Yosmar’s Story: Tastes of the Camino

Yosmar is a pilgrim of life. Like me, she was in the middle of seeking something better when she decided to walk the Camino de Santiago. Afterward, she sought a way to bring this meaningful experience to the world.

How do we live a more inspired, more Camino-like life every day? As a fellow writer and seeker, I’m delighted to share her story. Yosmar’s story shows how she ultimately chose to bring delight and deliciousness to the world.

Tastes of the Camino… The Camino’s gift to me

Yosmar Martinez

Like many who embark on the Camino, I was in a very dark phase of my life prior to experiencing the Camino. For almost ten years, I had been very unhappy in my career, which led me to being unhappy in my life. At times, I thought my unhappiness was job-specific…. If I could get a job where I was paid more, I would be happier… If I didn’t have a neurotic or spineless boss, I would enjoy what I was doing…  If I didn’t have to commute an hour each way, I wouldn’t be so exhausted at the end of the week and my quality of life would be so much better… You name it…

If there was an “if,” it was something I had pondered on and believed would make me happier.  So as many do, I switched jobs a few times to try to address some of those “if’s.” Each time, the initial ecstasy of the new opportunity would fade within months and I would be back to the same place.  

I also took sometime to go to culinary school and deep down I knew I had to do something with food. But I wasn’t sure what.  I started a specialty food business but I was not meeting my financials goals within the timeframe I had allotted. I taught cooking classes on a part time basis. I loved teaching as it really allowed me to share my passion about food with others. But I had a hard time making ends meet just teaching.  So I always kept my corporate career. It was my safety net and yet, it was also a huge factor in my unhappiness.

The two years right before that first Camino in 2011 were particular tough. During the great recession, my position was eliminated and the job market shrunk.  \So I decided to get into real estate. I was truly excited about this new career path but it was tough being that the market was in the dumpster.

The constant struggling in a down market and the ongoing unhappiness really wore me down. And that is when I decided to walk the Camino, despite having all sorts of reservations… Could I physically walk 500 miles? Was the Camino for me, being the non-religious, non-spiritual person that I was? Would I even enjoy myself?

After returning from my first Camino, like many, I was able to see the positive impact that the Camino had on me. It wasn’t a sudden or dramatic change. But for one, I reacted to problems a bit more calmly… I also didn’t need material things as much. It also seemed to give me the courage to at least start writing a cookbook, something I had always wanted to do but was afraid of.

You see… during those 10 years of ongoing dissatisfaction and unhappiness, I had lost my self-confidence and the ability to belief in my ideas. But somehow, after arriving in Santiago, I was compelled to write a book about the foods of the Camino. So I started working on my Camino cookbook… developing recipes and writing. I knew I would enjoy the recipe development because after all I love everything about food! But I didn’t consider myself a writer so I was somewhat fearful of that part of the book.  

To my surprise, I found the writing portion extremely therapeutic.  It was almost as the world around me didn’t exist while I was writing and therefore, nothing could bring me down. While I was enjoying myself, deep down, I still was unsure if this book would ever see the light of day. Because of my work and travel commitments, it took about three years to complete the manuscript.  

It was only when the manuscript was done that I started to believe that there would actually be a real book. I decided to self-publish and had to learn a “boatload of new”… food photography, food styling, book design, indexing, printing, website development, how to open an LLC, sales tax, etc. But somehow overcoming this “boatload of new” gave me back my self-confidence… In essence, the Camino and this cookbook, Tastes of the Camino, put me on a positive path that I had been searching for a very long time.  And when I became more positive, things just started falling into place.

What this positive path will bring me is yet to be known. It might be more books … It might be something else food related… It might be something totally unrelated that I can’t even fathom! Right now, I am not too concerned because I am enjoying this gift the Camino has given me. I put emphasis on the word “enjoying” because I feel that society puts too much emphasis on being happy rather than enjoying happiness. And sometimes we are so desperately in search of this ultimate state of mind/state of mind called happiness that we don’t see it in our day to day and thus, we forget to enjoy it. Without having walked the Camino and written Tastes of the Camino, I am unsure I would have ever come to this realization.

For more information on Tastes of the Camino, please visit www.whiskandspatula.com/books.

Reverse Camino Day 4: Finisterre, a poem

Total distance on foot: 8mi / 13km
Towns traveled through: Around Finisterre
This day in 2013: Day 45: Being myself and Day 44: Diving into the Water and Day 44: Sunsets and Dolphins

Finisterre

The place where I sacrificed myself on the altar of the doorway,

where I stumbled across the threshold of who I thought I was

to watch the sun go to die forever

and with it

my limiting sense of self.

Finisterre

the end of the earth, the coast of death

portal to the underworld

testing souls in its dark Atlantic depths

and your whispered promise of rising again

barely audible above the relentless wind.

Finisterre

of rocks and sea, sand and tides

beneath your lighthouse I revisited that sacred ritual

a push-pull strain between my radiant soul

and a conditioned lifetime of unspoken rules

where I cast my granite heart into your healing waves

to become nothing—and everything

dissolved to granular, yet somehow solid enough to stand.

And returning

returning to you as though I’d never left

as if you’d been there all along

not just in my mind, but real real real.

Now I am here, and I remember.

I was never meant to stay.

Your strength is meant to be lived in the world.

Now, I turn eastward, to face the sunrise

returning home on an uncertain path

carrying your light inside of me.

Always

Always I was meant to do this.

Finisterre

on your dark rocks among the brutal gorse and heather

you killed my illusions

you cut away that which buffered me from pain but kept me from truly living

Today, I walk on toward the promise of dawn

Never surer of anything.

(tap-tap) Is this thing on?

I’m back!

Back on terra firma, back in my own home, in my own bed, and feeling so so so grateful for so many things–life, love, and my blessed pillow. The seven-week backwards journey from Finisterre to Saint Jean Pied de Port was wonderful, weird, and full of characters, stories, and insights I’m eager to share.

At the end of my first Camino in 2013, I’d left a piece of myself–like a few spiritual ribs or a soulful femur–out at Fistera’s lighthouse, overlooking the moody Atlantic. For three years, these very real parts of me have sat out on the windswept rocks like a forgotten umbrella, waiting to be reclaimed.

The last time I was there, my life felt split in two, as I faced an immense decision about who I was to be in the world. We all come to this point eventually: Do I keep investing energy in keeping up the act or finally risk being myself? Should I keep playing the role of peacemaker and chameleon, or could I be the authentic, trusting, happy, loving, open person I discovered myself to be as I walked across Spain? I really didn’t know how I could do the latter without upsetting friends, business partners, family. So I set aside a vital, newly-discovered sense of self that windy June day.

On this return, I went back to that very place to reclaim my abandoned parts. I went to become whole again, completely–and then walk with my full, real self back to where I had started in France. Most of all, I walked back across Spain in order to bring this loving, authentic self home–back to my life, my friendships, my work, my family, my marriage. It was finally time.

And this I have done, I’m happy to say.

What a journey! I can’t wait to tell you all about it.

Truthfully, I’m a little rusty on the technology front! I seem to have forgotten how to type. It’s been eight weeks since I’ve spent more than ten minutes on social media. In fact, my email account was temporarily suspended halfway through my walk due to “suspicious activity” (it was me, using coin-op computers along the Way). It was a surprising relief to be tech-free for so long.

Anyway, rest assured: my reverse Camino tales, insights, joys, frustrations, and reflections are all on their way… in time. Just like on the Camino.

In the meantime, please know how grateful I am to you. Thank you so much for your comments, thoughts, prayers, love, support, and enthusiasm for this spiritual adventure that is the Camino. Thank you for cheering me on–and in some cases, cheering up my wife, Mary, in my absence. To be held in your mind and heart for so long is a gift to me, and I thank you. I hope your life is unfolding in love and trust.

Sending much love and Camino dust,
Jen

Watch what you wish for: The most surprising gifts of my Camino

Before setting out to walk the Camino de Santiago, I stated confidently, “I want to be changed by this experience” and I meant it. My life had been comfortable up to that point, if a bit stalled, and the calling I felt to walk it was both exciting and daunting.

“I want to be made uncomfortable,” I told my friends. “I want to be in unfamiliar places, to not know where I’m going to sleep at night or where my next meal comes from, and see what this teaches me.” Truly, I had no idea what this intention would set in motion.

Change does not come easily to me. Despite being a seeker, I will defiantly ignore signs, resist messages, and otherwise thwart my own awakening because change is so freaking uncomfortable. Not surprisingly, my pilgrimage to Santiago was a spiritual two-by-four. Instead of a cozy, controlled life, I plunged—body, mind, heart, and spirit—into a nomadic experience across northern Spain. The lows were grueling, lonely, and painful, at times causing me to doubt everything about the journey and life. The highs of this experience were delightful, awe-inspiring, and liberating.

The relentless extremes over seven weeks rattled my equilibrium. Quiet woods gave way to cacophonous cities. Rugged mountain paths contrasted with miles of bone-jangling concrete. The delight of new friends conflicted with my desperate need for solitude. In jam-packed albergues, feelings of loneliness seemed laughable. In a single day, my emotions ranged from irritation to joy, from despair to profound gratitude.

Since I had limited control over the extremes of my environment, I was forced confront my rigid attachment to external conditions and then let them go. I had to. I kept running into metaphorical brick walls thinking things shouldn’t be the way they are. I shouldn’t have this pain in my arches. That guy shouldn’t be snoring. It shouldn’t be raining. I shouldn’t be attracted to people I’m not married to. 

The Camino kept showing me how my misery (or happiness) always starts with my thoughts—not the circumstances around me. I got this lesson repeatedly, each one presented a greater challenge. The Divine was determined to manifest my intention.

Slowly, I became content—no matter what was happening. As I shed my judgments, attachment, and dog-like desire to be liked, I began to find a sense of balance residing within. My ego—my me-ness—began to wear away until I was luminous. “You look ten years younger,” one acquaintance exclaimed.

In this spacious lightness, I found clarity where there had once been murk. Forgiveness took the place of blame and regret. Laughter and honesty replaced my habitual cautious smallness.

My emotions flowed. I wept tears of frustration, fear, joy, warmth, loss, exhaustion, anger, gratitude. I laughed—genuine, un-selfconscious horsey laughing. Snort laughing. Bent over, gasping for air laughing. Where did that come from? How long had I been living under a thick crust of seriousness?

The Camino fundamentally reoriented me to claim my own power. When I found that my thoughts and attitude couldn’t rescue me, I let myself fall into a God-shaped net. As a self-avowed control freak, this was truly a miracle. Learning first hand that the Divine supports and loves me, I began to experience soul-level trust that things would unfold exactly as they should. Spiritual writer, Anne Lamott, says there are two kinds of prayers, “help-me-help-me-help-me” and “thank-you-thank-you-thank-you.” I got really good at them both.

What surprised me most about the Camino was the community. Although I’d obsessed over every minute detail about what to pack and how much it weighed, I didn’t give a single preparatory thought to the people I would meet on the Way. Apparently, when I stated my intention to be changed by my experience in Spain, the Divine lined up incredible men and women who would reveal the perfect lessons for me. Through them, I learned that I am a small part of a beautiful, complex web of souls on a journey toward wholeness—and that we can contribute much to each other’s lives if we allow it.

The Camino wore me thin in the best possible ways and I became free. My intention had come to fruition because I did change. I discovered the truth about who I am and what I have always been but had forgotten: whole.

This only took me forty-nine days, fifteen pounds of gear, and a flight to Europe. Okay, that and a dogged determination to mine every moment of this pilgrimage for inspiration. I loved it. I hated it. And now I know why the Church recognizes pilgrims for our efforts and forgives our sins; if you’re paying attention to the inner heart-and-soul journey as you walk the physical one, the Camino will cleanse you from the inside out.

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.

Day 47: A friend in deed – Dublin

Freed from the small plane, I walked determinedly through the corridors of Dublin Airport. Over the heads of milling passengers, just past security, I saw her grin beaming from yards away. Geraldine had come from three hours away to meet me.

I moved toward my friend like a drowning person to a life raft. Never have I felt so relieved to see a familiar face. We met without saying anything, just hugging each other long and hard. I don’t know who started crying first, but her warm and tender, “Ah, Jen” burst the dam.

Continue reading “Day 47: A friend in deed – Dublin”

Day 47: Conversations with James – Santiago to Dublin (almost)

When I’m on the ground in a foreign country, I’m fine, but I get pretty stressed out when it comes to the actual travel. At dinner on my final night in Santiago, I shared my nervousness with Don.

“I’m not sure I can find the bus stop that goes to the airport.” I felt silly. I’d walked across Spain by now, but itineraries with hard-and-fast schedules give me hives.

Continue reading “Day 47: Conversations with James – Santiago to Dublin (almost)”

Update 2: 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 1-8: Click here to read

Day 9: Sing into a hairbrush

I think the photo speaks for itself.

Continue reading “Update 2: Taking myself less seriously”

Day 46: The beginning of the end – Finisterre to Santiago

No one tells you how hard it is to stop being a pilgrim.

From the beginning, everyone assumes the most difficult part is walking day after day or trying to sleep with snoring people. Or blisters.

No, the hardest part is having your soul cracked wide open (no matter how desperately you try to hide it), to discover who you really are, and understand your place in the Divine order of things… and have absolutely no idea how to live it.

Continue reading “Day 46: The beginning of the end – Finisterre to Santiago”

Day 45: Am I allowed to be myself? – Finisterre

At some point for some pilgrims, the Camino becomes less about the physical path and more about an inner journey of personal significance. Although the specific details differ for each person, this interior Camino involves coming face-to-face with one’s own Achilles heel and an attempt to resolve the issues underneath it.

That thing you’ve been hiding or avoiding most of your life? There’s enough space on the Camino for that to show up and even heal – if you allow it.

Continue reading “Day 45: Am I allowed to be myself? – Finisterre”