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Learning Gratitude and Graciousness On The Road To Santiago

Saturday, May 31st, 2008

I´m a bit behind with blog entries, but in the meantime, here´s a quick one on what is on my mind today…

Just a quick entry here..on something that my Camino has given me much time to think about.

The Camino has been, so far, a revelation for me about everything in my life-from my spiritual life to dealing with having physical limitations.

However, what has been most apparent in my time on the Camino is the changes I see in myself in practicing graciousness and gratitude-both with others on the road, and with people in my own life. There is something in me, in my character, that wants things to be equally good for everyone. For life to be equally sweet, full of pleasures, love, and kindnesses.

I´ve come to realize that part of the path we are each on is partly of our own choosing. We often make poor choices and then are unhappy with the poor results. Having an attitude of graciousness and gratitude can take a poor choice and make it something lovely and something to be thankful for.

So many people in the world are truly suffering-dealing with terrible circumstances (some of which I´ve managed to witness firsthand in Central America), and yet many people complain and find fault with others about circumstances which are of their own doing, or perhaps the other person can´t help what they are doing. I do this myself, all the time. It´s a nasty habit, and sometimes it´s easier to keep our bad habits than learn a new way of doing things, which might be hard or uncomfortable. Other people hurt us, or perhaps inconvience us, but sometimes, they can´t help it.

Sometimes I wish everyone in the world would be sent to live with some truly poverty stricken people somewhere in the world for a year, and then return to their old lives. They would have their eyes wide open, and be so much more appreciative of what they have, of the people in their lives, of the mere fact that they are alive …

Being on the Camino has made this very real for me-from dealing with people complaining about the smallest of inconviences, to hearing people complain about one another, or their partner they left behind at home while they are on the Camino.

I had lunch with a woman whose boyfriend kept calling her on her cell phone while she was on the road. He called about three times during the picnic lunch alone.It was really irritating her. She then shared that he had recently recovered completely from cancer..I told her,¨ Wow, you are so lucky you get calls from him everyday. You should call him and thank him.¨

Two days later, I saw her on the road . ¨ I called him, she said. We decided I´m going home. What do you think?¨, she asked me.

¨I think it´s perfect¨, I said.

I am so thankful for those who love me, and that I have people to love. Such an opportunity for giving, for kindness, for love.

I myself am learning to practice gratitude and graciousness in some unexpected ways. I was recently robbed of all of my money (as well as my shampoo, my underwear, my bras!) in a refuge. I then tried to use my bank card and it didn´t work. I had no money for two days. They also took all of my food-granoila bars and so on-so I was hungry to boot. Luckily, a monastery let me stay for two days while I waited for money.

In the interim, I emailed a few friends, my boyfriend, my ex husband..I went off on a rant, saying how much a was disliking the Camino. About what a terrible experience I was having.

And do you know what? Almost every person replied with concern, with love, with kindness. How I am growing to appreciate you all, especially you, Jerry (my boyfriend) on this journey. I am grateful for you and all the love you send my way. Due to the flood of emails I recieved, my spirits revived, and here I am today, finding myself in love with the Camino all over again.

So, a special thankyou to each and every one of you who kept me going in spite of what turned out to be solely a few days inconvience. You are all with me on my Camino. and I am grateful to you all.

And a special thankyou to Jerry….So Jerry, this is to say, you are perfect. Perfect. Thanks for all your love.


Camino de Santiago No.10:Caseljeriz, Part One: Three Tables, Three Conversations

Tuesday, May 27th, 2008

I showed up in Caseljeriz in the late afternnoon, and my ankle was needing a rest-a long one. I walked into the village knowing I would have to spend at least a two or three days there(am I on the slowest Camino in the world or what?).

I found a private refuge, and offered them the possibility of helping out around the place for a few days instead of paying. We agreed to exchange a bed and dinner for two nights with two nights of dishwashing.

Although it was privately owned, the managers running the place were new to their jobs, and they seemed glad for the extra help.

They told me to come back to the diningroom at the dinner hour, and after I had eaten dinner, I could wash dishes in the kitchen for an hour.

I took my backpack to the enormous dormitory, and settled in on the only bottom bunk left in the place. As soon as I was settled in, an enormous, very drunk man took a mattress of a top bunk and threw it onto the floor, unfortunately-right next to my bed.

I could not rest or nap becasue he kept talking to me, asking my name over and over again. he finally passed out and I covered him with the blanket from my bed, figuring he would wake up pretty cold in the middle of the night.

After I brief rest, I made my way to the diningroom, where it was complete chaos. The wife seemed to be the only person taking orders, cooking, and serving (I get the distinct sense from a few weeks travel in Spain that most Spanish men do not know how to cook!). The woman was a nervous wreck, as were some of the pilgrims.

Her stress seemed to waft out of the kitchen, causing many of the pilgrims to drink copious amounts of cheap red wine(the only thing we had on the tables at the time). Wine has a way of loosening tongues, and what follows are three of the conversations I had that evening at three different tables…

Table One: Characters are a Danish couple, who are on their second bottle of wine, and me.

Danish woman: ¨Where are you from?¨

Me: ¨The United States.¨

Danish woman:¨I thought you were German or Swiss.¨

Me: (thinking of the many times people have asked me if I am German so far on this trip, no doubt because 99% of the people on the Camino are from Germany…), ¨No, I´m American¨

Danish Woman:(gulping down more wine..) ¨Are you sure you are an American? You don´t look like an American.¨

Me: (having the sense we are about to go down a bad road..),¨Yes..I mean I´m as sure as one could be about such things…¨

Danish Woman: ¨I don´t eat with Americans. My son is in America, right now, and I told him that he had better not come back with an American wife.¨

Me: ¨May I ask why you don´t like Americans? Is it..our politics? Is it Iraq? Is it Britney Spears?¨

Danish Woman: ¨It is this: I went there on vacation two years ago-I wnet with my daughter, she wanted to go there on a holiday.
It was terrible, just terrible. You American, you love your rules. It´s rules, rules, rules, all the time. You have rules for everything. There are rules about where to go and when and how to get there and what to do when you are there too.
I went into an office, and they had all these ropes. There were all these people waiting. you know, behind the ropes. But I didn´t need to wait, I only needed to speak with someone at the counter for a few minutes about my problem, so I went to the front ofg the line. I had to squeeze past everyone, they would not let me thru.
I got to the front, past the ropes. And you Americans!-You told me to go to the end of the line! You Americans, you and your rules!¨(drinks more wine..husband is absently doing a crossword and paying no attention whatsoever to his wife´s rant)..

Me: ¨You mean to say, you had to wait your turn?¨

Danish Woman: ¨Yes. Exactly! Such rules!¨

Seeing that the conversation was slowly edging downhill, and not wanting to end up in argument, I wished her a good Camino and switched tables.

Table Two: Characters are aman from Africa, making love with his eyes to a somewhat ambivelent Danish woman; A loud Swiss woman, wearing an equally loud, tropical print sundress, who laughed at everything any one said and seemed like an extremely happy person(or perhaps it was just the wine?); and a Dutch Reformed minister, who kept bursting out into song, mostly opera…oh, and me.

They were almost done eating when I sat down.

I sat down somewhat cautiously, wondering if I should pretend I was from Germany or Finland…and I asked, ¨Do you mind sitting with an American?¨

Swiss Woman: ¨Oh, we thought you were German or Swiss.¨

African Man: ¨Who´s it going to be, Obama or Hilary?¨

Danish Woman: ¨Do you want some wine?¨

Retired Minister: ¨Dance with me-you are so tall, I think we should dance.¨(Breaks into song..)

It went on like this for about 10 more minutes, when the stressed out wife running the place came over and said she needed the table for other guests. Unfortunately, they needed my chair also, so I was invited to sit with Table No. 3.

Table Three: Such characters thes guys were..there were eight men, two men from Austria that spoke not a word of English(or Spanish), and seemed somewhat mild mannered; Two Don Juan types, who knows where they were from-but they spoke Spanish, so-probably Spain!; two Germans; and two guys from Sardinia…..and me, of course.

Me: ¨Thankyou for offering me a chair at your table.¨

Don Juan No.1: ¨Anything for you.¨

Don Juan No. 2: ¨Give her wine, she needs wine!¨

German Man No. 1: ¨Are you German?¨

German Man No. 2: ¨No, she is Swiss!¨

Sardinian Man No 1: ¨I walked 45 kilometers today…¨

Sardinian Man No. 2: ¨He is the best, the very best,he is the King of the Camino.¨

Don Juan No. 2: ¨Where did you come from? You are like a dream.¨

German Man: (to me) ¨How far did you walk today?¨

Me: ¨I walked ..about..10 kilometers, I think.¨

Sardinian man No. 1: ¨This is impossible. Impossible. She is joking. i have never heard of such a thing.¨

Me: ¨No, really, I hurt my ankle at the start, and so I´m taking it slowly. Very slowly.¨

Don Juan No 1: ¨This is terrible. A travesty. A shame. Your Camino is over with, I´m afraid, my dear.¨

Don Juan No. 2: ¨I could stay here awhile with you…..¨

German Man No 2: ¨You are missing the best of the Camino. It is a sport, it is for the fastest, the best. You have lost the game, you have lost the Camino…¨

Sardinian Man No 1: ¨You will never see Santiago. You will never get there. ¨

Me: ¨But, It´s not important to get there. The journey of the Camino is within.¨

Sardinian Man No 1: ¨What about the Compostela? Don´t you want the Compostella?¨

Me: ¨No-it´s not really all that important to me. The Camino is within. I don´t need a piece of paper to say I was here. ¨

Sardinian Man No 1: (looking at me with a somewhat dubious expression) ¨I don´t understand this woman! ¨

German Man No 2:¨You are missing it, the point of the Camino. The Compostella is the point. Your Camino is nothing if you don´t get it. You should go to the pharmacy and get some good painkillers so you can walk faster…¨

Me: ¨Well , maybe the Compostella is important for your Camino, but it is not important for my Camino. each person has their own Camino. Don´t you feel like you all are going so fast that you are missing out on some interesting experiences?¨

Sardinian Man No 2: ¨Like what?¨

Me: ¨Like..going ginto churches…like eating lunch with the looking at the landscape..¨

Sardinian Man No 2: ¨But..what do you do all day? I don´t understand.¨

Me: ¨I stop, I look around, and everytime I want to stop, I do. I´m having a wonderful time, in fact.¨

Sardinian Man No 2: ¨Who has time for such things?¨

Me: ¨Oh, I´m sorry. I guess you have to go back to work?¨

Sardinian Man No 2: ¨No, I´m retired. ¨

Don Juan No 1: ¨This woman, I think she is in love with the Camino! Such love!¨( He reaches over and squeezes my hand…I intentionally spill my glass of wine on to his lap..)

Me: ¨Oh, I´m so sorry! let me go get a towel for you!¨(And with that, I excused myself and my dishwashing duties..which lasted about 3 hours!)

(It´s interesting the characters you meet on the Camino. Some you just never forget, and others you wish you could forget from the moment you meet them. )

I go back to the dormitory. The enormous man who is still quite drunk has woken up, he is whispering to me. He knows he is drunk and seems to feel somewhat embarrassed and foolish.

He whispers, ¨They told me you gave me your blanket. Thank you, that is so kind..¨

I tuck in the blanket around his feet.

¨Shhhhh…¨, I say. ¨Go back to sleep. Dream of your Camino.¨

And to the chorus of people snoring, we both fell fast asleep.


Next: ¨Caseljeriz, Part Two: I Get Into The Village Groove.¨

Truelifeplanet Interview No. 6: Francisco Javier Gil Mayor, Knight of the Templar

Monday, May 26th, 2008
Francisco is a Knight of the Templar, a rather different Catholic order of brothers devoted to service. He is currently the Knight who is running the Arroyo San Bol refuge along the Camino de Santiago route. Meeting him, talking with him, ... [Continue reading this entry]

Camino de Santiago No 9: How To Make 70 Cups of Coffee With 6 Cups

Monday, May 26th, 2008
So, in the morning I awoke freezing to death in the Arroyo San Bol refuge. It was so cold in the place that in spite of wearing almost all of the clothes I had brought with me and walking around ... [Continue reading this entry]

Camino de Santiago No. 8: Ashrams, Mind Melds, and A Very Esoteric Evening in Arroyo San Bol

Sunday, May 25th, 2008
I walked up to the door of the Arroyo San Bol refuge, glad to get out of the inclement weather and thrilled to find the place open. However, it apparently wasn´t open today-it´s official opening day was tomarrow. There were a ... [Continue reading this entry]

Camino de Santiago No.7: Burgos to Arroyo San Bol: Dealing With Don Juan

Sunday, May 25th, 2008

I awoke bright and early in Burgos-there was no choice, as the extremely grumpy volunteer warden of the refuge awoke us all at 6 am, barking out orders to get out of the place. (This was not terribly surprising, since ... [Continue reading this entry]

Photos Are Up!

Saturday, May 24th, 2008

Guess what? The photos are finally all up from Guatemala, Honduras, and Panama.

Just go to the right hand side of this blog, and scroll down to ¨truelifeplanet photos¨. They are up on the flickr site. If you want to have ... [Continue reading this entry]

The Art Of Letting Go(Or How God Used John Lennon To Get Me To Stop Worrying About My Dog)

Saturday, May 24th, 2008
 I´m a bit behind, as far as blog entries go...I´m going to try to post a few right now, depends on whether this computer is needed by someone else or not. ¨When I find myself alone in trouble, Mother Mary ... [Continue reading this entry]

Camino de Santiago: Writing From Boadilla del Camino

Friday, May 23rd, 2008
Hello Everyone, This is just a short email to say that I have made it as far as Boadilla de Camino. I am fine, although I have a temperature today and my ankle needs a few days rest-so I will be ... [Continue reading this entry]

An Update On Projects With The Ngobe of Panama

Friday, May 16th, 2008
This is just a general update for everyone´s benefit about the projects in the comarca of Panama. Everyone´s asking, ¨Well, that´s great! I want to help, but how?¨ There are three ways you can help. 1. Donation after paypal and or non profit ... [Continue reading this entry]