September 14, 2013
It’s now been seventeen days since I returned home from Spain. During that time I’ve tried to hang onto my experience as the the usual bombardment of modern culture continues unabated. My focus has been on relaxation characterized by the avoidance of scheduled activity.
During this 17-day period, I’ve relaxed at home for a few days, spent the long Labor Day weekend on Balboa Island, launched our son into the 11th grade and took four days to go fishing in the Sierra mountains. After that, a few days focused on our oldest son’s upcoming wedding and then back to Balboa Island where I now attempt to share my oft-promised deep thoughts about my experience traveling around the world in 30 days.
Absolute Truth #1 – Everything you need in life can be carried on your back
Or in your heart. Or in your head.
This thought has been shared by many folks before me and I think is common to almost all Camino experiences. The accumulation of “stuff” over time is not the way to happiness, it is an obstacle to happiness. I actually prefer to use the word contentment because it connotes a peaceful acceptance of wherever and whatever you are in life right now. It’s the feeling that you have enough, you do enough and you are enough.
Being an avid backpacker for many years, I’ve learned this lesson slowly. In the early days, I carried a lot of extra equipment “just in case” and tolerated the extra burden because I was a younger man. As I’ve aged, I’ve cut my pack weight slowly but steadily. It’s the only thing that has allowed me to continue my trips.
The Camino experience magnified what I learned backpacking. Instead of 30 lbs. you’re carrying 15 lbs. You can do this, of course, because more of what you need is provided along the way by others. Food and shelter don’t need to be carried, you purchase them as you go along. If you get hurt, you’re usually within a few hours of a hospital so you don’t need to carry a lot of first aid gear.
All you really need is a medium-sized backpack, an open mind, and an open heart. Which leads us to Deep Thought #2.
Absolute Truth #2 – God is present in all people and all things
Right about now you’re thinking: is Michael going to have an original thought anywhere in this post? The answer is: I’m not sure so stay tuned.
I’m reading a book right now entitled “Fly Fishing – the Sacred Art: Casting a Fly as a Spiritual Practice.” It’s written by a Christian minister/MD named Michael Attas and a rabbi named Eric Eisenkramer. The book combines some basic fly-fishing instruction with thoughts about the wonder of the natural world, the benefits of solitude, the blessing of community and the search for the Divine.
Sounds just like my Camino experience.
One of the concepts discussed in the book is panentheism, which “makes the claim that God is in all matter and all of creation. All humans have this spark of divinity within us, as does all matter – earth, waters, fish, birds, forests, and trees.” It’s easier to recognize this on the Camino because everyone and everything is carrying less stuff.
Walking the Camino, you meet people from all over the world and you never know who is rich and who is poor. They’ve left their stuff behind and chosen to carry their possessions on their back. It’s a great equalizer. When you meet someone on the Camino, the spark of the Divine is usually apparent immediately. It’s like whoa! This guy is the most amazing person I’ve ever met! Until you meet the next person, of course. If you don’t notice their spark, it’s usually because you’re not paying attention. Not that that ever happened to me.
Once you start noticing the Divine in everyone, it’s easy to notice the Divine in everything around you. Fields of sunflowers, hunting dogs, purple stuffed animals, bicycles, beer. You don’t need to search for the Divine. Get rid of your stuff and the Divine fills the void.
to be continued..