St James of the Field of Stars (Santiago de Compostela)

 

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This month is the 5th anniversary of my Camino walk. The Camino was life changing and I miss it often.  Enjoy this lovely memory with me.  My daily posts on the Camino can be found in the archives in May and June 2014.

My book Pilgrimage: A Modern Seeker’s Guide was inspired by my walk on the Camino and many other pilgrimages around the world and close to home.  The e-book is now priced at $5.99.  Check it out at Amazon. 

First Published June 2104

It wasn’t until the last week on the Camino that I could even think about Santiago, yet that was always the goal.   Every day I concentrated on the next 20 km or talked about the next big town, Pamplona, Burgos, Leon.   After Astorga, Santiago started to come into focus.   There were rumors about a celebration in Santiago about the time I planned to get there.  That was when I realized that if I arrived one day early I would be in Santiago for Pentecost, a holy day and a guaranteed Botafumeiro, the mammoth swinging incense censer in the nave of the Cathedral.   See a video of the Botafumeiro here.

Pentecost is the graduation day for the Apostles, including St. James, after Christ’s Ascension.   The Holy Spirit came to them in the Upper Room and sent tongues of fire to anoint them to go preach the Gospel.   No more perfect day to finish my pilgrimage and graduate to the next stage of my life.

While Alexandra slept I spent Pentecost with St. James.  I first listened to the beautiful chant of the Rosary.   Next the Botafumeiro made its mighty journey through the Cathedral to the sounds of the organ and choir.  I dreamed of this moment along with the centuries of pilgrims who had dreamed that same dream.   I went to a chapel to celebrate Mass in English with an Irish priest.  He read the story of Pentecost and we sang songs and lit a candle for all of the continents and peoples.     I joined the main Mass where the Archbishop presided over Confirmation.   I was having my graduation ceremony.  I had completed my task.

I didn’t realize how much I was going to need those extra days in Santiago to process my experience.   I saw pilgrim friends I hadn’t seen in weeks and we hugged and congratulated each other on a job well done.   It was special to be at Pilgrim’s Mass with my fellow travelers, a shared experience to the end.    I saw everyone I had hoped to see again and exchanged contact information.

I went to dinner with my friends and we talked about our favorite and least favorite Albergues, tales of the food, injuries and blisters and things we learned.  One pilgrim was in tears because he finally forgave his father, others had come to terms with their past or had new hope for their future. We were all proud of our strong bodies and loose hiking pants.   I cherished every moment of the language of the pilgrim, I miss it so much.

The next day my friends arrived by car with clothes for me and to share my triumph.   It was hard to move out of the pilgrim world.   The first day I put on a new shirt.  The next day I put on different shoes but still wore my hiking pants.  I had to reenter the world gradually.   We went to Mass together and they were treated to the Botafumeiro, and I was glad to see it another time.   We went behind the altar to touch the statue of St. James and went below to the crypt where his bones are kept in a silver casket.

All of my pilgrim rituals where complete and it was time to go.   I left my worn out shoes and some clothes I couldn’t bear to wear again and a piece of my heart in Santiago.

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Worn out shoes

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A Pilgrimage and Ebook

My Book:

Pilgrimage: A Modern Seeker’s Guide is now available in e-book at Amazon and currently featured as a selection on Kindle Unlimited.  I would love if you would leave a review, it helps others find my book.

A Pilgrimage:

This October I’m going on a pilgrimage to Japan and inviting you to join me.  I’m not sponsoring this pilgrimage but there are spaces available for the tour. This is a chance to walk part of the 88 Temple Trail on the island of Shikoku with like-minded friends.  This two-week journey along this ancient trail is fully supported by an English-speaking guide.  We stay in traditional accommodations and walk a few miles with just a daypack to some of the best Zen Temples on this famous path.  The tour begins in Osaka and does include shopping at local markets and historical sites.  For more information go to www.okujapan.com.  This is a sister pilgrimage to the Camino, but this tour is not as rigorous as the Camino I walked five years ago.

My Blog:

This summer I’m finishing my last classes for my Masters in Depth Psychology and speaking at the Jungian Society for Scholarly Studies in Asheville this June. As I work on my last few papers, I’m going to take some time from writing new posts.  So please enjoy my favorite posts from the past and I will be back in October with new adventures.

 

Basho

Breaking the silence

of an ancient pond,

A frog jumped in to water —

A deep resonance.

This haiku by the poet Matsuo Basho (1644-1694) is one of the most recognizable poems in Japan. Haiku is a short traditional form of Japanese poetry consisting of seventeen syllables divided into three sections of five-seven-five. It was Basho who perfected the haiku form, but he also wrote beautiful prose in the form of a travel log with the haiku inspired by his experiences. The Narrow Road to the Deep North is his best-known work and read by almost every Japanese high school student and translated more than any other work of Japanese literature.

I first learned of Basho while researching pilgrimage. I was already familiar with the haiku form and its popularity in both Japan and the West but going deeper into Basho’s life and work expands my understanding of the form, but more importantly informs my own pilgrimages and soul journey. Although Basho spent a great deal of time traveling, it is this pilgrimage to the Deep North that called his soul. To wander in nature and discover the world was not a luxury for Basho but a necessity for his poetry and the calling of his soul.  On this journey, Basho developed a new form a writing called haibun, which alternates prose and haiku to describe his journey. The prose, equally as beautiful as the poems, explains the physical aspects of the journey where the haiku illuminates the internal images and experiences. He walked 1200 miles over five months with his disciple Sora and planned part of the route to include places described by other writers. Basho’s call to a pilgrimage was not a specific place but to experience whatever unfolded before him. “I myself have been tempted for a long time by the cloud-moving wind–filled with a strong desire to wander”.

Basho’s words are beautiful in their simplicity and grace. He uses a lightness and gentleness to describe nature and life itself. Beauty becomes an essential element in the soul’s journey. Basho found beauty on his journey: in the change of seasons, fleeting moments of sun on dew, a hazy moon, the arch of the Milky Way. He found beauty in the smallest details of cherry blossoms, pine trees, wind and water. Life is fleeting and these details captured the ephemeral moment when life is perfect beauty. Basho took great delight and wonder in these moments that fed his soul’s path. It is in these brief moments that Basho experienced eternity and left a trace in his haiku.

Walking pilgrimages are inherently simple. Life is reduced to what you can carry on your back. Basho’s haiku perfectly alludes to the essentialness of his journey. Pleasure is found in the simple moment of a flower, the soft breeze, or sound of a cricket. Basho left behind the comforts of home and community to see the world in the simplest moments where the sacred is found. Basho doesn’t analyze or offer opinion on what he sees, rather he relates pure experiences as they happen in the moment and in his heart. Haiku becomes the way he expresses his journey. Although haiku is simple in form it is not simplistic for the subtly expressed by the image associations and verbal play enter in the depths of the human heart.

In the essence of his work, Basho is above all a nature poet. All his senses were tuned to the natural world and Basho misses none of the subtleties of the wind, seasons, smell and sound, often bringing him to tears in the moments of pure wonder and grace. His poetry and prose are words of praise and thanksgiving for life in all of its forms. The sea, rocks, stars, mountain, trees, flowers, all participated in Basho’s poems to the ineffable mystery of our world.

Although written almost 400 years ago, Basho’s story and poetry are timeless. His experiences and observations reflect his deep understanding of nature and his own interior life. Pilgrimage, as a time of solitude in nature, becomes a catalyst that opens an important soul space.  Basho heard the call of this soul space and left a beautiful account of what that interior pilgrimage looks like. His words are those of the mystic that sees the sacred in all things and in all places.

The title of Basho’s story, The Narrow Road to the Deep North, reflects the physical road and is a metaphor for the quality of the interior journey for the sacred does not come with broad highways and neon signs. The sacred is found with effort on a narrow path that takes time and sacrifice, suffering and joy. There is no easy and quick way to a lasting relationship with nature and the soul. Hard work and dedication are needed to find these numinous moments when the world becomes alive with wonder as we step out of time into the timeless.

Later this year I am going to Japan to see for myself what inspired Basho. I will be walking part of the 88 Temple trail on Shikoku island, a 1000-year-old spiritual pilgrimage and a sister pilgrimage to the Camino. Basho did not walk this particular trail, he walked north of what is today Tokyo, but the landscape and culture as well as the search for the heart and soul of nature aligns me with the spirit of Basho.  Basho wrote on many subjects that moved him to live in relationship with his soul and thus offers me language to seek the same beauty.

 

 

Amid mountains of high summer,

I bowed respectfully before

The tall clogs of a statue

Asking a blessing on my journey

 

To talk casually

About an iris flower

Is one of the pleasures

Of the wandering journey.

 

In the utter silence

Of a temple,

A cicada’s voice alone

Penetrates the rocks.

 

 

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Apalachicola

photos by G. Smith

For the last four winters, I have traveled to the Florida panhandle to the little out-of-the-way town of Apalachicola. Along this long expanse of white-sand beaches outlining the Gulf of Mexico is an almost forgotten land where time stands still, and Florida remains as it was before air-conditioners and high-rises. My aunts were looking for a place to find refuge from the arctic cold of northern Minnesota where they live most of the year. Apalachicola is just a bit north for warm weather in February, but it is still moderate, much more moderate than the icy north and just right for their winter retreat.

The first two years, I drove my mother the 9 hours to the coast to visit with her sisters. The last two years, I flew the two short flights to Tallahassee–and it is still another two-hour drive. This part of Florida is not on of normal tourist routes but that is its charm. These last two years, my aunts rented a home on St. George’s Island, a long drive across the bridge from the mainland. Family, food, chatter, movies and naps fill the day between my walks on the beach. I love the beach, any time and in any weather. I can’t get enough of water, sand and sky—this simple landscape that feeds my soul.  I love the salt air, breeze, sound of waves and gulls and water lapping at my ankles. I’m a beach girl to the core of my being.

But last year this almost desolate coast endured the ferocity of nature–Hurricane Michael. The third strongest hurricane on record, Michael hit the coastline on October 10, 2018. Mexico Beach and Port St. Joe were devastated. Apalachicola was damaged but not quite as severely and by the time I arrived in February much of the brush was cleaned up. But there was no turning away from the destruction. The roads are being rebuilt and I got a flat tire from the construction debris. Along the road were tall piles of rubble that was once someone’s beloved home. I drove down the streets of Mexico Beach, but I couldn’t really comprehend what all those empty lots meant for the residents of that small town. I was seeing the aftermath from an outsider’s perspective months later.  I know how much I love my home; how could I ever recover from having it destroyed. But the resilient human spirit seeks hope in the face of overwhelming adversity. Small campers now stand next to the rubble as homeowners work to rebuild a life.

Apalachicola has become a new refuge for my family, a place to be together. This new place has come from our own loss of land and home in Minnesota. So, we, too, have found our resilience, knowing that life and family do transcend place. It isn’t what we wanted, but we found a way to build new experiences that nurtures our bonds

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The Getty Villa

November found me back in Southern California to visit Alexandra and attend my quarterly class at Pacifica.  I always have a couple of days between my weekend with Alexandra and my classes giving me opportunity to search for beauty in an abundant part of the world.   On this trip I visited The Getty Villa in Malibu just a few miles up the road from Alexandra’s apartment.  Since it was a weekday and off-season, I found the place mostly empty expect for some rambunctious school groups loading back into their buses.   Soon the Villa was peaceful and after a lovely pesto and cheese sandwich at the café, I was ready to explore.

The Getty Villa is J. Paul Getty’s first art museum built when he realized that his art collection was much larger than his home.   With billions at his disposal, Getty spent his later years collecting some of the finest art work around the world and left a large endowment for their display and care.  The Getty Villa houses his classical art from Greece and Rome and the rest of his collection is a few miles away at the Getty Center.  But he didn’t want just any old building for this magnificent art, he wanted to recreate Italy itself on his property overlooking the Malibu coast and out onto the endless Pacific.   The plan for the new villa was based on an excavation in the 1750’s of Villa Dei Papiri, that had been buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD.  Not only is the new villa the same scale and plan but also includes some materials from the 2000-year-old villa.

After watching the short introductory film, I took a guided tour of the gardens.   The docent detailed the four main gardens starting with the fragrant kitchen and herb garden.   I was encouraged to take small samples to smell and after placed the samples in my pocket—I had plans for those herbs.   The formal water garden had a magnificent view of the ocean way below.  There was a sculpture garden with pomegranate trees and a walled garden with acanthus plants and laurel trees.  I wandered around the galleries enjoying the detailed Greek urns, perfect sculptures and mosaics.  It was hard to believe that this art was so old and yet still had such a current influence in our world.    The gods and goddesses portrayed in the art remain part of my everyday life as I study myth and archetypes as part of my classes.

Two days later I again drove past the Getty Villa and up the beautiful Malibu coast to school near Santa Barbara.  It is my favorite route to take and the ocean, cliffs and music on the radio together make a beautiful experience.    The next day I started to get texts to see if I was alright—were the fires near me?   I was far enough from the fires but couldn’t believe the peaceful drive just a few hours before was now an inferno.   I took those herbs I gathered just a few days before and walked them to the center of the labyrinth on campus.  I had physical gifts from those peaceful gardens to offer prayers for the people suffering from the destruction.

The Getty Villa had to shut down during the fires but remains unharmed and has now reopened.  Two thousand years ago the first Villa was destroyed in a sudden rain of fire and ash and now the new Villa had the potential to meet the same fate.  How fleeting life can be, peaceful one day and gone the next as we witness every day the natural disasters that happen on our planet.  I try to savor every day, not in a fatalistic way, but so that life doesn’t just pass unnoticed until it is too late.

 

 

B-17

There are as many sacred spots as there are pilgrims, for each person has a unique call to their soul.  Pilgrims may be standing at the same place looking at the same mountain or cathedral, but the experience is always processed through the individual heart and soul.   I tend to love very traditional pilgrimages such as stone circles and churches but that might not make your heart sing.   It is our unique expression of the soul that gives the place meaning.

Over the years Hamilton and I have traveled to sacred spots together, particularly in England, Peru and Cambodia.  Sometimes we are drawn to the same site but sometimes we are called to different experiences.   But one of the great joys of traveling with other pilgrims is to witness and share their joy when a moment or a place touches their hearts.  A few weeks ago, I read an article in the paper that a B-17 (WW II bomber) was coming to town and available for tourist flights.   I insisted Hamilton take advantage of this opportunity.   He is always so supportive of my journeys and work that I wanted him to have his own special day to follow his bliss.

Hamilton is a voracious reader, particularly of WWII history.   He watches documentaries of the war and is always asking me to identify the planes—of course I can’t so I always reply B-17.   Just the sound of those historic airplanes makes him misty-eyed as he admires the skill and bravery of the men who sacrificed their lives to keep our world free.   He can tell you the names of the planes just by the silhouettes and sounds and knows all their histories.

On a beautiful September morning we drove an hour to Sevierville, the gateway of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.  There on the tarmac of the small private airport was the B-17, Madras Maiden.   We walked over to inspect the exterior and peek into the cramped fuselage.   There was a magical aura to the whole experience: the cool morning breeze, the misty-blue layers of the mountains, the well-loved airplane.   I took pictures and listened to the 96-year-old veteran talk about being a crew chief on a B-17 in Africa.  Soon it was time for nine happy fliers to board the plane.   One by one the four engines started up and made the characteristic roar and gave off a big puff of smoke.   I took videos of the take off.    About 30 minutes later the plane was heading back, slowly flying against the back drop of perfect mountains until it gently landed.  Hamilton crawled out the back hatch with a big smile.   During the flight the passengers could explore the plane and watch the pilots.  Everything about that experience made him so happy and in turn made me happy.   We watched the B-17 take off with another load of passengers and then went and had a lovely lunch before driving back home through the mountains.   Although not a conventional pilgrimage, it was a beautiful experience and just perfect to feed our souls.

 

Passport

 

There are many ways we mark the passage of a year such as birthdays, anniversaries, and New Years.   We use birthdays. ending in ‘0’ and the change of a decade to reflect on longer lapses of time.   I’ve been lucky enough to see a century/millennium change as we move into the Age of Aquarius.  These are all significant markers to reflect on what has passed and wonder what is to come.

This month I have a unique marker of time that designates a very special phase of my life outside of the usual birthdays and holidays.   It was time to renew my passport.   A few months before my first trip to Egypt, I realized I couldn’t find my passport, so I applied for a new one which was marked with a issue date of September 24, 2008.   Although I had been out of the country several time before, this passport marked the beginning of my life as a pilgrim.

2008 was a memorable year for many reasons:  my beloved 99-year-old grandmother passed away, Alexandra got her drivers license, Caroline went to college and the financial crisis of the year deeply effect our business.  It was an intense year and certainly a dividing line in my life for I was ending one era of parenting and moving on to a phase of my life where I was freer to pursue my interests.

In January of 2009 I got my first stamp in my new passport— a beautiful Egyptian visa, with an iridescent seal and exotic words.  I stepped into a new world that was both ancient and modern, exotic and exciting.  My wanderlust was ignited and over the next ten years I added many more visas and stamps to my little blue book:  England, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, Peru, Thailand, Cambodia, Jordan and twice more to Egypt.  My final stamp was Taiwan this last January.   I hate to retire my well-worn book, but I already have a new passport that is ready for my adventures next year.   I’m a bit older in my picture, my address changed, and my occupation is now “writer”.   I don’t know where we will travel together but I know it will be an adventure.   My passport opened the world for me to explore, changed my life in innumerable ways and allowed me to fulfill my destiny as a pilgrim.  As I travel and visit sacred sites near and far, I bring a deeper connection to the sacred in my heart for pilgrimage is time out of time, life lived in the eternal.