The Camino is Life Affirming
Nancy L. Frey
25 October 2016
Life affirming. That was how one woman described what the Camino had meant to her. Looking at this photo of our hands held together upon arrival in the Plaza de Obradoiro, I feel that sense of affirmation strongly. Each person comes to the Camino at a different age, stage and place in his or her life and this is clearly shown through how different our hands are. Some are smooth and unblemished. Others appear wise with age and work. Some come adorned and others plain. A week ago most of those hands had little relation to one another. Now, though, by the end of the week those hands created, as one person put it, a quilt of experience together that will endure and give warmth for a long time to come. Many people claim that the Camino changes you. It can but I think that’s a very big expectation to have before starting. More often I see the Camino opening eyes and doors to possibilities. Challenging people in a good way physically, emotionally and psychologically. Creating opportunities to question attitudes, beliefs and actions. It can be a doorway to the self, others, nature, something higher and/or deeper. People feel good on the Camino. They also feel exhausted, worn-out, and sometimes struggle to get through each day. Sometimes it’s precisely that adversity paired with simplifying one’s life, as you do when on the Camino, that makes people feel vibrant and connected with something fundamental about the human experience. The Camino often gives the pilgrim the gift of clarity and insight into what is most important in life. Time and reflection, though, are necessary to bring those gifts home and into one’s heart and actions. Our hands together in common purpose are witness to the life affirming reality of the Camino and the continuing possibility of what is yet to come once we return home.
Canadian photographer and blogger France Fehr joined us along the Camino de Santiago in June 2015. The Camino rarely fails to inspire the artistic eye and France was no exception. We are very happy to be able to share one of her entries from her blog FUN & LIFE. Enjoying life to the max. France blogged extensively about her 11 day Camino trip with us and this last entry "Camino in photography" captures well the whole journey.
Today, I will not post about Barcelona yet but I will share some photos taken on the Camino. (June 2015)
We were lucky to have Nancy and Jose as guides for this great adventure.
On Foot in Spain is the link if you ever are up to do a walking/hiking educational journey in Spain or Portugal. You would be having a good time .
Now , the photos with little description! But if you want to read and see more on our adventure with On Foot in Spain, I have written 11 more texts ( you can find them on this blog). It was a real pleasure to write our story and to share it here.
The shell, is the symbol on the Camino. We all received a shell to wear around our neck or put on our bag or just to bring home as a memory.
St-James. The history of the Camino de Santiago goes back at the beginning of the 9th century (year 814) moment of the discovery of the tomb of the evangelical apostle of the Iberian Peninsula. Since this discovery, Santiago de Compostela becomes a peregrination point of the entire European continent.
Pamplona is the first city where we met with our group. I really liked that city . We had time to walk and get a feel of the place. It has a nice square where people come and sit on benches and visit. Pamplona is very famous for the run of the bulls.
Alto del pardon. monument to the Pilgrim. A 14 iron figures of natural size.
This man had set up a table with little crafts and food. He is only asking for donation.
Our friend, David, took a photo of me at the Sta Maria La Real Monastery in Najera. David and I got along because he was taking as many photos as me.
Sometimes, my husband also took photos of me! Thanks, Stephen.
Food never tastes so delicious when you have walked a few km.
Walking “la meseta” on a beautiful day.
A snack … Little Bee is never too far .
Part of our group listening to Nancy while she explains history of the San Zoilo Monastery in Carrion de Los Condes . They were all happy to be sitting after 20 km walk.
Sam with the rock I brought with me. As I didn’t want to leave it at the “Cruz de Ferro”, I gave it to him as a souvenir. It was a rock I painted a few years ago.
Rainy day on the Camino…
Always a place to stop for coffee if we want to.
Cyclists on the Camino
David is taking photos … and I take a photo of him!
Nancy , our guide . With Jose , they have been leading those adventure for 17 years. The best guides for this experience. Great people with so much knowledge to share.
A monk at the Monastery in Samos.
Jose is mixing the salad for our picnic.
Some animals we saw while we were on the Camino…
On our last picnic, we enjoyed some cider !
Thanks to Saint-James, we had this wonderful walking experience.
and thanks to Nancy and Jose, this trip was a success.
Thanks for reading ! my next post will be about Barcelona. A unique experience. Maybe it will inspire you to do it.
Walking with Focused Awareness
By Nancy L. Frey
In a previous article I reviewed Thom Hartmann’s book Walking your Blues Away and outlined his technique for problem solving when walking. It’s a very useful technique and applies a type of focused thinking while walking which often helps to resolve questions you put forth to yourself and even past trauma. When stumped or blocked mentally, it’s often helpful to get up out of your chair, breathe deeply and go outside ‘to clear your mind’. Many times you return feeling refreshed, renewed and even sometimes with a problem solved or a new perspective.
Rather than practice ‘focused thinking’, I’d like to encourage you to try another type of mental activity while walking which I’ll call ‘focused awareness’. The idea gets back to the idea of ‘clearing your mind’, not to create blankness but to clear your mind of unwanted thoughts and focus on your present moment (your body, surroundings, sights, sounds, sensations). It is very common for people to be plagued with a non-stop internal dialogue of random thoughts about past issues or future business/worries to deal with. It’s so normal that you may not even be aware of it. I know this is true of me. When I’m out walking I will be surrounded by great natural beauty but my mind puts on mental blinders that buffer me from hearing, seeing and appreciating what is in my immediate present unless I make a conscious effort to focus on the present. I’ll find myself playing a rerun of a conversation with a teacher from my kid’s school, thinking about the things I have to get done later in the day, debate with myself about whether or not to do this or that, etc, etc, etc. It’s a lot of mental noise and when you’re paying attention to it, you’re not paying attention to the present and what’s happening in the moment. You’re there physically but mentally you are off in some other place. When you think about it, the mental tapes frequently play boring reruns of themes you’ve been over many times or push you to focus your thinking on future events thereby taking away from your enjoyment of the moment you are in. Typically these ‘problems’ don’t get resolved, they just follow you around like a bad odor.
I feel deeply connected to nature. It is something I am aware of feeling from my earliest memories: the power and beauty of the natural world. Consequently, at the same time when I’m walking and thinking, I also find myself pausing, breathing deeply and really focusing on something that captures my eye or fills me with wonder. It feels good. I look around, focus and appreciate. Then, another thought pops into my head and the mental noise brings me back inside of my mind and I lose that sense of the present as I float around somewhere between the past and future.
When I became aware that I was doing this (because most of the time we do not realize that we are doing this unless we stop to observe ourselves), I decided to consciously focus on being aware of the present and my surroundings rather than listen to the noise in my head. Essentially this is ‘walking meditation,’ an ancient practice with many contemporary practitioners. As the Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh explains: “When you walk, arrive with every step. That is walking meditation. There’s nothing else to it.” It sounds so simple and it is for a practiced Buddhist but if you have a typically over-active mind, trained to think and do constantly (like me), it is very, very hard. For me the missing piece to make sense of the simplicity of this concept was “awareness” - awareness of how my mind focuses on the past and future and keeps me from the present. You become aware of these thought patterns by observing yourself and how you think. When you start the internal dialogue, take a mental step backwards and observe your mind. I found Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now to be very insightful and helpful in this regard.
Getting back to the idea of ‘walking with focused awareness’, the point is to spend more time while walking focusing on the now and less time focusing on the internal, mental dialogue. Your mind will probably try to intrude on your awareness of the present periodically as you are walking. When you realize that you are thinking about picking up the dry cleaning or how irritated you are that so and so didn’t answer your email, bring yourself back to the present moment by focusing on what your senses perceive in your surroundings. You will find that when you focus on your present, you will feel more alive and more connected with what is around you. You will see your surroundings differently and perhaps make new, enriching observations because you are attuned to the present moment. You may also find that with practice the barrage of thoughts will recede as you walk and will leave you feeling more peaceful and relaxed by the time you are done.
How to do this? For example, the other day I took a walk while my kids were at music class through a village, down to the beach and along the shore. I decided to focus on as many different sensual experiences as possible. When I arrived in the village there was a funeral service taking place in the parish church. Bells continue to play an important role in Spanish villages and towns to call the faithful and to mark the hours. When there are funerals there is a special, very somber, deep two-beat bell tone that is played over and over during certain moments of the service. As I walked along the shore I heard the bells and decided to focus my attention on the sound of the tolling floating over the water and to listen to the entire length of each note as they faded away and then repeated over and over – strongly and then fading. In normal circumstances, my mind would have blotted out extraneous noise like the bells and I don’t think I would have even been aware of them. In giving my attention to the bells, I felt more connected to the ritual taking place in the village and the passing of that soul and the families involved. It also filled me with a sense of discovery: when the bell tolling went from being background noise to the center of my attention, I deepened my understanding and appreciation of them and their role in community life.
My mind wandered, many times, but I would bring it back and focus on something else – my breathing, the pattern of sound my feet were making on the different surfaces where I walked– sand, boardwalk, pavement, different randomly barking dogs from houses on the fringes of the area. As I walked back along the beach I started to focus on the sound of the tiny waves breaking on the shore and listen, like the bells, for the source, where they stopped, where they started, was the sound coming from the left or right? I lay down on the beach for a few minutes, closed my eyes and listened to the waves. I was aware of patterns I had not paid attention to before even though I’ve spent a lot of time at the shore over the years. It felt good, peaceful. The mental noise took a back seat to the vibrant and alive present rather than vice versa. I focused my awareness on the rocks, the colors of the kelp, the plastic on the beach. The latter set me off on a frustrating internal dialogue about pollution but I brought myself back to the patterns in the water, the gulls flying overhead, the color of the sky as the sun set behind the village….I breathed in deeply and felt the cool, salt air fill my lungs. Further on I wrinkled my noise at the smell of kelp rotting under the sand where I stepped deeply. All of these things helped me enjoy and feel more connected to that moment and made the walk an entirely different experience than if I had just let the tapes play as usual. The walk was about just being – not thinking, analyzing or doing – just enjoying it for what it was. I felt grateful for all the beauty both large and small surrounding me constantly. As I say, my mind would wander off frequently but that’s okay. As you become more aware of how your mind wanders, it becomes easier to sense sooner and then you can refocus to something in your immediate surroundings – the birds singing, the way the leaves rustle in the wind, how the breeze feels on your skin, the smell of the damp earth. Awareness in the present is liberating. You can’t change the past nor can you can make the future happen sooner but you can enjoy the gift of the now and this is an access point to it.
Our cookbook is finally a reality! After 16 years of running our walking tours company On Foot in Spain we decided to self-publish a cookbook focusing on Jose's salad recipes called On Foot in Spain Picnic Salads. It's a great trip down memory lane of fantastic company, beautiful places and the delicious foods that bring us together. Buen provecho!
You can order it direct through Blurb following the link below. The price listed via Blurb is "at cost" for a limited time (the rest of 2015) - we've not added in any profit margin - as our gift and thanks to you for making On Foot in Spain possible all of these years. We hope you enjoy these recipes and the memories that they bring back of good times shared in great company in beautiful places. Happy Thanksgiving wherever you may be!
To those of you who are missing the Camino, here’s one way to keep the Camino fire burning in your heart in your daily life. Remember: the Camino is now within you. The Camino is a literal space you go to but once you are there, it starts to grow and imprint itself upon your inner being. It becomes a landscape within. On your inner Camino there’s a rich storehouse of memories, smells, sensations, hardships, triumphs, disappointments, joys, insights….You can return to this Camino anytime you like and draw on the power of those memories and experiences to give you strength in the here and now. No one can take that away from you.
How do you access your inner Camino in your daily life? Make time to take a walk, preferably in nature. Go with intention and keep yourself attuned to your surroundings (ie, take out the ear buds and disconnect your phone). Before you start, visualize a Camino memory or place that you particularly like and start walking, keeping that memory in mind. Give yourself at least 30 minutes. The Camino will come back to you. Let go and allow your mind to do what it does naturally: as you walk memory will flow and you will be on the Camino again. If your mind starts to wander off your inner Camino you can gently redirect it back to the initial memory/place. You may be surprised where your inner Camino will take you. Sometimes those inner miles that you walk will take you the furthest.
Cultural anthropologist Nancy Frey PhD, and writer, mountaineer Jose Placer!
Both Nancy and Jose have always held both walking and learning close to their hearts.
Their paths crossed while Nancy was conducting her doctoral dissertation research on the Camino de Santiago in the hamlet of Roncesvalles (Navarre) and Jose was just beginning a 450 mile walk across Spain.
Their paths rejoined a month later in Santiago de Compostela and since then have not diverged.
Together they co-authored the chapters on Galicia, Cordillera Cantabrica (Picos de Europa) and the Camino de Santiago for Lonely Planet’s Walking in Spain (1999 and 2003) and co-authored Lonely Planet's 1st edition of Walking in Scotland (2001).
Nancy and Jose started On Foot In Spain Walking & Hiking Educational Adventures in 1999. They have three children, Jacob (8), Marina (3)and Sam (born 11/27/06), and live on the Galician coast.
Nancy L. Frey, PhD
Nancy’s love of hiking grew from annual summer trips to Yosemite led by a Dad who always knew the name of every tree and who reveled in leading his children to inspirational points. Thus it wasn’t too surprising that when she selected her subject material for her doctoral dissertation in cultural anthropology (UC Berkeley) one very attractive element of it was the prospect of traversing the north of Spain on foot.
Since her first walk in 1993, Nancy has walked the Camino de Santiago numerous times and cycled it as well. In her book on the modern day journey, Pilgrim Stories: On and Off the Road to Santiago (UC Press, 1998), Nancy brings to life the contemporary way by discussing pilgrims' motivations, mishaps and discoveries while walking as well as providing insights into why the route is so popular today.
Nancy has also lectured for ElderHostel and Smithsonian Institution on their educational tours in Spain, Portugal and France. She has also taught a course on the Camino de Santiago at the University of Santiago and is currently researching the relationship between landscape and experience.
In her free time she enjoys reading, swimming, SCUBA diving, kayaking, tending her flower garden and cooking savory pies and tarts.
Jose Daniel Placer
A native of Santiago de Compostela, Jose received his law degree from the University of Santiago and then made a 180 degree turn away from lawyering and back to his real passion: children and the outdoors.
He has taught outdoor education and coaches soccer, basketball and volleyball.
With Europe as his backyard, Jose has hiked extensively both within and beyond Spain since he was a teenager.
Despite having enjoyed the Italian Dolomites, and hiking in the Alps while studying law at the University of Passau in Germany, his favorite stomping ground continues to be Spain’s Picos de Europa.
Jose especially enjoys writing short stories, carpentry, restoring furniture, working his garden, kayaking and mountain biking.
Each time we set out on a trail we go with the idea that to walk is to learn. Slowing down to the rhythm of your feet inevitably brings more to your immediate attention and consequently allows for greater speculation and wonder.
On our journeys into northern Spain’s exceptionally beautiful back roads we want to give you the opportunity to challenge yourself physically (without overdoing) and at the same time pique your curiosity by pointing out the not so obvious as well as providing insights into the wonders of the everyday.
Art, architecture, anthropology, folklore, history, Spanish fiestas, cuisine - we interlace them all into each day of your tour. Our carefully designed walks, combining charming accommodations in rural inns, monasteries, and hotels with the finest in local cuisine, will immerse you in the riches of northern Spain’s culture life and landscapes.
It’s been another great year thanks to all of you who make On Foot in Spain possible! Putting together our own 2013 On Foot “Year in Review” has brought back wonderful memories of amazing luck with rain seeming to be all around us except on top of us in both April and October, unbelievable wildflowers in June along the Camino, the richness of harvest time in Portugal and the stunning views in the Basque Country and Galicia that fill the heart and soul. One of the things I love about leading On Foot in Spain tours is that I am constantly taken back and reminded of what is most important in life: friendship and caring about one another, beauty found in nature, the thrill of knowing and challenging one’s body, the appreciation of the simple pleasures in life.
Memories flood into my mind of these simple pleasures from this last season – swimming in the cold, refreshing mountain waters of the Lor River in Galicia; eating one of Jose’s picnics after a long walk; leading people over a hill where I know a glorious view awaits them; getting to take my shoes off to walk down pristine Traba beach and watching the others ahead of me doing the same; foraging on blue berries, blackberries, grapes, apples and all the other gifts of the Camino; sharing some of these moments with Sam and watching him absorb it all like a sponge; hearing the storks from their weighty nests high upon the church towers; gorging on cherries in June in the Bierzo valley; milking sheep and tasting the fresh milk; listening to people’s stories and sharing my own…
They say that a picture is worth a thousand words so here is a collection of images from 2013 that we hope you will enjoy.
Nancy & Jose