The Origin

17 June 2023

There is a Camino called A Orixe, which starts on the far west coast of Spain.

It is the pilgrimage route that follows the journey of the body of St James the Apostle of Christ, or Santiago the Apostle, after his martyrdom in Jerusalem to his final resting place in Santiago de Compostela.
 

It's starting point on the coast begins amongst the rocky beaches and cliffs of west coast Spain, where there is now a only a desolate, disused lighthouse and a few decaying outbuildings. Seagulls sail the winds and swoop to catch fish. The wind blows wildly and whistles around the ruins.
 

The path, a simple grassy track, follows the coast to the tiny port of Corrubedo, and on to Ribeira harbour town, where mussel beds are farmed, large sea vessels come and go and there is an abundance of tiny rock and sand, seaweed strewn beaches.


It feels like the end of the Earth.


Walking A Orixe is a very different experience to the longer and more well known Camino routes. It is peaceful. It is a reminder of the immanence of death, of endings and of beginnings.


It feels good to conclude my time in Spain here. Reflecting on life and death, arisings and passings, the nature of all things.

St James lived long ago, knew Christ and devoted his life to helping others to hear the Dhamma and practise to free their hearts from suffering, separation, alienation from the Dhamma.

Coming away, the aspiration to appreciate and to follow his example is an abiding blessing of the Camino.

The Santiago Phenomenon

11 June 2023

Arriving at Santiago de Compostela on Friday, a steady stream of pilgrims, most super fit but also some strapped ankles, knees, limping and hobbling, even some crutches in use . . . coming to the end of weeks or months on the Way.

At present, more than 2,000 arrive each day. In the summer months of July and August, it is much busier I'm told. At the Pilgrim's Office we are received and given certificates, including the traditional Latin document of blessing, signed by the Dean of the Cathedral.

Many attend Mass in the Cathedral. There are three or more a day. After each Mass the benediction is given with the giant incense holder packed with frankincense hoisted up and swung high, the length of the apses, pouring out scented smoke to bless us all. Six or more strong men in gorgeous purple velvet robes perform this sacred task. It is awesome.


There are groups from every European country to welcome arrivals. Masses given in each language. And afterwards the offer to stay on and connect, share experiences.


This remarkable pilgrimage phenomenon is growing. How many Camino pilgrims are spiritual seekers or practitioners? To put on boots and a backpack and walk many miles each day is one way to meditate, seek God, make peace, practise letting go, release into nibbana.


Reflecting on the lifestyle Teachings of the Buddha and Jesus . . . They wandered far and wide. They had no fixed abode.


Why?


The mindful strive diligently in the practice,

They leave home and do not delight in an abode; Just like wild geese leaving nests again and again,

They abandon all cravings


Dhammapada verse 91


Those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.


Gospel of St Luke 14:33


It helps to have just this much and to move. It certainly helps.

Sacred Spaces

7 June 2023

So many sacred places on the Camino, which is really a path from church to church . . . to shrine, to hermitage, cathedral, monastery . . . tree Temple, well, memorial, fountain . . .

And, joining the dots of each human-made holy place, the realisation starts to dawn . . . that the human heart is creating sacred spaces out of that which nature offers freely and always.
 

That the entire Way is sacred. Every stone, flower, field, cloud, every breath, step, surge of emotion, thought . . .
 

How is it to recognise the holiness in all things? The wholeness.
 

What does it take? Perhaps simply a willingness to be present, to be open to the moment. To let go of leaning into the future or the past.
 

We have the choice to live in the glory, the Kingdom, to know the holiness here and now. Or we can turn away from the brightness and beauty and joy of it all and distract into the sense of control, personal agenda, past, future, anywhere but Here.
 

What to choose? Now? And now?

Galicia

3 June 2023

The Camino wends it way along country lanes, up hills topped with heather and huge wind turbines, across ancient stone bridges, past many a Christian shrine, small chapels, great old churches and yesterday the baroque glory of the cathedral of Mondoñedo.

There are the horreos, grain storage barns on stilts in every village in Galician style, small and with pointed roofs - cows, sheep, goats, turkeys, geese and cockerels, countless birds and flies, crickets, ants, slugs and snails on the wet roads. 

Today we had thunder and lightening and showers, with black skies and beams of sunlight filtering through. From spring to the lush early summer heat and humidity, the Camino opens into nature at every turn, including the human creations of house, street and town, factory and farm. 

All revealing the characteristics of change, of the connectedness of all things - of Dhamma, the way it is.

The Sea

29 May 2023 

The Camino is soon turning from the coast, south to Santiago. Last days now of beaches, rocky islands, crashing waves and gentle inlets.

Many pilgrims choose to walk alone in silence. Me too. To be able to watch the mind reflecting the Way, learn the lessons of nature. 

The sea has been my teacher all my life. Since I can remember, as a family we either lived on the beach or near enough to spend countless days on sea or ocean shores. I sat for hours watching the tides and wrote poems to the sea as a teenager. 

The sea has taught me so much. About change, the restlessness and constant movement of this world, the rise and fall of all things, it's inevitability. The inexorable power and process of nature, always but always following the laws of cause and effect. 

What is the sea teaching me now? 

I often hear judgement and blame around climate change and the daily disasters already underway of species loss, devastated habitats, surging temperatures, homeless communities . . . 

Is it our fault? Is humanity a failed experiment? What's wrong with us? Why can't we do more to change course? 

The sea tells me a different tale. 

It speaks of the way, of harmony, of cycles, the natural ebb and flow of all things. It wears away the jagged edges of frustration, anger and despair. It compassionately smoothes into a different way of seeing. It shows how everything is happening just as it should. That it couldn't possibly do otherwise. And that all is well. All is well.

The goodness of people

 23 May 2023

There 23 May 2023would be no Camino for this mendicant pilgrim without huge generosity and kindness from so many friends. The support from good people is a constant source of uplift and inspiration.

The daily alms round brings joy, every time people stop to greet me, offer money (politely refused with an explanation that I'm able to receive food only) and bring thoughtful offerings of healthy energising supplies. 

There was the gentlemen who tried to give me money and, when he heard that I was collecting alms food, ushered me into the panateria/bakery and invited me to choose. "Más, más," he kept saying . . . "Have more, some more," then insisted I get cakes and a drink too. It made me laugh out loud. All afternoon I had a smile on my face and a glow of gratitude in the heart. 

And Jorge the faith healer who came out of the supermarket in his work overalls, saw us and promptly gave us his lunch before heading back to buy more for himself. Then later that day, when we saw him again in the next town, invited us to stay overnight in his friendly shared apartment. 

Jan who let me camp at the closed Alberque, made tea and offered hot showers . . . 

Giulia and Flo who welcomed us in for breakfast, rescuing us from a downpour . . . and who later took us all the way inland to visit the very special Santo Toribio de Liébana monastery where the holy relic of the cross of Christ is kept (https://www.santotoribiodeliebana.es/)

. . . and then offered us a delicious restaurant meal . . . 

Anna's warm Dutch hospitality . . . 

The families, women, men offering so generously an abundance of good food . . . 

Vicki's great kindness and support while she was with us . . . and Kim's . . . 

And the great generosity of so many offerings of Dana for requisites of shelter, medicine and clothing as well as food . . . 

May the blessings of all this goodness bring great fruits!

This is inevitable without wishing it to be so. As we chant in response to the meal offerings each day, the Buddha declared the results of generosity - happiness, long life, strength, beauty and good reputation. 

As monastics we get to open up the field of generosity and see how truly abundant is the human capacity to help, share and offer kindness. 

The goodness of people is the refuge of Sangha, blessing the world day after day.

Ever changing Camino

18 May 2023

Entering into second half of el Camino del Norte, the body is ready to walk each day. There's a level of fitness that feels like being young again.

I'm grateful for the many churches every day. These are such havens for the monastic camper and islands of tranquillity along the Way. 

Walking through the town of Villaviciosa yesterday, a peaceful sit in the beautiful old church, Eglesia de Santa Maria de la Oliva, contrasted with the bustling energy and diversity of the town. It felt good to walk out of town, along the river and away, and return to the simplicity of nature. 

For me, el Camino is above all a walking meditation practice. Seeing the scenes flowing by, getting to observe all the manifestations of life along the Way. How they are revealing anicca, anatta, dukkha in every moment. 

The intention is for every step to be an offering for peace, for kindness and well being for all. This is not difficult when all of nature seems to me to be dancing with joy. It is truth. It is beauty. It is a gift of abundance.

The Way

14 May 2023

A month into the Camino. It feels like an immersion into nature and at times also into community life.

The many albergues, hostels, posadas, hotels and camping places around churches, hermitages and beaches offer either silence and solitude or rich social interactions. It's good to experience the contrasts between company and contemplation alone in nature. 

I'm grateful to friends Giulia and Anna for opening their homes and hearts to pilgrims day after day and providing havens to all. And to the Spanish people who feed us, dropping bread and fruit, biscuits and chocolate and so much else into our bowls, keeping us well fed for long walks each day. 

Lying on a grassy hilltop listening to the surf roaring below me, gentle ringing of cattle bells and lowing of mothers calling their calves, the birds nesting as the last light leaches from the western sky, this pilgrim is home, where the heart is, blessed by Camino and the letting go of everything but this, just this.

Monastic Family

10 May 2023

I have been so blessed these last few days, with the great company of Ayyā Anopama and with encounters with monastic Sangha here on el Camino.

We have been walking a sacred stretch of the north coast of Spain, visiting Cistercian Brothers in their beautiful monastery in Cobreces and our most Venerable Discalced Carmelite Sisters at La Iglesia. Both communities warmly welcomed us, fed us and sheltered us with such love and kindness we felt like we were having family reunions, meeting good old friends, at home. 

Attending the services, sitting in resonant silence in the sacred spaces and receiving the blessings of the Holy lives being offered in these places has lifted us and refreshed us. Huge gratitude and love for Sangha. Thanks be to God, the Way of practice, our shared life of opening to the Dhamma🙏🏾

Wesak Day on the Camino

5 May 2023

Celebrating Wesak wandering in nature, I've been hearing teachings and contemplating the years of struggle before the Buddha's enlightenment.

Struggling with the buffeting winds of desire and aversion, even in the midst of such beauty on the coastal Camino . . . I'm full of gratitude to the Buddha for his courage and perseverance in the relentless search for the way out of suffering.

Taking inspiration from his life story this Wesak Day, there's so much encouragement to make effort now . . . to practice restraint and see the mind's movements of wanting and not wanting as Dhammas arising and passing . . . no more compelling , no more personal than the sea breezes, the passing clouds, or the waves on the seashore.

The beautiful Camino

1 May 2023

I am writing from a peaceful room in a small hamlet, Rioseco de Guriezo, between Bilbao and Santander in northern Spain. 

The Camino is a treasure, offering pilgrimage to all. The route is marked all the way with yellow arrows and encouraging signposts and occasional information boards. Local people greet the backpacking pilgrims with a "Buen Camino" and a smile. 

The routine is one of of getting up early, packing the gear and walking to a place for alms round, collecting and sharing the food, then resting and drying out damp tents, sleeping bags and clothes . .  Then onward in the afternoon till late evening, when the Way is quiet, until dusk, when it's time to pitch the tent again in a quiet spot. 

Thanks to so many generous donations received, every few days there's a night in a bed to rest and replenish before setting off again.

The days in nature, day after day, are soothing and peaceful, naturally opening the heart and mind to the Dhamma that is all around and within us.

One step at a time.

This breath.

Simple awareness can appreciate every emotion, thought and feeling as it is and allow reality to flow without hindrance. 

It blesses all beings every step of the Way, sees the beauty abounding, offers peace and well being for all.

Twists and turns along the Way

26 April 2023

What is Camino?

Is it doggedly following the Way?

Or is it a constant opening to the reality of uncertainty?

Can we adapt, every moment, to the current conditions?

Surf the waves of change?

We have had a remarkable chance to explore the meaning of pilgrimage as dear friend Vicki, at the end of our day of walking in the rain on Sunday, slipped on a wet slope, dislocated her right ankle and broke her right leg.

Help soon arrived in the form of a nearby young couple, a crew of firefighters, two policemen, and two paramedics with ambulance. Vicki was strapped on a stretcher and lifted up the steps and we were whisked off to the local trauma hospital in Galdakao, a little further along the Camino.

Two days later, after surgery and recovery time, we were out and adapting with crutches and a wheelchair to a whole new Camino in Bilbao - meeting friend Kim from California and reconnecting with Ayyā Anopama - the four of us staying together in an apartment thanks to Kim's good friend Elan.

A time now to relax, wash clothes, do alms rounds in the city, visit the Guggenheim museum and enjoy friendship in beautiful Bilbao . . .

From coast to farming valleys to forested hills

21 April 2023

The pilgrimage/tudong begins to flow. This Camino is so supportive of simplicity - with hostels, camping places, water taps and toilets offered for the pilgrims and at every turn, the yellow arrows pointing the Way. 

From the cool breezes and beaches of the coast to the green springtime farming valleys with their wild flowers and huge farmsteads to the high hills of eucalyptus, pine, and fresh leaves oaks and birches . . . The path winds on in the form of gravel tracks, ancient stone ways, muddy trails,  narrow footpaths. 

The days flow together and time is measured by the sun. Cold mornings and hot afternoons. Sleeping under taverna eaves, in our tents, in bunk beds in shared hostel spaces, with new friends in their town apartment . . . No two nights the same, the only constant the ever changing Way and all it brings, it's blessings, the energy of pilgrimage, of letting go of all but this momentary experience. 

Aching joints and a happy heart

16 April 2023

The tudong practice in northern Spain begins . . .

From a 24 hour coach journey from London to Paris to Hendaye . . . to a rainy day in Irun with mist over the daunting hills ahead . . .

. . . up and down hills, along the coast, fortresses and fishing towns, the sound of seagulls and the wind through bamboo groves.

The greetings of "Buen Camino" from kind local people, meditating in churches, making friends every day, the blessings and gladness of the Way already filling the heart.

My friend Vicky's companionship and generosity a warm glow in the heart day and night.

The sacred everywhere. Every smile, meeting, breath - a gift and a benediction.

Gratitude.

Donations towards Ayya's requisites 

of food, shelter, medicine and travel 

gratefully received

here

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