From my journal:
“Things I’ve lost so far: My SPF lip balm, my utility tool, 2 hair ties. My sticks I’ve almost left behind twice, but so far so good.”
Lessons in letting go
I pared down before I left. I even sent a box home from Saint Jean Pied de Port. However, as I traveled, the Universe divested me of yet more things by accident or design.
Attachment to objects is a source of misery for many — for every item we possess requires storage, maintenance, and a thin stream of attention to ensure that it remains in our possession.
So often I recall saying, “Oh, God. Did I forget that back at the albergue?” It might have been my clothes off the line or my tube of shampoo in the shower. Dozens of times I remembered my sticks long after leaving them at a cafe somewhere, this realization chased quickly by a sinking dread that they’d been taken.
It’s that tiny sliver of fear of loss that needles us, traps us. Without realizing it, we begin seeing the world with suspicion, locking doors, installing security systems, being cautious of strangers. All so we can keep our stuff safe.
So every time I lost something on the Camino, I began to allow myself to just feel the sadness and loss — and then choose to live without it. When I accidentally left my really nice utility knife at an albergue, I felt a big pang of regret. As these emotions moved through me, I accepted that I wasn’t going to go back a day’s walk to retrieve it. “Now it belongs to someone else,” I told myself. “They need that tool more than I do. Maybe finding it made their day.”
And then I let it go, truly and completely. Other things are more precious.
As I write this, I wonder if this isn’t a really good practice for life in general. Perhaps getting comfortable with letting go of little things and making peace with loss would eventually make losing significant things like people or positions or circumstances just that little bit easier.
Loss and gain
We left Marisela and Lies the night before in Burgos. Meg disappeared too. It felt strange, like I had forgotten to take my people with me. Then Katrin — my faithful friend and nurse and Camino angel — left our company. Today that she chose at last to walk her own pace, a pace she’d been restraining since France.
On arriving in Hornillos del Camino, we encountered an albergue with no available beds for the first time. Or at least that was the rumor being shared by the pilgrims sitting on the steps outside, waiting to see if a gymnasium might be opened up for our use. (Turns out the hospitalera was just taking a lunch break, but we didn’t learn that until days later.)
After some deliberation, Muriel and I decided to search for other accommodations in town and Katrin announced she wanted to keep walking. We hugged and agreed to keep touch online so we could meet up again down the road. I trusted it would work out if it was supposed to. And off she went into the meseta’s cloudy afternoon.
Now, it was just Muriel and me. And no beds apparent.
We called a distant casa rural mentioned in her guidebook that will pick up pilgrims and drive them to their countryside estate, then drop them off on the Camino in the morning. It sounded ideal.
With a bit of wrangling and French-accented Spanish, we secured a room for two and honestly, we had no idea how delightful this change of plans would be.
Letting go of more than my possessions
But before I get to the fun part, I want to share a big lesson I received about my judgments of others. Despite my assertions that I met lovely people on the Camino, there was one group I avoided: American men.
In Hornillos, there was a loud-mouthed 20-something Chicago guy talking boisterously, sucking up all the air in conversations, and laughing loudly about getting drunk. Then there was a much older Texan, pushy and entitled, who insinuated himself on our host when she came to pick us up.
She had no beds, she told him courteously. Speaking condescendingly and only in English, he would not take no for an answer. Because he’d inquired but never reserved a space, she said, she’d given his room away (and why wouldn’t she with a business to run!). He ended up not only getting in the car with us, but dominated the conversation, never thanked her for making an exception for him, and insinuated himself first on our shared shower, using up all the hot water.
What you resist, persists.
If I’m honest, I can admit that I recognize myself in both of those men. Their actions grated on me so strongly precisely because I possess — and resist — the same attributes in myself.
Not that I’m happy to admit this, but I see my arrogance. I see my Ameri-centric worldview and ignorance of international affairs. I see how I often fail to yield the floor or listen attentively. I see how I have my own selfish interests at heart — even at the expense of others.
In the end, the old guy turned out to have a kind heart and made strong friendships. The young guy turned up again and again on my path and I think I saw a glimmer of his affable and loving nature toward others. It’s humbling to admit in our good-or-garbage culture that even a guy who uses up all your hot water has redeeming values. Underneath their behaviors — and my attachment to them being different — are two human hearts, souls on a journey.
Learning from and then letting go of my judgment of these men liberates both them and me.
Back to the bliss
With that inner work going on, however, much delight ensued. After a 20-minute ride into the countryside, we arrived at the casa rural, a bed and breakfast, called Casa El Molino. Formerly a mill, a river flows under part of this rambling stone building and through scenic canals that wind around, reflecting the trees above.
We paid for our lodging plus dinner and breakfast. Our gracious host took our laundry to do for us (and didn’t charge us for it because we were sharing a bath with Mr. Texas). We marveled as we ascended the lovely open staircase of burnished wood beams. Our room was airy and spacious with comfortable beds and blissful quiet. We were in heaven.
After getting settled in and taking lukecold showers, we chatted with other pilgrims and I took a stroll around the property. The lovely atmosphere was so restful and healing.
And then, there was dinner. If you read the reviews on TripAdvisor, you will find my sentiments echoed exactly: Our three hosts from two generations proceeded to put on a feast. Amazing appetizers of cured ham and cheeses appeared on trays, beautifully arranged. The food was delicious and abundant. After dessert, the cook (the elderly grandmother) poked her head out of the kitchen door to wave, and we cheered and applauded. Out came the final course with a homemade local liquor in three flavors, one of which was anise, in lovely gut glass decanters.
In this delicious atmosphere, conversation at the table turned reflective and meaningful. Our fellow guests shared inspiring insights about life’s purposes. Others asked penetrating questions and listened deeply to people’s responses, affirming and tying them into the greater theme. Some of the quieter guests came out of their shell, sensing the present synergy and compassion. I was deeply moved by this experience and sensed that some conclusion had been reached about reasons to hope for humanity.
Only at paid workshops have I experienced such powerful, integruous facilitation and participation. This dinner experience was truly magical, helping me let go of some cynicism, and find hope about the future of our world.
My take-away from this day is about letting go. Whether it’s stuff, or judgments, or cynicism — letting go creates lightness and freedom which is what I was opening to on this Camino.