Mel's Healing Pilgrimage 2016

Links to the Camino de Santiago pilgrimages are on the navigation links to the right of the web page.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Last Day of School, First Day of Summer

Today's the last day of school for Stephen, my husband. He says goodbye to his second-graders, his kids. And he gets to rest and figure out what to do during summer vacation (don't worry, he'll be busy).
New journey. First shave since May 18, 2016, when
I walked out of Lourdes on my 3rd Camino (the 620 miler)

This day is also marked by something else.

My life really hasn't been in much turmoil in comparison to those of many whom I've met through the years. Sure I've moved around a lot as a child, but I seemed to adapt and find my way. Whether it was new homes, new schools, or new countries, I'd face the reality of change and get on with it. I'm a quick learner I'm told, so that probably helped.

I wonder why, as adults, change becomes so much more challenging than when we were younger. We become set in our ways. I've started to think that, despite our best intentions, the things we do become more important to our identity than who we really are. Even though I don't want to think of myself by the activities I enjoy, the work I do, or the habits I can't kick, I fall back on defining myself by these very things. It's quite the opposite of my aspirations, but I do it like everyone else just the same.

Most of us prefer stability. We might be on a gentle simmer, but we know what to expect. And we can find happiness, peace, or satisfaction out of that predictability

Until something upends that stability.

Until we can't do what we've always done, what we're accustomed to, what we see as "us"...

It could be a job change. Or a relocation. Or a changing or failing relationship. Or an illness or death.

And then seemingly all of a sudden, we experience massive stress and anxiety. So much of that anxiety arises from that lack of continuity. And for many, it seems, it leads to a loss of identity.

A parent dies, and suddenly we face a thought that we aren't the eldest child of Mrs. and Mr. So-and-so, aka Mom and Dad. Our long-time job evaporates and suddenly we aren't sure if we can find another job that allows us to maintain our identity. When my ex and I split, I didn't know how to think of myself as an individual person. All of these are based on relationships, on things we do with others. It shows the importance of the relationships in our lives.

All of these things have to do with activities, too. With things we do. With things we've enjoyed doing. With the people we know.

But they aren't who we are as persons. I cannot imagine God created us, saying "You are an insurance adjuster at XYZ Corp." I think God's plans for us have to do with how we were created, not because we filled out a job application in time, or did good things, or made mistakes, or continue to make mistakes.

Thank God.

I'm going through some big changes in my life. Enormous really. For much of what I do hasn't changed significantly for decades. There are things I own and work I do and habits I enjoy that have lasted longer than my first 18 year life-partnership or even my 16 year friendship with my husband, a husband of a mere 4 years.

I've owned this business for 26 years. I've worked on it full-time for almost 22 years. I haven't had a boss in all that time, other than in my customer's requests, demands, wishes. But business hasn't gone well enough for us in the past couple years. We've tried, but we just can't go on. 
So today, after months of discussions with different companies, I've completed the sale of the software and contracts we've developed during the past two decades. I'm having to lay off employees, employees who have worked with me for two decades. And next month, I'll be an employee of the company that is buying these assets.
And I'm lucky. I've known this New Jersey company for over 20 years. They're actually current clients. We've become friends during that time and one of the employees, well she has gone to Broadway musicals with Stephen and me. And I can continue to stay in Pasadena, continue to work from home.
There's new life springing from the darkness that has haunted my work life. I haven't felt this comfortable and, frankly, confident about my work in several years.

But the emotions are mixed because things are changing.

Today's the last day of school for Stephen, my husband. He says goodbye to his second-graders, his kids. And he gets to rest and figure out what to do during summer vacation. AND... soon he will see them again, in third grade, in other classrooms, with other teachers, with wiser eyes, with more to learn.

Today's the last day where I define myself by what I've done for two decades. I say goodbye to my software, my babies. And starting next week, I get to enjoy a new life with a company I respect. AND... soon, I will see my software again, in this new company, with other owners, with my eyes wiser, with more to learn.

So, though I've been struggling with change and who I am, I sort of know better. I can say goodbye on this last day of school.

I know I'm loved unconditionally and expansively and without boundaries and without my comprehension. It's ok to be anxious and fearful and mournful as I face these changes, because arching over those feelings is this love.

And thankfully, be it incrementally, slowly, or sporadically, I turn to people around me and appreciate - really truly appreciate - that I'm loved. I share the details of my fears and my mistakes and my story. I let the tears fall on my face. And they love me nonetheless.

And if they can love me, God loves me even more.

And that's all I really need to know who I am.

And I can face the summer knowing that new adventures await on my journey, a journey that I can experience without having it define me. A journey with adventures that involve new friendships, new things to learn, new challenges. And for all that, I am grateful, oh so very grateful.

And I can rise to a life made new.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Remembering... by Forgetting

I meet regularly with a spiritual director. For those who aren't familiar with what a spiritual director does, he or she is not a guru where you follow their directions unchallenged. No, many religious traditions encourage using spiritual guides to help believers on the path of spiritual growth. A spiritual director serves as a resource on your personal journey of faith. A good spiritual director helps you recognize how the Holy Spirit is working in your life. The emphasis is deepening one’s relationship with God - not with the spiritual director.

One of the things that we've been talking about is why I find the Camino de Santiago so important to my spiritual well being. I feel healthier and stronger - spiritually, psychologically, and emotionally. I may have ups and downs with physical well being, for blisters can be pretty painful and thankfully seem to have disappeared as an issue for me. Why does this journey always make me feel closer to God and why don't I find this closeness as easily at home?

To some, I find God easily, in quiet discussions with people, in celebrations of life, in breaking bread with people I'm learning to know. And yet, that doesn't happen all day long. Other times of the day, I become impatient. Or anxious. Or lazy. Or selfish. And I distance myself from that which I enjoy most. I don't act in the way of unconditional love or in gratitude. It's discouraging, frustrating, and more than a little exasperating because I feel like every time I make a step forward, I'm also taking a step back.

I keep thinking to myself, "Stop forgetting what you've learned, whether here or on the Camino". Remember! Don't forget!

At one point earlier this year, my spiritual director pointed out that perhaps I have it backwards. Perhaps I'm not forgetting what I've learned. Instead, I'm remembering all the wrong things. I'm acting reflexively, remembering all the things I've been taught throughout my life, by society, by stress, by bullies, by bigots. I'm remembering it all and I'm never forgetting.

Except when I'm on Camino.

Now, when I first walked the Camino in 2014, I, in fact, did carry all these things I was taught. I didn't ever mention my spouse's name, though I wore a wedding ring. In sharing his name, I would reveal my sexual orientation, and for some reason, like a stone in my backpack that weighed me down, I buried this and hid it from others. And for what benefit? Was I safer? I doubt it. For my reputation? I didn't know any of these people. Why?

It wasn't until that night in Melide when I realized that I wasn't giving space for the Holy Spirit to work in my life that I began to change how I walked the Camino. You can read about that day at "I Lost My Hat and Found My Head". I avoided Jim because he was different. I feared that he was a bigot, with scant evidence and certainly no benefit of the doubt. And in doing so, I was blocking the very messenger that God was sending me.

In walking differently, I started to leave behind those stones, leave behind the things that hurt me. I started to let the Camino, let God, let my fellow travelers protect me, care for me, and love me as I loved them. In that vulnerability, I traveled more simply, more lightly.

And in doing so, I was unlearning - forgetting - all the defense mechanisms and habits that weren't helping me but instead were holding me back.  I shed the memories of pain and hurt and just walked simply, one step at a time.

What my spiritual director noticed was that I remember who I really am when I'm on Camino. And when I do, people see me, feel me, trust me. They feel my love for them because I intentionally won't carry something that will hold me down.

I forget all the stony defenses so that I can remember who I am.

So that I can remember the Me of flesh and blood. The Me created in the image of God. The Me of spiritual craving and me of unending gratitude.

It's ironic, isn't it, that I remember most when I forget all that I've learned. That I had to learn to forget. That I have to learn that I must unlearn.

Perhaps that's why I started many of my camino days with this prayer attributed to Saint Francis. I should remember to say it every morning here at home... so that I can remember to forget.
Lord make me an instrument of your peace
Where there is hatred let me sow love
Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is doubt, faith
Where there is despair, hope
Where there is darkness, light
And where there is sadness, joy

Grant that I may
not so much seek to be consoled as to console
to be understood as to understand
To be loved as to love
For it is in giving that we receive
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned
And it's in dying that we are born to eternal life