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"My friend told me that '...once She gets ahold of you, El Camino won't let you go.' I began to realize my experience of the Sacred is most profound when I'm in the present moment when my body energy is in tune with the flow of my heart."
El Camino – Life's Lessons Exposed Step By Step
by Karin Grosscup
What draws one to walk 500 miles through rural mountains, forests, and plains without knowing where one will sleep, nor where food and water will be found, nor how one's body will function on the journey?
Fifteen years ago I heard a man do just that as he went on a "vision quest" which allowed him to heal from his wounds stemming from alcoholism. He was radiating his experience of completing five weeks on El Camino, walking from the Pyrenees Mountains in France across northern Spain to Santiago. Years later, I worked with a woman who experienced the suicide of a family member. She walked El Camino and was able to go on. A friend walked it on her 50th birthday expecting to forgive her mother and came to a deep sense of forgiveness for herself. Each time I heard the stories my heart would jump. I knew there was a yearning in me to do the same and yet didn't know why.
This began to crystalize when my husband and I were watching "The Way" about a man walking El Camino as he grieved the death of his son who had died on the Camino during a storm. My spouse was intrigued and when he expressed this my heart jumped directly to affirming "let's do it". A year later we were in Spain and completed our five week pilgrimage September 24th, 2013.
All along I wondered what was drawing me to El Camino. My friend told me that "once She gets ahold of you, El Camino won't let you go." I began to realize my experience of the Sacred is most profound when I'm in the present moment when my body energy is in tune with the flow of my heart and touched by moments of space and silence in my head. And yet, what I am most aware of is how frequently I'm focused on what blocks that reality. When I thought of doing El Camino I hoped for a sustained and visceral experience of this free flowing energy.
Preparation Was Key
As I prepared to walk 500 miles I laughed at myself when my body began to shout back with new discoveries of skeletal structural challenges in my feet and back. This catapulted me into a number of doctor visits, new orthodics and back strengthening exercises. I questioned my expectations and started to think of my age as the time came closer and we began "practicing' which simply meant walking long distances with our weighted packs on our backs. My anxiety rose as I realized this would be more of a physical challenge than I had anticipated. I wondered why I was being drawn so far away. The intrigue of what lay ahead kept drawing me there.
A friend recommended Joyce Rupp's book called "Walking in a Relaxed Manner". It touched me and I began preparing myself by opening a space inside to hear more fully the call of "El Camino". A prayer rose in me as I tried to articulate what it was I was hoping for. I began to pray it each time we practiced. It would rise in me as I began each day and sometimes touch me in times of challenge as I would say:
Compass my soul
So what was I taught by El Camino? The penetrating sound of silence was profound with a gravitational force pulling me inward while the space around me expanded. On the trail I realized how totally dependent we are on everything and everyone. Such an awareness opened up a tremendous flow of gratitude as I noticed the gifts of: shoes that supported my feet; many foot remedies that kept my feet happy; my spouse who had attended to many of the details before the trip and entered the rhythm of solitude and companionship with me; yellow arrows and scallop shells that pointed the way; places to refresh ourselves with food and drink and alberques that held so many; angels that pointed the way to rest and shelter when the alberques were full; camaraderie and support with other pilgrims; beauty that drew us on; breathe that opened our grounding, . . . one could go on and on.
I Am Not In Charge
I began to see how in my life I get hijacked by thinking I'm in charge, like when I "have to" or "must respond in this way or that" or "don't know enough" or . . .
When walking, my body gave feedback quickly about receiving the fullness of the moment and its nourishment. It loudly talked back when I was contracting and trying to push the moment to accomplish and get ahead of it. I realized how hard it is to experience gratitude when I feel responsible to make something happen. It was comical to see how easily my vision would narrow when I began to push to get some place or get stuck on some nagging thought that would go in circles and take away segments of the road through my loss of focus. The times that space around me and within me would open up were those times of simple breathe and the slow sway of the body walking. One of the women on the trail taught me while grieving the death of her spouse that "our minds are like washing machines. When I walk it becomes quiet." It was in the silence that everything sparkled.
It was interesting to me to realize our purpose was to walk El Camino. For 500 miles we were always where we were called to be. It was in the walking-- whether we were moving, resting, in solitude or in community, confused or on track that we were on the trail and where we were meant to be. It occurred to me that this is the same with life. It's just harder in the midst of the complexities of life for me to know this. Slowing down the pace opened up the terrain. The earth held us with the mountains cradling us, as we witnessed the rolling hills gliding by like hump back whales while the yellow cut hay kept us buoyant, like when riding the waves of the ocean.
There were challenges on the trail: the limits of our bodies; the rush of groups of people moving toward the towns looking for a place to stay and wondering where we would stay; dealing with the limits of our Spanish speaking skills; and our own expectations of how we should be doing the Camino which triggered patterns of anxiety and frustration. Over the weeks we discovered an appreciation of the multitude of ways to walk the Camino which opened the freedom in us to experience more deeply the path we were on,
There are many stories and discoveries I hold from this experience. It will be in the living of my life that I will discover not just what I was taught but what I have learned through El Camino.
The task of the spiritual director is both one of the most exhilarating and challenging things I have done. To walk listening on such Holy Ground, is a priveledge as we listen in the moment remembering “Be still and know I am God.
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