It has been a long time since I have posted my rambling thoughts and adventures. Not sure why. Perhaps due to my return to work during the last four years, along with new friendships and relationships having taken my time and focus. Perhaps because this phase has been harder, and I have been less sure of my next steps, direction and desires…
I guess the place to start is where I am now and how I got to this point. After packing every free moment with adventure and discovery for the last five years I have spent the last twelve days mostly in solitude in Mazatlán and now in Puerto Penasco. I’m working out how I got off track and reflecting upon what is next?
How can I recapture a servant’s heart? Repair relationships damaged in this whirlwind of change? Find a kindred spirit who is not put off by my love of being social as well as my need for solitude out in the wilderness?
I have stayed intentionally quiet these last twelve days limiting my activity to sunrise walks, a simple diet, early bedtimes and moments of gratitude so profound that I weep. I have experienced equal moments of sadness and regret, feeling so lost that I weep some more. Mostly trying to stay in the moment, accepting the feelings of pleasure or discomfort as they arise and releasing that which no longer serves.
Perhaps a recap of the past few years is helpful, to remember where I started and where I have spent my time.
In 2010 I started to awaken to the understanding that while I was grateful and blessed with a huge loving family, all was not well with my heart and soul. I was not happy and did not know why.
I had been shutting down emotionally for several years but life was full of activity. So I just pushed down those feelings and moved on. Around this time my nephew– a young man I adored– was battling brain cancer. His courage and commitment to living his life fully was something I will never forget. The way his wife, mother, father and sisters pulled together was a testimony to faith, endurance and their abiding love of Brandon. Living in the moment, finding humor and grace in the simple act of fully living were Brandon’s hallmark traits. His passing is something my heart has still not recovered from. My love for him will never fade.
In 2011: My neighbor and dear friend, Mary, was in the depths of battling another round of cancer. A seventh round of surgery went off course resulting in a stroke. She became partially paralyzed, blind and unable to speak. With the help of family, an amazing community and the support of Hospice, we brought her home to my house to care for her. While the community and my family took care of her during the day, I continued to work and took the night shift.
Mary was a force of nature, fearless, driven and uncompromising in her desires, work and mission. She was generous in her friendships while at the same time demanding in her expectations of all those around her. I loved her magic–that gift of making connections and looking for opportunities for those in her circle. She was magnificent and exhausting in her unbelievably fearless and demanding nature!
During the long nights Mary liked to hold my hand while I read to her. Often after Mary fell asleep I would have hours to think deeply for the first time in years. I contrasted our lives and began to understand that I needed a change of course. I had no idea what that meant but I knew I was going to find out no matter what the cost. It was Mary’s courage seeping from her hand and heart to mine that propelled me on a journey of which I was not yet aware.
Mary ended her battle in early 2012. It was in my guestroom that she passed, with me telling her that it would be okay and that it was time to let go.
We laid her to rest next to her father and celebrated her life in Sedona with people flying in from all around the world to pay their respects and share their memories of her.
While all of this played out I battled demons of second guessing: Was that last dose of pain meds too strong? Was it I who expedited her passing? Had I correctly understood the directions from Hospice over the phone? Did I load the syringe with the right amount of drugs???
There were so many gut- wrenching moments combined with self-imposed isolation. I never shared my fears and grief about this with anyone. During this darkness I knew my only way out was to deal with the pain of Mary’s passing and to finally address my own lost joy in life that her departure had brought to the surface.
I had to get off this spinning hamster wheel of life and find time to heal.
Somewhere along the way I recalled desires of walking the Camino of Santiago pilgrims’ trail. This 500 mile long trek slowly became my obsession.
Although it terrified me, I quit my job and began training for my first big walk. With the support of family and friends I began to regain my health, lose weight and train to be fit enough to physically handle this first solo adventure. None of it was easy.
I often woke up at night hyperventilating and filled with fear and second thoughts. I was largely responsible for the financial security of my family, so what was I doing??? HOw could I fly to Europe and walk so far alone? But I did do it after all and learned for the first time what it takes to be afraid and do it anyway.
On a sunny day in September 2012 I walked out of St John Pied de Port to cross the Pyrenees Mountains and make my way across Spain to Santiago de Compostela.
My first Camino– a 500 mile journey of discovery, beauty, joy, and pain was an experience that changed my life forever.
(The original blog has my day to day posts with feelings and experiences along the way.)
What remains with me is the day my heart opened and I named my pain. It changed everything. I accepted the pain and knew I could and would face this pain and put it behind me. What followed was a time of immense JOY, spiritual and physical awakening.
God felt near for the first time. Peace exploded within me and I knew all I could do was to continue to grow and change. I was now committed to finding out what my heart and spirit needed to flourish. I fell in love with people and their stories. I longed to keep the memories of the amazing pilgrims I met along the way alive in my heart and thoughts. A desire to bring the lesson of the Camino into my daily life. While traveling solo I realized that I could do more, challenge myself more and become responsible for my own well-being and no longer blame others for my shortcomings and loneliness.
2013: I returned home November of 2012 and within a few months I knew I needed to return and walk another Camino. This time it was the Camino del Norte (500 miles) followed by a good chunk of the Vezelay Camino in France. It was a summer filled with pure joy. The Norte Trail always went up into the mountains only to return to the sea. It was physically challenging and splendidly breathtaking. The pilgrims I met along the way still hold a special place in my heart. I still communicate with a few on a regular basis.
I arrived in Santiago, celebrated the 500 mile walk and then flew off to Paris to begin part II of my long Camino on the Vezelay Trail which largely follows the Bordeaux wine region, eventually ending back where I started in September 2012 in St John Pied de Port. What more can I say about the wine, the food and the lovely French locals that took such great care of me along the way?
2014: When I returned home from Europe in July of 2013, I began to think about walking a wilderness trail solo. The John Muir Trail called to me and I once again became obsessed with gaining the knowledge and physical strength to walk this 220 mile long wilderness trail in complete solitude.
While I trained and my August departure loomed near I was once again filled with paralyzing fear. What was I doing? How could I ever sleep alone in a tent in the complete wilderness? What about the goddamned BEARS?
I completed the hike in twenty-one days. I discovered a new-found strength and courage in adversity that I did not know I had. I returned in the best health and stamina of my life. I met people who inspired, challenged and changed me forever.
By 2015 I was longing to return to do another pilgrimage and took on the Portuguese Camino. A lovely walk with a community of pilgrims that I won’t forget. Still to this day they give me hope and inspiration.
2016 was a brutal year full of conflict and remembrance of a childhood trauma that took my innocence and faith. Yet, I ended the year peacefully walking the Dingle Way in Ireland with a dear friend. If you have not walked in Ireland you are missing out. The landscape, music and fellowship of locals along the way is not to be missed. I even got to sneak in a small Camino– the Kerry Way!
September 2017 found me walking a tough trail along the Tour Mont du Blanc. Yet another epic adventure, this time out allowed me to realize I had neglected my growth in recent times. I needed to release an unhealthy relationship that had sapped my joy. I realized that God and my own Being again wanted me to have the peace, joy and return to the simple pleasures that living out of a backpack brings.
My dear friends, family and fellow pilgrims, I end this rambling hot mess of a post by returning back to today, December 31, 2017, with the close of another year. Back to the place I started at the end of 2011, searching my mind, heart and soul for answers of what am I placed on earth to accomplish?
Can I find the courage to face this next phase?
Will I get over the momentary heartbreak that has consumed the last few weeks?
Will I put my house in order and once again accept the fear of delving into the unknown, guided by faith alone? This is my desire, my prayer and my hope.
I pray that each of us finds our heart’s desire and why God has placed us here at this moment in time.
I pray we all find or rediscover our servant’s heart—
That we find a way to bring joy and comfort to others.
That we ask for forgiveness wherever needed and we forgive our own shortcomings.
I wish all of us a blessed 2018 filled with love and acceptance.
Ps: All of my posts have left out the rich details of my journey. I have been encouraged to share those private details by many friends and Camino pilgrims. My goal is to find the courage to do so in 2018.