LOST & FOUND
We stagger our departures this morning so we can spend some time walking alone. I lose myself a bit after Emily leaves and a mini comedy of errors ensues. For several reasons, I end up setting out on my own with a half charged phone, a non-functioning charging bank and a less than stellar map. This triggers a minor panic attack but once I figure out which way to turn out of the hotel and find my first yellow arrow, I feel an exhilarating rush. I am reminded of who I am and that I have everything I need. I’ll find My Way.
With the ocean on my left and the wind at my back, I spend some time in contemplation of all the times in my life that I’ve been really, truly lost: in the woods on several different islands; on the bus in several different cities; on very, very long runs in several different countries; in the wrong state on one occasion; and for many hours spent driving north instead of south one time in Ireland. I have zero sense of direction. In case you are someone who believes that this is not a thing, and that some of us just need to pay better attention, I assure you- just like sight, sound and smell, direction is a sense and I don’t have it.
This line of thinking leads me, finally, to a memory of being lost with my sister, Carrie. This missing internal compass is a thing she and I shared. We once spent four hours looking for our rental car in the parking field at the Kentucky Horse Park. We finally collapsed onto the ground in the dark- tears of frustration turning to tears of laughter as we realized just how ridiculous our situation was. We sat next to a tree, back to back- alternately bitching about being lost and having in-depth conversations about the horses we’d seen at the World Equestrian Games that week. Once enough cars left and the sun started to come up, we found our car and amazingly, our way back to our hotel.
I find myself smiling at this memory and Carrie joins me here on the Camino, for a time. The quick cadence of her walk leads me out toward the sea across what seem like stony moors. We come across a huge, hut-sized stone with windows eroded into its smooth sides. In one window, a large cairn watches over a pool of stones and prayers and memories. Last night, I’d borrowed water colors to paint Carrie’s initials on a scallop shell. Today, she has me leave it here, in one of the most beautiful landscapes I’ve ever found myself in- a wild, rugged, open space where the wind whips up huge waves and horses live in large stone paddocks right up against the sea.
As I walk back toward The Way, alone again, I laugh out loud- Carrie would have loved the fact that instead of writing her initials on a smooth little stone off the beach, I’d used a scallop shell I’d pocketed from the hotel bar once the peanuts it had held were gone.
I meet up with Emily just in time for us to choose a longer alternate route through a pine forest. We’re always happy to hug the coast instead of going inland. We find ourselves in a giant-sized fort made of long-spined pines. Protected by a bushy canopy and walking on a mossy floor- we are kids in a secret forest. We meet an artist, sitting on a rock. She seems ethereal. With no pack and only a sketch pad on her lap, she is not a pilgrim. She must be a faery. We ask her to take our picture and she manages us like we are her art, to get just the right shot.
As we leave the trees and arrive at the water, we merge with a couple from Norway who plan to hire a boat from here instead of take the ferry from Caminha across to Spain. Yay! We were planning to walk further to the public ferry but this is exactly the adventure we’re hoping for. Seconds after the four of us wander up to a little shack with a sign that says TICKETS on it, a woman zooms up in a car to unlock the shack and sell us tickets to Spain. Once again, we are just in time. We make the short crossing over the stunning Rio Minho in a boat painted to look like a shark. We cuddle orange life jackets on our laps and suck in the familiar sea air. The trip is too short. It feels good to finally be on the water we’ve been walking alongside for days. We meet the edge of Spain abruptly, as the teeth of the shark snug up into the steep, sandy beach. We jump off and dig our feet into the sand of a new country. We say, “Abrigada!” to our skipper as he pushes off back to Portugal and say goodbye to Dirk and Wenche from Norway.
We thought the last forest was magic but the one that greets us here takes magic to a whole new level. It’s a labyrinth of trees painted with Celtic designs. Parts of Spirals and Triskels and Celtic Knots are painted in white on individual trees- and become whole only when the parts align as we pass. A playful and inspiring welcome.
FROM GUILT TO GRACE
There are a few things that I have long associated with Spain- horses, tapas, wine and beautiful countryside. This first day gives us a delicious dose of all of these. We follow boardwalks along the beaches as we did in Portugal. There’s a subtle shift in the language and we adapt our greetings along The Way. The sun is out. We find ourselves, part of a sparkling scape- an expansive sea is still to our left and distant villages cling to the hills on our right. There are few pilgrims but plenty of horses. Once again, they make me feel at home in a place I have never been.
There is something about this arrival in Spain that is taking me deeper into a state of embrace. It’s like I crossed a threshold inside myself as I crossed the Minho. Until now, I’ve been carrying a little corner of guilt in my consciousness. Guilt for leaving my husband at home with the responsibilities of running a business and a farm. Guilt for leaving my animals- one of them with friends nursing a last minute injury. Guilt for spending money on this trip. Guild for not being available to my clients. Guilt for giving myself a gift that some part of me doesn’t fully believe I deserve. Even guilt for WANTING to take this pilgrimage; for indulging in a deep seated desire to journey from a place where I am already blessed. I am not alone in carrying this guilt. For most of us who have families, animals, jobs or businesses, pushing pause on life at home is challenging. We have commitments and obligations to those we love- and even to our own sense of security- that are important. Inevitably, there is guilt that goes along with doing something for yourself and leaving those you love behind. Guilt is fear dressed up in fancy clothes. We are habitually oriented toward creating security and guilt can convince us that we’re being magnanimous by choosing the status quo over growth. For many people, this guilt is what stands between them and making a dream come true.
Over dinner a few months ago, Mike and I were telling his brother about my Camino plans and about the year of travel and exploration I have ahead. He looked at me quizzically and said, “Don’t you think that’s kind of hedonistic of you?” My stomach tightened. “Yes!” My Inner Critic voice shouted. “So hedonistic of you! See!?! You are a selfish bitch for doing this.” I wasn’t even quite sure what the word meant. But the part of me that didn’t think I “should” take this trip knew it was somehow right on. My Inner Critic reveled in this collusion. Mike’s brother was not being unkind. He was just speaking honestly from his world view. He provided me with an opportunity to examine the guilt I’d been working to move past for the last year.
One of the things I say to my clients often is, “Sometimes the people who love you the most will collude with your Inner Critic.” Your Inner Critic voice is benevolent. It wants to keep you safe, keep you from making mistakes and from taking risks. So do the people who love you. Guilt, procrastination, excuses, people pleasing, perfectionism- they all show up in force the closer you get to taking action around what you most desire. They take the form of jobs and obligations and what other people think and money and guilt. Sometimes, when you’re nursing a dream and moving through the layers of fear that inevitably come up, you need to be precious with how much you share until you’re well past having made the decision. Luckily, when we had this conversation with my brother-in-law, I was way past the rocky part and my plans were in place. I was no longer at risk for obeying my fear. But the visceral response I had to it, let me know it was still there.
I’d “project managed'” the crap out of my fear to get here. I made my plans from a place of courage. I stuck to them through the hills and valleys of fear and excitement that are a part of any dream coming to fruition. I realize that my Camino started, not when I’d left Porto, not when I’d stepped on the plane, not even when I’d stepped through my own front door. It started when I’d made the decision to DO IT. Decisions are one of the best antidotes to fear. Once I’d made the decision, I had to figure out how to make it happen. I put it on my calendar. I committed to Emily. I set up an online savings account that I named, Year of Living Big. Excuses became benign because I was no longer vulnerable to them. I was now strategizing going, instead of legitimizing not going.
I believe that guilt has no purpose. Even the dictionary defines it as, “a feeling of deserving blame for an imagined offense or from a sense of inadequacy.” Guilt is not real. Our perceived inadequacy is not real. Unworthiness is a ghost. But this knowledge does not make me immune to their torment. None of us are. We just have to find our ruby slippers. And decide.
As I walk along the boardwalk this first day in Spain, I feel like no moment could be so perfect if it was not deserved. I am right where I am meant to be. No obligations have been left unmet. I am not taking away from anyone else’s joy by experiencing so much myself. The horses who greet me here are one with my own and their universal horse presence is confirming. All is right.
In the late afternoon, we meet up with our Norwegian friends again in another seaside cafe. Our goodbye was premature. We share a three-course Pilgrim’s lunch, some laughs, early wine and great conversation before we make the final climb to our guest house in the beautiful hillside city of A Guarda. We can rarely can stay up late enough for dinner in this part of the world so we’ve taken to bar hopping and snacking on red wine and bread instead of eating dinner. So far, Spain has delivered on all its reputation promises. And that little corner in my psyche reserved for guilt is now inhabited by grace.