Displaying items by tag: Pilgrimage
Nancy’s Book Review
Walking Your Blues Away. How to Heal the Mind and Create Emotional Well-Being by Thom Hartmann (Vermont: Park Street Press, 2006).
I was gifted this book by a body worker who walked with us along the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage in 2005. After sitting on the shelf unread for at least a year, the right moment finally arrived to crack open the pages. It’s a quick read and easy to access. The most compelling parts are when Hartmann discusses how walking is a potentially healing activity for emotional trauma. This concept immediately began to resonate with my own anthropological work on the contemporary reanimation of the medieval pilgrimage route, the Camino de Santiago in Spain, which culminated in my book Pilgrim Stories. On and Off the Road to Santiago (UC Press, 1998). In the late 1980s people from many different backgrounds, countries, walking experience and belief systems (and frequently without a religious motivation) began to take up the traditional symbols of the Santiago pilgrim, the scallop shell and staff, and set out on demanding journeys walking westward across northern Spain (and even the far corners of Europe) to reach the tomb of the apostle James the Greater in Santiago de Compostela. Every year since then, more and more people undertake this walking journey and come home with positive stories of self-discovery, personal triumph, transformation and, even, change.
I found over and over again during my research that many people were led to walk the Camino (a personal journey that can range from one day to four months depending on the walker) to work through their own personal issues. Many were at a breaking point – graduate from college, mid-life crisis, retirement – or had experienced a loss – divorce, death, employment. Whereas many pilgrimage sites, framed within a more religious context, are sought out by pilgrims to heal the suffering body, I found repeatedly that along the Camino, as they walked, people were healing the suffering soul. In Pilgrim Stories, I write:
The journey of the Camino can reveal wounds – loss, failure, fear, shame, addiction – left festering from daily life. Experiences along the way often act as the catalyst that allows them to be exposed. It has been, and appears to continue to be, a road for hopes and miracles of fulfillment of a different order. Some pilgrims, acknowledging this themselves, refer to the Camino as la ruta de la terapia, the therapy route (Frey, p. 45).
Through the walking experience people opened themselves up, usually without any perceived intention on their part, to a whole series of unforced emotional experiences. Time and again, people recounted thinking of people that had not been in their conscious thoughts for years, developing a more active dream life as well as feeling ‘more deeply’ while on the road.
In my book, I discuss this process of opening as part of the elimination of the distractions/stressors of daily life. When life is reduced to its basics and your mind is not absorbed with the minutiae of running a busy life, full of obligations and demands, all of sudden there is space for feelings, emotions, memories to come to the surface. While walking (though also many times during sleep and dreamtime), pilgrims described to me how they came to new insight, resolution or clarity regarding issues from the past. The walking became a healing process for both known and unknown or conscious/unconscious (prior to beginning the Camino) issues from the past.
In Walking Your Blues Away, Hartmann has added a new dimension to my understanding of this healing process on the cognitive level with his discussion of ‘bilateral therapy’ – the alternating stimulation of the right and left lobes of the brain ‘while thinking of a problem or issue’ (p. 30). Stimulating both the thinking and feeling parts of the brain with the bi-lateral movement, the person is able to process the experience in such a way that it is moved from the forefront of memory to the past thereby reducing its negative hold on your psyche. Apparently most of our memories are processed during our REM sleep – another form of bi-lateral stimulation. Sometimes, though, the memories are too big/painful to be worked through in REM. Bi-lateral therapy works to simulate the same type of memory processing so that painful experiences can be worked through and moved into the past. Hartmann explains, “With the walking therapy…in most cases this recognition that the experience is in the past happens during the walk itself. That is the key indicator that the session has been successful” (p. 13). By applying bilateral theory to walking (an activity that requires the constant stimulation of the brain’s left and right hemispheres with its side-to-side motion), Hartmann offers an excellent way for people to heal themselves without having to resort to traditional ‘talk therapies’, or even any kind of verbalization of the trauma or painful memories. He posits that perhaps we have been healing ourselves, since the dawn of time before we had experts – psychotherapists, psychologists, shamans, etc. – by engaging in our most fundamental human activities: walking and thinking.
His work is strongest when discussing the history of bilateral therapies and the application of them to walking based on his own experience and practice. Bilateral therapy has its origin in the development of healing techniques derived from hypnotism first recognized as therapeutic by Mesmer in the 1700s. He describes the fascinating story of Freud’s initial usage and success with bilateral therapy and hypnotism before he abandoned this path in favor of psychotherapy when hypnotism was discredited in Europe and America in the 1890s. His middle chapter on cultural bi-lateralism is over generalized and I found it to be an unnecessary distraction to the larger theme.
The last three chapters provide concrete advice on how to utilize his technique not only for resolving past trauma or negative feelings around a nagging issue but also as a means to increase creativity, motivation and physical health. His technique is thoroughly described and is easily accessible to the lay person. It consists of five steps very briefly summarized here (pp. 62-67):
1 – “Define the issue”. Figure out what’s bothering you and picture it in your head.
2 –“ Bring up the story”. Flesh out the issue and determine its level of strength inside of you.
3 – “Walk with the issue”. It usually takes less than 30 minutes to get resolution.
4 – “Notice how the issue changes”. While walking observe how your feelings around the issue shift.
5 –“Anchor the new state”. Review the transformation of the feelings to fix it in your mind.
He encourages a positive and optimistic viewpoint and helpfully reminds the reader: “Remember: There is no failure. There is only feedback. Learn from the feedback and continue on.” (p. 65)
His ideas resonate with my own observations of how people experienced the walking along the Camino. It was very common for those walking to come to some kind of resolution or decision. Many people wanted to do something more creative with their lives upon return home. Others spoke about returning to the Camino to ‘recharge their batteries’ – that the walking along the Camino gave them mental and physical energy that they felt lacking in their daily lives. Perhaps it was simply engaging in this process of bi-lateral movement while walking that allowed people to stumble along the path to their own healing process. In 2008 I interviewed a modern-day Camino legend, John the English gentleman who aids wayward pilgrims in his campervan, for a chapter I wrote for Lonely Planet’s 7th edition of Spain. He had a nice of way of describing the same process of healing. I asked him why he thought people were walking to Santiago today and he responded :
“My impression is that a very large proportion have suddenly been confronted with a grave problem with home, work, family, career, their physical health or love life…and they are so overwhelmed by their everyday preoccupations that they don’t know what to do about it. Walking the Camino is a unique kind of therapy. I call it ‘Self-administered Ambulatory Psychotherapy’. Troubled minds heal themselves – by walking the Camino de Santiago. (Spain, 7th edition, article: Camino de Santiago by Nancy Frey, p. 125, Lonely Planet, 2009).
John has also observed the healing quality that is experienced by those who walk this historical pilgrimage path. Intuitively people have sensed that walking to Santiago will be good for them and have heeded that call to go, once again, the ‘human speed’.
Hartmann’s book and technique will potentially be very helpful to people who walk (or those who don’t but who would like to) and who would like to more consciously make their walks productive for healing, creativity and focused thinking. While for many people the bi-lateral movement brings about the healing without realizing it, by having the technique available, it can potentially help people focus on problem solving as well as ‘anchor’ the new state so that the change is more lasting. In Pilgrim Stories, I write: “While it will not determine outcomes, making the pilgrimage can help the participant on a personal level to ‘rework the past’ and possibly ‘move toward a renewed future’ (Frey, p. 46). This sentiment is in essence the point of Walking Your Blues Away – it takes a very basic human activity and explores its great potential for healing and future well-being. Go take a walk!
 Thank you Erin Susan Parks for bringing this book to my attention. Erin is the owner of LMT Massage for Optimal Living in the Atlanta area.
Emilio Estevez's film The Way set on the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route, and starring his father Martin Sheen premiered in Santiago de Compostela on 8 November 2010. Nancy was there and met them both.
By Nancy Frey:
When I heard that Emilio Estevez’s new film, The Way, set on the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route in Spain would be premiered in Santiago de Compostela on November 8th, I was eager to go. Starring his father Martin Sheen, Estevez wrote and directed the film as well as appears in it as Sheen’s on-screen son. I knew that in 2009 they had been filming along the route and I wondered what kind of Camino film two Hollywood notables would make. I invited my friend María Santos and off we went to the elegant 19th century Teatro Principal in Santiago´s historical quarter to find out. I have to admit it was quite a thrill to see Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez walk the mini-red carpet surrounded by a sea of umbrellas as the rain accompanied their entrance.
As we sat down to wait for the movie to begin, I realized how interesting it was to have María at my side. The Camino is something that I’ve lived and breathed for the last 18 years. María, born in the US and a daughter of Galician immigrants, knows about the Camino de Santiago but has no personal experience with it herself. How different, perhaps, our perspectives would be. When the movie began to roll I was filled with emotion as I could I identify nearly every scene, landscape, historical monument and bit of Camino.
Estevez and Sheen’s angle was clear early on: It’s a movie of the heart from start to finish. 2010 has been my own personal year of the heart and so this tack resonated strongly with me.
Countless times over the course of this year I’ve been reminded to listen to my heart: Let the heart be your compass.
(I’ve accompanied the article with several photos from the film and post-premiere event as well as images of heart stones that Jose and I have collected over the years along the Camino de Santiago that we have in our house.)
In The Way Sheen plays Tom Avery an ophthalmologist from California who becomes an accidental pilgrim when he receives the tragic news of his son’s death on the Camino.
Estevez and Sheen take us on a gripping, epic journey in equal parts hilarious, deep, heart-wrenching and moving as we share the struggle of a father gripped with confusion and remorse to understand the tragic loss of his only son Daniel, a person he realizes he never really understood. Tom suddenly finds himself in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, a small village in southwest France where many pilgrims start the Camino today. Impulsively, he decides to take his son’s pack and ashes and walk the 800km across Spain making the journey that his son could not.
The opening scenes are very moving and set the stage for the profoundly human story of how we must each fumble along to find our own way. In the movie Tom says to Daniel before he heads to the Camino, ‘I live the life I chose. Why can’t you do the same?’ Daniel responds, ‘You don’t choose your life, Dad. You live it and that’s what I’m doing.’ The pilgrimage is a metaphor for life and the pilgrim the lost soul who finds his way back home by following his heart. Estevez (and Sheen through his inspired performance) makes you care about this lost soul and wonder how he will ever make it. Unlike other Catholic centers of worship where pilgrims often look for a cure of the body through faith, modern pilgrims to Santiago (most of whom would not define themselves as religiously motivated) frequently seek some kind of answer for life’s inner woes. The focus is on the power of the journey rather than simply reaching the destination. Many people find themselves doing the pilgrimage to Santiago and are not sure exactly why but somehow know that it is the right place to be. The contemporary pilgrimage to Santiago is very popular precisely because of its openness: there’s a place for everyone irrelevant of age, background, faith (or lack thereof) and motivation and it has a way of hitting each individual in just the right spot (even though what that spot might be can be quite a mystery).
One of the common sayings among pilgrims along the Camino is that ‘You can start alone but you never end alone.’ The power of community and friendship is a theme reinforced throughout the film. Tom starts very much alone but soon acquires three unlikely companions who share his journey.
As Estevez shared with me at the after-party, The Way is a modern-day Oz story as three flawed characters help Tom (Dorothy) find his way back home to his son, his heart and, ultimately, himself and his faith.
The movie brings vividly to life the sights, sounds (both pleasant and annoying – in addition to a great soundtrack including Coldplay, Alannis Morrisette and James Taylor), color and feel of the Camino as we see the group of pilgrim friends share meals, sleep together in the pilgrims’ refuges, walk through the varied landscapes as well as have both good and bad encounters with locals and, importantly, with each other.
Despite their conflicts, and also because of them, the pilgrims are able to have unexpected moments of liberation and insight.
The Way gives us a picture of the Camino, warts and all, to show how pilgrimage is a process of trial and error, forgiveness and insight, sorrow and laughter and how pilgrims’ motivations are as varied as a rainbow from the deeply religious to personal angst to physical challenge to the apparently trivial. The characters are credible and you care what happens to them keeping you riveted until the end.
Estevez and Sheen want to show how the Camino’s magic helps to work change in pilgrims – when people leave behind their normal lives and go to the pilgrimage stripped of most of their possessions, normal stress and obligations, they connect more easily with the world (ie, self, nature, God, others, body, history, etc). Unhindered by the labels, status and titles they may have back home, when the day’s obligations are reduced to the basics (walking, eating, and finding a bed), suddenly life seems much easier. As pilgrims lighten their loads mentally, they often describe how their inner worlds also free up giving way to the possibility of greater insight and self-awareness. On the Camino people describe connecting more intensely to everything around them and inside of themselves. Making the pilgrimage to Compostela helps many people discover their own way on the Way – it can be a type of mobile therapy.
After the premiere I asked María her general impression of the film. Overall she was very positive but was surprised at how ‘religious’ it was. I hadn’t felt the same way. Reflecting on it more, the themes of re-finding one’s faith and connecting with something spiritual are definitely present but it seemed to me part of each person’s private story and not an imposition on the audience. Also, being a religious pilgrimage in its origin, it’s inevitable that elements of the Catholic church will be woven throughout. I think I also take for granted with my years along the Camino the incredible diversity of stories and how on the Camino it is possible to be steeped in religion yet not feel religious. Yes, religion is inevitably present throughout the film but its intention is not to prosthelytize.
The moving story behind the story also involves the heart. When Emilio Estevez introduced the film to the audience he started with a quote: ‘It’s a pleasure to return from whence I came.’ He said, ‘It is the same for Martin and me. Our film is a love letter to Spain. It’s a love letter to Galicia.’ Before Martin Sheen took his stage name he was Ramón Estevez son of a Galician immigrant from Salceda near the coastal town of Pontevedra. Spain remained close to Sheen’s heart and he continued to return to his father’s native land. Seven years ago Sheen invited his family to tour Spain with him. They ended up doing their own road trip of the Camino as they crossed the north of Spain to Galicia. This journey and Sheen’s own faith eventually led them to make their own film about the pilgrimage way and transform it into a tribute to the land of their ancestors. The film is dedicated to Martin Sheen’s father.
Anyone who intimately knows the Camino will find a number of odd edits of landscapes. Emilio Estevez explained to me after the premiere that his original movie was 3.5 hours long and he was required to do some creative editing. This is inconsequential to the overall feeling of the film as the scenes selected are visually rich and conjure the depth of beauty of Spain in its many facets (and at its best). They did skip the sections where pilgrims must walk along roadways or wait in lines at refuges but one would expect that type of poetic license. Also, the pilgrims themselves remain remarkably immaculate during much of their pilgrimage, they don’t seem to have any physical problems and Tom tends to charge through the whole Camino with great determination and vitality. I would have softened his pace as his character softens and evolves over the course of the journey. The development and transformation of Sheen’s character is particularly good. We see how the others are deeply touched by the Camino but I did wonder how the experience would stay with them over time. Of course, this a major interest of my own (How does the journey impact people in the long-term, if at all?) as I explored in my book Pilgrim Stories. On and Off the Road to Santiago.
These are minor complaints as The Way manages to touch on and give accurate and colorful insight into a wide ranging mix of Spanish (eg, regional differences and Gypsy stereotypes) and Camino culture. There are several scenes that poke fun at Americans and there is an especially funny moment when two characters debate about the proper word to use for Spanish finger foods – tapas or pinchos – in northern Spain that brought the house down in the predominantly Spanish-speaking audience in Santiago.
The film also wrestles with one of my favorite Camino topics: authenticity. One night around the fire the pilgrims debate about the nature of the ´true/authentic’ pilgrim. One side claims that real pilgrims only walk and must suffer as they did in the medieval past. Another pilgrim points out the hypocrisy in this idea of modern self-styled suffering pilgrims who travel with plenty of comforts (eg, cell phones, credit cards and waterproof shoes) unknown in the past. It’s not how you do the pilgrimage that’s important but how you carry it in your heart. Walking with your own pack is one way to do the Camino but it’s not the only way. Everyone must find their own Camino. That’s one of the central messages of the film: Nunca es demasiado tarde para encontrar el Camino. It’s never too late to find the Way/way. There’s no formula to be a ‘real/authentic’ pilgrim. It’s a real shame how many, many people today see the Camino as a competition of who is a better (ie,imagined ‘authentic’) pilgrim and get very snooty about where they started, where they stayed and didn’t stay, how far they’ve walked, how many times they’ve done it, etc as if that were the point of the Camino. What a sad outcome of a pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago. Authenticity comes from within and isn’t found by following some unwritten code of oughts and shoulds and trying to impose it on others. Live your own life. Live your own pilgrimage. Follow your own heart. Walk your own Camino (and stay clear of anybody who tries to tell you there is a right way)!
***I’d like to thank my dear friend María Santos for accompanying me to the premiere and the post-premiere cocktail where we met the remarkably gracious Emilio Estevez and Martin Sheen.
***For more information on the film, see the official The Way-The Movie website: http://www.theway-themovie.com/
To find out when YOU can walk the Camino.....visit our 2015 Calendar!
In 2008 Australian journalist and organic olive oil producer Dee Nolan journeyed with us on our On Glory Roads: Camino de Santiago pilgrimage tour.
She has crafted an extraordinarily beautiful book detailing her pilgrimage to Compostela - A Food Lover’s Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela (Penguin, 2010).
Dee Nolan's Food Journey Testimonial
Sometimes you just stick a pin in the map and get plain lucky. Or, as happened to me in this Age of Google, you click on one of the zillions of Internet entries for the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, and find yourself reading about Nancy Frey. I just can’t imagine how my pilgrimage and my desire to write a book about it would have been if I’d hadn’t met Nancy and her partner Jose.
In an act of faith, our little gang of Australian pilgrims flew half way around the world and placed ourselves under Nancy’s tutelage. The result was an experience and a relationship that has been rewarding beyond any of our expectations. Her deep knowledge of the camino, of its history and its stories, past and present, put our pilgrimage in a rich cultural context that it would have taken months, or more likely years, to match if we’d had to tackle it on our own. As well, she gave us all an insight into contemporary life in Spain via her years of living in her adopted country and her time with Jose.
And best of all, we laughed a lot along the way.
Nancy and Jose’s adorable four-year-old daughter Marina accompanied us on our 11-day Camino de Santiago adventure. At the start of the first day’s walk she gave each of us a scallop shell - the symbol of the pilgrimage. In winter the family gathers shells on the beach near their home which they thread with red ribbon and give to their guests. Jose disappeared off each morning to track down sensational local produce for our picnic lunches - not just delicious, but the ideal way to understand why regional food traditions remain so treasured. Our itinerary was carefully chosen to build, bit by bit, the narrative of the Way of St James, medieval and modern, and so by the time we reached the cathedral in Santiago, the pilgrimage jigsaw puzzle fitted together beautifully.
Those of us from the other side of the world returned home with Marina’s scallop shell and the camino forever in our hearts.
Dee Nolan journalist and organic olive oil producer www.nolansroad.com
A Food Lover’s Pilgrimage to Santiago De Compostela by Dee Nolan, published by Lantern / Penguin Australia, 25 October 2010, hardback 420pp, ISBN 9781920989910, RRP AUD 100.00.
In 2008 Australian journalist and organic olive oil producer Dee Nolan journeyed with us on our On Glory Roads: Camino de Santiago pilgrimage tour.
She has crafted an extraordinarily beautiful book detailing her pilgrimage to Compostela - A Food Lover’s Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela (Penguin, 2010). Read More....