Its been some weeks since we returned from our hike on the Spanish Camino and I’m still astounded at how much the experience still resonates in our lives.
We have just heard from Jim who walked the entire Camino Frances from Jean Pied de Port, arriving in Santiago last week after 40 days of walking.
The many interesting and fascinating people you meet on the Camino is part of part of what I would describe as one of the most precious gifts of the Camino. This is why many Peregrinos decide to give something back in volunteering to work a summer in one of the pilgrims’ hostels.
Many people walk the Camino to find an answer to a life-important question they are dealing with. Mostly they find the answer, sometimes after weeks or months after the walk, with the answer to a question needing time to ripen.
On my first Camino I was somewhat disappointed at not having found “my answer”. The lesson to learn was patience and to open the mind to the so many of the mysteries and lessons of the Path.
The first lesson I learned was that it needs time to “walk things off” and get rid of the old emotional baggage that you often carry with you for years. My theory is that the body has an “emotional memory” just like the emotional mind in holding onto “traumatic” experiences on a cellular level. This is why the first days of walking are so hard, even for people who have prepared well physically.
When this “emotional garbage” comes to the surface on the “path of crucifixion” that often comes during the first week of arduous walking through blisters, sore knees and back pain, the transformation process can begin. Then walking, even through difficult terrain, becomes an easy ride and you can actually start enjoying daily walks of 25-30 kilometres and more.
There were so many images, smells and meetings of mind on this centuries old path that this space is too short to fill them.
There was the father walking the path with two mules in fulfilling a dream that his daughter had on her death bed when dying of cancer. There are the brave young folk in the Aragon province fighting a dam project that will flood a pristine valley and one of the oldest parts of the Camino. There are the faces of people you look at where you know they have just gone through a very hard time in their lives and that they have come through, stronger.
On a physical level, I feel much fitter. My skin seems smoother and my senses of smell and hearing different. In my dreams I am still walking and when I wake up I know that I will soon be making plans for the next walk on the Camino.
Filed under Uncategorized
Tagged as alignment, Aragon Route, burnout, Camino, Camino Santiago, cancer, connection, health, hiking, nature, psychology, walking
Nestled in a rock face near the Spanish city of Jaca is the ancient monastery of San Juan de la Pena. It dates back to the ninth century and by the 11th century became the spiritual and intellectual centre of the Kingdom of Aragon. According to legend the Holy Grail was kept here until the 14th century.
There is no final proof but It was believed to be the chalice used by Jesus during the Last Supper and the cup in which Joseph of Arimathea collected the Blood of Jesus on the Cross. Today the original is kept in the Cathedral of Valencia with a copy displayed on a stone altar in the old monastery.
Whether true or not, the monastery San Juan de la Pena is a mysterious and unique place. While on our recent walk on the Camino, I took a day to explore the area on the mountain from which there are spectacular views of the Pyrenees mountains in the distance.
The Monasterio Nuevo, or new monastery, further up the mountain is a much bigger complex. Its exterior has been rebuilt with a modern museum interior giving much insight on how the monks lived according to the Benedictine Order
The monastery had enormous influence not only in the ancient Kingdom of Aragon but throughout Europe of the early Middle Ages. The monks lived disciplined lives, following a daily routine of contemplation, work and study. Silence was highly cherished. The monks took a vow of silence and were only allowed to speak if it was absolutely necessary or when it was a good thought or blessing. It was obviously an atmosphere that was conducive to highly-focused study and inner spiritual work.
The exhibition in the new monastery illustrates a colorful history of rise and decay. The influence and success of this monastery in the early Middle Ages can be attributed to several factors that are good lessons for today’s corporates:
- The monks were absolutely focused, disciplined and dedicated to their task
- At the same time they did not exclude themselves from the outside world, honing the art of networking and relationship-building with the rulers and decision-makers of the time.
- A charismatic abbot, or leader, was crucial in maintaining cohesion, discipline and respect
- Basic material needs were catered for by the Kingdom with at times generous grants and donations
Its a mute point on whether the decay started in the year 1399 when the Aragonese King Martino V took the Holy Grail to his palace in Zaragoza and when the monks asked for it back he tricked them with a replica. There were several fires that destroyed much of the monastery complex in the 17th century. Decay came in line with infighting and power struggles. Grants and privileges from the king were reduced and at times completely stopped. Loss of focus and purpose came in line with vows being broken and poor leadership.
An organisation is only as successful as long as its members are motivated to abide by the internal codes and ethics which always reflects on how it is perceived by those outside. There will always be circumstances that cannot be controlled, such as political change or upheavel. But it is how adaptable and flexible that organisation is to unpredictable changes, that will ultimately determine its survival.
Filed under connection, energy, healing nature, life vision, meditation, monasteries, monks, organisational structure, powerbodymind, psychology, spirituality
Tagged as alignment, Aragon Route, Camino de Santiago, community, connection, Holy Grail, Juan de la Pena, monastery, mystery, spirituality
Humanity’s disconnect to the web of life, the lack of respect and awareness for the many parts of the bigger whole, has got us into a pretty dire predicament.
Some theorists would argue that man is a predator by nature and that it is all about the survival of the fittest, falsely quoting Darwin who was in reality very much aware of the intricate inter-connection of all living things.
Any species which fails to find its niche in the web of life becomes extinct because the earth or “creation intelligence” always finds a means of discarding that which becomes a threat to everything else. It is something you become acutely aware of by spending alone time in nature or in the wilds.
I’ve had some of my deepest spiritual experiences while hiking alone in the Pyrenees mountains, the Spanish Camino and the African bush where simply by observation you begin to realize that every plant, beetle, bird, antelope or predator is there for a reason and plays its small part in sustaining life as a whole.
My theory is that humanity’s disconnect from the web of life is partly the result of alienation from nature and the “materialist-theoretical” approach to religion rather than intuitive spirituality that our forebears practised in the mystic traditions.
As hundreds of millions of people continue to move to urban areas there is a real danger that the alienation from our true destiny will continue. A growing number of people in the wealthier countries are living alone in apartments and getting lonelier and lonelier as they grow older and their already fragile support network of friends starts falling away.
In my previous blog I mentioned how much we are influenced and shaped by the people around us. Our health, our happiness and our lifespan depend on how well we are accepted, integrated and valued in that community we cherish. Loneliness is perceived as physical pain and is responsible for many psychological disorders. Read this interesting report on what people in Sardinia seem to be getting just right and why many of them stay healthy well over the age of a 100.
The biggest challenge faced by humanity is to rediscover that bond to the web of life and to make the switch from predator to custodian, protector and nurturer. Here are just some ways of reconnecting:
- Sitting meditation with emphasis on the natural breathing sequence of inhaling and exhaling
- Walking “things off” and reconnecting with your natural rhythm on a longer hike, preferably for several days. Its a wonderful way of detoxing your mind and body.
- Any of the body arts such as yoga, taiji and qi gong have been practised and perfected over many generations as a way of reconnecting with your mind and body.
- When outdoors in nature find just one sound to concentrate your mind on. It could be a bird chirping or the wind blowing through the trees. You will feel very relaxed after only a few minutes.
I had an amazing experience on one of my walks when I connected to a blackbird singing in a tree nearby. It responded by following me for several kilometres, hopping from tree to tree and on the track ahead. It was an amazing experience of connection.
Why face-to-face contact matters in a digital world
Yield and Overcome – How change can positively impact our lives
Filed under body arts, connection, healing nature, meditation
Tagged as alignment, burnout, Camino, city life, connection, Distraction, earth element, ecosystem, healing walks, nature meditation, web of life
A few days ago our daughter came home from school telling me this strange story: A Romanian gang was abducting innocent young children. In one incident a blonde young girl had been abducted in a shopping centre, had her hair cut in the toilet, drugged and then dressed-up as a gypsy. She was only saved at the last minute when a warning was given on the intercom and all the doors to the shopping centre had been closed. Police, so the story, have asked the public to look out for a white van with eastern European occupants driving around the vicinity of shopping malls.
Had I not heard exactly the same story in a South African version some years back, I would probably have taken the story seriously. Fact is police in Germany had to issue a warning that the story was an absolute hoax after it made its rounds over countless “Whats-App” and “SMS” messages, causing near panic among schoolchildren and parents.
It is just one example of the power of distraction in today’s world of social media. Whoever started this urban myth either thought it a joke or deliberately planned sowing fear and panic. But that this urban myth could make its way to Germany after I had heard it for the first time about ten years ago had me stupefied. Without the Internet such urban myths were checked and double-checked by news desks and seldom, if ever made their way into the public domain.
This brings me to my point. Never before have we been confronted by such a plethora of electronic media and other distractions. We humans are especially prone to visual stimulation that has us fixated to a screen, depending what it is. Our two teenagers have a really hard time when we put our foot down in limiting X-Box, TV or smart phone chatting.
But seriously, how often do we catch ourselves checking our emails and facebook accounts per day? We are gradually forgetting to experience the wonders of life in the here-and-now. We are becoming prey to the sway of whatever emotion is being put out there.
A recent edition of the “Shambhala Sun” ran a cover story on the “modern obsession” of distraction. It provides for some interesting reading. Buddhist teacher Judy Lief recommends that letting go of all our distractions and entertainments is the path to awakening. There seems to be a deeper truth we’re distracting ourselves from, says the famous Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh.
Here are some tips on how you can avoid the power of distraction and to stay in alignment:
Concentrate on your breathing. Is it coming in short bursts from your throat or chest (fear and anxiety) or is it centred in your lower stomach (relaxation, ease of mind)
How is your body posture? By imagining the centre of your head connected with an invisible string to your higher self and the centre of your feet grounded to a point deep in the earth, you will feel a wave of energy flowing through your body. It is a complete contrast to being slumped over a desk or in a chair, and make you really feel your body.
Resolve to listen more rather than talking and giving an immediate response
Take time out from all those distractions such as iPhones and iPods
Take a walk in nature. Listen to the huge variety of birds, insects or other animals, sense the smell of fresh blossoms, feel the wind on your skin. Feel alive. Experience the here-and-now. What a wonderful experience to be living!
Filed under Uncategorized
Tagged as alignment, body posture, connection, Distraction, electronic media, emotion, fear, iPhones, Judy Lief, nature, Thich Nath Hanh