This Pilgrim’s Prayer

Part Two : Orisson to Roncesvalles
This is, by most accounts, the most intense part of the Camino. 14 km uphill across the French/Spanish border, to a summit at 1450m.
Roland perished here in 448 and his song still haunts the pass on misty days.

 

May I carve my own path, through the muddy or green pastures of my mind. My heart, friendly foe, will only speak when asked.

May I meet the sunrise with eager eyes and willing feet, and focus, not on my journey’s end, but on its potential.

May I laugh and cry with strangers; may I stand alone too lest I miss the tinkling of sheep bells in the distance.

May I surrender to the fog enveloping the hills like a shroud of unanswered questions, and remember, in the wind’s silence, that trees can sway and still stay rooted.

May I find my own pace through the restlessness of unbending desires:

To be light.

To be free.

To find meaning on an unforgiving climb that somehow forgives everything.

May I not wish for smoother trails but know instead the nature of every drop of rain, every turned stone, and carry within me the message of their simple godliness.

Each placed to wake me from sleepwalking.

Each begging to share the sacred space of my pilgrimage.

Each urging my heart to do the leading.

May my weary body greet the night with pleasure, and my anxious spirit relax in the mystery of the traveler’s path.

May I walk ever onward, safe and aware, and remember that within each step lies the secret of life itself,

quiet,

stubborn.

Victorious.

 

“The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.”
― Søren Kierkegaard

 

Passport Stamp [PS] #3: Don’t wait till all else fails to pray.

 

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Maryse Godet Copans © 2017

 

 

Traveling Light

Part 1 – From St-Jean-Pied-de-Port to Orisson
The path starts off easy but quickly turns into a steep ascent 900m above sea level. This is often a wet, cold, and foggy climb, but on a clear day the view of the Pyrenees is breathtaking, all verdant peaks and meadows.

 

The hills are alive with the sound of walking.

Each time I contemplated writing this post, the same song popped into my head. Yes, it is from “The Sound of Music”. No, it’s neither “Do-Re-Mi” nor “My Favorite Things”. It’s not so much the audio part of the song as the visual that left an impression. On her way to the Von Trapp family mansion, Julie Andrews aka Maria sings “I Have Confidence In Me”. There she is, facing both her doubts and excitement, and skipping happily with bag and guitar case in tow.

Wait!

Aren’t those supposed to be heavy? Shouldn’t she be dropping them on the side of the road before breaking into song? Wheels were added to suitcases for a reason, were they not? Because we may “have confidence in sunshine” but when the lifting gets heavy, we, traveling humans, break into a sweat.

In my last post I talked about turning on the light, about the sacred brightness of trust, so crucial while journeying with fear. Today I’m writing about the pure lightness of faith when stepping into one’s inner unknown hauling luggage that has not been prepped for the trek.

Most pilgrims carry backpacks weighing more than 20lbs, filled with a change of clothes, a rain poncho, toiletries and more. Others choose to pay a few euros every day and get their luggage transferred by taxi to their next destination so as to avoid back and knee injuries and reduce the general toll on the body. Some argue, however, that, “to walk a true Camino”, one has to carry one’s own backpack.

Really?

Isn’t schlepping across the Pyrenees and over some 500 miles through Spain enough to qualify?

And does it mean that I cannot ever aspire to become a true pilgrim if I simply journey in situ (and pick up clean clothes from the closet)?

Award-winning author and filmmaker Phil Cousineau writes that “with a deepening of focus, keen preparation, attention to the path…, and respect for the destination at hand, it is possible to transform even the most ordinary trip into a sacred journey, a pilgrimage.”

What these words tells me that it’s not what I carry that gives meaning to my path but my willingness to believe in the journey itself. Faith is the spiritual wheels attached to my inner baggage; it’s my luggage transfer service; it is the force that prompts me to sing with Maria, “I have confidence that spring will come again”, even as I hold on to my heavy gear.

This pilgrim’s faith is her confidence in the wisdom of her experience and in the promise of her growth.

The hills are alive with so much more than the sound of walking. They vibrate with the resolve in my steps and the quiet knowing that all will be well. Especially when I remain in place.

Ever on(in)ward!

“It is not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it.” – Lou Holtz

 

Passport Stamp [PS] #2: Faith – Never leave (or stay) home without it.

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 Maryse Godet Copans © 2017

 

A New Game Plan

St-Jean-Pied-de-Port is the official starting point of the Camino Francés. Pilgrims congregate in this small French town and pick up their “passport” before crossing the Pyrenees en route for Santiago, some 500 miles away.

 

We each have our own way of preparing for a trip. Some start reading guidebooks weeks before departure time. Others pack a week in advance. My dad used to write a detailed itinerary for each leg of the journey, complete with estimated travel distances and times allotted for picnics and bathroom stops. He would then proceed to keep track of progress while on the road. If you were lucky enough to be picked as the navigator for the day, your main responsibility beyond keeping to the planned route was to write down actual mileage and calculate average speed. At night Dad would take a look at how well his predictions had fared in the face of rain, traffic jams, or sick children. I’m sure he felt better for having planned and prepared. Most of us do.

Me? I’m into lists: a list for clothing, a list for food, and another one for points of interests. I may also jot down a few names and addresses for postcard fun while away. When I first thought of walking a Camino in place my plan was clear: I would take note of events and ideas over a given period of time and use them later for blog posts focusing on self-growth and spiritual empowerment. My journey would be well organized and would unfold in a pleasant and civilized way for my readers’ holy pleasure (as well as my own).

It took less than a week after I shared the news of this pilgrimage for it all to go down the drain in a major Pyrenees-like downpour. An unexpected storm hit and threw me off course, of course. Isn’t that what always happens on a trek through life’s best intentions?

Anxiety symptoms returned. Strong. Writing has been known to affect my nervous system this way. I get dizzy. I feel uncomfortably wired and tense. There’s pressure in my head and heaviness in my heart.  I imagine it could be compared to bleeding toes or sore knees after the first day’s hike. Only I have not taken any step yet! Does it mean I am not equipped for this inquiry into Life’s big unknown? Is it more than I can handle? Should I quit now even though I’m not ahead?

I’m sorely tempted. Anything not to feel this way. No one would hold it against me if I changed my mind for health reasons. There’s no shame in accepting one’s limits and choosing to remain in one’s safety zone. There’s nothing wrong about wanting to feel safe and protected from one’s own trying thoughts and doubts.

Yet, isn’t a journey through inner landscapes meant to be challenging at times? Isn’t its purpose to stretch the safety zone from “all that I’m comfortable knowing or not knowing” to “all that I have yet to find out”? It’s not supposed to be a walk in the park but a true pilgrimage of the soul, and the reason I’m scared is because I’m imagining a huge shadow on a white wall and believe it’s real, and this, despite the most careful and well laid plans.

Einstein is credited for defining insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Maybe it’s time for me to re-enter sane territory and try something new.

Could I be convinced to turn on the light?

The light of faith in myself and in the path, the light of trust in the invisible hands guiding me. Fear does not ask that this adventure end. It asks that it begin, that I not live a life delimited by lists, itineraries, or careful packing, but that I walk on, bravely and steadily, towards “all that I don’t yet know”. The scary shadow is but a pen after all. Resting by a blank page.

I’m not giving up. I’m picking up my passport to wherever this Camino may take me, backpack on one shoulder, fear on the other.

I hope you will join me in praying for clement weather, kind encounters, and a spirited muse.

Ever on(in)ward!

Passport Stamp [PS] #1 : Sanity is trying something different when the same old does not work.

“We meet fear. We greet the unexpected visitor and listen to what he has to tell us. When fear arrives, something is about to happen.” ― Leigh Bardugo

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Maryse Godet Copans © 2017

 

Ever Onward

According to Elizabeth Gilbert (in her book “Big Magic”) ideas travel through human consciousness looking for able bodies and souls to bring them to life. If you’re not in the mood or don’t feel ready, no big deal, ideas will keep moving from person to person until they find their perfect hosts. Considering the number of ideas I’ve said no to over the years and which have sprouted anyway out of someone else’s imagination, I tend to agree with Ms. Gilbert’s theory.

There’s one idea, though,  that’s been wooing me for a couple of months now and which I’m of a mind to say yes to:

A pilgrimage-in-place.

Over thirty years ago my parents, brother, and I drove from Brussels, Belgium, to Santiago de Compostella, Spain, following the path of the Camino Frances, or the French Way, the most popular route of the ancient pilgrimage to the alleged burial site of St James. We stopped in all the necessary places and attended mass but my main epiphany on this so-called family pilgrimage was that I liked churros dipped in hot chocolate better than Belgian waffles.

Today, despite a spiritual readiness to look for new meaning and purpose, physical limitations prevent me from walking this 500 mile trek through northern Spain. Crossing the Pyrenees on foot may no longer be an option but nothing stops me from partaking in the spirit of the path and gleaning insights from my ordinary days right here right now. Instead of guide books and clean socks I can pack a good dose of awareness and some spare willingness to change. I can do a Camino in situ in the comfort or discomfort of my own heart with commitment and excitement acting as divine energy bars.

I want to experience life at an ever deeper level, feeling fully present and vibrant. I wish to explore whatever appears on my path and use it as fuel to expand into all I can be. I have no idea where this stationary journey will take me. My only intention is to remain open to what shows up and to allow it to bloom me where I am rooted. That is after all what a pilgrimage is for.

At first I thought to keep this project all hush hush, taking notes, journaling, and publishing later. But the truth is, I’m not one for solitary treks. I’d much rather share my process with a few or many friendly readers. So I invite you to follow me along the route of the Camino Frances from St-Jean-Pied-de-Port to Santiago, at a slow pace of 40 blog posts or so, putting one virtual foot in front of the other and forging ahead no matter the fog or writer’s block.

Let’s go on a spiritual adventure together, right in the heart of home.

Ever on(in)ward!

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“We don’t need more gimmicks and gadgets; all we need do is REIMAGINE the way we travel.” – Phil Cousineau

Words and photograph – Maryse Godet Copans © 2017

Two heads are not always better than one

When I was 4 years old (I actually remember this), soon before starting preschool in my native Belgium, I told my mom I did not want go to school, “like, ever”.  I wanted to stay home and play with my toys. I wanted to be like her, always home, quiet, and with no homework assignments (all this in age appropriate language, of course).

Fifty years later I am well aware that it’s not because one does not leave the house that one does not have home work, like my mother immediately set out to explain to me.  She ran a household of 8 with no hot water in the kitchen (she had to boil a kettle each time she did the dishes), one bathroom, and only a semi-automatic washing machine. Things are very different today and each time I think of how hard my mom worked I say a quick thank you, especially if I’m unloading the dishwasher, my least favorite chore.

One thing has not changed, however: I still long/love to be home alone. Self-help experts often advise that we reconnect with our young selves and do what s/he loved to do at the time. For me my friends it’s definitely being on my own. No demands, no questions, no explanations. I can smell the roses, the tulips, or the stew on the stove, and feel good about it. How daring is that?

As a stay-at-home mom I felt into the trap of endless activities in an unconscious then, and conscious now, effort to prove that I was busy and, more importantly, worthy. Despite countless attempts to grow our gregarious side, I find I have raised two young adults who also need alone time to recharge and stay grounded. They are now facing what I struggled with for decades: the notion that wanting to be alone is somehow unhealthy, antisocial, or simply weird. Since my mother’s days the focus, in affluent communities, has shifted from looking at social busyness as a temporary pleasure or necessity to regarding it as the optimum way of life.  Success is not only gauged in terms of career or money but very much in terms of social connections and interactions. How many likes you get on a post or pictures. How many times a week you dine out with friends. How heavy the traffic is on your website. The more the merrier we are led to believe. And if it does not hold true for you, something’s wrong.

Here’re my two cents: if being alone stems from a deep need to connect with yourself, with your journey, with the challenge of living a fruitful life, do not let anyone tell you it’s not “normal”. Not all of us are cut out to thrive through social encounters and people stuff. It’s not that we’re afraid or lack self-confidence; it’s about being honest about how we can be our best and making sure our needs are met. It’s about protecting our true self from outside domination so we can offer it to the world in its most potent yet kindest form. There’s power in aloneness. And there’s love too. Love for ourselves, for life, for others. Choosing solitude is a valid and strong choice in a world that often seems to be socializing out of control.

I leave you with a recent photograph I took of Easter colored tulips. Go ahead, pause and smell them. And if you’re happier running out the door to meet your busy, that’s ok too. I’ll stay here and change the water.

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Words and photograph – Maryse Godet Copans © 2017

Blu Amaryllis is back

My friend Jane Alessandrini Ward asked a very pertinent question the last time I posted a picture on Facebook: “Where’s the Blu Amaryllis?”

Where indeed? Well,I buried it while I dreamt of tackling a different kind of project. I am not a good blogger, as you’ve all noticed, and am very grateful for the 70 followers who do not seem to mind.

Jane’s question encouraged me to revisit this site and play with the idea of writing again to share online. Why not? It will be my writing practice, short snippets of everyday life that will serve as fertilizer for the more ambitious idea that’s germinating. An idea spiritual in nature that will involve lots of writing and tons of fear. Time will tell if I’m up to it, and up to being active here again on a regular basis.

Mind you, if I can figure out how to make this glorious white amaryllis bloom again there’s hope for my future as a writer, don’t you think? Flowers in general and the amaryllis in particular bring forth their bold yet delicate beauty and dare us to look at life and NOT feel awe. Life loves flowers. When we  care for them with love and gentleness they in turn bless us with their joyful magic. I look at a flower and know life loves me. If that’s not magic, what is?

My one cent: Moderation does not apply to flowers. Indulge as often and as long as possible.

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Maryse Godet Copans © 2017