The most basic message was this: slow down.
On the Camino, I learned and re-learned this message.
I tend to push in this life. I push my limits. I push and then push more. Before I walked this Camino, I did not even notice when I was pushing too hard. I didn’t even feel the limits. I wouldn’t even notice I was too tired until I was beyond help. By then the air around my life was filled with tension and pain, creating havoc and more negative impact on those around me. That is the fallout in pushing, the fallout in relationships and in our own lives.
Sunday I found myself stuck in that push again. I had had a good day. But had had some things happen at the close of my Sunday that left me frustrated. I was tired and discouraged. I went home. I decided to cook. This should have been a clue that something was going on. For in reality, I was tired and there was no need to cook. I didn’t just cook one thing, nope, I ended up cooking three or four things. And by the time Karen got home, I was not only exhausted, and tired, and frustrated from the day, but I was angry with myself as well, caught now in the midst of all this kitchen upheaval. Like pigpen from the old Snoopy cartoon, there must have been a cloud around me. Karen felt it. It pushed her into the corner.
Sunday night Gabri and Grace came over, and we had this amazing, intense, honest conversation. By the time I went to bed, there was no push left but a sharp pain was coursing its way down my left leg. I couldn’t get to sleep for a couple hours.
In talking with my coach I described how on the Camino I would shed my shoes and socks every three hours to rub down my feet, and how I was trying to do that here. “But it needs to be different here, doesn’t it?” My coach asked. “On the camino you were resting from walking, but here, when you’re mostly sitting, perhaps the discipline is not to shed those shoes but to wear them, and to get out and walk, even if just around the block. Get outside.” Such a good way to “slow down.”
I took this push with me to Spain. Hike up that hill? No big deal. Keep going, push beyond my limits? Ok! Talk with someone all day. Alright. But then new limits presented themselves. Limits of energy — I awoke tired many mornings. Perhaps you remember the post where I shouted, “I cannot take another step.” Limits of space within — I began to crave silence. Limits of physical ability. On the second day my left calf seized up. By the fourth day, I was walking with a limp, for the muscle and popped. Then I met up with an Osteopathic Doctor at one of the albergues. She had brought her acupuncture needles with her and offered to treat me. Her treatment helped release the bound up tension in that leg muscle. It felt better.
For the next five days I walked with a good friend, Nannette, and did not realize until after we got separated, when I stopped for two nights in Santillana del Mar, that she had helped me slow down. I left Santillana del Mar at dawn, hours later walked for a bit with Mark from Australia, whom I had seen a week earlier. He inquired about my leg. I told him about the treatment I had received, and how it had been fine since then. We separated not long after this conversation and within an hour my leg began to seize up again.
I prayed and asked what the message was, and God was clear, “It is to help you slow down.”
“Oh, right.” I responded.
My first Sunday home, November 13th, Paige Flanagan gave the children’s message using a clear backpack and talked to the kids about what kinds of things I needed on my journey. Then she wondered if maybe there were other emotions traveling with me that weighed me down. And now that I am back, how no one wants me to carry anything but what is mine. And how I need to have this clear backpack, so that it is obvious when I am carrying something that doesn’t belong in it.
It was a message about the things we all carry with us, but it took me a whole day before I realized that she was speaking to me, to be careful what I took on! It was an echo: slow down.
It was Monday, after this most recent Sunday, that I saw that clear Huggies backpack again in my office, and realized how many things I had in essence been stuffing into it. I took them out. I slowed down. I wrote. I breathed. I prayed. I walked.
When I reached Ireland and the beautiful cottage where I lived for 18 days, I relished the time and space. It was a leisurely life of prayer, meals, exercise, and painting. Don’t rush through this, I reminded myself. “Breathe in the fresh Irish mornings,” a friend had told me. One day I sat beside the bay and painted outdoors. It was a crisp, clear day, birds flew about me, while I sat on that rock there breathing in the Irish air.
What an image that is in my heart of “slowing down.”
There are so many demands for time, for story, for life, as I live here. But again and again I am reminded to slow down, either because I have pushed too far, too fast, too long, or because I remember in advance, to slow down. So perhaps I might learn this.
My wife has led at three funerals in the past two weeks. Yesterday the family wanted to watch as the casket got lowered into the vault. Talk about a picture of “slowing down” or a “dead end!” But as she described this, I really don’t want to have to die to learn this. Perhaps I could actually learn it while I am alive, and change how I live.
I’m keeping the backpack holding only what is essential and slowing down.