weareallpilgrims

Camino de Santiago

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Walk Not Sit

“Sit as little as possible; do not believe any idea that was not born in the open air and of free movement.”

Fredrick Nitchike

The one thing about walking the Camino de Santiago, is there is not a whole lot of sitting. It is mostly walking in open air or laying down to sleep. Our time walking the Camino, gave us a rich opportunity to spend the majority of our waking hours outdoors. I have always loved my time in nature and the Camino was an extended opportunity to enjoy weeks of time outdoors.

Not long after I began my career as an engineer at the Boeing Company, I began to realize how much time I was sitting and spending my days indoors. I knew that somehow this was not good and I even jokingly referred to it as “sitting death”.

The human species has dwelt outside for hundreds of thousands of years. We are deeply imprinted by this in our evolution as a human organism. I believe this is why when I need to be restored and renewed in body and mind, I go outside into nature, to walk in a forest or along the shoreline. It heals me and restores my mental resources.

There is a fair amount of research these days that backs up this important reality, nature heals. It is so important to get outdoors and watch a sunset, or the ripples on the water and even small amounts of time each day count. Yet, if we can arrange it, longer times spent in nature, can change how we think. In the long Camino walk, I found I was becoming less anxious and a calm came over me. I was no longer thinking about my “to do” list. Fewer decisions and choices were demanded of me which then freed my mind to follow thoughts wherever they may lead. My best and most creative ideas have come during my long walks in nature. The longer time I get, the more mental equilibrium I establish and the better my thinking becomes.

I learned recently learned that researchers have a term for how time in nature can relief stress and restore our mental resources, it is called “Environmental Self-Regulation”. It is the process of psychological renewal that our brains cannot accomplish on their own.

Today it is estimated that we are spending only 7 percent of our time outdoors. No wonder we are frazzled, fatigued and prone to distraction! Landscape architect, Frederick Law Omsted, spent his life helping to create beautiful nature spaces, like New York’s Central Park to help us all have a place for some “environmental self regulation”. He said,

“Natural scenery employs the mind without fatigue and yet enlivens it; and thus, through the influence of the mind over the body, gives the effect of refreshing rest and reinvigoration to the whole system.”

I hope you make some time each day for some refreshing rest and reinvigoration in nature. It is what our brains and bodies need and as a result it is where out best thinking it done.

Blessings abound in all,

John

Photograph of the Month

Nature’s Vastness

This image evokes vastness to me. It makes me feel the closeness of the trees and yet the unfathomable expanse of the universe.

I was inspired last year with this words that just seem to fit the image.

The Dance of Life

When we merge our internal rhythms with the rhythms of creation, we develop grace in our movement, and without thought or effort we are able to slide into the perfectly choreographed dance of life.

by Sherri Mitchell (Penobscot), an attorney and activist for environmental protection and human rights.

It has now been 7 years since Terri and I walked the Camino de Santiago and as we age, both of us are more grateful each year, for having completed the walk. The Camino is extremely demanding and takes a toll on our bodies. When we are younger we can endure a lot physical stress for longer and as we age this “endurance capability” erodes. This has been my reality these days, as my range of walking, has been greatly reduced due to some physical changes in my body. So, what am I do with this new reality? I have chosen to see it as part of the “perfectly choreographed dance of life”.

What does that look like? It means I have found meaning in my internal changes to my body as I am seeing them part of the rhythm of creation. I try and greet the changes I am experiencing, as my “dance partner”. I dance with my pain, so to speak. (caveat – I am not talking about high levels of pain. I am speaking more of our “everyday types of pain” that many of us experience in our lives.)

It turns out that, walking the Camino, was a “dance with the pain” as well. We noticed a large portion of those that walk the Camino, end up experiencing blisters on their feet. They are hard to avoid and they can definitely end your Camino walk early if you don’t stop and treat the blisters and rest. As the photo at the top of this blog shows, some folks dumped the boots they started with and found other solutions (like sandals) to continue their Camino walk.

Terri also “danced with the pain of a stress fracture” in her ankle for a good majority of the walk. It meant that we had to “slow dance” more and reduce our walking pace and length and we took more rest days to accommodate the pain.

Since the Camino has a bigger historical story going back over a 1000 years, it is not hard to see the physical Camino pains as dance with the larger “Camino pain story”. We knew that our pain stories were also experienced by many others before us.

French philosopher, Gabriel Marcel, is famously quoted as saying:

 “Life is a mystery to be lived, not a problem to be solved.”

I have discovered it is better to dance with my “pain” as my framework for the changes I am experiencing in my body. Carl Jung, Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, speaks of the necessary “integration of the negative”. I realize this might sound really strange but I am finding that it is a very helpful way to “live this mystery of life”.

Grace and Peace,

John

Photograph of the Month

Daisy Dancing

This flower image was captured during delightful summer hike by myself last year at Mt Rainier National Park. I hit the perfect timing for the peak meadow flower bloom and I sat down several times and just gazed for some time at the meadow flowers dancing in the wind.

Video of the Month

Dancing with the Meadow Flowers

Speaking of Mt Rainier meadow flowers dancing in the wind, I took a number of videos that day in the summer of 2020 of the meadow flowers. I took some of the videos and added one of my favorite songs that I feel fit well with these “dancing flowers”.

Take Your Time

“Nothing can be done well at a speed of forty miles a day…” John Muir

In planning stages for walking the Camino, we were following the guidebook most everyone used called “A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino de Santiago” by John Brierley. It had you walking at about 15 miles/day for about 5 weeks with a few days of rest. We decided to try and follow the guidebooks recommendation. Terri and I did finish the walk but we had to walk quite a bit slower and in places had to take some transportation to catch up to our schedule we had planned. In hindsight, I think we would have targeted a slower pace and only walked about 10 miles a day.

As I have aged, my pace and distance I can walk have been reduced, I am finding the joy of walking slowly and purposefully with the eyes of my heart open to all I see. I believe that is exactly what John Muir means by the quote at the top of this blog.

When I was in my 20’s, I climbed a number of the major peaks here in Washington State and I had the following John Muir quote on my desk at work:

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flowers into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.”

This quote has always been with me and to this day I find it one of my all time favorites. To really experience nature’s goodness and beauty and peace, one has to slow down and take your time. This was true on the Camino, the more pressed we were to make the mileage of the day, the more we likely missed out on the beauty right around us. It seems to get the “good tidings” of nature we have to slow down for “nothing is done well” when we are rushing to get somewhere.

We all need to take our time when it comes to our time in nature. I can definitely tell you it is worth it!

May Nature’s Peace be with you,

John

Photograph of the Month

Huckleberry Speak

Oh, how I love the Huckleberry. It gives us delicious fruit to eat and it is lovely to look at as well with its contrasting colors of fall. I captured this during a hike to the Ice Caves this summer. I was walking real slow and taking it all in every step of the way. (By the way the bridge is still out over the Stillaquamish River to the Ice Caves. We waited till late summer when the water level was at its lowest to ford the river.)

Rest, Peace, Love, Life

In a couple weeks, it will be 7 years since we started our Camino de Santiago pilgrimage. In the seven years I have been writing the “We Are All Pilgrims” blog, I have devoted quite a few blog articles on the value of rest in our lives. I know that reading the book called “Sabbath” by Wayne Muller, while I was walking the Camino, did help set my mind to its importance. In addition, rest was big on our minds during the Camino as it is so important to your physical and mental well-being. Each day as we got into our got into our lodging we were pretty well worn out and needed a shower and some dinner and a good nights rest. We needed time to refresh and renew so we were ready to begin again the next day.

I took a class early this year and there was a song and a dance that I learned about rest.

Here are the lyrics:

“Put yourselves on the path of long ago, remember the path of REST,

This ancient path of REST, my friend, this ancient path of REST.

Put yourselves on the path of long ago, remember the path of PEACE.

This ancient path of PEACE, my friend, this ancient path of PEACE.

Put yourselves on the path of long ago, remember the path of LOVE,

This ancient path of LOVE, my friend, this ancient path of LOVE.

Put yourselves on the path of long ago, remember the path of LIFE,

This ancient path of LIFE, my friend, this ancient path of LIFE.”

Jeremiah 6:16

In listening to and dancing this song, I have let it slowly sink into me and its fundamental truths have been seared into me. It all starts with REST. When we “put ourselves in a path” that leads to rest on a regular basis we are on the “ancient path” that will lead on to PEACE and then to LOVE and then to LIFE. Now rest can come in many different ways but it mostly about simply being not doing.

Walking the Camino, we were naturally “resting” from our normal daily lives as we concentrated all our efforts into this walk for 5 weeks. We put aside all the “to do” lists we had at home and let the “ancient path” teach us some lessons. The first was, you better get your rest each night or it will catch up with you quick on the Camino.

Why is it so hard for us to really “put ourselves on this path of REST”? I guess because we are always on the go to somewhere else and doing three things at once. It takes a fundamental mind shift to “put ourselves” on this path of REST. We have to value enough we make it a priority. Everyday!

I am finding that resting my mind is much harder than to physically rest my body. For most of this year, I have been working quieting my mind each day. I do this each morning for only 5 minutes. It is my contemplative prayer time. I deliberately slow down my mind. When thoughts begin to come up, I try and welcome them for a short visit only as I let them pass along without judgment. It is about being gentle with myself and giving my mind a rest. I might repeat a word or phrase that I read or came to me from something. Maybe even something from a song sometimes.

Now I must say this has been a hard practice to keep to everyday and some days I am not as successful in keeping my “doing mind” from intervening and starting on my “to do” list. Yet, keeping it as a priority has been easy as I noticed how much it does lead me in a more peaceful way where love flows more naturally through me. I highly recommend this very simple practice.

Remember, my fellow pilgrims,

It does all begin with REST and from this ancient path we can then put ourselves on the path to PEACE, LOVE and LIFE!

Rest be with you,

John

Photograph of the Month

Butchart Gardens

This is a webpage I created of my photos and videos following a visit to Butchart Gardens on Vancouver Island a few weeks ago. I really liked this new platform I discovered to help me easily create this. This creative work literally flowed out of me. I was in the flow of REST, PEACE, LOVE and LIFE. I hope you find some rest in this creative work.

Silence

 

 The Camino de Santiago can change you if you let it.

The long walk opens up the potential to allow some interior changes to happen to you. I believe that in the silent time of walking day after day, you can find rest and peace. That might sound very strange at first. How can one be experiencing rest when you are walking all day, every day for a five weeks? Yes, it is true, Terri and I experienced great physical stress on our bodies during the walk. Yet, we did experience rest in the “great silence” of the walk. We rested in the change from our normal daily routines at home and the from the daily news cycle. All the activities we would have been doing at home stopped for those five weeks. We greatly simplified our lives and we experienced times of great silence.

I believe that silence can change us if we let it.

Unfortunately, as the Richard Rohr quote below says, silence is something that appears to us as useless.

“Culturally, sitting in silence is no longer a value we appreciate, or seek or find places for. It really is a lost art. Maybe it is this way culturally, because it is viewed as useless. Silence is useless. It appears as something useless, to no profit.”

I am experiencing that this is not true. I am finding it priceless not useless. Silence has led to rest for me and that is essential to discovering the peace within.

Here is a beautiful metaphor from a class I just finished taking that speaks directly to the value and benefit of silence.

Imagine you are holding a new born infant. Your amazed how small the infant is in your arms. Your amazed that a beautiful little person is all wrapped up in your arms.

You know that reflex that the newborn baby has that when you put little finger out they grasp it with their hand. The thing is this infant is not helpful at all, it doesn’t help with the chores; it doesn’t chip in and do its part, it can’t even roll over by itself or feed itself. Yet, at this moment your heart is stilled. It’s as if the axis of the turning world is stilled.

I have found we all need the “pause”, the stillness that comes from silence. To be stilled. To refuse to be carried away on the waves of “doing” and not stopping to rest in the silence of “being”.

I realize that our lives can seem way too overloaded to stop or slow down and to find even 5 minutes of time to remain in silence seems to be too much. That is probably why I have always loved to walk in nature and let the beauty take me away and to simplify and renew my body, mind and soul.

I hope this blog inspires you as well to seek the inner silence and see for yourselves it is not useless.

Peace,

John

Photograph of the Month

Silence and Stillness

This image speaks stillness and silence to me. I captured at sunset during a camping trip to Lake Osoyoos.

The “Sacred No”

One of the gifts of walking the Camino de Santiago, is the way it shaped and changed the pace of our lives during the 5 weeks of walking. Our long list of “to does” that we had before our walk, just disappeared largely. We established a very simple, basic rhythm to our life that repeated each day. We found that the pace of our life was “slowed down enough that we could catch up with ourselves and get our bearings” (Thomas Merton). We could just lean gently into the simplicity and rhythm of the walk. It was life giving and “restful” in a strange sense.

It seems we live in a culture, today, that encourages us to keep going until we are completely depleted. When someone asks us, how we are doing, we reply about how “busy we are”. Like is a badge of courage we wear. We don’t live in a culture that encourages us to take time to go away, to be apart, to rest.

“The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to violence.”

This quote by Thomas Merton was made about some of the people involved in peace activism. He thought their frenzy of activism neutralized their work for peace. It destroyed their inner capacity for peace. So, even the good they were trying to do was being thwarted because they were “destroying the inner root of wisdom which makes work fruitful.”

“Being constantly busy, damages our bodies and our spirits and our need for renewal. We seem to perpetuate this myth in our culture that we should always be available, that we should always be working. That our work is our identity. Therefore we can’t ever step back.” Christine Valters Paintner

The Camino taught me the value of being able to “get off the merry-go-round”, that blur of the life’s to-do’s that so readily overwhelm me. I came out of the Camino with a new perspective, I really appreciated the “inner peace” that came from just being not doing.

The Coronavirus pandemic has had a similar life changing effect on me when so many of our normal activities came to a grinding halt. Now as we are coming out of the pandemic and our “normal” life activities are ramping up, I am seeing once again the “lesson of the pandemic” to slow me down. I truly see the value again of rest and time away from the “violence” of busyness.

I used for the title of this blog, “The Sacred No”. The reason I did was to remind myself that I am going to fall right back into my old patterns of a packed full calendar of activities and “to do’s”, if I don’t have the courage to stand up and say, “no” occasionally. I have to get over “my fear of missing out” (FOMO – it is a real social anxiety out there today!) and use the “Sacred No”. In a sense, when we consciously make the choice to slow down by saying no to some of the activities, we are giving ourselves a “small sabbath”. A time to step back and rest into the present. I can speak from my experience, this has brought me more peace and well being in my life than I could ever have imagined!

My hope is that you are also able to find your “Sacred No” so you can find the time to slow down and catch up with yourself.

Shalom,

John

Photograph of the Month

Slow Down, Take Stock

This image was taken during a jeep ride in Colorado to Imogene Pass (13,114 ft). The quotes from Peter Maurin and Pope Francis seemed to fit perfectly with the image.

Making Room For Something New

The guidebook that we used for preparing for and walking the Camino is by John Brierly. It is subtitled, “A Practical and Mystical Manual for the Modern Day Pilgrim”. It contains practical advice and wisdom for both the outer and inner journey one makes in preparing for and walking the Camino de Santiago.

In the Introduction of the guide, John explains what he hopes those who walk the Camino find in their “Camino Journey”.

“That we might find a place to lay our weary head at the end of the day but also, and crucially, that we might feel supported and encouraged to dive into the mysteries of our individual soul awakenings, without which all journeying is essentially purposeless.”

The Camino can be a way for us to explore our individual “soul awakenings”. John Brierly mentions that his guidebook was “born out of a mid-life crisis and the perceived need for a time to reflect on the purpose and the direction of life.”

The “Camino experience” is a very good way to “wake us up” or “shake us up”. It seems to get us out of our “old ways of thinking and doing”. I suspect that many who walk the Camino find this to be true. It awoke in me a deep desire to being in nature more now that I was retired. The Camino also came at a critical inflection point in my life as had just become was a grandparent for the first time. It as a “soul awakening” moment.

By its very nature, when one decides to walk the Camino, there is inherently some closing off or ending of old ways to make room for something new. Just preparing to walk the Camino, the first challenge you face is recognizing you cannot carry much in your pack when you are walking for 5 weeks. This was a huge challenge for Terri and I. You had to say no to many things we would have like to take with us.

The whole Camino experience is about stripping down to the basics of life. Much of the “creature comforts” of life are left behind as you hit the trail. You have to say no to old ways if you want to experience what the Camino is going to teach you.

I came across this quote about making room for something new, that has some sage wisdom for us all:

“Yearning for a new way will not produce it. Only ending the old way can do that. You cannot hold onto the old all the while declaring that you want something new. The old will defy the new; the old will deny the new; the old will decry the new. There is only one way to bring in the new. You must make room for it. “ Neale Donald Walsch

I know for me, the times of my “soul awakenings” are often coincident with letting go of the old ways or things I am holding onto and welcoming the new into my life. The Coronavirus pandemic has had the same effect on me as the Camino, in that it stripped away so many of my “old ways” and “shook me up” into a new ways of thinking and doing.

I hope you also find ways to see the new as you make room for it by the ending of the old ways.

May blessings abound for you in the new!

John

Photograph of the Month

Tulips Stand Up and Shout

After missing the Skagit Tulip festival last year, we made it up there this year and it seems to me that the tulips are even more vibrant and beautiful than ever (I am wondering if the pandemic is heightening my senses).

I really liked this tulip image I captured this year. I seems to speak to me of hope for some reason, not sure why.

To Be A Beginner

“There are only three stages to this work:

To be a beginner,

to be more of a beginner,

to only be a beginner”

Gregory Mayers, Listen to the Desert

I titled this blog many years ago, “We Are All Pilgrims” and I think it has been a good metaphor for our human journeying. Not just the physical journeys we make to outward places (like the Camino de Santiago), but to the interior places of the heart, the new landscapes we are called to explore. I suspect that is why I liked the quote I am using for this blog entry. It speaks to the mindset of a pilgrim, that is that we are always on our human journey, never arrived.

I am discovering that the cycles and seasons of life provide us with ample opportunity to work on this life principal of “always being a beginner”.

Sometimes I have sought out a new adventure in my life. In his stage of my life, I find myself often ready and open to learn and grow in my knowledge and skills. I am advancing and glad to be a beginner as I learn more and more. The trick, though, is to maintain the mindset of a beginner and remain humble, avoiding the idea “that we have this all figured out”. This type of thinking feeds my ego and can drive me to thinking and acting like “I know it all”. You can be rest assured that is not the pilgrim’s path of humility.

The other path of life that I am finding is very challenging to maintain, is in the downward cycles of life. When something happens which we did not expect. It is often an unwelcome event, like what happened to the world with the Coronavirus pandemic or maybe a sudden illness or death. In these times, we find ourselves face to face with our fears. Yet, strangely it is in these unwanted times in our lives we are called to the work of “being a beginner again”. To open our hearts and minds to this new trajectory in our lives. It is an incredibly vulnerable place to be.

One of the losses Terri and I experienced was the loss our “Church”. Gathering together at our parish home at Holy Rosary Catholic church has been a huge part of our lives for almost 40 years. In addition, I sang in the choir and our beloved choir director was let go and this important part of my life ended. It was a disorienting and difficult time.

I discovered, though, once I took on the mindset of a beginner, my spiritual trajectory of my life took flight on a new pathway. New doors began to open as I explored the Franciscan Spirituality offered through the online community and courses at The Center for Action and Contemplation. I also discovered a wonderful online community at an Irish Monastery called Abbey of the Arts. It seems I have discovered an online Spiritual community right in the middle of the pandemic! In some strange way, I have found a home again.

My Spiritual journey is continuing and I am only a beginner.

Blessings,

John

Photograph of the Month

Stark and Swirling

I love this new image I created from a winter hike to Discovery Park in Seattle. These particular trees we so unique with the linear line pattern and stark look. I created the swirling background of some knots on an old dead and dried out log in Central Washington. The contrasting lines and curves are a great match and create a very interesting and intriguing image.

Pilgrim or Tourist

The Pilgrim Path (Burgos to Hornillas Del Camino)

“Is there a place for each of us,
where we no longer yearn to be elsewhere?
Where our work is to simply soften,
wait, and pay close attention?”

Christine Valter Paintner

No doubt about it, the pandemic has put the brakes on everyone’s travel plans. Terri and I had gotten used to multiple trips a year since I retired in 2014. We have had some wonderful vacations at home and abroad. But like everyone else it all came to a screeching halt with the Coronavirus pandemic!

This long “sabbath” from travel, has had an interesting effect on me. I think that is why the words I opened this blog with, from a poem called “St. Gobnait and the Place of Her Resurrection”, has had so much effect on me. Although I am looking forward to traveling again, I find I am not “yearning to be somewhere else” as result of this “travel rest period”. The pandemic, like our Camino walk, were times of rest and renewal in some sense. They both have taught me things about myself I am a a different person coming of out both experiences.

Mostly, I guess I am “just happy within my own skin”. I can sit still for long periods of time without wanting to be somewhere else. I love the experience of now, fully present and alive. Not looking too far ahead or dwelling on the past.

So, I am asking myself, when we begin to travel once more, will I be a tourist or a pilgrim? My plan is to stay a pilgrim. To savor and sip the travel experience, embracing each precious moment with heart open so that I might come home changed forever by the experience.

John

Photograph of the Month

Two Cormorant Tree

Here is an image I created when I captured these to Cormorants on a tree at the Ballard Locks. I used my imagination and some tools in my photography darkroom to make interesting final image.

Slowing Down

We live in an age of “efficiency” and “multi-tasking”. It seems it is all about how much we can get done or accomplished within a given time period. I sure felt the unrelenting pressure of way more work than I could ever accomplish, when I was working at Boeing. In my rush to accomplish as much as I could, it was very difficult to slow down and to be present to the moment.

One of the gifts of the Camino is it slows you down. The multi-tasking and urgency of getting things accomplished as efficiently as possible fades to the background. You find that your days are greatly simplified. It is as if time has slowed down and you can breath and be more present to the moment. You have time to absorb the beauty all around you.

Maybe that is why I am actually grateful, in some strange way, for this “Coronavirus slow down”. Like so many of us, we have been forced by the pandemic to limit so many of the activities we loved to do, like travel and spending time with family and friends. This “pandemic slow down” has been an awakening to how important it is to be fully present and awake to the moment.

To be awakened and aware without distraction is a beautiful thing.

“An awakening is necessary to reconnect us to our origins and one another.”
Barbara Holmes

I hope I can remember and live this more fully everyday, even after the “pandemic slow down” is over.

May Blessings abound,

John

Photograph of the Month

A Home In The Trees

The bird’s nest was photographed on a hike in Discovery Park in Seattle this past week. Here is some a short description on how I created this final image.

The first step in the process is a good capture of this nest in the tree. Then I focus on creating a very sharply detailed and contrasting image. The background was I created from an image of some old gnarly dried fungi. I thought it was a perfect compliment to the prickly nest look.