Archive for April, 2012

“The Camino doesn’t give you what you want, but what you need.”

“You don’t visit the Camino, it visits you.”

“You always have a love affair on the Camino, even if it’s with yourself.”

“How can you walk in the footsteps of hundreds of thousands of pilgrims, who’ve walked the Way through the centuries, who’ve hurt, cried, laughed, braved the elements – and other dangers – to seek whatever they were seeking, and not feel the spiritual grandeur and powerful humanity of that?”

“Face the Camino with an open heart; let go of expectations, judging, evaluating – be it, live it.”

“It’s just walking. So walk. Let your legs be the best judge of how far or how fast or how much.”

Oh, and “forget giant backpacks. Think small. You don’t need much. Your back and legs will thank you.” (As the poster child for over-packing suitcases, and often with all the wrong things, this tidbit, illustrated with one woman’s actual Camino pack, was an effective teaching moment for me).

These were among the Camino reflections shared at (and later in post-party e-mailing) a recent gathering of veteran pilgrims, some of whom have walked the Camino de Santiago many times – and back again; two of us with our first trip booked; and others for whom a long walk in Spain is a glimmer of an idea.

I know from experience that spark can be fanned into beautiful flame pretty quickly.

The Camino – it’s just like that.

And the Camino community in my part of the world, a network that just seemed to materialize when I said the word ‘Camino’ out loud, is an eclectic, generous, fun, very knowledgeable and yet so humble collection of people I have been privileged to meet.

They are practical and earthbound – walking a bunch of kilometres every day carrying many pounds on your back through rain, heat or cold is real, it’s physical, it is about body and mind as one.

They are also about the soul of Camino, each in his or her own way, speaking a kind of poetry about the experience – some lyrical, some street rap – all part of the narrative that has spoken to me so deeply.

For someone who hasn’t yet walked one step on the Way, I feel blessed indeed to have experienced parts of it up close and personal through these wonderful people.

And now – about that, about the ‘idea’ of a walk in Spain and the reality.

MRI results on this now months-long knee situation revealed more damage than originally thought – 2 long jagged meniscus tears, effusion, some kind of fluid-based cyst in the back, cartilage pieces floating around, and, well, you get the drift. Where it all began – nobody knows.

Doc is trying to get me an appointment with a surgeon right away, seems to think that’s the likely next step. I won’t describe the surgery but apparently, for many people, after a few weeks recovery, you’re good to go!

After many months of rehab and increasingly limited movement, I say bring it – let’s do it – I am ready to be unhobbled. Camino or no, I am itching to walk. Yes, I have seen the value of the ‘patience lesson’ that has been the leitmotif of my journey to date.

Might I now say I am ready (extreme readiness – is there such a thing?) to put one foot in front of the other and have that wonderfully simple and oh-so-taken-for-granted walking rhythm come back again??

These sorts of appointments and procedures don’t happen overnight, I know that. So I wait. And wonder. Will all the steps fall into place in such a way that a September walk is still possible?

My friends and I are not walking far, in the scheme of things (about 100 k). But right now, a walk around the block would be a big accomplishment. I have been to the gym a few times to do strength-building, rehab-style exercises with Stefan.

The doc said as I wait for surgeon, I should keep moving – as much as I can without risk. Hmmm. He said listen to your body which of course is excellent advice but my mind continues to speak softly on occasion until it starts shouting – so I’m not completely clear about what I can do now, today.

And there is another piece of the puzzle to consider now. I am leaving my current job because, if I can borrow a worn cliche, my dream job came up, I threw my name into the ring, and it worked out!

Forgive me, but I simply must shill for the place a little…you’ll understand, it’s for the donkeys! I am going to be the Executive Director of my beloved Donkey Sanctuary, a refuge of peace and care I’ve spoken about here and loved for years. Start date, still vague, given my need for some time between roles and to sort out my knee if I can.

A friend who heard about this development said to another friend: “This is Katharin’s Camino. This is a place of spirit, of enlightenment, of healing. And you walk around a lot!”

She may be right. If I’ve learned anything this past year, it’s that Camino is a plurality, a matter of perspective and interior journeys and heightened awareness. And yes, it’s also about walking on a sacred path in Spain. For me, ‘taking steps’, though, has taken on multiple meanings. I have been stopped in my tracks, literally, but the journey has continued – much tougher for me, at times, than walking many, many k’s.

Still, I am living in a place of possibility – as distinct from high expectation – that I will go with my friends to Spain this year. I don’t get to decide this right now, it seems.

How could anyone resist that smile?

I will live with that, look forward to petting donkeys every day, and continue learning.

The book I’m reading now? The Wisdom of Donkeys, and it’s absolutely beautiful. And how about this one? I’ve ordered “Travels with my Donkey” which is about a guy who does the Camino with a donkey companion. I’m pretty much morally obligated to read this one, yes?






Read Full Post »

Went back to the gym this past Easter weekend!

Everyone knows the ears are the best part.

That was better than chocolate bunny ears, (though I may have bitten off one or two of those, too).

This, after days and weeks of zero exercise, due to this knee/leg strain/injury thing that has demonstrated remarkable staying power despite all I’ve thrown at it.

It’s not as unhappy as it was in the early days. But, it’s still quite moody if I a) sit too long, b) don’t sit enough, or c) dart across the street to avoid being hit by a car before remembering I’m not exactly in good sprinting form, making for a pretty uncomfortable lunch outing with a friend.

Ok, so no running. Or even much standing around as I discovered at a recent party.

Still, I felt it was time to venture back to gym world. In search of strength.

Physio has changed to include an exercise component – squats, lunges, and several other greatest hits from the old BI (before injury) days. Treatment is still taking place, but getting my strength back is now on tap.

I much prefer to do that in the gym.

I also knew Stefan would tailor everything accordingly and not cave into my demanding ways – “Come on!! Let’s just try – fill in the blank with any move that would involve more sweat and a raised heart-rate.” He just smiles, stares me down, says no or ignores me.

So back I went.

It felt wonderful to walk through those doors again, hug Stefan, breathe in the eau de sweat ambiance, and get moving again (or so I thought would happen).

I guess I knew (somewhere in my head) that simply lacing up my gym shoes was not going to time-travel me back to where I left off.

Sure I knew this. That didn’t stop me from wanting it to be different. Sometimes, reality bites. But it’s what we have. Woody Allen said it best: “Reality sucks, but it’s still the best place to get a good steak.”

So we took it slow. As in slower than yoga, molasses in January, and dial-up internet. And a lot slower than I moved even during my very first session with Stefan – which has now taken on the mythic, nostalgic quality of bygone years, in another country, another lifetime.

We didn’t do too much either, or that’s what I thought.  Stefan is now sighing, I’m sure, because, as always, he has a plan. It is not mine to wonder why.

We worked on abs – strengthening moves that Stefan believes will help support my knee better (I know there’s a more accurate scientific explanation for this).

No dead-lifts. No balancing on bosu balls. No sweat. Down to the floor I was sent, spending the better part of an hour doing various small movements while engaging the abdominal core – aka sucking in my gut.

And that was about it.

Except for the weigh-in. Up 1.5 lbs.

Not to sweep under the rug the fact I had clearly not spent my gym-less time eating rabbit food instead of rabbit ears, I was quite fine with this modest gain.

I expected the slurping icing out of the can incident, movie popcorn (I’ve seen a lot more movies these days), and stealing candy from my work colleagues would have added up to a lot more.

Stefan thought it was just fine, too. I did launch into an old patterned response about food ‘getting the better of me, carb addiction, blah blah blah’. And I expressed some anxiety about the slippery slope down Old Habit Mountain into the valley of mindless snacking and sugar hits.

He simply said, “You know you control this, right?” A friend asked when I told her of this response “Doesn’t that make you want to smack him?”

No, it doesn’t. Because it’s profoundly true – and profoundly empowering. He doesn’t deliver this message in some ‘holier than you’ll ever be’ spirit of chastisement, by the way. It’s never about being ‘good’ or ‘bad’ or ‘weak’ or any other term that erodes sense of self and power.

What he’s talking about it as the core of – well, everything in this journey.

I do have control. I can choose what to do, what to eat, how to feel, how I respond to events that often make me feel out of control. I say I want to be strong, healthy, and more mindful of what I actually put in this one and only body I’ll ever possess – I want to give myself the right spiritual – and physical – fuel for whole health.

He’s not saying ‘get skinny’. That’s not the goal, never really has been. Yes, I do want to reduce fat, build lean muscle, work towards a healthy weight (and I do *not* have a number in mind; I will know it when I feel it) that suits what I want to do, how I’d like to move through life.

So I need to keep thinking about all the dimensions of health and strength, not just the ‘Iron Kate’ ones in the gym, much as I miss flat-out, hard-core workouts. Those are quite a ways off, I think; heck, walking 1k is a ways off; Camino – I remain hopeful.

Food – how I would like to eat and think about what I consume – is part of the picture I can do something with right now. Allowing that I do, indeed, have the power to make choices; I can change, I actually can. I feel better, not self-righteous, when I eat well – losing weight or not.

In the spirit of the Easter weekend past, I dedicate my 6 3/4 month results to renewal and fresh starts and peace of mind.

I commit to keep on trying. I will keep absorbing the lesson of patience, acceptance, and calm that this injury, I think, has been trying to show me.

I commit to keep going. Onward. Ultreya.

Read Full Post »

Leg’s on the mend. So is my spirit.

This past week, for the first time, I considered the possibility that I might not make it to the Camino this year, that I simply won’t be ready after all. I have avoided saying this out loud – didn’t want to give the thought undue power – but I can’t pretend it’s not there either.

I half-halfheartedly imagined a Plan B – going to Spain anyway, staying in Barcelona, doing touristy things there while my friends walked. But, really, if my leg can’t carry me on the Camino, then it’s not likely I could traipse for hours along city streets or through museums either.

What, then? Not sure what to do, how to focus – do I need to make some kind of decision? What’s the plan???

Trust the Camino, it will provide.

This theme, a request for faith and calm acceptance, runs like a river through all the Camino books I’ve read and regularly bubbles up in Camino forums. One direct quote: “Do not worry. Just walk. Trust the Camino. Trust your heart. All will be provided.”

I don’t know that I really heard or believed this message – until now. I suspect my need to ‘know’, to be assured I can take care of myself, and my relative inexperience in faith-based living blocked my heart from this profound lesson.

But ‘trust the Camino’ came from somewhere this week. I felt I had to pay attention.

So I stilled all the noise and my strong desire for answers, for certainty, (and at core, my desire for everything to get back on the track I’d originally planned). I quietly sat with the possibility that ‘all will be well’, come what may.

And I began to see that what may come could look different than what I imagined I wanted, not the script I initially authored – new plot lines, new endings, a constant unfolding. I can’t jump to the last chapter. But whatever the story, it may be all I need.

I’m still interpreting. But I feel quite uplifted by a shift in perception; that trusting ‘what is’ does not mean sitting back, waiting passively, letting others do the work for you, so to speak, something I’ve feared and resisted. It can simply mean opening – mind, heart, spirit – to something bigger, something I don’t control.

So I opened a door to the Camino that I realized I’d slowly begun to close. And here’s what happened.

First, this message from an oft-quoted Camino angel named Rob:

1) You are going to do the Camino. This is only a temporary setback. And I firmly believe it will happen this September.
2) You will do the Camino this September in any case. If, by some remote chance, your current plans have to be put on hold, I will “carry” you with me on my September pilgrimage, try to send the occasional message and remember you. I will give the saint a hug for you when I reach Santiago and have a quiet word or two with him.
In return: When you are on your second or third pilgrimage, I will ask you to do the same for me.

This tremendous vote of confidence and the generosity of spirit and the acknowledgement that now or maybe later, I will walk the Camino – more than once – and be able to pay that pilgrim blessing  forward – this meant the world to me. Once again, I felt that soul-stirring sense of excitement I’ve experienced many times (just not lately) since I got caught by Camino a while ago.

Next came this. Rob and several of his pilgrim friends have organized a Camino afternoon, where a number of people – pilgrims and pilgrims-to-be – will come together to share experiences, look at pictures, and, I expect, delight in our common purpose. The Camino network/community is wide and deep, I have already felt its support and guidance, and I look forward to meeting those who are part of its fabric.

One such person is Sue Kenney. She is a Camino veteran, a guide, a writer, and from what I have learned, a beautiful and spiritual pilgrim. It’s best if you take a look at her website: http://suekenney.ca/ and I’ve added her ‘My Camino’ blog to blogroll here.

I’ve ordered her 2 Camino books and can’t wait to read!

My Camino is her first, Confessions of a Pilgrim her recent second.

A story Sue tells on her blog struck me (well, many of her words have) as *the* right message for me today as I learn to trust the Camino, let go of expectations, and let faith in.

I can’t do her powerful story justice here. Take a look at her post, which happened to be the first one I stumbled upon when I was searching for her books. What a gift it was for me, at just the right time.

And more happened this week:

A fantastic talk-rich lunch with a woman I’d never met before who’s caught the Camino spark and wants to plan a trip. We’re now connecting with others on the campus where we work who have been or would like to go. We’re thinking a possible Camino trip together some time down the road.

A flyer I was given by chance let me know about the annual Guelph Walking Pilgrimage, 180k over a week, which apparently draws many Camino pilgrims, and other seekers. They also welcome people joining just for a day, something I may do if I’m able. Good Camino preview!

And very happily, my leg felt a lot better today. I went for 2 short dog walks – yay!

A line from a song (Gypsy Dream) by the uber-fabulous Laura Smith played in a loop in my head as I walked, one foot in front of the other, slow but steady: “Your fears, now, they’re just so much flotsam floating down the stream, nothing you can’t steer around once you hoist the sail on the gypsy dream…”

 I can’t get the audio player to work here…but here’s the link if you want to play this on your own computer. (It’s a beauty, take a listen)

Read Full Post »