(“ALT BLiR BRA!” = Everything’s going to be fine!)

The 31st leg of the virtual Camino.


Today our guide gives us insight into the pilgrim experience in the 12th century. The threats from the elements, from other humans – from viruses and other plagues. There is a lot we take for granted. And a lot we mistake as necessities.

Like a morning cup of coffee, talisman against a grumpy mood.

While drinking my coffee, I was listening to a podcast about “ganning“. The Saami version of a hex, or the evil eye, or whatever name the practice falls under anywhere in the world: the scapegoating for misfortune. We’ve a secular version of the practice, too. Someone we’ve bumped into has cursed our day, is responsible for our mood – which caused our stubbed toe or our burned palate. It is always someone else’s fault – someone is out to get us.

I read an associated article on the website. It was written by a sociologist who said something things about the ancient Saami culture need to be abandoned. I’m not one for promoting witch hunts, but I’m thinking there might be something important to be learned from a formal system for the attribution of blame. Such a thing can be mediated. Arbitrated. Maybe even judged. At least with a formal attribution the absurdity of the accusation can be faced squarely, and dealt with.

Instead I go on grumbling about my students, or my step-kids, or the neighbor’s rooster as the cause of all my woes. Maybe the first step to taking responsibility is actually externalizing the problem: why am I using this person (or rooster) to punish myself?

Today I’m appreciating the synchronicity. “My students are driving me crazy,” I think. Like they have the time to bother with that. The energy to spare.

On Fridays, after the workday I usually listen to a recorded meditation by Jen Louden. Today she talks about making a truce with your God, or gods or the universe.

Synchronicity.

I don’t know what I believe in exactly, but I believe in metaphors as tools for dealing with the truly ineffable.

I believe in the power of formal systems to identify what moves us – in productive and destructive directions – in prayer, in hope, in forgiveness and in absolution. I may have fancy collapsible hiking poles, Gore tex shoes and Merino wool underwear, but at least I have those other things in common with the pilgrims of the 12th Century.

The 30th leg of the Camino.


For three years I wore only black. Black pants, black t-shirts, black dresses, black socks, black shoes. It made my busy mornings easy. Most days at work I am literally rolling on the floor, so it was also practical.

The funny thing is – I don’t think anyone noticed.

Yeah, I don’t know if that is funny.  At any rate, I woke up one day two summers ago and wanted a pair of harem pants. I craved colors and patterns. I craved playfulness. Now my closet is overflowing again.

I have moved so many times in my life that I have stripped down to the essentials over and over. And I have lost essentials, too. Noting the loss matters, though. I continually mourn for these things – not forgotten in the back of a drawer – but physically gone.

Don’t lost things take on a significance they could not otherwise obtain?

I read that Kondo book until I got to the sentence where she said if you do come to need something that you are thinking to throw out now, you can always buy a new one later.

No.

That is not that philosophy I am looking for.

I’m coming to understand that simplicity for me doesn’t mean fashionable minimalism. It doesn’t mean living in a tiny home, cute as they are, with those custom furniture pieces. There seems something extravagant to me about selling my home and finding an affordable plot of land on which to put a tiny house – a location that would allow me access to legal sewage, public transportation and within walking distance to a grocery. That kind of simple is a lot of work. And a kind of privilege. And maybe for single people who don’t have 80 pound hounds.

Maybe for me simplicity is about embracing the routine; about finding the familiar strange and interesting; about finding perspectives – and nudging the edges instead of stripping to the essentials. About wanting what I have.

There is a simple joy in ornamentation. A simple pleasure in in a room full of books.

I’ll be sorting through my closet this week. I’m not going to ask myself what sparks joy, but what causes me distress. I’ll pack those things into cardboard boxes. The local charities are overrun with secondhand fast-fashion right now.  So I will stick the boxes in the attic. And if after a year or so,  I have not missed them, I’ll try to find a simple solution for my excess – one that doesn’t make someone else my sin-eater.

Nothing is simple. But I will keep working on it:

I have a yard. I’m planting a garden.

Something tells me that whole endeavor will be a kind of complex simplicity, too.

 

 

 

The 29th leg av the Camino.


I have always been fascinated by the sacred.

I must have been about 8 when my friend and I climbed the brick fence behind our babysitter’s apartment complex and visited the Catholic church. It was unlocked on a weekday morning.

It was also empty. And since all either of us knew about Catholic church was what we had seen on television, we thought it would be fine to “play” church. When the priest showed up I really couldn’t understand his fury. We were in no way intending to be sacrilegious – or even naughty.

Up until that point – up until the shaming – I’d wanted to be Catholic. I’d wanted the ritual that seemed to be a kind of manifestation of belonging. In the Baptist church the pastor sometimes called us a “flock”, but people certainly didn’t treat one another as though they belonged.

There was nothing very special about us. No incense, no wine. We had grape juice and crackers once a month. And Grandpa fell asleep just like he did in his chair at home in front of the television. No one responded with hallelujah, no one shook like the Shakers, and no one talked in tongues.

That’s not true. Once a woman did, and my grandfather and the other deacons escorted her out, and the pastor apologized on her behalf. He said she’d been under stress. Then he went back to his sermon.

Church was white – in so many ways – White. Straight pews and straight hemlines. And it smelled of Lysol and White Shoulders perfume. The pastor wore a suit and looked the the insurance salesmen who’d shown up at Grandma’s mobile home. Crumpled. Sweaty.

In college I was in a production of The Lark. We carried candles and incense and chanted, and I fainted. The following year, another production with Gregorian chanting and candles. I fainted again. No wonder I connected the theater with the sacred long before I had read about Artaud or Grotowski and other people looking for the sacred in the storytelling space.

When I was very young – too young to remember – my mother belonged to a Quaker congregation. Or at least that was a story I knew. I tried to find a home in a Quaker community just a few years ago, but staring in silence for 45 minutes is not a great choice for someone with bipolar tendencies: a small doll set on a little Shaker chair across the room began moving for me, and it took me months to get my feet back on the ground. My doctor suggested neither Quaker silence nor a Buddhist retreat would be a good idea anytime in the near future.

I suppose, in a way, this is a sacred story:

I run on the trails. I stop and listen. This is my church now. My cathedrals and chapels. I notice – without learning the names of things by rote. I squat to pee in the scrub pines and take note of the unfurling fern of some sort – nothing delicate about it. It’s thick and dark and wet. Simultaneously I see the Alien creature folded in on itself, and a fetus unfolding. Life is a mystery, and always frightening. It’s smells can make you dizzy. Can make you wretch. Can make you acutely aware of want.

This might be the fear that the sweaty pastor G. was always talking about. The awe that made the people in the Bible tremble.

Maybe this is my only hope for a Sangha. Congregation. Prayer. Meditation. Writing.

My bared butt in the breeze, knowing there are snakes in the rocks nearby. Maybe this is my only true sacred story?