Lubbock, Texas to Roncesvalles, Spain
May 8 2006, the day had arrived. It was time for me to fly to Madrid from Lubbock, Texas to begin my journey. The airfare cost a whopping $52.84, round trip. I had so many unused credit card points that’s what it cost to transfer the points into miles…If anything validated this trip, that did it for me. And I needed all the validation I could find. No one supported this trip, not my family and most of my friends. Even if they supported me, they were all worried about my safety, and quite frankly, probably my sanity. I did after all weigh 285 lbs. and my backpack weighed 25 lbs. Walking over the Pyrenees mountains and the second most mountainous region in Europe did pose some health risks. But I was determined. Disapproval, fear, and health risks could go to hell. I was going.
The Camino had been calling me for 5 years. It was very difficult to explain the inner calling, this inner drive, to walk over 500 miles in a foreign country by myself, led only by arrows painted on rocks, buildings, other markers, and my gut. I still have a hard time describing it. It didn’t feel like I was escaping my difficult divorce or running away from responsibility. It felt like I was running deeply to myself and to God in a way not supported by my day to day life. I was not spiritually bypassing grief, fear, and shame. That came after the Camino. I needed the space and freedom to allow all that this trip was representing to me at that time. There was a need to break free from what my life was expecting from me. I just couldn’t be the me I had created anymore and that was crazy because I LOVED most of my life. I had become everything I had wanted to become, a mother, a wife, a business owner, financially stable. Many years prior, my reference points for “me” began to blur into confusion. I didn’t know who I was anymore. I was in a full blown spiritual emergence process and didn't know it. There was something more than the life I had created that wanted expression and it was impossible to know what that expression was without some me time.
I knew that walking the Camino, being close to God, the land, and my inner self would give me answers I couldn’t find in my current life. I had already done the impossible. I walked away from everything I had co-created with my husband, everything that was important to me my whole life. I didn’t know then that the inexpressible desire was to be an emotionally, mentally, spiritually mature integrated person, to find support within myself for myself. I wanted to find the strength and courage to be me as I am without the need for validation and approval. I wanted to no longer be codependent and pulled into fear and self-loathing by every disapproving glance and dismissive statement by the people I loved the most. I just wanted to be me. The unique, intuitive, life-loving, people-loving, planet-loving, Divine-loving, adventurous spiritual sojourner that I Am.
The things that made me the happiest made my husband uncomfortable and scared. What made him feel safe made me feel smothered and small. He had been through so much heartbreak because of the Iranian Revolution. He had been through a kind of heartbreak and bitter pain only immigrants from war torn countries can understand. He really is a kind and loving man. He helped homeless people off the streets and into jobs and apartments, fed the grieving and poor and took care of us with the greatest of generosity. But his losses affected him in ways that I had no way of being able to help with, and my childhood abuses were foreign to him. Because neither one of us knew how to communicate effectively beyond our inner wounds, and he refused therapy, I felt I had no other choice than to put parts of myself away on some inner shelf of my soul to make him happy. I went to therapy for a year when I was 27 but he wouldn't speak to me the rest of the day every time I went. Me getting healthier in myself seemed to upset him even more.
When I occasionally did the things that made me sing, I would end up paying for it emotionally with his disapproval and then I would lash out at him with bitterness and unkindness for making me pay with his disapproval. It was a vicious cycle and a poor example of relationship for my children. After 20 years of marriage he said he didn't love me like he did when I was 18. He said he loved me a lot more then because I listened...Wow...I loved him so much more than when I was 18. I was far from a perfect wife and knew it, but that statement really did me in.
Even then, he wouldn’t go to therapy and I knew I couldn't do another 20 years of what I had been doing. It was devastating. I felt the only options I had were suicide or divorce. I opted for suicide. After having gone through my parent’s divorce when I was 13, I just couldn’t put my girls through it. I thought a dead mother would be better than a divorced mother. Death, even accidental death (I was trying to figure how to make it look accidental) was natural, divorce is not. That is how desperate and unwell I was. But in the end, I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t do it to my children, and I couldn’t face God. By the time my husband was ready for therapy, I had already filed for divorce was just done. Completely done, and ready to face the unknown ahead of me and made my plane reservations for Spain.
I had planned to be in Spain for two months and I was worried about being away from my children for two months with limited ability to contact them. Cell phones were not that advanced in 2006. It was still pre-iPhone! So, it made more sense to not take the cell phone and just use a long-distance phone card from a pay phone instead. I wasn’t sure what access I would have to computers and the internet. From what I had read, some villages may only have one or two phone lines per village much less have internet access back then.
So, saying goodbye to the girls ages 14 and 21 was hard. Hard as it was, I was still completely compelled to take this walk across Spain. I craved solitude and the freedom to be myself without ridicule or fear from others. And what did I discover on the Camino? The self-ridicule and fear of life I had been harboring in my subconscious and projecting onto others. Sigh…
Why has it taken 13 years to be able to write about this journey? That will be revealed in its fullness as I continue to write, but for now, I can say it took me 14 years to finish the inner journey that began in 2005 when I filed for divorce. Much has been integrated, much material of the subconscious has been brought to the light, digested, processed and is helping me heal literally lifetimes of karma and move into new realms of consciousness. Is there still more, of course there is more to come, there is always more. It feels like writing about this chapter of my life is the final integrative process that will bring about new opportunities, new levels of awareness, and new journeys. I can write because it is time.
Madrid to Roncesvalles
May 9, 2006
I arrived in Madrid on May 8th early evening. Just getting a taxi to the hotel was an adventure. The taxi driver didn’t seem to know where the hotel was and kept stopping to ask people on the street for directions (Just a reminder, 2006 was pre-Google Maps too.) Was he bullshitting me and taking me for a proverbial ride, or did he really not know? I was jet lagged and my intuition wasn’t kicking in and couldn’t tell.
Once I got to the hotel I couldn’t sleep. I had to leave the hotel at 5 am to take the subway to the train station to get to Pamplona from which I would catch a bus to my starting point in Roncesvalles. Lying in bed trying to sleep I became absolutely terrified. Lying in a fetal position and sobbing I thought, “What was I thinking?!” I couldn’t walk 500 miles! I tried to learn Spanish but what I remembered was pathetic and certainly not enough to be conversational. Training for the Camino in West Texas was a joke. The West Texas Plains are FLAT. I walked, a lot, to break in my hiking boots. But nothing was going to prepare me for mountain hiking.
I just knew I couldn't make my own way in the world and had decided I was going to wake up, fly home, get remarried to my husband and be a good little wife. A lilting female voice whispered in my ear and said, “Why don’t you get up in the morning, go to the train station and walk the Camino? You can decide when you finish if you want to go back to your husband.” Yes, I heard an audible voice. I had heard this voice once before during my divorce process. I had learned to trust it, so I cried myself to sleep, got up at 5 and made it to the subway.
As I was sitting on the subway train I was still really scared. (The first of many miracles and wonders that happened for me on the Camino happened on that train.) The woman sitting directly across from me prayed for me, not audibly, but in her heart. It was quite obvious I was a pilgrim, I’m not sure if my fear was as obvious, but nevertheless, she prayed for me. I could feel the energy move from her heart into mine. I was instantly calmed and silently thanked her and God for the peace that passes understanding. (As I would learn the kindness of strangers is an indispensable necessity on the Camino.)
I had a small Spanish to English phrase book I carried and used to buy my train ticket to Pamplona once I got to the train station. Pamplona…my God what a crazy, beautiful, interesting city it is.
As I waited in the bus station café reading my guidebook, a handsome, young Moroccan man approached me wanting me to “go to his room.” I knew the Camino offers pilgrim’s a love affair if they want one but good God, I had not even started. “Come to my room while you are waiting for the bus,” he says. “You can put your backpack in the bus station locker,” he says. “Yah, right” I think. I can see the headline of tomorrow morning’s paper, “Stupid Pilgrim Dies in Seedy Hotel Room.” I politely declined until he finally took no for no. It seemed to be quite entertaining to all the other men in the bus station who just watched, grins on their faces, no doubt wondering if I would take the bait.
The bus trip was beautiful. Beautiful wooded winding roads up the mountain. That short bus trip would take me 3 days to walk back to where I had just come from. The sun was shining when we left Pamplona but by the time we got to Roncesvalles, the sun was setting, and it was raining.
I got to Roncesvalles in time for the pilgrim’s mass with 15 minutes to spare after I got my Credencial del Pilgrim, the pilgrim´s passport you must show at the refugio’s, hostels strictly for pilgrims (sometimes referred to as albergues) to get in, my walking stick, and my sea shell to put on my backpack to show that I am a pilgrim and not a tourist. It was gray and rainy when I got here and the 800 year old monastery at Roncesvalles is rather severe looking and imposing. This did not put me at ease. The roofs are made of mica and the walls are cut grey stone of some kind. For being such an austere looking place on the outside, the interior of the church’s woodwork was beautifully carved, and the stained-glass windows and stone columns and arches of the church were just stunning. The rest of the church was very simple. The pews were simple benches.
Pilgrim´s mass at 8 pm was so beautiful, the mass was sung in Latin and it was breathtaking to hear. There were 3 priests that performed the mass but due to the acoustics it sounded like there were 20. An elderly man that had walked from St. John Pier de Port collapsed right between the pews. No one ran to his aid so I started moving in his direction and someone motioned me to leave him alone...how strange...I don't know how someone could just leave an old man laying on the floor. I wasn't sure if it was because it was against protocol to interrupt the mass or because they knew he would be OK, or what. But I can tell you it was very hard to leave him laying there. He did eventually get up and rejoin the mass and seemed to be relatively OK after mass.
During mass tonight I had a vision. I went into some kind of altered state and saw myself in the basement of this place, or some other stone Catholic church with my arms chained over my head, being tortured by the Spanish Inquisition. I was eventually drawn and quartered. And then my awareness was back in the present time, following along with the mass. I was a bit stunned but my awareness bounced back right into normal awareness so fast I didn't have time to have much an emotional response to it. I was raised Catholic and quit going to church at the age of 23 when I couldn't find what I was looking for in my quest for a spiritual home after I had asked God to stop the conscious connection. (see the first blog in the series to learn more about that request). I instantly realized after I came out of this vision that this trip was going to create a reconciliation and forgiveness in my heart for the crimes of the church, past and present. As I write this none of it makes any sense. I guess I will see what happens next.
The Refugio holds over 130 people in one massive room. The ceilings are 30 to 40 feet tall and giant wooden beams cover the ceiling. There is no heat and it is cold as shit, I wonder if this building is 8oo years old too. But there are very nice showers with hot water and modern toilets with doors. Even though the men and women are all sleeping in the same room the bathrooms are separate. (Which would not always be the case.)
The bunk beds are pushed together. So I am sleeping right next to someone. Ugh…You certainly can tell who the Americans and British are and who the French and Germans are. Americans and Brits get dressed and undressed under the sleeping bag. French and Germans are running around in any stage of undress. Thank God my bunk is next to another woman….shit this is going to be interesting. I am already nervous around men. Shit.
Getting up at 5 is going to be interesting. I hope I can get some damn sleep. I am already missing the girls and feeling lonely.
Next week’s installment – Roncesvalles to Puente La Reina