Joy 101 — How to Open the Door to Your Emotions

Image of a daffodil. A nice symbol of joy.

Joy, or her gentler sister, happiness, can seem elusive. We have been told by our society we will be happy when we achieve a goal or gain an item we have coveted. I’m here to tell you joy can be found without any of that. Not only can it be found, without those items and experiences, but pursuing them at all costs can interfere with joy.

The reason many of us find happiness so elusive is that we have decided to shut the door on emotions.  Let’s back up a little. Emotions can be labelled “good” or “bad”. That is a simple idea. Anger, envy, jealousy and hate are seen as negative. Even sadness and regret can fall into the “bad” category. We all seek the “good” feelings of joy (that’s what this blog is about!), happiness, love and contentment, for example.

Social rules of engagement further say we can express the good emotions, usually, in public, but not always. Try laughing out loud during a eulogy if you don’t believe me. The bad emotions, however, should be hidden and denied. If you are really angry, it is generally not acceptable to express it in the moment, especially if when angry you throw and break things.

So, what am I getting at? We have been taught to greater or lesser degrees when and how and if we can express the emotions we are feeling. Truth is, if you feel impatient, you feel impatient. It is neither good nor bad, it just is. The trouble starts if you decide to lash out at someone because you are feeling this way, but I digress.

When an emotion is created energy is built up. There are tons of hormones, bodily reactions and sensations associated with all kinds of emotions. If you choose to repress them, in the moment they occur, that energy does not dissipate. It stays somewhere in your body and waits to be released.

We are all familiar with someone who strikes out in anger at some small slight. In some instances this can simply be a build up of anger, that was not expressed at the time it formed. The energy from the anger is still trying to escape and a small thing sets it off. It is expressed in an inappropriate situation and seems out of proportion to the small slight that set it off.

Forcing ourselves to not experience emotions, when they occur not only can backfire, like described above, it takes a huge amount of energy to keep your emotions under control all of the time. Enter addictions. If we have anger, sadness, hate and other “bad” emotions we are trying to suppress, not express, and their energy is building up, one of the ways to deal with this is to avoid it. Shopping, gambling, legal and illegal drugs (governments decide on this distinction so I would argue the distinction is not real), over-working, over-exercising…there are too many to list. These things numb us and allow us to ignore the pent up emotions we have stored in our bodies.

Unfortunately, this does not work long term. Unexpressed emotions can erupt at unexpected times, can lead to illness, stress and depression and worst of all, we cannot just block the unpleasant or “bad” emotions. When we block emotions, we block all emotions.

In order to get to joy we must feel all emotions, the “good” and the “bad”. This includes all of the emotions we have failed to express in the past. If we want to get to a place where we can feel joy, happiness and contentment, we must feel and express what we have been told are unacceptable, or what we have found are unpleasant emotions.

Here is a step by step guide on how to release repressed emotions:
1. Find Time

The actual exercise can last from a few minutes to over an hour depending on you personally, how many emotions you have repressed, how long you have been storing pent-up emotions and how painful the experience is.

In addition to the time spent doing the work, you will need recovery time. This is not the type of exercise you should do right before going to work, or before a social outing. Leave time to take a walk, have a shower or bath, get outside, listen to good music or some other activity that will act as a balm over the wounds you are about to open. This is not the best time to turn to any addictions or bad habits you may have.

2. Find a place

You are looking for a place where you will have the maximum amount of privacy you can muster. This may be more difficult for some, especially if you live in a home that does not afford you privacy. You may need to find a wooded area that is not heavily populated, or park your car in a secluded area. You may need to ask a friend if you can do this exercise at their home. Do whatever you can to find a place where you can make noise, feel safe and not have to worry about your surroundings.

Depending on you personally, you may prefer one of the two following things:

1. Some individuals need to have a place where they cannot break or damage anything. If you know or suspect this may be you, plan for it. Have things you can break, pillows you can punch, paper or cardboard you can tear, that sort of thing.

2. Others need comfort. If this is you, grab a blanket or shawl, wrap it around you and sit somewhere you feel safe and secure.

3. Do the Work

a.  Think of things that have rattled you. Remember times you were wronged or shamed or felt hurt. Play music that makes you feel sad. Watch a movie you know dredges up emotions. Do what you need to do to have any emotion surface. Allow yourself to feel and express the emotion.

b.  Be prepared for rage, anger, crying, sobbing, yelling, laughing or any other way an emotion can be expressed. Let it happen. This is a highly personal and individual experience.  Do not get pulled into a thought process about why you feel this way, or that you shouldn’t feel this way. If your brain is demanding attention, focus on describing how the emotion appears in your body.

c.  Create a picture in your mind about the sensations. “My stomach is a red ball of liquid” for instance. Do not say, “I am angry”, describe the sensations using colours, textures and shapes. There can be no judgement. Do not berate yourself for being weak or for having the emotions. Try to stop the part of your brain trying to understand and explain what is happening. Allow yourself to fully express the emotions that come up.

d.  It is normal to start with one emotion and have it evolve into another. Do not judge yourself for starting with sadness, for instance, becoming angry, feeling hate and then laughing out loud. This is normal. The order I gave was just an example. The emotions will come up in an unpredictable way.

Note:  even the most painful of feelings will last a maximum of 90 seconds. There may be more than one wave of emotions, but each will only last 90 seconds. You can allow even the most uncomfortable sensation to last that long.

e.  When no more emotions surface, or you’ve reached your limit. Stop. Do the activity you planned for before you began, like go for a walk outside.

It is not possible to do this exercise wrong. As you do it more often you will become accustomed to how to release the emotions without trying to “think” your way out of it. You will know you are doing it correctly when you feel slightly “lighter” afterwards. If you feel like you have re-experienced the trauma that caused the emotion initially, you are in your thoughts too much. Practice describing the sensations visually while doing this exercise, that will help.

4. Repeat

This should be repeated as often as possible. The sessions will decrease in time and intensity. Piece by piece you are dismantling opening the door to emotions. This is when joy starts to flow into your life. It is not possible to feel joy exclusively, you must feel all emotions and this exercise will help you to do that.

Meditation 101 — 4 Things You Need to Know

When someone says they exercise, it really does not describe what they do. That’s not to say they may or may not actually exercise, it is just that what one person considers exercise may be the typical day for a person who does not consider themselves an “exerciser” at all. A completely sedentary individual may feel that a twenty-minute walk is exercise, whereas a triathlete would have a totally different set of criteria.

Meditation is the same. Eckhart Tolle prescribes to “being present” as much as possible and he does this instead of having a set practise to sit and meditate. Monks can meditate for hours on end, without moving. There are as many forms and levels of commitment in meditation as there are for exercise. So, when someone says, “I meditate” it really does not describe what they do.

Mindfulness, the scientific community’s word for meditation, has been shown to be beneficial in many aspects of your life and health. In order to reap these benefits, it is not necessary to join a monastery, all you need to feel the initial benefits is five minutes, yes, five minutes per day.

Shutting off all of your electronic devices and sitting alone with nothing to do can feel like a colossal waste of time, but believe me, it is worth the effort. I know, another thing that you are supposed to add to your “to-do” list may seem like a great inconvenience, in addition to having nothing concrete to show for it. There will be no posts to Facebook, emails answered or tasks completed, but it is still worth the time. Some benefits include more restful sleep, less stress and better health. Need I say more?

So here are the basics, Meditation 101:

1. Find five minutes

This is the largest stumbling block to getting this done so I’ll put it first. Take into consideration that it is five minutes. You do not need to change your shoes or shower afterwards. There is no specific wardrobe or equipment necessary. You do not need a meditation room or a special pillow. Just you and five minutes.

2. Become aware of your thoughts

During this five minutes become aware of your thoughts. We all have all of this stuff that goes on in our minds all day. You may have music playing, sometimes affectionately called an earworm. I usually do and I listen and can sing along if I feel like it. Then there is the tyrant that can tell you everything you are doing wrong and how you should be doing it properly. Many people have a parent (not necessarily one of your actual parents) but a voice that tells them what is good for them and how they should behave. In addition to that, you may run other scripts such as counting calories or planning meals; paying attention to your “to-do” list; or planning the next hour, day, week or decade.

You may have any or all of the above and you may have other things in your mind, not mentioned. This background noise will continue regardless of what you are doing. Notice it. Notice it but don’t pay attention to it. If you are having difficulty conceptualizing what I am talking about. Stop now and read this: “Can you hear this sentence being said in your mind?” Were you able to recognize that when you read you were actually saying the words in your mind and listening to them? This is true for most people, but not all.

You are the one who “hears” what you read. You are not the voice you hear, especially when reading! When meditating, try to “observe” the flotsam in your mind. Pay attention, but don’t get pulled in. For instance, if you remember you forgot to take the turkey out to thaw for Thanksgiving dinner, although important, it is not important now. You do not have to engage and think about what pan you will thaw it in, where to put it, whether or not to take the wrapping off… Be confident you will remember to take the turkey out later and let the thought pass out of your mind. Five minutes won’t matter on a 20 lb turkey anyway!

It is helpful to use visual imagery. I like bubbles. Each word becomes a bubble that floats to the surface. The meaning of the word is lost. The word is visualized as a bubble and it just floats up and pops. Cars passing by on a highway, or stones being thrown into water will also work. Use your imagination. The important thing is to ignore the meaning of the word and let it pass away.

3. Pay attention to your breathing

There are a lot of variations on this, but this is the simplest. When your brain wants all of your attention and keeps blathering on, focus on your breathing. Think about how it feels to breathe in and breathe out. Does your chest expand? Does your abdomen expand? Can you tell the air coming out when you exhale is slightly warmer than the air going in? Think about this.

4. To sit or not to sit?

That is the question. Many individuals cannot sit still for five minutes. I mean this literally. They are simply too anxious, too wound up and too restless to sit. If this describes you, choose a moving meditation. It is OK to walk, ride a bicycle, swim, run or any other activity. The one caveat here is you must be doing this activity in a situation where you do not have to pay attention to your surroundings.

Walking into traffic or running on uneven ground where you must avoid rocks and the like, will not work. The goal is to not have to pay attention to that voice that keeps you safe. If you ignore your brain when it says, there is an oncoming train, your meditation will not be helpful. So find a place, like a shopping mall, or a track where you can run or walk without paying attention. The same applies to swimming, cycling any other type of movement you prefer.

If you decide to sit, the lotus position is not required. You may also lie down, but it is more likely you will fall asleep. For stationary meditation, you should be comfortable and it is preferable if you close your eyes. This is not recommended if you are running, for instance.

That’s it! There is no more to it. You can begin to feel the benefits of meditating with just this amount of understanding and five minutes a day. Good luck.

Moments

Our life is composed of moments. We like to dream about wonderful things like unfathomable riches, or a great vacation, getting that ring or promotion, but the truth is, we are living right now.

So, how do you feel right now? It is not too much of a leap to guess that you are warm, fed, clothed and have access to the internet. You are reading this, so you must be! But do you feel like you are OK? Are you savouring it?

Not too long ago I was faced with a relatively minor decision. I could pay $40.00 to take a “short cut” on the drive home, or I could drive over an hour through rush hour traffic, likely bumper to bumper.

Being fully conscious of my values and priorities, I decided to put some good music on, put the roof of my car down and just go through the traffic.

I could’ve stressed about the congestion, damming all of the people around me, wishing those in charge had made better planning decisions and been angry the entire way home. Or, I could recognize those around me were stressed, give them a little compassion and listen to some good music. It takes such little effort to drive that slow!

It may seem like a small thing, and it was, but our entire life is like that. A long time ago, I decided I didn’t want to look back on my life and see only stress and turmoil. For that drive, I was content. I knew it would take over an hour. An hour of my life I wanted to enjoy, not stress over.

Choosing to be happy now, even in gridlock, means that increasingly my life becomes filled with moments of contentment and joy. Isn’t that what we all want? Why not choose to be happy now? 

Stories we Tell Ourselves

The overlaps between both the ancient and the modern spiritual philosophies is significant to me. Recently, at my Vipassana retreat, Goenkaji spoke about “Saṅkhāra” he explained craving and aversion as causing these.  Basically, he was discussing thoughts that form when you are not happy with the present moment. All of the regrets, worries, hopes and desires form Saṅkhāras.

When you do not accept the moment as it is without craving or aversion, you create a sankhara. These are the source of all misery.  For instance, if someone insults you, it can create aversion in you. It is unpleasant for you and then you build up dislike or hate towards this person. The saṅkhāra or hate that you feel gets embedded and when you see this person again, you feel the hate. The hate can be used to justify treating that person poorly, for example.

The same phenomenon is described by Eckhart Tolle when he talks about “pain bodies”. He speaks of pain bodies being activated when some thought or experience brings you into alignment with old emotional scars. So, let’s say the same person insults you. They attack a part of you, you are sensitive about. Now, when the person who did the insulting is around, you feel “justified” reacting badly to anything that they say or do.

Byron Katie comes at it from the other side and reminds us that we don’t know anything for sure. This would include anything we can describe to ourselves. Her solution is to ask yourself, “Is it true?” leading to the foregone conclusion that there is no way you can ever know absolutely for sure.

Her perspective challenges us to look at the person, and decide if we believe what we think about the person who said it. We may immediately think the insulter is wrong, bad or out to hurt us. Instead of the insult resulting in bad feelings towards the person, we ask ourselves, “Is the person insulting us a bad person, or are they just saying something we find unpleasant?”

So what are they all talking about? They are describing the little voice in our heads who tries to rewrite history, “I shouldn’t have”, “she shouldn’t have”, “it shouldn’t have”. Or, “I wish … blah, blah, blah”. We have told ourselves a story about the way we judge things or people would be better. Our stories are told through craving, aversion; pain or fear or longing; and telling ourselves things are not OK, they should be different.

In essence, our thoughts not only create our perception of the world, they also contribute to how we feel in the world and how we respond to the world. If we build up enough saṅkhāras we can justify harming the person or mistreating them. In Eckhart Tolle’s model the “pain body” becomes activated and we act before we think. In Byron Katie’s we know the other person is out to get us, therefore justifying bad behaviour.

These explanations all point to the same thing. If we tell ourselves stories about people — whether they are based on facts or not — we can justify treating them badly. This is not a good thing. We are always responsible for how we behave. We can never justify hurting someone else, especially when that action is based on a story. A story we told ourself about that person and their intentions.

 

What if We Chose to Be Here?

It seemed like a simple question, but the more I pondered it the more I recognized it was rewriting how I told my story. For years, I’ve said, “I think I chose to be here” and in a recent conversation with a friend, I turned it around and said, “What if we all chose to be here?”

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It rearranges everything we’ve been focusing on. A few things fall from this premise and it is interesting to explore them, knowing full well the premise may be faulty. So, first, the most obvious is that if we “chose” we must have existed. Which, pretty much means we must exist after this body dies because we had to come from somewhere and we just go back. This is going back to a place from where we could chose what we want to experience.

There are many religions that have spoke to the range of possibilities, from returning here in a better or worse situation; living forever in a new reality that is either good or bad; or simply not existing after we are here. Truth is, no one knows for sure, but lets just stick with the possibility that we chose to be here for a while.

_____________

 

Believing we exist after we die,

has the power to eliminate all of the fear

of our own death.

_____________

 

When we no longer exist here, if we knew we existed somewhere else, it would make death a whole lot less frightening. Not necessarily for those we leave behind who suffer the loss of our presence and the emotional impact of losing someone you love, but for us, ourselves.

The idea that we may actually be able to choose to do this again, or that we might choose another set of parameters gives this inevitability known as death a whole new interpretation. It becomes more of a transition, a change in our reality, a new opportunity to chose to experience another life in an incalculable number of paradigms of reality.

You being you, even before you had the body you are in now, decided to experience life here. It allows us to refocus on the idea we wanted to come here and perhaps we should be exploring that instead of just getting by in a day. Why did you chose to be here? What did you want to experience, do, see, be involved in? You bought the ticket, and decided to go for the ride. What were you hoping you would get a chance to do? Trying to remember who you are and what your motivation was is a good place to start.

Even if this premise is wrong, and the only way to test it is to die, it has the power to allow us to think about life differently. We can look around with new eyes and see the world in a different way. A way that emphasizes why we would want to be here, what we enjoy and how we want to live.

Consider it for a moment. Is it possible you chose to be here? Perhaps, not in the exact situation you are in, but using a card game as an analogy, you decided to play cards and now you are faced with the hand you were dealt. How would you live differently if you no longer were preoccupied with prolonging your life, avoiding death and instead focused on the good things you enjoy around you?

It becomes possible to let go of the fear. We know we are going to die and if that is not a bad thing, we can now focus on living the most satisfying life we can imagine.

Writing About Writing

IMG_1081I realized in an inside-out way that I was thinking about writing about writing and it seemed so peculiar and strange. I often just “feel” like capturing a moment, the way that I’m feeling at the time and I started to form the thoughts and then it hit me,  “I want to write a blog post about how it feels to be writing”. Strange.

When I say writing, I mean more than just blog posts. A couple of years ago, I wrote a book that chronicles those anecdotes that describe aspects of who you are; the defining interesting moments. Well, I think they’re interesting…  I remember being so engaged. I would lose hours just writing (no editing, just writing) the words would flow and there was a satisfaction to how the stories poured out onto the page.

I am in that place again. I’ve decided to compile all of my knowledge about dealing with a narcissist into one place. It feels so good to sit down and write. I have to set reminders so that I’m not late for appointments. I ran back and forth last night giving out candy [it was Halloween] and writing bits of my new book.

It is so engaging. I guess you really know when you have found something you love when you lose track of time, feel satisfied after doing it and revel in the thought of doing it more.

Read the entire book, now available
Read the entire book, now available
The Narcissist Survival Guide now available

Spring a Reminder of Change

Today is the quintessential first day of spring. Not the calendar month or the day with the highest temperature, the first day of the season. It is no longer winter. There may yet be snow but the snow that is here is melting. There is a slow rhythm of the drips as winter washes away.

The birds are back. The sky is filled with flight and sound. It is funny how much I’ve missed the beauty of the birds and their song. They sit on branches that show no sign of thickening, that precursor to the actual buds. The trees are bare. There are no spring flowers up yet and no hint of summer green.

I slept late and awoke to this fabulous day. I’ve often wondered if those Canadians that choose to move to warmer climes miss the change of seasons. It is always something new and more appreciated for its absence.

A reminder that time moves on and we are all part of a larger cycle of birth and death and renewal. Change is inevitable. Nothing is permanent. By being present we ensure that we are always appreciative of what we enjoy. To stop and give gratitude for all that we have and the exceptional lives we’re being allowed to lead. Showing this gratitude seems to open a door that lets more good come in. If you don’t think that your life is exceptional perhaps this deserves some attention. Stop to appreciate what you do like, it will bring more good in.

I have a fabulous east facing balcony on the second floor. From there I can see the sunrise in the morning and the constellation Bootes after dark, at least this time of year.

The universe conspired with humour while I enjoyed my balcony today. Three different men with three different dogs all had to clean up poop on the lawn in front of my house. The first guy had to come back, for the package, after he realized that I had watched his dog poop and him walk away.

The third guy had the further indignity of knowing that I was watching him. I came out onto my balcony mid poo and he had heard me. It is a fine example of how our lives happen in the moments in which they occur. We like to tell our stories about how great things will be in the future when we get that or move there or buy the next best thing but the true experience is always now. Simply by paying attention to the moment, my experience became about now. It may not be a grand trip to an exotic place, but it was funny watching these men deal with their dogs. Enjoying the first day of spring. Feeling gratitude for the humour, even if it was potty humour.

From the deck on the west part of my house, think sunsets and the Big Dipper at night, I can see a small pond that is frozen. There are geese walking across it as though to check it out as a future prospect. My pool is frozen as well and I crave its languid embrace. I still find it hard to believe that I have a pool and currently it is just as much a part of a dream as any other part of the future.

We don’t need to be reminded of how quickly our lives can be washed away, possibly before that next new thing even gets here. So perhaps we should appreciate today. Take the arrival of spring as a reminder that all things come to pass and feel gratitude for the things in our lives that bring us joy. How would you spend your day if you knew that everything was taken care of? Isn’t it, just for this moment?

My Brain in the Pool

IMGP0470Breath, stroke, breath, stroke, the rhythmic splash of the water and the bubbles when I exhale become the focus of my mind. I love swimming. It is relaxing for me and a good example of not sitting in the lotus position to meditate. I completely “fall” into the rush of the water, the curl at the turn and my brain shuts off.

I still have thoughts, don’t get me wrong, but swimming is one of those types of activities that you don’t have to pay attention to your thoughts. You can observe your thoughts and then just feel the waves buoying you around. This can be the same in running, walking and hiking assuming that you are not in a place that requires vigilance. Or, you could sit still or lie down and let your mind relax.

We all need to take some time to turn our brains off. It gives them a break. Observe your thoughts for a while. See what you are thinking without making it important. If the thought came into your mind this time, it will return, no need to focus on it.

As little as ten minutes a day is all it takes to begin to receive the benefits of meditation. Better sleep, better concentration, better health… the list goes on and on. Why not turn your brain off today, if just for a little while?

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Inventing Mother

IMG_0164I have done a little reading about how to mend a broken heart; when it was broken by the absence of parents, and there does not seem to be much available. One book gave strict guidelines that you were not supposed to make your other relationships fill this hole in your heart. You have to accept that you did not get the love and are not entitled to get it now.

But there has been little comfort and support. Now, I understand that I may not have the correct search terms. You can tell by the way many people write about their relationships that they didn’t know that their problem was with a narcissist at all. So, it would’ve been hard for them to find ways to read about that particular problem before they knew the search term. But I find myself without any fruitful results from my own searches, so I’ve started to explore my own possibilities.

Not knowing the search term has been a problem for me in the past. I was searching for a company that would install an automated sprinkling system in my yard. I searched: sprinklers, lawn, watering, landscaping, gardening, grass and got no results, bar one.

The company I found was out of town and he serviced my area, but it was a drive for him. After he installed the system, he mentioned that I should find a local company to deal with the winter maintenance. I did not know how to find one. I called a guy in a related industry and he said, I don’t do that work, but there are a lot of guys that do. Check irrigation in the phone book. Irrigation Every person that worked in that industry had made the same assumption. They thought people looking for their services would use that word and that word only. It’s only common sense…

Once it’s occurred to you.

Not being able to find what I need on-line, I’ve decided to try inserting a mother into my bad memories. Let me explain this double speak. I know that I did not have a mother caring for me. When I remember a bad childhood experience, I am going to insert another mother into the void. So, even though I did not have a mother there, I’m going to add a woman into all of the memories. I will change the outcome in each memory and see how I feel.

I have already pictured this woman. She is large, fat and has dark brown, almost black hair that she wears short and smoothed from curls. So, for instance, I have a rather intense memory of watching television, knowing that I was not allowed to wake my mother. I was hungry so I stole some butterscotch chocolate chips and ate them (they were disgusting) until my stomach hurt.

Now, instead, I am watching television, knowing that I am not allowed to wake my mother and this fat brunette walks in from the front hall. She bends down and picks me up into her arms and walks me into the kitchen. After setting me down on a kitchen chair, she asks what she can prepare for me.

IMG_0377I am super hungry, so I ask for the big breakfast with bacon and eggs and buttered toast with jam. We spend an eternity sitting together in the kitchen while she makes me breakfast and while I eat and she is talking to me the entire time.

How’s that? I’m thinking that the worst this type of pretending could do is make me delusional. I have this imaginary friend as a child, who I didn’t make up until I was an adult.

As I wrote that last piece, a calm warmth spread over me. Instead of reliving the pain of loneliness and the discomfort of an upset stomach, I had breakfast with a woman that loved me. I will always know the truth, but I prefer to remember it my way.

Let’s try another. For a very, very, long time I was plagued with pinworms. Those crawly centimetre long pests that come out at night to lay their eggs. My mother told me a story, when I complained about the discomfort.  She said that she had heard of a man whose worms crawled out through his skin. Nice.

Add in some fiberglass curtains that were washed with the underwear and you live through a day of hell. I was disgusted by the thought of worms coming out through my skin and the fiberglass from the curtains was keeping my skin prickly and itchy all day. Every time that I comforted myself that there were not worms trying to pierce my skin from the inside, the fiberglass would get too itchy to ignore.

Now, instead, when I complained about the discomfort, the big fat brunette helps me dress. We make an emergency trip to the drug store where she lets me pick out a magazine and some gum. We go home together. She is not stupid enough to wash fiberglass curtains with clothing, so that whole day is removed. I see a visual of her pulling me away from looking at that memory. “I won’t let you feel that way again”, she comforts.

So, my plan is to insert a new and improved version of each bad memory as it surfaces and to choose to remember it that way instead.

Read the entire book, now available
Writing this book helped me make sense of what had happened to me as a child and the choices I made as an adult.

Camino de Santiago

IMG_1281I am amazed at how many different aspects there are to the allure of the Camino de Santiago trail in Spain. Many religious figures and celebrities have travelled this route, across the top of Spain, and been buried along the way  — the religious figures, not the celebrities. In addition to that, it was once considered a path to the end of the world. For Europeans, before the discovery of the new world, this trek took you to the Western most aspect of the continent, literally the end of the world as it was known at the time.

There is also the athletic perspective. As an outdoors adventure, this trail is designed so that you can “rough” it in the outdoors without having to carry tents and cooking equipment, unless you want to, and for that there is camping available.

The hike itself is almost 800 kilometers or 480 miles long. It goes through mountainous areas, open fields and cities. Great discussions are currently being held in various chat rooms about what distance can be covered each day, how demanding the trip is, how to prepare for this type of physical exertion and what to eat to enhance your performance.

Cultural visitors can visit rustic small towns and city centers all by travelling this path. The pilgrim is exposed to what it means to be truly Spanish, even if authentically it means that you cannot get service in the middle of the afternoon.

Spirituality beckons many a traveler and most of the people, other than the uber- athletes, do not know why they have a desire to walk this route other than the fact that they know that they want to do it. Initially affiliated with Christianity, the call of the Camino now goes out to people of various spiritual and religious perspectives.

A lesser-mentioned aspect of this journey is that the way is marked in the heavens themselves. This particular trek is directly under the Milky Way. If you were going to design a message or a marker that would not get lost through time, would not be subject to language and could be understood by anyone, isn’t that how you would mark it?

It has been brought to my attention that a walking stick is essential for this journey. This, of course, is another personal decision. I spoke to people about the most modern types of sticks. Some are fully collapsible, feather light, designed to absorb shocks and allow you to let go of the handle while the stick holds onto your hand.

I took the advice of a friend that said, “Go out into the woods and find one.” At this stage of the journey, I’m glad that I did. There is always the possibility that I will regret this later because I will see the benefit of all of the upgrades to the newer ones and recognize that I could’ve used some 21st century help on my walk.

But, the romantic in me liked the idea of going into the woods and finding a stick. The stick that I found was only the third branch that I touched. It seemed to be waiting there for me. In my mind’s eye I had envisioned a stick with a bend. The natural position that I would like to hold my hand in, while holding the stick and hiking, required a bend. The stick I picked up had that bend. It was also the right diameter, not excessive, but sturdy enough to hold my weight and the right length. I tested this out by forcing my entire weight down on the branch. It did not give at all.

Unfamiliar with the various species of trees, I had to ask for help. The help came in the form of an email from the TreeCanada website.  This group advocates planting trees and provides resources to that end. The man that answered my email said that it was definitely a birch branch and probably a white birch. To be fair to him, the photo I sent him illustrated a branch that had been lying on the ground for at least part of the winter and much of the bark was damaged or missing.

Birch has significance in many cultures. Apparently, it is a symbol of new beginnings and of taking a positive step forward. It is both male and female in a single tree. It is associated with growth and adaptability and is considered a pioneer. From a practical perspective, it is virtually imperishable, strong, light and has a natural resonance that will amplify energy. This sounds more appealing to me personally than it will fold up and go into your suitcase, but I may find that that is more important than I realize at this point.

For whatever reason, and I have to admit I am part of the group that does not know why I want to do this, just that I do, increasing numbers of people are making this journey, that in an of itself makes it interesting.

100 KM Loop

Meseta

Changing Landscapes of the Camino

Albergue? 

The Camino Walk

Another Night on the Camino

Magic on the Camino

Hiking Poles for the Camino 

Camino de Santiago