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Archive for November, 2016

Rise Up!!!

(This post was written longhand on November 9th and transcribed on November 10th)

It’s the journey that steels us, the stumbling and picking yourself back up, the seeking, that staves off fear and fills us with hope.  Rev. Dr. Karen Tate

I am sitting on the shore of Lake Superior as I have done so many days these past few weeks.  The weather in Upper Michigan has been glorious, sunny and mild, and the rocky shoreline has become my autumn office as I write longhand the stories from my recent walking pilgrimage through northern Portugal to Santiago, Spain.  The writing comes easy as I sprawl out on sandstone, sun-soaked and happy in the present moment and remembering this remarkable three-week journey.  My friend Mary and I entered our European pilgrimage eager and prepared, not only with backpacks stuffed with gear, but with an attitude that this was going to be fun and meaningful and that we would be open to its gifts.  When you enter a path laid out by centuries of pilgrims, a route that traverses glorious landscapes and through picturesque villages, where everything is new and exciting and your days are simply spent walking, it is easy to find yourself in a state of receptivity, a state of mind that attracts expansive high vibration experiences and interactions.

And that is what happened for Mary and I; magical-seeming experiences became our norm.  People from the villages we passed through invited us into their hearts and homes, provided us with clear directions and fresh baked goods, into family gatherings at small restaurants where they sang with a passion I’m not sure I have ever felt before, into outdoor markets and bar/cafes where the water was free for two thirsty pilgrims.  There was a generosity and kindness and a lightness of being in the air that was palpable, from the people and their villages, and also from the air itself and the vegetation and the ocean, the mighty open Atlantic we followed north from Porto, Portugal that first week.  Our days were long and delicious and the sea held a power and mystery that enveloped us.  And during those days spent walking on beach and sand dune and boardwalk, the gulls became our companions, a flock of them, seemingly the same flock, would float above us and in front of us, pointing the way as they sailed along on the sea’s breeze.  And then they would fly back and sail ahead again, sea angels pulling us forward and upward.

And that’s what it was like on this Camino to Santiago; Mary and I were constantly allowing ourselves to be pulled forward and upward into a more expansive, more generous, more ease-filled and loving way of being.  So, sitting on the rocks here in northern Michigan, writing these stories of a pilgrimage that had its high vibe way with me is a pleasure, one that brings me back to those gulls and the sea and the sound of the waves, that brings me back to the kindness and love that was present throughout.  I like hanging out in a vibration of generosity, where possibilities seem endless and the synchronicities and magical moments abound.  I am needing to remember that today, that it is in the state of expansiveness that the solutions and good feelings arise.  You see, I lost this vibration last night, couldn’t feel the light-hearted love of those gulls and that walk.  I was not on the winning side of this presidential election and the defeat not only stung; it stunned me, and on so many levels feels devastating.  That’s what I went to bed with last night, the stun and the sting and the sadness.  And I woke up, and they were still there, those feelings that are murky and heavy and uncomfortable.

And so I decided to stay in bed until something shifted, anything at all.  And as I pulled the covers up tight, I clutched a stone, a wonderful sun-colored smooth stone painted by the nature gods with rings of gray, a stone I had picked up a month ago along those  miles and miles and miles of Atlantic shoreline, a stone that must carry some of the sea’s power because indeed something did start to shift for me.  I started to hear it, a song from the Hamilton soundtrack, the “Rise Up!” song.  I heard it loud and clear and it was like a slight breeze blowing away a bit of the heavy.  And I did rise up, and I did eat breakfast, and I did get out in the woods I love so well, and I started to feel slightly better.  And then I came here to the shore of the lake that feeds my spirit.  And as the sun began to sink, I remembered the gulls and the lightness of being on our pilgrimage and my spirit began to finds its wings again.  I know some things.  I know that I love this country, its diversity of land and people, its democratic ideals.  I know I want for it to be a welcoming place for all, a kind place, a creative place, an expansive place.  And I know I want to embrace these qualities in myself.  So, this turn of events is not what I saw coming and is not what I wanted to transpire.

As our Portuguese/Spanish journey was winding down, in the town of Finisterre, Spain, a village at the end of the world, one where the early explorers set sail for lands unknown, a fellow traveler on the Camino path said to Mary and I, “Your Camino has just begun!”  And so here we are.  Here I am, still on the pilgrim path some weeks later, with choices in my hands.  Do I want to stay stuck in sadness and anger?  Do I want to yell out to the other half of the population whose paradigm appears to be so different than my own, to become what I don’t tolerate well in others?  Or do I want to rise up?  Because when I do rise up, the view is expansive and the opportunity for positive solutions is mighty.  It comes back to that huge gulp and a “darn it!”.  It is up to each of us to find our alignment, to find our way up to the expansive vibration where we feel good, where solutions come to us with the ease of the gulls who found their way to Mary and me.  It is up to each of us to claim it, that we are president of our own lives.  And when we do claim it, when we do rise up and bring ourselves into alignment with what matters most in our hearts and minds and spirits, than we feel it, the power of those mighty waves, the power and mystery of life coursing through us.  And from this place of inner power, we each will know what to do, what feels inspired, and it will be  generated by love and kindness and creativity and we will have the courage of those early explorers who took off for lands unknown with a sense of expansiveness and possibility in their hearts.


The sunset at Presque Isle: Marquette, Michigan, November 9, 2016

The Portuguese Way: Part One

We are all just walking each other home.  Ram Dass

It is easy to follow a river, especially when a path traces its fertile banks from town to town, easier in some ways than walking along the ocean which is what we had been doing for the whole week before this day of river-walking.  Don’t get me wrong, our seven days of following the shores of the Atlantic on promenades and cobblestone country roads, on sandy beaches and boardwalks and grassy dunes, through coastal forests of eucalyptus and pine, into villages of friendly folk and back out again into the wilds as we traveled on our own amazing feet northbound from Porto, Portugal to the border of Spain at Caminha, had been among the most magical of my life.  It seems as though it would have been easy enough, this ocean-time, keeping the sea with its magnificent thundering waves on our left, and the noontime sun, which was a nearly constant presence each day as it warmed up our backs and nudged us north, but for many reasons, we found ourselves more than once befuddled and backtracking and adding kilometers to already long days on our journey up the coast of Portugal toward Spain.

We were on a pilgrimage, my friend Mary and I, a three week October trek with an end-point of significance, a pilgrimage following the Portuguese Way to Santiago de Compostila, Spain, to a magnificent cathedral where the remains of St. James, a preacher of love and forgiveness who traveled these same roads, lay interned.  For over a thousand years, people of the Christian faith, from wherever their place of dwelling in Europe, journeyed forth on the trek to this cathedral in Spain, and, before that, many of these routes sacred to the Christians, were highways of granite for the ancient Romans and were special Pagan routes leading to the sea beyond Santiago.  And today, people of all faiths and nationalities, for as many reasons as there are pilgrims deciding to take such a journey, travel these many different ways which all lead to the same end-point.  St. James is often depicted carrying a scallop shell or wearing one around his neck, and, the scallop, a common dweller in the sea off these shores, and grooved with many lines leading to its winged collar, has become one of the symbols and markers for this journey to Santiago.  And, indeed, the routes leading to Santiago are well-defined with scallop shell markers and brightly-painted yellow arrows on the sides of buildings and street corners and the trunks of trees.  So why is it that Mary and I, during the ocean part of our journey, found ourselves wandering and wondering even as those magnificent ocean waves pounded the rocky and sandy beaches on our left?

We had made a decision before leaving our homes in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula that we wanted to take the path less traveled, the route closest to the sea.  Mary is a Pisces, an ocean girl who dives deep into its waters and I am a gal from coastal Maine who was weaned on the juice of lobster and the salty sea air.  And we never regretted our choice of routes.  The ocean air was brilliant and replenishing and every step brought a vista of delight.  But the path, the one marked with the scallop shells and the yellow arrows sometimes wandered inward while we clung to the shore, and, other times, we had to leave the ocean vistas and walk the village streets because the shore was too jagged and rocky to provide an easy path forward.  For us, the markers were few and far between that first week, and we were constantly seeking help.  And this is what we were remembering now, on Day Nine, as we moved forward with ease on this path for walkers and bikers that ran along the banks of the Minho River, this path that provided a clear and steady forward focus toward the Portuguese city of  Valenca where we would meet up with the more traditional Portuguese route to Santiago.

It was damp on this particular day, the clouds billowing over the lush hills of Spain on the river’s opposite bank and the downpours unexpected and heavy.  We were prepared, with size extra extra large three dollar men’s long plastic raincoats we had bought at the Chinese market earlier in the morning in the town of Vila Nova de Cerveira, raincoats generous enough to fit over our more expensive and less waterproof jackets and the back-humps of our packs.  But we barely had to use them.  The one cafe on this stretch of river path showed up and we walked in just as the heavens opened and poured down in a rainfall like no other, and stopped again, as we paid for our leisurely and perfect lunch and walked out into the sun breaking through those billowy clouds.  And again, an hour or so later, just when we were feeling the urge for a snack, a plastic shelter appeared on the river’s bank, perhaps a fishermen’s makeshift hut, and we crouched into it and sat on its bench and ate our snack of clementines and apples as the rain poured down once again.  And that’s when we began to remember and appreciate how it always had been this easy, even when the path hadn’t been as clear, how we always had been watched over and cared for even when we were labeling ourselves lost, how we wouldn’t have traded a second of it, how it was when we were lost that we found our greatest gifts.

There was the time that we were wandering the windy cobblestone streets of a village about three kilometers inland, one on the other side of a small granite bridge over a river too deep to cross, trying with some desperation to find our way back to the sea and the beach and the waves that we could hear in the distance.  It was then that we noticed the family outside their house and stopped for directions.  This led to a deep conversation with a charming teenage girl who spoke impeccable English and a Sunday lunch of cabbage soup and beet salad and the most delicious octopus casserole in the world with her family who took us in like the best of friends and later showed us a shortcut route back to the sea.  And this wasn’t unusual.  We were befriended each time we asked for directions, sometimes beckoned forward by drivers in their cars, chattering to us in Portuguese and pointing wildly to make sure we took the right turns.  We made friends, time and time again, many times a day.  It didn’t matter that we knew only one word in Portuguese, “thank you!”, that many of the villagers knew no English.  We were led by the arm to outdoor markets and shown the best of the local clementines and pears, and the special gifts to bring home that were the the most authentic.  The perfect person always showed up when we needed them, the perfect bench when we needed to sit.  Our hosts at hotels and hostels went out of their way to find us a place for the next night twenty or thirty kilometers down the road.  Kindness prevailed and we drank it in.  And more often than not, in the midst of it all, we laughed long and hard and easily.

So maybe there is no getting off the path.  Maybe it is all a pilgrimage and we are all pilgrims.  And sometimes, it is clear and well-marked, the trail along the river, the boardwalk by the sea, and, sometimes, it is convoluted and windy, like the maze-like streets in the villages of Portugal and Spain.  And maybe it doesn’t matter.  It just doesn’t matter because, even when the scallop shell markers are nowhere in sight, the signs are always there and the helpers ready to help.










The Portuguese Way:  Mary and Helen on their journey, by the sea, with new friends, along the river, the path leading them forward.

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