“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.
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.
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.
“I have never been separate from God, nor can I be, except in my mind” Richard Rohr
I wonder how many pilgrims that walk the Camino de Santiago, find after their long walk, their mind, body and soul are aligned and their connectedness with nature and other pilgrims has grown. I think that for me that was one of the benefits I did not really expect but definitely experienced from walking the Camino. Time walking in nature has some benefits we sometimes do not understand till we have experienced them.
This past year, I have been even more mindful and thoughtful during all my city and mountain hikes. I have tried to concentrate on experiencing every leaf, branch, root, tree, mushroom, wildflower as if for the first time. To savor and linger has been my mindset. To truly connect my mind, body and soul together with nature. I can tell you it has been truly a healing balm for me this pandemic year of isolation.
I read recently the Latin root of the word religion, is re-ligare, which is translated “to reconnect”. Now, this make sense to me. This indeed is what I believe happens as we dwell and savor our time in nature, we are “re-connecting” again to the source of life. That is why I loved the quote at the top of this blog. “I have never been separated from God (the source of life), nor can I be, except in my mind”. Unfortunately, it is hard to keep ourselves connected as we live in a world that can seem like it is pulling us apart. We can experience times where we feel totally disconnected from from within – mind, body and soul and with each other.
Could this be an illusion? I dare say that this quote is probably right. It is in our minds or mindset.
I say it is time to “get religion”, to re-connect by savoring our time in nature and with each other in love and solidarity.
This is an image taken along the shore of the Moclips River right close to where the river enters the ocean. I took the image in 2018 and have continue to work on it over the years till it all came together recently in this final image.
P.S. The image at the top of this blog came during a hike to Esmeralda Basin in Central Washington in 2016. The tree and the swirling background from two images I captured that day.
“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart. And try to love the questions themselves.”
Rainer Maria Rilke
Now here is a quote for you! I decided to open with this quote as I am finding it so appropriate as the Coronavirus continues to ravage our country. I am finding it so hard to stay diligent and patient as we await the days we can return back to “normal”. I am also finding there are so many unanswered questions in my head. How much longer is this really going to be? I am tired of this and want it to end now. When will I get the vaccine? When will it be safe for us to gather indoors and hug again? How much longer will I need to wear a mask and socially distance? If I get the virus will there be room for me in a hospital?
Walking the Camino is all about living with the unanswered questions. Can we really do this? Will our bodies be able to endure this physical endurance test? Can we get to our destination today in time before all the accommodations are filled? Can we keep with the schedule we had planned? What will it feel like if we make it to the end? We had lots of questions unanswered until we finally finished the Camino walk.
We are on a similar journey this year was we walk the “Coronavirus Camino”. So much is unknown with the disorder that the Coronavirus created in our lives. We have all experienced losses, anxiety and confusion as this virus has disrupted our entire lives.
This whole year has been one big “I don’t know“. Unanswered questions. If you are like me, you probably don’t like unanswered questions. I find that I want to get the answer or figure some way to make it go away (ignore, blame, scapegoat are some of my favorites). Yet, maybe there is a better way to deal with the unanswered questions. Much like our Camino questions, maybe we simply need to hold the questions “in our hearts” and face the reality “I don’t know“.
We did not find out the answers to our questions on the Camino till we finished the walk. We simply trusted and kept walking. I would suggest that might not be a bad idea for us to consider as well for our “Coronavirus Camino”. Let’s try to “loving” the unanswered questions and trusting and walking till we get to the final destination, “life after the coronavirus“.
This is an image I captured this week during a hike in the snow up at Mt Baker Ski area with my good friend, Bob Maier. We experienced a very special moment together when at one point, the lighting, shadow and lines of the fresh snow were simply sublime and we were both transfigured by it. We both we silent and just took it all in. We both were simply one with all the universe at this time. Lovely, wish we could have stayed there forever.
The image that is at the top of this post was captured during a hike to Whistle Lake near Anacortes. I belong to a photography sharing website called Unsplash and this image has been viewed by over two million people and download by almost 9,000 people. Unsplash is a copyright free stock photography website. It gives downloaders the right to “copy, modify, distribute and use the photos for free, including commercial purposes, without asking permission from or providing attribution to the photographer or Unsplash”. It does prohibit selling unaltered copies, including selling the photos as prints or printed on physical goods.
I have had one of my photographs used in a book and given credit. I mostly love doing it because I want my photography to be enjoyed by as many as possible. I really do not care about any of the credit. I know that might sound strange but “hey, that is the way I roll.”
Here is a link to my Unsplash photographs that have been accepted for distribution.
“For those of us who want to see democracy survive and thrive—and we are legion—the heart is where everything begins: that grounded place in each of us where we can overcome fear, rediscover that we are members of one another, and embrace the conflicts that threaten democracy as openings to new life for us and for our nation. . . .“ Parker Palmer
Have you ever noticed when you are hiking that when you meet someone on the trail they often will recognize you with a greeting and a friendly smile? They will sometimes even give you advice or warn you of some possible obstacles or dangers to look out for ahead on the trail.
During our Camino walk this was even more pronounced as you passed by other fellow pilgrims. There was a real connection felt we each other. Fellow pilgrims just loved sharing with each other the challenges that lay ahead for you or give you some great little tips that would assist you on your journey ahead.
Why are folks so friendly and helpful during the times I am hiking in nature or when I was walking the Camino?
I wonder if maybe it might be because we are sharing some “common ground” together? In the case of meeting other fellow hikers on the trail, could the common ground be our love of being in nature and how it seems to heal us and make us better? Maybe it might be our shared love of being outdoors and exercising? Maybe it is the sense of adventure that comes with hiking, what you might see when you hike this trail (wildlife or new vistas you have not seen before)?
The “common ground” with our fellow pilgrims on our Camino walk was likely due to the sharing of a common goal, walking the Camino where we literally were walking on the same path that so many, many fellow pilgrims have walked for hundreds of years! We also shared the hardships and joys as well of this walk and loved sharing it with the many pilgrims we met along the way.
So, this got me thinking about how very divided our United States is right now and how can we begin to see the “common ground” that we share together? As the quote at the beginning of this blog states, maybe we need to look into our hearts to overcome our fears of each other and realize we are all connected together.
It is challenging to look into “ones heart”, to take a critical look at ourselves. It takes a higher level of consciousness to seriously consider our biases.
“How can we learn to see, to see what’s really there, to see what our neighbor sees but that we’ve always missed, to help others see what we see, to open our eyes together and see what we’ve never seen, or even been able to see?” Brian McLaren
“It is our highest ethical calling to learn how to see.” Rabbi Hartman at the Hartman Institute in Jerusalem
I have recently found a new podcast, called “Learning How To See” that I am finding quite helpful in exploring the biases that can be present in us and in many cases we may not be aware of. We all have our “blind spots” that prevent us from truly seeing. It is only as we keep discussing, keep thinking, keep talking that we are able to recognize our “blind spots” and then perhaps move forward onto “common ground”.
I hope you might find time to listen to this new podcast and let me know what you think.
As we enter fall and the first snows begin to fall on the mountains, I love to get up and capture some images of the fresh snow on the mountain peaks. The is Del Campo Peak, which I have always loved. It is such a beautiful rugged looking mountain!
It was one of my first true mountains I climbed. I was taking the Boeing Alpine Climbing course and this was one of the mountains we climbed.
“We don’t think yourself into a new way of living you live yourself into a new way of thinking.” Richard Rohr
The Camino is a experiential type of thing.
I read a number of books about the Camino and watched a couple of movies on the Camino in preparation for the walk. Yet, it was the experience of walking the Camino, that drew out of me the Camino’s true value and lessons. Walking the Camino, I came to a new way of thinking on life. It changed me.
If you have been following my blog for these past 6 years since we walked the Camino, you likely have got an idea for how the Camino changed me. Here are few important lessons I have learned and how my thinking has changed as a result.
Be present to the moment, use all your senses to soak it up. Stay in the moment as long as possible and be curious and keep an open mind and heart.
Get outside and walk in nature regularly. I am especially fond of walking in the forests. It is a healing balm for your body, mind and soul.
“Human Being” is way more important that “Human Doing“. Avoid filling your days with constant activity and to do lists. Just being present and still is of true value.
Simplify, simplify, simplify. Less is more. It is a very freeing experience to move “downward” rather than “upward” in terms of possessions. The less we need to protect and prove.
Live with a heart filled with gratitude for everyone and everything.
There are so many other wonderful bits of wisdom I have learned from walking the Camino. The writing of this blog for the last 6 years has really helped to crystallize my thinking as well.
This experience has led me to want even more experiences like this. I will close this blog with one more thought on this idea of living into a new way of thinking.
“You think like the people you cocktail party with.” Richard Rohr
Oh, how easy it is to remain cozy and comfortable, surrounded by people who think just like you, vote just like you, worship just like you, use money just like you. We are all called to break free to live in larger circles of love. I have found that when I “change sides” by going to those who have very little, the poor, I have learned the most about life through this experience and my thinking has been changed. I highly recommend this!
I hope this blog today provided you with some inspiration to try and live your way into a new way of thinking!
During this past week, I had a chance to go on a hike to Lake Ingalls in the Central Washington Cascade Mountains. I was monitoring the dark shadow being cast on Esmeralda Peak as we started up the trail. I was struck by the great contrast. When I saw the outline of this old tree shadow, I knew I had a great shot if I could position the shadow against the brightly lit Esmeralda Peak. I had to climb a bit off trail but I found the perfect alignment I had envisioned. Viola!
It seems to me this old tree was speaking to me of its past in the shadow it casts on Esmeralda!
“There must be, and if we are honest, there always will be at least one situation in our lives that we cannot fix, control, explain, change, or even understand.” Richard Rohr
We are in such a “wounded state” these days, we are all suffering and wounded by the coronavirus pandemic, the social injustice protests and now the wildfires that have swept across the Western states. “We Cannot Breathe” seems to sum it up for us in 2020. We are suffocating and dying. We are all suffering losses and are wounded right now.
What do we do? Do we seek to blame, accuse and attack others? I know for me, when I am hurting, I almost immediately seek to blame someone. Who is responsible for my hurting? It is so easy for my ego to quickly identify the easy answer as to why this is happening to me.
“Whatever is not transformed is transmitted.”
This is one of my favorite quotes for it reminds me to see more clearly that if I am hurting and wounded, I must look deeper beyond the easy and quick ego satisfying explanations. I have learned that it seems only in my human suffering is where true transformation can begin.
One of the reasons folks give for walking the Camino de Santiago is, they just need to “clear their heads”, so they can think clearly again and maybe make some important life decisions. That is one of the beautiful things about walking the Camino, it gives one time to think and to dig deeper into their lives. Maybe they have suffered a loss of a loved one or a job and are trying to figure out how to work through this loss.
It is in embracing our “necessary suffering”, that seems to be programmed into our life journeys, that we are able to “break open the heart space” so we can experience a transformation. A change in our hearts and minds.
Here are some deeper truths I have learned through exploring my wounds and the wounds of our country.
The coronavirus pandemic has forced me into new patterns in my life. It has really slowed me down to a much more deliberate pace of life. It has greatly simplified our lives and shown us that we can save money if we are not always out eating out and traveling all the time. I have become aware of my deep connection to the “consumerism culture” of America. In some ways, it has made our lives a lot like the Camino walk, in the way that it has greatly simplified it and helped us focus on what is really important.
The death of George Floyd, exposed the our nations “great wound” of systemic racism. This got me to exploring my own lack of awareness of my “white privilege” and the role it has played in my life. In reading more about systemic racism, I am beginning to understand how it has robbed people of color of opportunities that I have enjoyed (great education, a great job and wealth through home ownership). I also now see, that we do indeed have a long road ahead of us, to repair the damage that has been done for so many years.
Not everything that is faced can be changed; but nothing can be changed until it is faced.—James Baldwin
You can not heal what you do not acknowledge. May these unprecedented times of loss and suffering, lead us all to open up our hearts to search what areas of our lives need to be transformed.
This image is a composite of two images I captured and merged together. The heart shaped rock I found during a visit to Apache Junction, Arizona and the ragged hanging root on the side of a trail during hike to Fremont Lookout in Mt Rainier National Park.
In 2014, I had two important life events occur, that I now see created a fundamental shift in my life.
In March of 2014, I retired from Boeing after 39 years and then in September, Terri and I walked the Camino De Santiago, a 500 mile walk across Spain.
In April of 2014, our first Granddaughter, Katherine was born. We began being caregivers 2 days a week a few months later.
These events shifted my life focus. For the majority of my life up to this point, I was focused on producing and building. I looked with the eyes of utility, I looked with an engineers mind. How can this be something that will help to build our wealth, help me get promoted, help support our family. How can I use this to make something from or use it in some way? How does this thing work? What is it made of? Can I use it for something? Do it have a practical use?
Then came retirement and the Camino and grandchildren and my focus began to change. First came the long 5 weeks of walking across Spain. I was retired for about 5 months, my mind was still thinking a lot about my Boeing job and the people I worked with so many years. I wanted to make the transition to retired life without returning back to work at Boeing. I figured this long walk might just help me do this.
In early September of 2014, Terri and I began our Camino walk and our lives were stripped down to the basics. Get up early, get ready quickly and head out walking at dawn, then walk all day, find your place to stay the night, wash up, eat dinner and get to sleep to begin it all again. It was in this “simple Camino rhythm” that I began to change. I started to slow down my thinking, as it was no longer about producing and accumulating and building. It was a slow immersion into nature and the rhythm of the day. I began the process of unlearning the way my mind had been trained all these years to see the world. I began to see things “as they are, in themselves, by themselves, for themselves, not for what they could do for me”. I yielded to the Camino and what came our way, open to seeing what each day would bring.
When we returned from the Camino and we began our care giving for our granddaughter, Katherine, the great “unlearning” continued. Children are a gift for us as they help us to see the world through a new lens. They truly love things just as they are. They are not thinking of how this thing is going to be of use to them or how it will help them to produce more or be of some utility. They are simply seeing with open eyes and a sense of wonder. They yield to it and just love it for what it is. As a grandparent, I found myself yielding to their view. Unlearning that “utilitarian mind” that was so important for the first phase of my life.
Now, here I am almost 6 years removed from when we started the Camino walk and our twice a week care giving, and I have to say, I am still working at “unlearning” and yielding more and more to the “childlike” version of myself.
I practice this on the many hikes and walks in nature that I love to take as well as during our imaginative playtime with our two grandchildren (Katherine and Freya). I have discovered that it continues to be the perfect training ground for my “Great Unlearning”. What a freeing experience this has been!
To simply yield to the beauty of the little violet flower. To yield to its naked existence not for what it can do for me. The most simple person can do this and the most educated person can do this but actually the educated person does it with great difficulty. It takes a lot of “unlearning” I am finding!
I had a wonderful mystical experience a few weeks ago hiking the meadows of Mt Rainier with the wildflowers in full bloom. I spent a lot of time taking “long, loving looks” at the flowers and the mountain landscapes.
This little dainty is the seed head of the Western Anemone. I love some of the names of this flower, “tow-head baby”, “dishmop”, “Mouse on a Stick”.
The Camino de Santiago continues to have a strong worldwide appeal and in fact, in 2019, a record number of pilgrims walked the Camino. The pilgrim office in Santiago de Compostela, reported that 347,578 pilgrims received their Compostela certificate.
Terri and I loved meeting and getting to know our fellow pilgrims that lived in so many different parts of the world. This long walk together really did bond us together in a very special way.
I remember the our first day, as we headed up over the Pyrenees mountains, with so many other pilgrims. It was was the hardest day day of the entire walk due to the distance and elevation gain. Good thing we all were so fired up with such great energy and excitement!
Over the days and weeks ahead, as we moved from village to village, we started to develop relationships with many of our fellow pilgrims. Each of us on a long walking journey together, all connected by our desire to make it all the way to Santiago de Compostela. We all suffered together with our blisters and sore legs and feet. We had opportunities to share meals together and to get to know a little about each other. We shared our sufferings and joys of each day.
We had a real sense of connectedness to our fellow pilgrims. We cared about each other and looked out for each other. It was like were all seeing each other with “different eyes”, eyes that saw how we all had a deep connection with each other. Oh, the magic of the Camino, helping us all to see the inner grace and connectivity of all. To be able to look at each other as fellow pilgrims and not by all the other categories we love to pigeonhole people into without really getting to know them.
I recently have been convicted to try to stop my incessant efforts to divide up and categorize people with my calculating mind. To stop my efforts to put everyone into a box for the purpose of control. To stop being so arrogantly certain of every person and situation I encounter. This is hard stuff I am finding. It take a rewiring of my brain to do it.
I am practicing the surrendering of my desire for certainhood and control and clarity of everyone that comes into my “field of the moment.” I am striving to see everything and everyone equally, a fellow pilgrim and a child of God.
One thing is for sure, we could REALLY use a good dose this way of thinking right now as we struggle as a nation here in the United States! Our long journey to Santiago de Compostela began with one step. So, lets all remember, we have today, we have this moment in time, where we can take a step forward, looking out and seeing each other as “fellow pilgrims”. Each of us connected and a child of God.
One aspect of walking the Camino de Santiago, that Terri and I experienced, was how it tended to draw us closer to our fellow pilgrims over weeks of walking. I suspect it is the day after day of walking with each other, experiencing the joys, sorrows, pain and blisters of this long walk. There is great solidarity in the shared pain and joy of walking the Camino. The old saying “you have to walk a mile in someone else’s moccasin’s” or in this case “hiking boots” seems to ring true for truly understanding what it is like to walk 500 miles together.
I have been thinking this week, about the importance of solidarity, as I was reflecting on the ongoing protests following the killing of George Floyd by the Minnesota police officer, Derek Chauvin. We are at a critical moment, a tremendous shift is taking place in America. People coming together and taking to the streets, not just for one day, two days, three days, but constantly. The great suffering and pain of racial injustice that society has systematically imposed on people of color has reached an inflection point. Many are saying that they’re not going to stop until we get the change that we need to turn this around in terms of what’s happening to Black people. We really do still live in a racially tilted, inequitable, unfair society.
So, taking a lesson from our Camino walk, I say we need to start to move and walk day after day in solidarity with people of color. Real change can begin when we develop friendships with people of different backgrounds and life experiences so we can share their joys and sorrows and begin to feel their pain and the way life is more difficult for them than it needs to be.
I can tell you this by the experience I have had walking with my friend, Rob, who has been homeless and has many physical and mental handicaps. Life has not been kind to him and he has become someone most everyone has given up on. I began walking in solidarity now for over two years with him. I can not tell you how it has changed us both forever. No matter how many books I would have read, or classes I took, they would never have taught me what I have learned about homelessness and poverty and mental illness from walking with my friend, Rob.
Part of the radical work of justice is that we have to imagine something that no one has ever taught us before. There is much we can learn when we walk in solidarity with those that have experienced the pain and suffering of racial inequality. I know I will be seeking out any opportunity I can find in the weeks and months ahead to be converted by a solidarity walk with people of color.
I realize that there is a lot more change needed in our society to make lasting change to the systems that are the root of the social injustice but I see this as one step forward I can take.
This is an image I created recently from a silent walk alone on a hiking trail up near Darrington, Washington. I exited the trail when I saw the lighting, trees and sword fern and they looked so beautiful nested together. I created this very painterly effect from the photograph I captured.