Embracing the Impossible

Part 7: Estella to Torres del Rio

The highlight of this long hike is the wine fountain, “Fuente del Vino” at the Monastery of Nuestra Senora la Real de Irache where excited pilgrims are treated to (scallop size servings of) free wine on tap or water before venturing into miles of uninhabited and colorful patchwork landscapes.

 

[Back in January I started Michael Neill’s “Creating The Impossible: a 90 day program to get your dreams out of your head and into the world.” As part of this adventure I’ve been posting one #dailycreation on Facebook every day for the last three months. Today I’m having some rhyming fun inspired by the very first picture I shared. Blame it on the Fuente del Vino. Even though I would stick to water I’ve definitely been affected by the mood around the fountain! In a moment of folly (or clarity?), I even decided to sign up for SuperCoach Academy, Michael’s six month training program that starts with a week intensive in London at the end of October. Be careful before picking up your pilgrim’s passport, my friends. The journey may very well take you beyond the possible.]

THE SILENT CALL OF THE CARDBOARD BOXES

Once upon an ordinary day,

filled with stress, stuff, and no play,

sprouted an idea, simple and bright,

to look at everything in a different light

 

…and there it was, dull and uninviting,

the forgotten stack of weekly recycling.

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What else might be lurking in those dark corners

besides routine, chores, nothing that matters?

Could there be pleasure, laughter, and fun

in all that we dismiss as annoying, or dumb?

 

Friends, we’re not doomed to remain at the surface of life,

forever stuck with what we must do and don’t like.

There is another way when we stop fighting

what was, will be, or is unfolding,

and open to the wild wild potential

of the mundane, ordinary, and normal.

 

Will you join me in an exploration

of this peculiar kind of invitation?

There’s no work or effort involved,

all rules, should, musts, get dissolved

and replaced by an openness to see,

to embrace what before was deemed too low-key.

 

And please share what shows up for you

when you entertain what comes out of the blue.

 

Thank you!

 

PS #8: There’s a true sense of liberation when flowing with inspiration

 

“As we wake up to our deeper nature and true creative potential, our real life turns out to be even better than the life of our dreams.” – Michael Neill

 

Maryse Godet Copans © 2017

 

Insight Information

Part 6 – Puente la Reina to Estella

Though long (24 km) this is one of the easier portions of the Camino where parts of the old Roman road to Santiago can still be found. Pilgrims walk through farmlands (olive groves and vineyards) and rest on medieval bridges taking in the views and enjoying the journey.

 

[This piece was written with all my ALPOM friends in mind (A Little Peace of Mind). May you all let yourselves be lived and enjoy the ride.]

 

Life is about squeezing lemons.

Or so we are told from a very young age: “If life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” or orangeade, or lemon meringue pie. Whatever comes your way, do not sit on your butt. Go make something with it. Something tasty. Something juicy. And so over the years, we become master squeezers. We pick up what life throws our way and apply ourselves to the thankless task of making it meaningful and worthwhile, and when the juice is bitter or we get tired of cooking, we are quick to judge ourselves as lacking or even failing.

For most of my life, I’ve dutifully applied myself to mastering the art of squeezing lemons. With the help of coaches and therapists I did my best to discover my purpose and heed the voice in my head that was chanting, “go, go, go.” Until my personal journey with anxiety and a state of utter emotional exhaustion led me, a year ago, to experiment with an easier way to live: “I’m going to live by invitation only,” I decided. “Instead of trying to figure out my next step, I shall wait for it to present itself.”  I did not know it at the time, but that was an insight, and a big one at that. I was done mixing drinks of any kind. There and then I started to follow the invisible thread that would guide me along a path I no longer needed to anticipate. And to my surprise, retiring my inner juicing equipment and walking the walk as it revealed itself have proven a winning recipe. My anxious mind is, at long last, calming down, and in this space of healing, another voice is rising.

It speaks in the silence between thoughts, during walks with my dog, while I’m doing the dishes, or typing these words. It comes when I’m awake at night or in the first flutters of consciousness at dawn. It is gentle and wise yet cuts through the crap like the sharpest of knives: “Life is full of lemons, full of oranges and berries. Make whatever appeals, and only if it appeals. No rules. No guilt. No shame.” It’s that simple.

Insights are glimpses of clarity that sprout, unannounced, out of the mysterious depths of my being, shifting the way I look at life and experience my circumstances. They are as effortless as shooting stars lighting the night sky and leave in their trail a renewed sense of ease, gratitude, and awe. After a lifetime of trying to reach elusive destinations, carrying bag loads of shoulds and musts, insights feel to me like a return to peace, a coming home to the comfort of what I see to be true. They’re like the dance of a cozy fire after a storm, the flash of understanding in the midst of confusion, the first light of the rising sun.

Life is about living.

It’s all meaningful and it’s all worthwhile. Life knows to grow lemons, to ripen them, and to grant me the ability to make lemonade if desired. Life is about experiencing life, filled with the sheer good fortune of being here and the quiet confidence of navigating well, one insight at a time. No squeezing required.

 

“Being at ease with not knowing is crucial for answers to come to you.”

Eckhart Tolle

 

PS#7: It’s ok to open up to a different kind of knowing.

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Maryse Godet Copans © 2017

Yuletide In-Quest

Part 5 – Pamplona to Puente la Reina

This section of the Camino involves climbing up Alto del Perdón (the Hill of Forgiveness) sometimes in strong windy conditions. It is said that it’s the rocky and bumpy descent, though, that absolves pilgrims of all their sins as it is hard and calls for extreme caution and strong knees. Since 1996, a steel sculpture by Vincent Galbete has immortalized pilgrims on their way to Compostela. From there on the walk is fairly gentle to Puente la Reina.

 

What if we don’t need to be forgiven? What if the climbs up and down, whether hard or easy, are there so we can experience the mountain? What if we are not sinners granted redemption through trials and suffering? What if our sole purpose in life is to live it moment by moment, with joy, fear, death and birth, and everything in between?

What if we don’t need new light shining on our path of loss and hardship? What if the light that we are can never be extinguished?  What if it’s not about finding hope when we’ve lost our way? What if we cannot ever lose our way?

What if we don’t need to be shown how much God loves us? What if it’s a given in each breath, each heartbeat, whether we’re aware of it or not?

What if there’s no hill to climb? What if there’s nothing to believe in? What if we’re simply meant to dance the uncertain dance of life with a Presence as elusive as it is steady?

What if the meaning of Christmas does not lie in words or the stories we tell? What if this child, born in a barn, has more to say than what can be written or taught, more to share than peace, myrrh, or gold?

What if this child is no prince at all? What if he is the divine yet perfectly human part of us, waiting to be uncovered?

And what if all we’ll ever need is to be reminded that we are both the covering and the unveiling?

What if this is why Jesus was born?

 

May the spirit of Christmas be with you all.

May you remember that you are always, always whole.

 

PS #6: Some questions don’t need answers.

 

“I would rather have questions that can’t be answered than answers that can’t be questioned.” – Richard Feynman

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Maryse Godet Copans © 2017

BE-attitudes

Part Four: From Zubiri to Ronscevalles  

 Leaving the steep hills of the Pyrenees, the Camino now runs along the Arga River, gifting pilgrims with much gentler trails and beautiful old stone houses.

 “The Beatitudes of the Pilgrims,” which are the inspiration for this post, are handed out in some of the local churches.

 

Blessed are we, fellow pilgrims, in this time of thanksgiving, when we celebrate what truly matters and recognize what doesn’t; when we listen beyond the chatter in our heads and hear the space that speaks without ever making a sound.

Blessed are we, when we meet each other exactly where we stand, without judgment and with kindness; when we don’t search for meaning behind every word or every smile but let the flow of Presence reveal to us that we are all the same.

Blessed are we, when the gap between friendly banter and strong words reminds us that what we truly want is love; when we see that the noise without and the silence within can both resonate with the love that we are.

Blessed are we, my friends, when the journey shifts from being about its own elusive ending to becoming a moment by moment exploration of truth; when we see that everything belongs to our unfolding and that there’s never any need to get it right.

Blessed are we, when we wake up to the glory of each passing day and dive fully into the experience of it all; when the coming home is as cherished as the leaving again, and we can hold bliss, pain, and all that flows in between in one human embrace.

Blessed are we indeed, when the light of Thanksgiving inspires us to share from a place of humility and openness; when we take our seat at the table, eating one bread and drinking from one cup, and savor together the divine feast of being alive.

 

“If the only prayer you ever said was thank you, that would be enough.” – Meister Eckhart

 

PS [passport’s stamp] #5: Living IS the blessing

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Maryse Godet Copans © 2017

GROVE OF HOPE

[Several of you, faithful readers, have suggested that I try my plume at a short story. As a pilgrimage is indeed about traveling the unexpected and uncomfortable, I am gracing you today with the result of this adventure, more of a poetic fantasy, though, than a tale.]

 

Part Three: Roncesvalles to Zubiri

The Camino crosses two mountain passes before continuing on to Zubiri through sprawling forests known as The Oak Grove of the Witches where several women were burned at the stake in the 14th & 16th century and where a white cross (Cruz de Blanco) was erected to greet pilgrims on the path.

The woods are thick and somber. Their black canopy stands guard as fallen branches and logs draw scary figures that play out the nightmare.  Clusters of bushes, like soldiers, protect the memory of those sacrificed in the name of truth. Underground magic lurks in the damp earth, its power luring the weak and punishing the strong.

A white cross poses as divine ruler of this haunted kingdom. Here voices once rose to meet the Heavens, their broken litany unheard, or simply ignored. Here played the drama of man’s mistaken image of God. The wounded are not gone and the wound still bleeds.

The path is narrow and treacherous yet Man walks on.

A gravely trail leads him into shades of green that rustle with resilience and restoration.  Leaves and needles awake at his steady approach, greeting the arrival of the one who brings change. Rocks look up from under blankets of moss and cheer his advance into the flow of all that grows, dies, flies, and lives again. Roots re-arrange their patterns to ease his way forward into more depth, less darkness. They know it’s in the light that one can see.

The woods are dense and silent yet Woman hears their welcome.

Trees stand taller to meet the witch’s return; ferns capture timid flickers of sunlight that take her into the core of the ancient curse.  The air picks up the richness of her purpose and drinks in the fullness of her resolve.  As the haunted grove falls under the spell of her peaceful breathing, the path widens and opens onto a small clearing where grass is soft and inviting. There wilderness gets tamed into flowers and space buzzes with hope and promises.

There, Woman and Man rest, pilgrims of Peace in a place of unrest, envoys of the Goddess from a time ruled by fear. The white cross responds to the familiar message flowing from their hearts and heeds their timeless vision. It remembers its original calling as once shared by a single soul in a barren land and, with arms wide and high, claims back its sacred Truth. The wounded are blessed and, at long last, the wound is healed.

Man and Woman walk, ever onward,

and the forest is renewed.

PS [passport’s stamp] #4: Love is divine magic

“Do not pity the dead, Harry, pity the living, and above all those who live without love.” – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows [J.K. Rowling]

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Maryse Godet Copans © 2017

 

 

 

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