Into Santiago de Compostela

Saturday, August 14, 2021

Today we complete our pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela by walking a short day (under seven miles) into and through the small hamlets of San Marcos and Monte De Gozo, through the outskirts of our good sized culminating city and unto the Plaza del Obradoiro adjacent to La Catedral de Santiago de Compostela. As you can imagine, there are mixed emotions. In groups the sizes we have been traveling in and now the joint group, collective interactions catch us up and personal reflection is easily avoided. Many have been and/or are in physical pain and group dynamics have conjured some drama resulting in a general feeling of just getting THIS over and done with… Plans for a celebratory approach and the majority’s lack of a spiritual purpose (and actual disdain) for being here further add to making this collection of miles “just another day”.

And as this marks my fifth time walking under the arches to bagpipe music and into the Square, I ask myself for a time that defies counting, what have I truly come here for (again!) and what I have learned anew? Fodder for a future blog…

Last night we did enjoy the fabulous backyard of our final albergue with spaghetti, a rousing game of Avalon and conversation with so many perigrinos from other countries (perhaps thirty others stayed there, too!!). In my opinion we played our music far too loud and were extremely boisterous – and no doubt furthered a general reputation of Americans being rude and obnoxious. Just sayin’…

This morning, thankfully there was no music being played and conversations were at a minimum. So many pilgrims on foot and bicycle descended together, through the mist into Santiago de Compostela! The super fast energy bunny of my original group injured herself yesterday and had to taxi in and boy does her ankle look black, blue and swollen!

I had waves of nostalgia wash over me in thoughts and tears as we approached town – yet a handful of situations served to undo it and by the time we arrived at the cathedral I was feeling overwhelmed by the throngs of people – tourist and pilgrims alike. And the commercialism. Simultaneously I felt underwhelmed by the lack of visible joy in our group – especially juxtaposed against the cheering, hugging and jumping up and down of many big parties in the square.

Tattoo appointments “had to be made” and eventually we made our way over to the Pilgrim’s Office a couple of hours later to QR code in for an ultimate spot in line for our official “Compostelas” or certificates of completion. This is a new system born out of the COVID -19 pandemic protocols and it felt like SUCH A ZOO!!! At 12:30 they were on 342 and we had numbers ranging from 1100 to 1111. It was also A ZOO in town – more people than I have ever seen!!! We basically just killed time until our numbers came up at 6:30. One group did run (literally) to the market around 2:30 to get supplies for our dinner tomorrow night – since tomorrow is Sunday and Monday is a holiday and who knows what will be open…

Feeling so many emotions now, a full range from empty to full. Not enough “full” for a smile just yet, though I had many observing the tears and joy of others in the square. I do feel extremely grateful and fortunate. All the glory goes to God.

In closing I wish to share from an enlightening blog that I follow.

Feeling Our Pain

From Richard Rhor’s Daily Meditation, The Center of Contemplation and Action: “We all have preferred styles of attention and ways that we perceive what is happening to us. It takes lifelong practice of what I call “mirror-wiping” to see things as they are, instead of as we are! “I” am always my first problem, and if I deal with “me,” then I can deal with other problems much more effectively. Similarly, grief work begins with cleansing the lens of my perception, and simply being “here” to what is. Buddhist teacher Cuong Lu is a student of Thich Nhat Hanh, and here he describes a practical way to be present to our pain.

Do you want to put an end to the dark thoughts racing through your mind, the pressures you feel every day, the many ways you don’t feel seen or heard? What do you really want? What do you really want to end? Your thoughts bombarding you 24/7? Your loneliness? Your despair? What do you think happens when life ends? Do you think you won’t feel anything, that you won’t suffer anymore? . . .

Instead of acting on these impulses—stop, wait, and study the details of your life: the skin on your hands, the despair in your throat, the searing currents running through your veins. Study these things as if your life depended on it. When you stay fully present with your feelings, your sensations, and the world around you, even when it seems dark and cold, joy will arise. Joy and suffering are two sides of the same coin.

The way to free yourself from pain is to feel it, not to run away, as difficult as that may be. Be a mountain and be porous at the same time. Become interested in yourself, your thoughts, your emotions, your sensations. This might not make sense now, but it will. . . .

Pain and suffering make life beautiful. This might be hard to believe while you’re suffering, but the lessons you can learn from hardships are jewels to cherish. If you’re suffering, it means you have a heart. Suffering is evidence of your capacity to love, and only those who understand suffering can understand life and help others.

The world needs your suffering, your courage, and your strength. Don’t try to kill your pain. Share it with another, communicate it. If the first person you talk to isn’t the right one, find someone else. Somebody somewhere wants to listen to your pain, to connect with you and understand you. When you find them, when you lighten your burden and discover the jewels and joy that are alive beneath the pain, later you’ll be present for others who are suffering.”

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