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Practice & Pilgrimage

Image: The Pyrenees Mountains, Camino de Santiago, 2018

The prayer flags hanging in my yard are folded and wrapped over each other, so thoroughly wet they become almost translucent. We finally have decent rain after days of 35 degree weather (95 F). Today is cool and wet with 90% humidity and I am trying to think of days like this I experienced in other countries.

My iPhone reminds me that four years ago I was in Bordeaux, France, headed to the Camino de Santiago with my daughter, her partner at the time, and our nephew. The Camino de Santiago is a Catholic pilgrimage that brings you to Santiago de Compostella in North Western Spain where the remains of St. James are interred. There are several starting points, with the traditional one being what we were walking - St. Jean Pied de Port, France to Santiago, Spain.

Walking The Way brings so many different experiences, which includes varying weather patterns dependent on where you are and the time of day. I've experienced mornings like this on the Camino. You wake up and the air is cool and wet. You start with a rain jacket and perhaps thick hiking socks and pants. Within an hour you feel yourself sweating and hot, but the moment you take off a layer, you are cold and wet once again. You stop for breakfast two hours later and like magic, the sun comes out and with a full belly, feel warm and enjoy the next few hours of the walk. By the afternoon, you feel incredibly hot and feel like you can't possibly make it to the albergue ( least if you are a slow walker like me).

I remember walking over the Pyrenees from France into Spain and how in just one place the weather rises and drops, the air is misty and humid and then dry and warm, all shifting by how high or low you are on the mountain. Walking for long stretches with nothing around, you are surrounded at one point by fields of green, cows line the hillside with their bells clanging reminding you of civilization. Without expectation, (but sincere hopes), a food truck is over the next peak and you get a drink, a snack, and more importantly, a reason to rest.

Image: Matthew (the hubby), The Pyrenees Mountains, Camino de Santiago, 2018

Every time I am on a pilgrimage I am always surprised about how high up one must go to reach the destination. I am always climbing, I would think. Why are there always stairs, so many stairs going up? I ask over and over again. Aside from reaching the "heavens," perhaps because it is a living example of life. We go up, we go down. We get hot (angry) and cold (sad). We are dry (happy) and wet (depressed). Sometimes we are thirty and hungry (for knowledge, relationships, jobs, etc.) and sometimes they are fulfilled in whole or in part. We wish, we pray, we ask for guidance and strength. We walk alone, we walk with others.

Unlike daily life, the one thing that pilgrimages give us is perspective. We are usually too mired in the day to day of life that we are unable to see beyond our habits and reactions. Being away from our routine and engrossed on a mission of sorts, where we intentionally seek to connect with something greater than ourselves, opens our mind to answers that we are normally too scared to know.

Image: Vi (the kiddo), The Pyrenees Mountains, Camino de Santiago, 2018

With the pandemic, I haven't been hiking the Camino or visiting temples in India on a peak in the Himalayas. So, for me, my pilgrimage has had to be internal. I've had to root myself in my sadhana practice (daily spiritual practice). For me, it's had to develop into a practice that brings me back a few times a day to keep focused on those answers we seek to questions like Who Am I? Why Am I Here? What is My Purpose? Is There Something More? In this act of opening my heart, listening deeply, being still, I have found that even when the cool rain surrounds me, I find gratitude. The drops are music. The smell is sweet. The coolness is a loving touch. I feel whole and complete. I am part of life.


Journal writing exercise. Explore the following inquiries.

1) If you have been on a pilgrimage, what did you learn? If you have not, what questions would you seek answers to?

2) Do you have or want to have a daily sadhana practice? What is it or what could it be?

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