Wednesday, January 29, 2014

My Joyful Journey

“Life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass...It's about learning to dance in the rain.”

I read that quote in the newspaper recently and it reminded me of one of the most profound experiences of my life. I had a different blog post in mind for this week, but the quote inspired me to share this story with you.

A few years ago, my husband and I were browsing through a backpacking shop when the store owner asked where we were planning to travel. At the time, we didn't know. We knew we wanted to explore Europe, but we were still in the planning stages. The store owner said if we wanted an adventure, we should hike 800km along a legendary pilgrim's route in Spain. We took her advice and decided on a whim to hike the Camino de Santiago. We booked our flights, bought a pair of comfortable running shoes, a couple of backpacks and a guide book. Little did we know, this trip was going to change our lives.

We walked and walked and walked. For weeks. My toes were covered in ugly blisters and my legs ached, but I kept moving forward. The rhythm of alternating steps between my left and right foot eased my mind into a daily meditation. Sometimes, we walked in silence and other times we had conversations that I will never forget. I wrote down a lot of my thoughts in a travel journal that I brought with me. We hiked in the sunshine, through vineyards and cornfields, up mountains and in the rain. It poured buckets one day, but instead of waiting for the storm to pass, we skipped along the trail in the rain.
When it was time to rest, we slept in albergues (pilgrim's hostels). To stay in these dorm like accommodations, we had to carry a pilgrim passport. It had to be stamped with the official St. James stamp of each town we passed through. We were only allowed to sleep in the pilgrim's hostels for one night and we usually left very early the next morning to continue our hike. We had to endure bed bugs and the world's loudest snorers, but I guess that's what you can expect for 10 euros a night. The accommodations weren't ideal, but we got to meet people from around the world. Small groups of hikers would often gather in the meadows behind the hostels after a day of walking to share stories, a bottle of wine, cheeses and cured meats.
Before we left Canada, Mike and I packed two small rocks to take with us. They represented our burdens and we carried them on our shoulders for hundreds of kilometres. When we finally reached the highest point of the Camino, we left our stones at the foot of the cross at Cruz de Ferro. It was an emotional experience because it allowed me to let go of all the things that had been weighing on my heart. The symbolic act prepares pilgrims for the final phase of the hike, "the joyful approach to Santiago".
We arrived in Santiago de Compostella on a cold October day. Happiness, excitement and relief filled my heart when I stepped through the doors of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. We attended the noon pilgrim's mass and watched in awe as the huge thurible swung back and forth across the cathedral. Later, our pilgrim passports were examined for stamps and dates and then we were given a certificate of accomplishment for completing the Way.
We hiked the Camino de Santiago because we wanted an adventure, but it became a journey of faith for us. It allowed us to step outside the anxieties of modern life and reflect on God and love. I'm not going to get all preachy on you, but I will say my heart is more open and I am happier person today.

The biggest lesson the Camino taught me is that with faith, I can make it through the most challenging, but most beautiful trail that is life.

Buen Camino, friends!