Atlantis: A Retelling of Day 2 on the Camino
The early morning sky was overcast and grey, giving the monastery in Roncesvalles a bluish tinge. The sun has only barely begun making it’s accent into the sky, the only light came from the few strategically placed lamps placed with in the stone courtyard.
I shuffled slowly across the gravel yard, willing my sore muscles to move against the chill of the morning. Pausing on a bench, I retrieved my toque and gloves from my backpack. Carefully, I swung the lighter-than-yesterday bag to my back, breathing a sigh of half relief.
Part of the reason I was in so much pain this morning was because I carried too much weight with me over the 25km hike across the Pryrenes yesterday. A few moments ago, I stopped at the donation table in the main foyer of the monastery, leaving behind a brand new pair of boots and a bag full of items that would not be making the journey across Spain with me. A pang of guilt and shame accompanied me as I discarded the items. Why did I even buy those boots in the first place? I didn’t need them, my current hiking shoes are more than capable of doing the job. That’s 50 euros I will certainly never get back.
Continuing my slow crawl towards the path that would lead my fellow pilgrims and I to Larassoana, the sky began to brighten. Many pilgrims were well on their way, chatting cheerfully offering each other words of good morning to their peers.
I feigned my own cheerfulness. Did these other pilgrims not feel as awful as I did? Or were they just much better at hiding it? I pushed on, breathing deeply and rhythmically as I struggled to put one foot in front of another, passing the Camino-famous, obnoxiously large, white road sign stating “Santiago de Compestela 790km.” Placed there as if to mock me.
Today was only Day 2 on my journey along the Camino de Santiago and I was already struggling. The Camino had begun teaching me it’s lessons. Although extremely fit, I had taken to moving too fast on the hike over the mountains yesterday. My ego ablaze, I flaunted my youth and fitness level, barely stopping all day and arriving to our end destination much earlier than most pilgrims. Combined this with a restless and uncomfortable sleep, boy, was I paying for it today! This was to be my very first and blazingly obvious lesson of the Camino: SLOW DOWN, IT’S NOT A RACE! Which can be translated to: IT’S ABOUT THE JOURNEY, NOT THE DESTINATION.
And slow down I did, not by choice mind you. I made my snail like crawl through the forest, chatting begrudgingly with older passing pilgrims. They gave a little chuckle my way as they past. There was no sympathy from anyone.
Often I was left alone, as I moved too slow for the other pilgrim’s pace. It was me, the Spanish country side, the Camino and the sound of my shoes crunching on the rugged, gravel path. Alone with my thoughts, I let my mind wander. First to the obvious issue at hand, my haggard body. Each laboured step as difficult as the next. My hip flexors flared with every stride, the knots in my glutes absorbing every impact my feet made, tying that knot tighter and tighter. My shins screamed at my calves and my lower back complained over and over about the weight on my back. I was a mess. I felt like a grey, decomposing zombie, moaning and groaning, as I staggered across some post apocalyptic landscape. Only, this wasn’t post apocalyptic! This was rural Spain and it was beautiful. I should really pay attention!
Only the second day into my 800 km journey and I was already beginning to see why some pilgrims didn’t make it to Santiago. Unwilling to admit my fear that I may be one of those people, I swallowed my terror and kept walking. Slowly. Dropping one foot in front of the other. My only hope that the lactic acid pooling in my muscles would soon filter out as my blood circulated. Today’s walk was 27 km, I had much further to go yet.
The landscape changed as the morning wore on. The dense forests gave way to tiny villages into rolling foothills and dense tree covered hills. In the villages, I stopped and lunched with my new pilgrim friends, making new friendships that would stand the test of the Camino.
Talking with other pilgrims distracted me form my physical agony. We chatted about the already apparent magic of the Camino, and the mysteries yet to come. Although, the most jarring and frequent question we all seemed to ask was “Why are you here?” because it was apparent nobody is called to the Camino with out a reason.
The conversation usually started like this:
“Hola! Buen Camino!”
“Buen Camino! Where are you from?”
“Canada. And yourself?”
“[Enter Country Here]. Why are you here?”
Answers ranged from “I saw it in a movie.” “My friend invited me.” “The Camino called me.” to “I have been planning this trip for years.” And more.
Everyone had a perfect good explanation of why they were here and I was most stricken at how these, basically strangers, were so accepting of all of our various answers. Everyone listened intently while I explained my own story. Usually beginning with me saying “I’m lost” followed by a long in-depth conversation about life, finishing off with “I hope you find what you are looking for. Buen Camino.”
In moments solitude, rhythmically marching across the rocky terrain, I reflected on the conversations I had just had and the circumstances that had brought me here to Spain.
I am very much at a cross roads in my life. It was as if I suddenly woke up one day last year and realized that I was at a complete loss for what my life had become. I have no idea who I am, what I want or need or love. And this terrifies me!
Then the Camino called me, I answered. Some months later, I’m in excruciating pain as I attempt to walk across Northern Spain on a mystical adventure to find…something.
The Camino above all things is a spiritual journey. I am not a religious person, never have been but I seem to be in a constant battle with myself and nourishing my soul/spirit is a very new concept to me. I have been, for all of my life, firmly athiest. This new found openness is a strange and hard thing to admit publicly. Spirituality has never been something I had even considered before, my roots being firmly in science. But the bottom line is, I am struggling with something right now and it’s something science can’t explain for me.
My life lacks any meaning, and I just kept repeating the same miserable cycle over and over again. For 25 years, I have worked my ass off to be at the top of my field and for the past decade, I have worked tirelessly to build a viable career as a working professional only to be met with battle after battle after battle. My opponent? Nine times out of ten, it’s myself. I’m tired of it. Who am I? Acrobat? Stunt Woman? Actor? Teacher? Dancer? Baton Twirler? I wear so many hats, I don’t even know which one fits me anymore. My body, after 25 years of overuse and abuse, is sore and fatigued. My self esteem, self worth, anxieties, direction, dreams all live in a messy puddle on the floor at my feet. I don’t even know how to begin cleaning them up.
Around me, I have build an impenetrable wall of toughness, a survival instinct, that very few have ever been able to break though to see what’s on the other side. Truth is, I don’t even know and I am petrified to find out. Instead, I bury myself in my work because it is the only life I have ever known. Safe in my misery, I rely on my skills and achievements for my self worth and identity.
What does it all mean? What is the point of doing this work if you are just sad and over worked?
What does it mean if you have nobody to share it with?
Somewhere along the line, I fell out of love with my work. I have become bitter, angry, uninspired and lost. While usually very goal orientated and motivated, all of a sudden I find myself questioning who I am and what I want from my life.
In reality, I have no idea. All I have ever done is train and perform. Really. Since I was 5. I have never even considered doing anything else because I have always felt I had something to prove.
Prove what? And to whom?! Have I just been living out some old unhealed wound this entire time? Has my career meant nothing? It must not because when I look back at my career or at the long list of my resume, I don’t feel happy or satisfied. Instead, I am trapped in a world of ‘not good enough’ and complete failure. Was the past 10 years of my life a waste?
I honestly don’t know the answer right now. Which if the exact reason I am here, alone on the Camino. I need to find some answers, any answers because I cannot/will not live my life like this anymore.
Who am I? What do I need? What do I want? Where am I going? What and who do I love? What a terrifying thought it is when your only answer is ‘I have no idea!’
I need some guidance. I don’t know what answers the Camino will bring me but I do know they are out there. I only have to listen and search deep within myself to find them.
I come across a sign reading “Zubiri 13.1 km” which snaps me out of my intense inner monologue. Sitting down for a moments rest on a large boulder, I take a moment to breathe. I am only half way through my walk today and I might need a little extra motivation to help me reach my end destination. Removing my pack, I dig deep into a side pocket of my bag to retrieve my ear buds. I think it may be time for some music. Not wanting to disconnect myself from my surroundings, I made a deal when I left home that I would only listen to music on my iPod when absolutely necessary and only in short 1 hour blocks. I didn’t need it yesterday, the hike across the mountains was entertaining enough.
Today, I definitely need some musical motivation.
I stood, gathered my gear onto my back and popped my ear buds into place. Opening the music app on my phone, I press shuffle.
To my complete surprise, shock, slight horror and amazement, this spoken word poem by BC poet, Shane Koyczan was the first song that played. It would remain at the top of my Camino play list as a comforting assurance that I was not alone in my search…
Atlantis by Shane Koyczan
Your entire body shakes you when laugh,
As if your sense of humour was built on a fault line
And the coast of your heart falls into the ocean of yourself
And I’m left looking for this Atlantis. more Left looking for this place
That exists in the stories told by old men,
Who were there when mathematics assured them.
Their willingness to believe
Was greater than their determination to dismiss
I’m left looking for Atlantis.
Regardless of the scientist that insists
My efforts would be better spent
Unearthing clues to where the wild things went.
Try as it might,
Faith can’t put a dent fact.
So we must settle for science re-enact the world,
As if the universe was curled around this globe.
And if we consider that the universe is never ending
Then we’re not even a microbe.
We’re like a death threat from a pacifist,
But the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle states that:
“Nothing is fo’ shizzle”.
And the interesting thing about that
Is that it ensures that the principle itself can’t even be a fact.
But we still act as though
This time we can see the forest through the trees.
Regardless of the soft wood lumber levies,
We fall in line like reforested pine.
It’s all straight rows
Were everything grows a little less wild,
A little more humdrum,
We come from the mentality
That rarely sees the horror in symmetry
Or the beauty in non-conformity.
We insist that for us,
Everything must be clear cut.
But what about philosophy?
What about the tree that fell in the forest
That no one was around to hear?
It’s a little less clear,
A little more deep.
If Oprah Winfrey farts in a bathtub
And no bubbles come to the surface,
Is there an alternate universe
Where the price of gas is cheap?
But we can’t prove it,
Any more than we can prove
That light can move fast enough
To stop a monster hiding in the closet.
We deposit our faith in fear
But clear our minds to the possibility that
Maybe we as adults,
Secretly sometimes still get scared of the dark.
Things that go bump in the night.
And I can’t prove that I’ve ever loved anyone,
But despite the smoking
And the overweight body
I want to grow old with you.
Go through muscle and joint pains
To the point that every time it rains
We can feel it in our knees.
Get arthritis so bad,
That every time we move
We sound like two bowls of Rice Krispies.
We’re all “Snap, Crackle and pop”
But we still take the time to stop,
And take the time.
I’m looking for Atlantis.
Letting faith turn this fiction into fact
As if I tracked this missing continent for decades,
And all I know so far
Is that it is somewhere under water.
I’m looking for clues in the most blurry photos of UFOs
If aliens are so smart,
Then why don’t they start making their spaceships look like airplanes?
That way we’d just point to the sky and say:
“An airplane, how common place and not at all suspect.”
We’re all shipwrecked on this idea
That everything has to be explained.
But maybe we just need to believe
That lemmings jump off cliffs to prove that they love us.
That sacrifice is as empty as the box of condoms
That politicians used when they thought they could fuck us.
But it is nice to believe that somebody up there
Cares enough to plummet onto jagged, back-breaking rocks
In an attempt to tells us,
Tell us that as far as life goes,
Our finger prints are like snowflakes.
We leave them on everything
But they melt in the time it takes to touch someone’s tongue.
But if we’re lucky,
Maybe we’re remembered
Along with the sunken cities of a lost continent.
This is for each child
Who is a monument to the one’s who came before.
Maybe the best we can hope for
Is that those we leave behind find comfort in knowing
That we’re born out of love,
And not science.
That biology explains the how,
Love explains the why,
So in the event of our deaths
We hereby bequeath all of these words to you.
And they are only meant to say that
Uncertainty is something everyone goes through.
And there is not much in the way of proof
But believe me, we loved you.
We held our breaths for your first step,
Your first word.
We laughed when it finally occurred to you,
Lemons are sour.
This is for every time
Love becomes the finest minute and the darkest hour.
This if for those who scour the streets
Wondering where the wild things went.
For the believers who leant us their madness.
This is for everyone we miss.
And this is for the children who were lost.
Sadness is nothing more than the cost of being able to smile
Once in a while.
And grief is the trial we stand to offer evidence
That your finger prints were left on our hearts
And our skin,
And in terms of proof,
Love can be demonstrated in giving.
Our lives consist of the efforts we give
In swimming towards the lost continent
Where you are rumoured to be living.
Later on that day, I would bawl my eyes out as I painfully descended a sharp decline into Zubiri, where I would eventually stay the night, 5 km short of my intended destination. Here I would dine happily with some older pilgrims before passing out promptly at 8pm, not awaking until 6am the following morning.
My Camino, which lasted 33 days, offered me some of the most amazing and clear moments of my life. The lessons I learned even in the early days of it when I still hadn’t discovered it’s true magic, are still with me today. Even 2 years later, I have ‘Aha!’ moments when some small shard of information I learned in Spain becomes abundantly clear to me.
Day 2 of my walk was not the only day I cried, struggled or battled on the Camino. There would be many more days like this one. Days when I would not speak with anyone for 30km, or days when my heart cried out in acute loneliness, or screamed at the hills laced with crosses as I past in my own frustration to understand what they meant. There were days when I battled my own ego, actually, I could say my entire Camino was 90% about letting go of my ego. There were days when I was so full of joy, clarity and peace that I thought I would never leave and live as a pilgrim forever. (#futuregoals)
I received my answers in many indirect and subtle ways. Clues that would take months, years or even decades to interpret. Clarity is one of the most significant things I came away with on my Camino. And love…the most blazingly obvious.
Love begins with loving myself. Something I am working hard at to this day. Finally understanding that love is the answer.
For further reading, here is a post I wrote a few weeks into the Camino while struggling with the very concept of loving myself. It is amazing to me when I reread these posts because I realize how much I have grown since this experience. I do not want to even imagine where I would be right now if I hadn’t abruptly halted my life to take this curtail time out.