of sitting in one place, would probably allow me greater and more frequent access to Presence or Source than a destination-based pilgrimage. But perhaps that’s just another illusion of the mind, yet another form of creating separateness, rather than connectedness.
While on the Camino, I noticed that I resisted doing sitting meditation. Even now, I don’t meditate regularly. Decades ago, while in India for many months, I often meditated twice daily for an hour at a time. Since I was there for seven months, I more easily let go of my sense of time. While on the Camino, I was keeping to a schedule and convinced myself that I didn’t have time to meditate, except for brief periods.
A willingness to let go of something, whether it’s a deadline, an identity, possessions, money, goals, status or needing approval, creates an entry point to Presence and Source. That’s one reason why I think so many people are drawn to the Camino: they recognize, either consciously or unconsciously, that it offers a way to let go of their daily accepted identity markers, to leave their regular life behind. Through walking its path, we can let go into the Unknown, finding stillness in motion, joining nature as one, unified force.
In childhood, my entry points to the Great Connection were art, creativity, writing, and spending time on the Lake Ontario waterfront, although I certainly didn’t view them that way then. In adulthood, I’ve added yoga, meditation (I’ve tried the open-eye method of Shambhala Training and the more traditional closed-eye ways), walking meditation, and SoulCollage®.
We can all find our own paths inward, whether it’s while cleaning a toilet or sitting with someone who’s dying. For a British climber I was involved with in India, ascending rock faces, ice walls, and the world’s tallest peaks were his spiritual entry point. Combining intense focus and connection with rock, ice or snow, within vast, panoramic spaces, brought him in intimate touch with a force greater than himself.
If we are willing to move beyond our own limited self and step into all-embracing Self, we can honour a moment no matter where we are. We don’t need to walk the Camino to experience this; it begins with simple awareness, appreciation, some form of stillness, and one, conscious breath.
December 8, 2013 at 4:06 pm Comment (1)