May 21, 2012
Happy to report that Aimee and I have made it safely to Puenta La Raina – 19 kilometers from our starting point in Cizur Menor. We were up at 5am and on our way by 6. We arrived at our destination at 2pm and got a room at the albergue! It felt like great success to be out of the albergue first and arrive safely in town without feeling rushed. The trip was marked with light rain and mountain climbing…lots of mud and gratitude for walking sticks and waterproof boots.
Some of the things I admired today: wildflowers (especially the bright red poppies), the wind blowing in fields of grain (clearly God´s work), wind turbines atop the mountains spinning wildly, a wrought iron statue of people (and a dog!) walking along a super windy point (featured in The Way for those of you who have seen it), large rocks and gravel that made muddy paths more passable, a huge (we are talking 14 inches) worm inching his way along the path, black slugs dotting the dirt, a bunny hopping up the mountain (reminded me of Dwight as puppy), hot decaf followed by eggs and pizza in Utrega, finding an open pharmacy, the neon orange glasses (rimless bottoms) of a fellow pilgrim, getting a hot shower.
Today I find myself feeling a little more spaciousness. No great insights, no great questions, but some sense of peace.
Tonight we dine on bread and cheese in the albergue – a happy respite from the Pilgrim’s Menus and a chance to get a good to bed early.
PRESENT DAY REFLECTIONS
I remember this day of the Camino vividly. It was cool and damp the whole way and, probably as a result, we didn’t see too many other pilgrims along the path that day. Our boots and pants were covered in so much mud that we were slipping and sliding all over the place. At one point I remember looking over to Aimee and saying, “let’s maybe not tell Colin about this part of the trip.” Ha! It wasn’t, shall we say, ideal conditions for a pregnant lady to be hiking.
Despite the rain and cold and potentially treacherous conditions, I really did find myself feeling peaceful. There was one particularly steep decline where I remember shoving my walking sticks deep into the mud to guide me over the rocks down the mountainside. Windmills were rotating in the distance. It could have been scary, but it wasn’t. I felt a deep sense of trust that I was exactly where I was supposed to be. And when I read the pace of this journal entry – a list really of what I had seen and how it had touched me – that sense of spaciousness and gratitude come right back to me.
This journal entry reminds me of the power of naming what we appreciate. Gratitude expands our feelings of joy and happiness and peace. It is a gift to pause and praise that which is good. I think we experience the good on a deeper level when we do.
One simple way to practice this act is when you catch yourself feeling thankful, take a breath and notice where this gratitude sits in your body. Bring yourself into awareness of the physicality of this emotion and just let it wash over you. And keep moving.
Gratitude doesn’t just serve us when things are good. In my experience, there is no greater antidote to emotions that feels tough to swallow. Grief, anger, fear and sadness allow dissipate when gratitude is present. It is not always easy to tap into a feeling of thanks when the going gets tough, but in my experience it is a practice that allows for resilience – it allows you to be in the emotion and move through it. (Which is the only successful way to the other side that I’ve found.)
Keeping a “Gratitude Journal” is one great way to strengthen this muscle. I put air quotes around the idea of a “Gratitude Journal” because I don’t think this needs to be a leather-bound paper and pen experience. (Though it can be.) What I mean by a gratitude journal is a written tracking of things you praise. The three key components are 1) written, 2) tracking, and 3) praise.
Writing can be done with pens, markers, sticks and sand, or computers. Writing brings our bodies into the process and allows us to process beyond the noise of our heads. There is great value in that translation.
Tracking can be done in many different ways. Yes you can keep a traditional journal, but you could also track your thoughts electronically. Perhaps a folder on your computer filled with an document for each day. Or maybe you use a cloud-based tool like Evernote. You might just write your thought down on scraps of paper that commingle in a shoe box. The power of tracking is momentum. We build as we go. Our gratitude isn’t isolated and potentially lost. Instead it grows and expands over time.
Finally praise. Notice that I don’t think a gratitude journal comes out of feeling thankful. Feeling thankful is an emotional state that each of us may or may not be able to conjure up at a given point in time. It’s usually harder to do when the going gets tough. But praising put us in a state of action. We own it. And taking action can be incredibly powerful when we aren’t feeling good. And that usually makes it a little easier to tap into thanks no matter the circumstances.
Here’s to each of you looking out into the world and seeing what you can praise through your own unique lens.
ABOUT THE SERIES
My Pregnant Pilgrimage is a blog series that I’m sharing in the Spring of 2017 during my present-day maternity leave. The arrival of my third little seemed a fitting time to return to these journal reflections from those last months of my life pre-parenthood. Learn more about the inspiration for this series here.