weareallpilgrims

Camino de Santiago

The Useless Thing

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I read a book called “Sabbath” by Wayne Muller during our Camino Walk. I can not imagine a better book to have read during this long walk to Santiago. The book was filled with some great wisdom for living life, mostly about the importance of rest.

I am in need of taking in some of its sage advice again, it seems. You see, we in the midst of a very, very busy point in our lives as we moving out of our home of 34 years. Our home will go on the market in late April or early May and we are now packing to move into a condo we hope to rent for a year until we purchase again. As anyone that has gone through this experience knows, it is filled with anxiety and lists upon lists of things that need to get done.

The reason the long Camino walk and that book were so key to my life after Boeing, is it really helped me see the value of “useless things”. What do I mean by “useless things”? Here is a quote from the book that will help:

“To walk without purpose, to no place in particular, where we are astonished by the textured bark of an oak. To notice the color red showing itself for the first time in the maple in fall. To see animals in shapes of clouds, to walk in clover. To fall into an unexpected conversation with a stranger… To taste the orange we eat, the juice on the chin, the pulp between the teeth. To take a deep sigh, exhale, followed by a listening silence… to give thanks for a single step on earth. To give thanks for any blessing, previously unnoticed.”

These are the “useless things”. They are thoroughly without measurable value. Nothing is getting checked off the list. Nothing of significance is being accomplished. Oh, what a beautiful thing it is, these “useless things”. It means we need to break off our pattern of living where we measure out day by how many things we checked off our list.

The Camino walk taught me how to do this, along with the sage advice of this book. We cannot wait till we are finished, because we are never finished. We can not wait till things slow down. We need to take rest and stop and take in the “useless things” in life.

I think I am writing this blog to myself right now. To recall back to this most important lessons that the Camino taught me.

Blessings and grace to you!

John

Photograph of the Week

Since today is St Patrick’s Day, I figured I should include a photograph from Ireland for the Photograph of the Week.

Dingle

This is an image taken during our stay on the Dingle Peninsula.

Distractions

20140924-Castro-Fromi-33-EditI am sure many of you may have heard the story about the Fort Collins runner that was attacked by a mountain lion while trail running. It is quite the story, as the young man after a long wrestling match with the lion was able to strangle and kill the mountain lion. His life was saved by the fact he heard the sound of a stick breaking behind him, he turned around and was face to face with the mountain lion. He said he normally would have been running with some headphones or ear buds and the mountain lion would have attacked him from behind by surprise.

His life was likely saved by the fact he was not “distracting himself” during his run in the mountains. When I heard this, the thought that came to mind, was how “distractions” could have lead to this man’s death and how today’s many distractions are “killing” our lives, the lives we are meant to live.

The world wants you to be distracted.

There’s a fortune to be made off your distraction. Television, streaming services, movie studios, social media, apps, video games, smart phone companies, and countless other billion-dollar industries have but one goal: To make you watch their stuff.” (Anthony Moore)

One of the best things about walking the Camino, is it was a largely distraction free time for the 5 weeks of walking. We did have smart phones but we mostly used them only in the evening (mostly to post to our daily Camino blog and to upload some photos to Facebook). I have to admit, I kind of long for that time again, as you see, I am very susceptible to “distraction disease”.

“Distractions destroy creativity, momentum, and focus. They seek to dominate you, much like the addiction seeks to dominate the addict. They will if you let them.” (Anthony Moore)

One way I have found that helps me to steer clear of distractions that keep me from investing in my free time, is to focus on routines. That was sure a lesson of our Camino walk, we were very much in a routine and rhythm each day. We got really got into the flow. Our daily routine kept us from distractions.

I am working hard these days to build meaningful life building routines that have become habit, like time spent with family and friends, writing, reading books, singing, spending time building my spiritual relationship with my creator).  The more I focus on my routines, the less I am pulled into distractions that draw me away from the important things in my life.

Let’s all work hard to eliminate distractions and develop routines and rhythms that help us be more creative and life giving to others.

Blessings and grace to you,

John

Photograph of the Month

Winter Wonderland

I realize everyone is a bit fatigued from all the snow we have had for the last few weeks, but here is an image I captured a few winters back on a hike to Big Four Mountain. It had just broke clear and bright after a big dump of snow in the mountains.

 

 

 

Stressed and Tired

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We all get stressed out and tired. Terri and I faced this pretty much everyday of our long Camino walk to Santiago. Day after day of walking all day long takes its toll on you. There were many days we arrived at our destination for the night just completely spent and worn out. This level of effort put us under stress both physically and emotionally.

Then upon arriving at our accommodations for the night, we were often in close quarters with many other very tired and stressed pilgrims. This can put more stress on you as you we all are sharing the same limited resources (showers, clothes washing areas, sleeping areas). Emotions can run high and it can be hard to be patient and kind and not fall into being frustrated or rude and angry to others. This is what I wanted to reflect today.

So when I am tired and stressed, what is happening in my brain and how do I behave under this condition?

Here are some of my thoughts:

  • My brain loves efficiency and so the habits I have formed in our brain will tend to be my default behavior when I am under stress
  • The virtues we develop, like, say patience, don’t just happen without the discipline. It takes practice to develop a virtue.
  • Being raised with blessing of parents and teachers to guide me in the time tested values of Christianity has shaped my brain to love the virtues like patience and self control.
  • I also recognize I have a brain that is able to change and build new pathways so I can eventually over time become a more patient person if I truly want this virtue in my life. It is a choice I can freely make.
  • I understand that emotions come like the weather and are NOT bad. I also understand that they I can call them out and I can guide them with my reasoning and faith, much like a loving father with his children.

Did I succeed in being a patient and kind to my fellow pilgrims? Well, I would like to say yes but I would be lying. I do know the success I did have, felt good when I did and drove me to want to do it again.

We are all work in progress and we can really assess how far we have come when we observe how we do when we are tired and stressed. Do I like the way I have behaved? Do I hate the way I behaved? It is good to reflect on our behavior when under stress as it provides us with the measure of our progress on the path to being the “best version of ourselves”.

So, paying attention and listening to our emotions is good. What we do next is what matters most, though.

Blessings and grace,

John

Photograph of the Week

Highlands

This is a photograph I captured during our trip to Scotland back in 2016. It is in the Highlands of Scotland a beautiful area of the world and I wish we had more time there. I revisited this image recently to put some “painterly touch” to it.

Transitions

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Our lives are constantly going through transitions. Sometimes we can plan and get ready in advance for a transition in our lives, like moving to a new residence or retiring. But, unfortunately, other transitions come without advance notice, like getting sick or injured. I think, a good way we can approach our transitions in life, is to take time to ponder and reflect on each transition you make.

The Camino walk that Terri and I took was the perfect way to transition from a working life to the retired life. We had a lot of time to ponder and reflect about this next big transition in our lives. We had also done a lot of “spade work” to make sure our retirement went well but it was the long walk that really helped me make this important life transition. It allowed me time to set my mind. I framed my new reality and create my new mindset as a “retiree”.

Other times, in my life though, I have been dealt transitions that were sudden and sometimes hard to take. No one likes to go through loss and grief. Unfortunately, we all face times of transition that hurt.

I have come to recognize that in these times, there is value in taking time to let silence and reflection open up my heart and mind to the change I face.

There is a great quote I read from one of my favorite authors, Henri Nouwen, that speaks well to the importance of taking the time to live and reflect on our losses.

“The great challenge is living your wounds through instead of thinking them through. It is better to cry than to worry, better to feel your wounds deeply than to understand them, better to let them enter into your silence than to talk about them”

I will close this blog post with a poem written by a very dear friend, who wrote this poem after coming to grips with the reality that the hopes and dreams he had for his son were not going to happen now. He took time to ponder and reflect in the face of his loss.

I hope in this New Year this message helps you where ever you are in our life journey!

My New Son

By Bob Maier

 

I feel so confused, hurt and utterly sad.

The child I thought was mine is gone.

 

I want to cry.

Cry for the child who will never ask, “Why?”

“Why do the leaves turn red in autumn?”

“Why do I have to go to bed right now?”

“Why are you crying, Daddy?”

 

Son, what will you be when you grow up?

I once thought you might be a zoologist,

Traveling to exotic places, 

Studying the rare and wonderful animals

You’ve always loved.

 

When you were less than a year old, sitting

motionless, 

listening to Mommy’s choir sing, 

I dreamt that someday you would be a 

Creator of beautiful music.

 

My child has been taken from me!

But that can’t be.

He’s here with me now.

He hasn’t changed.

Yet still, I feel as though 

he’s gone.

My child has somehow

died.

The child of my dreams 

and hopes is no

more.

 

I know these feelings are 

normal and helpful,

that I shouldn’t feel guilty

for having them.

All the experts tell me this.

But it doesn’t help the pain.

 

Things are getting better now.

The funeral for the child of my expectations is over

now.

 

 

Oh, I still visit the cemetery from time to time.

I put Cub Scout caps and grade-school science projects at 

his grave.

But I don’t spend so much time there anymore.

 

I have another son to love.

The one they call “autistic.”

He’s such a sweet boy.

He’s never mean to anyone,

and he squeezes so

tight when he hugs me.

He loves to dance with his

daddy,

and he gets such a cute

smile on his face when

he says, “I did it!”

 

He’s still the same boy who 

Loves monkeys,

Peter Pan, kiwi fruit and

throwing rocks in the 

water.

I’m learning to love my new

Son,

and he has always loved 

me.

 

Photograph of the Week

Snow Lake Majesty

This is a photograph I took in December of 2014 on a beautiful clear and winter day. The hike to Snow Lake at Snoqualmie Pass is a very popular hike but in winter a bit more dangerous with the ice and snow and avalanche danger. We hit it with perfect timing at the lowest avalanche danger and during an extended cold and clear period.

 

Every Person Has A Story

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Sonder

“The realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed…”

Sonder, is this a word? Well, it has some urban roots (meaning someone started it and lots of others started using it) and I liked it, when I read it, because I truly believe “every person has a story.”

One of the cool things that happens, when you walk the Camino, is you get to meet lots of other pilgrims doing the same thing. In short order, you become bonded together by your experience. Terri and I, met lots of great people from all over the world and they all had a story to tell, not just of their experience on the Camino, but of their lives. Over the time, we collected a “network of pilgrims”. What was really cool, was at the end of the walk, we ended up connecting back together again with many of the “pilgrim friends”. It was fascinating to learn of each other’s stories.

It is one of life’s lessons we all need to learn, every person has a story, and sometimes the stories are not pretty because live is complex.

“For life is difficult for everyone. Everyone is hurting. We don’t need to blame anyone. We are all beset with the same issues. Understanding and accepting this truth can help us forgive each other and then forgive ourselves.” (Fr Ron Rolheiser, Wrestling with God)

There is something powerful in this when we view the world this way.

I seen this in the last year, as I have spent considerable time with my friend, Rob, who is homeless. I thought I knew his story but I did not. It was only when I “walked with him in his pain” that I began to start to understand his story, and yes, the story was not as I thought. His story has affected my story and I have have learned powerfully, “every person has a story”. I now try my best to hold to suspend my judgment and tell myself, I wonder what this person’s story is?

I hope this inspires you as well to ask this question, when you encounter another “pilgrim” that is making their way through life.

Blessings to you all!

John

Photograph of the Week

Waiting For The Storm

“Good art is good precisely because it takes that complexity and shines a light on it in a way that doesn’t resolve the tension too easily.” (Fr Ron Rolheiser, Wrestling with God).

I liked this quote as it “hit a cord” with me. I always try with my photography to “tell a story”.

The image I selected for this week’s “Photograph of the Week”, is one I took back in 2009, and has been my best seller by far and is truly loved for the story it seems to tell.

The image is complex and it does not resolve the tension. You want to linger on the Adirondack chairs by the shore, but there is a huge rainstorm coming. You should leave quick but something about the color of the waters and the beauty of this coming storm makes you want to linger despite the approaching rainstorm. So you stay because

“Some people feel the rain. Others just get wet.”  Bob Marley

 

It is the people who make a house a home

20141001-Maza-Astor-41-2One of the important experiences of walking the Camino, is spending the evening/nights in the Alberques, along the way with your fellow pilgrims. The Albergues, are like hostels, as they are designed for community living.  You share bedrooms and bathrooms and common kitchens and dining areas. By staying in the Albergues, you can draw even closer to some of the folks you have met along the way. You end up getting to know each other better as you share your Camino experiences over dinner. One time we even went to a store and made a dinner together. Now that was really fun!

I was thinking about how powerful shared experiences are, when they are discussed over a nice meal together. You draw together as you talk about your day. It is the same as well, with our family homes.

We are planning to sell our family home next Spring, to move to a smaller one level home or condo. This is what got me thinking about what really makes a house a home. What gives a house its real value is NOT the building, however grand or beautiful it is, it is the people who occupy it, who make a house a home. It is all those memories we build up over time in this house that make it home. It is those family meals, where we share the best part of our day (a great new family tradition that our son-in-law brought to our meals). It is all the happy and sad times we have experienced together in the home.

I know that Terri and I will be sad for a time to leave this wonderful house that has been our home for these past 33 years.  I also know that the next house/condo will slowly begin again to be home as we share this our new house or condo with our family and friends.

I hope that this coming week, you have the chance to experience the wonderful joy of Thanksgiving dinner with family/friends in the house of one of your family or friends.

Blessings to you all this Thanksgiving!

John

P.S. Not to worry, Terri and I are not planning to move far, as we are hoping to stay right here in Edmonds, when we move next Spring.

Photograph of the Week

Morning Sun Rays

I love the early fall mornings when you have the combo of fog and sun because there can be a lot of great photographic opportunities. This image was captured during our long drive down the Suiattle River Road. I noticed the unique rays of morning sunlight and fog. We stopped the car and jumped out and walked around to find just the right spot to capture this image.

 

Change Often – Silence is Golden

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“In a higher world it is otherwise, but here below to live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.” Blessed John Henry Newman

I have always liked this quote, I guess because it reminds me, of how important it is to be open to changes, especially changes within myself that make me a “better version of myself”.

Walking the Camino, I believe, certainly offers opportunities for a lot of reflection on one’s life and changes that you might want to work on when the walk is over. As it turned out, we walked the Camino just after I retired in March of 2014, which provided some “fertile ground” to reflect on life after “Boeing”.

During the silence of the walk, I was able to process better what I envisioned life might look like for me after retirement. I was renewed and excited to get started once we returned. Since returning I have become completely engaged with family (taking care of our grandchildren two days a week), hiking once a week (year round), extended travel to some beautiful parts of the world, as well engaging and volunteering with different Church ministries. I really do love the fact that I am able to say “yes” more often to new opportunities. It is truly one of the blessings of being retired.

We all have opportunities that come our way, that challenge us to come out of our “comfort zone”, and move us closer to being the “best version of ourselves”. I believe that, the times we are most likely to reflect on changes to our life or the direction we are going, is in silence. The Camino surely provided that for us.

So, I will end this blog today, with this quote I read the other day to help us all remember that “silence can indeed be golden” and wonderful fertile ground for changes.

“the more chaotic our life becomes, the more we need to balance it with silence.”  Saint Bruno (1030-1101)

Blessings to your all,

John

Photograph of the Week

Silence is Golden

I captured this image during a hike to the North Cascades Pass area, in early October, at the height of the fall Larch tree color change. My friend Brenda Reeves, is in the foreground and my other good friend, Bob Maier, is resting behind the big rock (not seen). A truly wonderful spot to soak in the beauty of the mountains and partake in some silent time together.

Turn To The Suffering Ones

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“When people turn toward the suffering ones in their midst, the entire community is transformed.”  Xavier Le Picho

There is no question, when you walk 500 miles there is some suffering that goes with walking that far. Terri was a real hero, as she was definitely suffering, with the stress fractures she developed during the walk. She was in pain for a good portion of the walk. She suffered and endured the pain and she was not alone. We saw so many pilgrims with injuries that just kept going and some sustained injuries, so bad, they were not able to continue and had to end their walk early.

It is amazing how close one draws to the other pilgrim walkers during this walk. I wonder, if it is the suffering that is shared that draws you closer. I guess that is why I liked the quote above, because it got me thinking about the suffering of those in our midst today.

I had a very intense experience this past summer of helping a friend that is very broken physically, emotionally and mentally and is also homeless. He suffers greatly. I did my very best to walk with him in his suffering. I tried my best not to put my expectations on him but simply “to turn to him in his suffering” and help him in the smallest ways I could. I can tell you I have been transformed in a very good way by this experience. I have a much deeper compassion and understanding for the poor and especially the homeless. My relationship with my friend has been changed and I can say we are now truly “brothers”.

We all have opportunities to turn to those around us who are suffering and to walk with them. It is not an easy walk but I can tell you it will transform you into a better place.

Blessings and all good,

John

Photograph of the Week

Rocky Mountain High

Rocky Mountain National Park is truly a treasure of a National Park. I captured this image during the drive from Estes Park to the 12,000 ft high point. I fell in love with the boulders and rocks of Rocky Mountain Park. I loved this formation in the foreground.

Little Acts of Kindness and Thoughtfulness

bunkbeds alburgue

When one walks the Camino, the traditional “Camino Way”, is to stay the night in the Albergues, that are located all across the way. An Alburgue is a hostel, which means you share in all the common spaces (kitchens, bathrooms and bedrooms). A typical Alburgue has several rooms with multiple bunk beds in each room. Needless to say, you are in close quarters with all your fellow pilgrims. I remember our first night of the Camino we were in a very large hall, that had maybe 40 bunk beds in it!

When you are living this close to your fellow pilgrims, it is important regardless of how tired you are, to practice “little acts of kindness and thoughtfulness” with your fellow pilgrims. You see that is the grease needed to keep the gears from not grinding.

You build a community of fellow pilgrims, when you walk the Camino. You share the joys and the pains of the walk together and you experience a close fellowship with those you meet along the way. This, I found, helped me when I was tired and worn down, to be “the best version of myself” in those close quarters.

As is often the case, the lessons of the Camino apply to our everyday lives too. Take for example our families. You see, building and growing our family relationships, is hard work. All our families experience times when we are worn down, tired, stressed and we can not even sometimes be in the same room with each other. Yet just like the fellow Camino pilgrims, we have walked a long way together and we have shared the joys and sorrows and pain. What we must remember, though, we need to keep those gears from grinding with our little acts of thoughtfulness, encouragement, and praise, sown and watered with kindness. We also must repent (quickly) for thoughtless words, and forgive more quickly.

The fruit will become obvious in the ways your relationships open up and in the joy that begins to permeate the atmosphere of your home.

Blessings and all good,

John

Photograph of the Week

Aspen Walk

During a recent summer trip to Colorado, I had the chance to hike in through some Aspen tree groves. They are the largest living organisms in the world, as the trees are all interconnected together, just like us. We are also all connected together and it is important to remember to take care of each other.

Small Steps – Building Relationships

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When I first heard about the Camino De Santiago, I was amazed that people could walk a total of 500 miles. I have to admit I was intimidated by the total length of this walk and yet in the end, Terri and I completed it by the “small step” approach. This approach is called the “Kaizen small step approach”, and it works by disarming the brain’s fear response for large change or big overwhelming problems. Terri and I just focused on the small steps along the way rather than thinking about the magnitude of what we were facing, 500 miles of walking.

Terri and I recently faced another challenging and difficult task this past summer. A friend of ours who is homeless, and had recently lost his son to suicide, came to live with us for a few weeks as we tried to help him during this most tragic time in his life.

Neither Terri or I, fully realized what we were undertaking. It put a lot of stress on us but to make a long story short, we were successful in helping him through this tough time and helping him to find some temporary housing. There is still a long road ahead for him but we did it through the small step approach. We decided to not try and help him solve all his many problems and issues all at once but to simply take “small steps”. If we saw one small step we could help him with that is what we did for him. Maybe one day it was helping him get some new glasses, the next day it be simply sharing with him some clothing he needed. Through it all, we built up a stronger relationship as well. He has been so grateful for everything all the help we provided. As Mother Teresa said,

“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”

We are built for relationships, we foster and grow relationships by serving and helping each other and we can do it by taking one loving step at a time!

Blessings and all good,

John

Photograph of the Week

Orcas Island Byway

This image was created earlier this summer, during a trip to Orcas Island, to attend a wedding. We were cruising around the island and I noticed this cool small country road with trees overhanging. I turned the car around and captured the original image, with the idea in mind, I wanted to see what I might draw out of it in the post processing. I think it came out quite well, too!