The only thing to fear

“Your antagonist is fear,” she said.

She is one of the insightful people in my writing critique group of seven people, all bound to help give birth to our respective books.

For my submission last week, I turned in some preliminary writing that was more brainstorming and plotting than actual prose. I hoped for encouragement.

“And this,” she said, holding up my eight sheets of ideas, “looks like fear.”

I was shocked. This was not at all the kind of feedback I was expecting.

She looked me in the eye and said, “You just need to write. Stop thinking and start getting the words on the paper.”

I left the meeting feeling hurt, called out, and pissed off. I cried in the car ride home.

But after a few days of thinking, I realized she’s right.

*   *   *

Though I hardly ever listen to the radio, I turned it on yesterday and Sara Bareilles’ song Brave was on. Have you heard it? It’s amazing.

Say what you wanna say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave . . .

And since your history of silence
Won’t do you any good,
Did you think it would?
Let your words be anything but empty
Why don’t you tell them the truth?

Okay, Universe! I get it!

Sheesh.

*  *  *

Reading about someone’s writing process can be as fun as watching them gaze at their own navel. I won’t belabor my point, but I will say this: Telling the truth is HARD. No less than three people have asked me in the past week, how do you do it? How can you write about real people you know? Don’t you worry?

YES!

I worry about making my partner look like a schmuck (which she most certainly isn’t). I worry that “Meg” will never speak to me again. My mom and aunt read this blog, as do some of my clients, my boss, and many friends—both from the Camino and at home. I worry about what they will think.

Despite the pressure I feel to say everything nicely and keep topics unoffensive, I have to be brave. I have to fight my lifelong urge to be tactful. I have to just tell it like it is.

Here’s why: I’ve met too many pilgrims who went into their journey hoping to be changed by it, and did not know how to sort out the experience afterward. Telling the truth is a gift to myself and—hopefully—to anyone who struggles after their Camino.

I’m taking a week to work on my writing and may not update the blog for a bit. I’ll be back with more tales that aspire to inspire.

*   *   *

It’s not ALL hard or scary, though!

In the last week, I’ve taken three different hikes with wonderful people. Getting outdoors is awesome nourishment for the heart and soul.

The first hike was a fourteen-miler on Eagle Creek with new Camino friends—including one of my favorite bloggers, Elissa Green from sometimesshetravels.com.

(c) elissa green
Used with permission — photo credit

I loved this photo Elissa took of my favorite hiking shoes (Brooks Cascadias) and a Checker Lily.

(c) elissa green 2
Used with permission — photo credit

Everyone talks about these cool falls with the tunnel carved into rock behind them. Elissa is pointing to me and Laura. (Don’t look at this one, Mom!)

(c) elissa green 3
Used with permission — photo credit

Then! Mary and I took a hike on Saturday in the Opal Creek area on a gorgeous day and saw tons of wildflowers. At one point we could hear the rushing sounds of three separate waterfalls. Amazing!

IMG_20150418_134049_381 (1)
Last, I met Carol and Nancy (more Camino friends) for a hike around Willamette Mission Park. We talked gear, albergues, and life. Such fun!
(c) carol routh

I counted—that’s about 23 miles in one week. Yay!

Let’s get out there be brave together!

How the light got in: A post-Camino reflection

We weren’t terribly observant Catholics when I was growing up, but my whole family was in attendance at my first holy communion—the first time God spoke to me. I was holding a hymnal in my kid-sized hands as the organ pealed its first crystalline chords.

In song, the Divine asked me, Whom shall I send?

In response, my reed-like little voice sang out, Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord? … I will go if you lead me.

Standing there in my veil and white lace dress, symbols of purity, I trusted with every ounce of my being that I would be led and protected always.

*   *   *

Becoming an adult made me forget. Being in the literal driver’s seat deluded me into thinking I had all the control. My unconscious mantra—Do it by yourself—taught me not to ask for help from anyone, least of all an invisible god. By the time I heard of the Camino in my later thirties, any sign of my youthful and unwavering trust in the Divine was gone.

When I heard a call to walk the Camino, my reaction revealed just how stuck I’d become: Seriously? No. Ridiculous. I don’t want to. I have no interest in Spain. I don’t like exercise and the very thought of walking five hundred miles is insane. No. I don’t want that kind of uncertainty. I couldn’t handle it.

I wanted to control. Everything.

Despite my lack of preparedness, the Camino was relentless in its pursuit of my soul. References to the Way appeared in random reading materials and unexpected conversations. Scallop shells revealed themselves in the most unlikely places. Even with all these flirtatious hints, the seeker must assent to her own transformation. Yes is just a word, but it’s astonishingly, remarkably difficult to utter. The longer I waited, the more I felt it.

It’s amazing to think about how much I fought the very thing I needed. Ego is perfectly content to sit in its own stink of self-righteous, small-minded, and destructive habits. Saying yes is terrifying because it calls us to face our own destruction. With yes, we become nothing, yet everything: luminous and present with the Divine. With yes, personality melts away. The ego wants no part in this appalling arrangement.

Eventually, I came around to a grudging admission of the spiritual merit in attempting this uncomfortable experience. Like a cautious lover, I relented. I said yes. And yet again. And again many times until I had clicked “purchase” for my airline tickets.

*   *   *

If I would be spiritually transformed by the Camino, my inner fortress of protection would have to crack. As Leonard Cohen wrote, “That’s how the light gets in.”

The Camino broke me open. It had to. I needed to find a new way of being. My years of resisting help meant I would not respond to subtle messages. Splitting open the layers of defense required hard, sometimes painful encounters until I learned to trust. It was not fun. For example, after a week of walking, my feet became so sore that I limped with every step. When I began to doubt my ability to finish the walk, I cried. I cracked open, admitting my helplessness. In this weak place, I asked for help, and some light got in.

Despite being with lovely new friends, I felt broken at times by debilitating loneliness. At one point—in a miniscule, one-star hotel room that reeked of old cigars, I thought to myself, “What would your father think of you here? This is what you’ve come to, all of what you’ve made of yourself.” These painful thoughts broke me open, and as I reached out for friendship, more light got in.

One day, as Muriel and I walked together on the meseta, she observed, “It seems like you’re sorry that you were born.” The truth of her words struck me to the core. I had no reply—only my silent agreement. For many days after she’d made this poignant observation, I reflected on my struggle to show up in life and merely take up space.

As my feet pounded the path, I listened to the wind and my breathing, and I wondered for the first time: Am I really allowed to trouble this person, or any person, with my story? Is it okay to ask for help? Or actually receive it? Am I allowed to say no or tell someone I’d rather be alone? Is it really okay for me to be here? This stripped-bare honesty helped the light get in.

In the most trying and desperate moments, my ego was smashed to shatters. Yet that suddenly-vacant space made room for my heart to open. It was a hard-earned blessing. Slowly, over the miles, I emptied out the sludge of my small living, and miraculously, despite myself, the light got in. An abundant waterfall of love, laughter, wisdom, and insight made me realized how loved I am. Pilgrimage revealed to me how to let go of my fearful striving and trust something greater than myself.

*   *   *   *   *

That isn’t the end of the story, of course.

In a workshop I attended last fall, the following words hit me like a spiritual two-by-four: Enlightenment is not transformation. ~ Dara Marks

I suddenly realized why everyone claims that the true pilgrimage starts in Santiago: the Camino is an experience of enlightenment. It gave me a glimpse, a tantalizing taste of how life could be. it showed me how I could let go and trust, how light and joyful I could be moment-to-moment.

Completing the Camino is only half the journey. Enlightenment isn’t transformation. It wasn’t done with me yet.

Like many pilgrims, I really struggled after I got home from Spain. Some people call it the Camino blues, but it’s more than that. I could not resolve what the pilgrimage had revealed to me despite obsessively re-reading Brierley’s guidebook, looking at my journal, and drinking Spanish wine with friends.

It was nice to be home with my familiar people and possessions, but I struggled with the sense that something precious was dying—something I had to hang on to no matter what. And I lost it anyway. Into its place moved unspeakable sadness and longing.

Intellectually, I knew that the second half of the journey was about learning to live my Camino epiphanies in my life. “Bring home the boon,” someone said. But I hadn’t the faintest idea how to do this. I just felt terrible. I had to shake it off somehow.

Within a few weeks, I was back to where I’d started, repeating my life-long pattern of controlling everything. My Camino had revealed that my life could be better, but I didn’t know how to get there once at home.

I got stuck for a long time. Most days felt like walking through a deep, dark cave with no exit. And, erroneously, I kept thinking, I can do this. I can figure it out. I thought had to find my way through its passages alone. This is the part of the journey many never walk, or if they do, few talk about it. In the months that followed my Camino, I went down many blind alleys, trying to find my way—out or though, I didn’t care.

After struggling for over a year, Dara’s words were like discovering a bright-yellow, spray-painted arrow on the wall of my labyrinthine tunnel: the Camino gave you enlightenment, now you must move toward transformation.

But transformation doesn’t just happen on its own; it requires assent. Last week, almost two years to the day of my anniversary of starting the Camino, I remembered. Yes wasn’t just for that innocent seven-year-old me, or my reluctant, pre-Camino forty-year-old self. It was something I would have to choose again. And again. And again.

Yes is power. Yes commands armies of angels to move heaven and earth in support of the seeker’s goal. Now I understand that yes is the key to moving from enlightenment into transformation. Say it again: yes to uncertainty, yes to change, yes in spite of fear.

In the weeks ahead, I’ll be sharing a play-by-play of my second, inner Camino. The one in which I transformed my life. I’ve talked to so many pilgrims struggle with Camino blues, my hope is that my story will help you walk your own journey that begins after Santiago—and say yes to the transformation that awaits.

Final update (4): Taking myself less seriously

Soul-searching is a good and valid endeavor, but so is lightening up. In honor of my birthday month, I’m giving myself new challenge—a mini-Camino—to practice taking myself less seriously.

Day 1-8: Click here to read

Day 9-16: Click to read

Day 17-23: Click to read

Day 24: Laugh. Stand in front of the mirror and do deep belly laughs.

Okay, so I felt like a total dork doing this. Self-consciousness is the light heart’s enemy. But I did think I looked kinda cute. 😉

Day 25: Think about how much I love my nieces. Do something to show them.

These two girls are the light of my life. I was already sending a package to my brother, so I included a sweet card and some even sweeter treats in a decorative mailing envelope. I like sending them fun surprises!

Okay, and then? All five of these messages showed up in my Facebook feed in the same day. Thanks, Universe.

Continue reading “Final update (4): Taking myself less seriously”

Update 3: Taking myself less seriously

Soul-searching is a good and valid endeavor, but so is lightening up. In honor of my birthday month, I’m giving myself new challenge—a mini-Camino—to practice taking myself less seriously.

Day 1-8: Click here to read

Day 9-16: Click to read here

With a two-day migraine and two dads in the hospital, it was doubly difficult to focus on the goal of lightness. Week Three gets an A for effort.

Continue reading “Update 3: Taking myself less seriously”

Prayers for the friends and family of Germanwings passengers

Having walked the Camino binds me to France, Spain, and Germany in a deep way. I have walked on the soil of two of these countries. I have friends who live in these places. The news of this tragic crash is hitting me hard today.

At this writing, Germanwings officials aren’t announcing the fate of their passengers until all family members are reached. The photos of the response site are chilling, though. Scores of ambulances and helicopters sit idle with their teams standing around outside. That’s never a good sign. It looks as if there’s no one to rescue.

Continue reading “Prayers for the friends and family of Germanwings passengers”

Update 1: Taking myself less seriously

Soul-searching is a good and valid endeavor, but so is lightening up. This month, in honor of my birthday, I’m giving myself new challenge—a mini-Camino—to practice taking myself less seriously.

Day 1: Say “Well, everyone needs a hobby—including my brain.”

Referring to my obsessive inner dialog as a “hobby” tickled my funny bone. I was in the middle of mildly complaining about a habit of my partner’s. When I noticed it, I said aloud, “Oh, yeah! This is my brain’s hobby—getting annoyed at stupid stuff! Forget what I said. You’re all good.” And I honestly felt better and amused!

Continue reading “Update 1: Taking myself less seriously”

Lightening up

If you want to avoid fretting about turning a certain age, plan a two-month international walking trip as a distraction. Works like a charm.

That’s what I did two years ago and barely thought about turning forty!

But how do you top that? My birthday’s in two days and it’s got me thinking about what I can do to continue the Camino in my heart. It’s been brought to my attention that I’ve been leaning a bit toooo far toward the serious, introspective side lately.

Continue reading “Lightening up”

Still here!

As fun as it is to tell the stories of what happened on my Camino, my main interest with pilgrimage resides in the inner journey, the interior terrain of the heart and soul where transformation is possible. When I write about this deeper aspect of the journey, I’m reminded of an archaeology excavation, with discarded piles of dirt everywhere, tedious scratch-scratching in the soil, and a few treasures pulled out and dusted off for show.

I mention this because I want to express my gratitude to the several readers who have commented here or mentioned privately how much they appreciate my honesty about my inner experiences on the Camino. In my everyday life, I’m not a fan of making a mess – literal or metaphorical. It’s uncomfortable for me to revisit and expose the emotional intensity of my last days on my journey for I still feel embarrassed – even shame – about them. Unpacking the Camino is messy sometimes and I often get lost in the layers as I dig into them. I appreciate your witnessing as I do so.

Continue reading “Still here!”

The Hero(ine)’s Journey

I’ve just returned from a week of writing and reflection on a (not quite) deserted island and am feeling so much grateful clarity about my post-Camino path.

We had to arrive with a story to work on, and I have only this one to tell. My Camino experience was completely deconstructed and then carefully reassembled by using the framework of the Hero’s Journey, specifically the Transformational Arc taught by the inimitable Dara Marks. Although the workshop I attended was primarily geared toward screen writers, the 3-step model she teaches overlays perfectly on top of the literal Camino de Santiago and the non-fiction reality of facing one’s inner demons.

Continue reading “The Hero(ine)’s Journey”

And I’m still here!

It’s been a crazy productive month in my business. I launched a book last week and am thrilled to be $512 closer to my goal of paying for my Hedgebrook Master Class in cash. Heck, yeah! Take that, credit card debt!

Aside from work stuff, I’ve been trying to figure out how to write the next section of my Camino story. Truthfully, I’ve been trying to figure that out since I was living it in person and all the months since. (How’s that for foreshadowing?) My last days on the Camino were really intense and I’m grappling with conflicting desires to tell the truth, to make the story appealing, and to protect those involved.

Continue reading “And I’m still here!”