First Tarot Reading

I received the Oceanic Tarot by Jayne Wallace as a Christmas present from one of my sons. It’s a beautiful deck that appeals to my love of water and swimming, and it provides simple, positive explanations for each of the cards. This morning I did my first reading with it.

In fact, it was the first reading I’ve ever done. Even though the tarot has always fascinated me, I’ve only used individual cards as writing prompts, and I’ve never taken the time to learn the symbolism or history behind them.

My interpretation of this three-card reading, which pertains to past, present, and future, is the following:

I need to let go of the guilt I feel about taking a semester off from teaching English. Devoting time to healing from depression, regaining my energy, spending time with family and friends, and completing my current poetry project are more than worthy endeavors–following this path is lifesaving, at least for now.

Time for reflecting on my relationship with my father and also with all the people I met on the Camino will help me finish the poems I’ve been writing for the last three and a half years.

Time for practicing yoga, reading about Ayurveda, balancing my doshas.

Time for writing in community with fellow poets online–

Thank you to Dave Bonta and Kelli Agodon for continuous motivation and opportunities for building online friendships.

Fourth Leg of the Journey-to-Somewhere Poem

Whenever I think of the word “NaPoWriMo” I confuse the write part with rhyme. I hear it as NaPoRhyme–O. I would like to get rid of the National part of this abbreviated term, because the word national has taken on sinister connotations in the era we are now living in. Poet Dave Bonta calls it  “(Inter-) National Poetry Month,” which I find much more inclusive and holistic.

In the spirit of my rhyme-O confusion, I’m continuing my just-for-the-fun-of-it rhyme scheme, trying not to censor myself. Here are today’s eight lines, still following the ABACCBCA scheme:

4.

Today I found the plaster Virgin with Child,
Her mountaintop avatar wound with plastic rosary beads
Left in offering. Gentle Jesus, meek and mild,
My father taught me to pray, but the incantations didn’t stick,
Maybe because of the good swift kick
He said I needed, and then gave, seeds
Of my future rebellions– Wiccan symbols, Celtic
Knots I traced in the dirt at Mary’s feet, the wind wild.

If you want to read the first three stanzas, go here and here.

The setting of this journey poem is the Camino de Santiago in the Pyrenees.

Poems about Pilgrimage

After finishing another online poetry workshop with fabulous writer, poet, and teacher Jenn Givhan, I find myself still steeped in the creative process.

Jenn’s narrative poetry prompts at Poetry Barn gave me the nudge I needed to start writing about my experiences this past summer on the Camino de Santiago.

I had started writing a prose travelogue about my first pilgrimage in 2015, and had gotten almost three quarters of the way done, but the project derailed after my father’s prolonged illness in 2015 and his passing in April, 2016.

And then the 2016 elections took place.

I found that I couldn’t go back to my prose writing after these personal and societal upheavals. So I returned to Spain to take another long walk, this time with a portion of my father’s ashes in my backpack. These are the poems I’ve been writing.

Because I’m in a poetry writing mode, I’ve stayed quiet on my blog and in my personal life, but in an effort to be a part of a literary and writing community, I’m going to post here more frequently, sharing the books, paintings, and travels  that inspire me.

Dad in Spain

My dad in Spain, 1984. My parents came to visit me at the end of my year of study in Madrid. My mom took the photo. I’m in shadows. All you can see are my legs.

Albergue Verde 

I’ve found a little slice of heaven in Hospital de Orbigo–the Green Hostel, located on the edge of town. 

For the first time since I arrived in Spain I took a yoga class here. We arranged our mats in a circle in the garden while the teacher played music on a drum he called a hand pan and led us through a meditation on the breath and on sounds.

Even though my foot was hurting, I could feel myself relax. Birds sang in the trees, sounds and smells of cooking came from the kitchen, and voices of people across the garden drifted by. Thunder murmured vaguely in the distance. 

Later we ate a vegan meal made mostly with ingredients that the hospitaleros (innkeepers) grow in their greenhouse: chard pesto, carrot purée, lentil hummus, roast squash, peppers, and mushrooms, and salad. 

The yoga teacher and owner played the guitar for us before the meal began, a song about being happy and loving. How could I feel discouraged here?

In the evening the western sun lit up the last of the storm clouds. People formed small groups in the garden to talk about their day. I rested in a hammock with an ice pack on my foot. Nuria, a nurse from Spain who’s walking the Camino, told me I probably just have muscle and tendon pain from over use. 

Today I’m going to the doctor to get her advice about my foot. I’ve lightened my pack as much as I can, and I’m hoping that tomorrow I can walk a short distance. I’m planning the rest of my pilgrimage around a list of vegetarian albergues on the way, so if I’m able to walk,  those are the places where I’ll stay.

If the doctor thinks I have a stress fracture, I’ll take the train to Santiago and then the bus to the beach. I’ve also found some hot springs in Ourense.

Later today I’ve offered to help with the meal preparations. 

Over Halfway Done … In

Today I’m wondering why I’m doing this Camino for a second time. News from home has been emotional, making me wish I were there to be a support. 

My foot hurts, possibly from over use or from carrying too much weight in my pack. I’m hoping it’s not a stress fracture. 

The mattress in this albergue is flat, and I can feel the metal bar from the bed frame under my back. 

The sun at 7 is still very hot. It’s a searing, dry heat.  After 10 or 11 in the morning, the sun is too strong to walk.

 I want to quit! 

Burgos 

I’ve been staying in a hotel in Burgos for a few days to rest up. Right now it’s 10 am and I’m sitting in a cafe across from the municipal hostel.  

 People from all over the world are here having cafe con leche before they begin their day’s walk or start exploring the city. Others are having a coffee after putting their backpacks in a line to hold their place for a bed in the hostel. At eight euros a night, the spots fill quickly.  

 I had “café con leche grande con doble la leche,” a large latte with double the milk, and “tostada con tomate,” a slice of homemade bread toasted and served with olive oil and fresh tomato sauce. 

The body’s needs come to the fore on the Camino. While walking, I often think about what I’ll order at the next small town–sparkling mineral water, fresh orange juice, espresso, potato omelette, empanada, bocadillo (a kind of sandwich served on a baguette or a small thin roll).

Two children from Ireland are sitting near me while their parents sit outside. When I asked them if they liked the Camino, they said that their favorite part was the breaks! I told them that many of us feel the same way.

But pilgrims’ bodies give us other messages besides hunger and thirst. Many of us hobble into towns with blisters, strange insect bites, swollen knees, sore backs or shoulders, and colds. 

Today I’m resting and drinking tons of water. My nose is irritated from having a cold and being outside all day in the wind. It’s raining here, 48 degrees. A good day to write, sleep, and hang out at Babia. 

What Living Out of a Backpack for 6 Weeks Has Taught Me

This past weekend S.A. and I drove to Florida to pack up his mother’s belongings and ship them to the assisted living apartment she moved to in Chicago.

She told us she wanted all of her clothes, but after stuffing a garment bag and five suitcases with all the items we could manage, many racks of evening gowns, dresses, skirts, blouses, wraps, bags, and shoes remained, so we made the decision to give her lifetime collection of finery to charity.

I hoisted her beautifully arranged outfits into industrial-sized garbage bags and with the help of one of my MIL’s neighbors,  drove them to a local thrift store that services the homeless and veterans. Other bags went to Goodwill, and others to Salvation Army.

I felt sad to see my MIL’s artfully selected skirts and blouses crammed into bags. Why didn’t she give some of this clothing away over the years? Now that she’s older, she stays  in her muumuu most of the day, and when she goes to the grocery she puts on the same sweater and frayed pants.

On the Camino, I had to pare down my belongings because of the weight. To keep my pack under 15 pounds, I had only one pair of spare shoes in addition to my boots, four shirts (two too many by the standards of micro-lightweight packers), one pair of thermal Smartwool leggings to wear as pajamas and as pants for the evening, three pairs of underwear, two sports bras, and four pairs of socks.

I will admit that when I walked around the streets of Pamplona, Burgos, and Leon in the evenings, cities that the Camino passes through, I felt somewhat oafish compared to the neatly dressed Spanish women out on the streets with their beaus or their families. But walking the Camino is a lesson in humility if nothing else. I had to let go of my vanity if I was going to make the distance to Santiago.

One of my Camino  friends, Carolina,  a lovely blonde  from Brazil, said that when she arrived in Santiago she would treat herself to a dress and some make up as a way to celebrate and restore her sense of beauty.

I ended up finding a nice summer dress on one of the main streets of the historic part of town  in Santiago, and it has become my main dress. I took it to the beach and to the mountains, I’ve worn it to almost every poetry reading I’ve attended this summer in Atlanta, and I might even bring it on my next pilgrimage–it’s lightweight,  dries quickly, and can be worn over my thermal leggings.

Decatur Book Festival, photo by Lisa N. Allender. I'm wearing my Camino dress bought in Santiago at the end of my pilgrimage.

Decatur Book Festival, photo by Lisa N. Allender. I’m wearing my Camino dress bought in Santiago at the end of my pilgrimage.

Before emptying out my MIL’s condo I had already begun the process of paring down my own belongings. I’ve had to face my proclivity to hoard books. I have them piled up next to my bed, stacked on shelves in every room, and even stored in boxes in the garage. I’ve donated many of them to Goodwill and other organizations, and I will bring others to the library.

But giving away or selling possessions is only a physical manifestation of other more important aspects of my life that I need to give away. Just as I let go of my vanity on the Camino, at least for the most part, now I’m working on letting go of fear and anxiety.

If I feel a vague twinge of negative energy, my tendency is to tell myself a story that gives me a concrete reason to worry. So these stories are what I’m going to let go. I’m letting go of fear. First I will give fear a gentle squeeze on the shoulder, then I will pat it on the back and wish it a safe journey. Goodbye, old friend, buen viaje.

With a lighter load, I go on my next walk.

The North Jetty on Casey Key, Nokomis, FL.

The North Jetty on Casey Key, Nokomis, FL.

My True Home

My true home is life itself. My true home is the here and the now.

–Thich Nhat Hanh

Kennesaw, Spring 2015

Kennesaw, Spring 2015

Filed under the label stuff I tell myself is the adage that we shouldn’t postpone our happiness.

When I came home from the Camino, my heart was cracked wide open from the effort of walking by myself from the Pyrenees in France to Santiago de Compostela in Spain.

A woman whose heart has cracked open looks like this: she cries over the littlest things, or she experiences sympathetic joy (not the typical jealousy or envy she used to feel); she’s in tender mode; she’s patient with those who still don’t know they are on a pilgrimage.

Because we are all on a pilgrimage, whether we know it or not.

Lately, though, I had been postponing my happiness and slowly I felt my heart begin to harden. I had been caring for my mother-in-law for a month and a half, and walking had become an escape from the fact of her constant presence in the house. Rather than walking to reconnect with myself, I was walking to escape.  I was postponing my peace of mind until the day she would go to Chicago.

I found myself already planning my next pilgrimage to France without having fully processed and integrated my recent journey to Spain. An escape maybe?

But I have found comfort and redirection in the words of one of our time’s greatest sages,  Thich Nhat Hanh, a world-renowned Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk who has helped refugees and war victims recover from their trauma through mindfulness meditation.

In his audiobook titled Living Without Stress  or Fear, Thich Nhat Hanh explains how mindful walking can reconnect us with the present moment, the only moment where life takes place. He suggests while walking to breathe in and think “I have arrived,” and on the exhale to think “I am home.”

Mindful walking does not have any outward destination in mind, but rather it is inward. When we reconnect with the simple act of breathing and walking,  we rediscover happiness in the present moment. That’s how it works for me, and it works for others, too.

Today while walking I also let my mind drift to the many refugees that are trying to escape Syria by any means possible, whether on foot or by makeshift boats. I dedicated my walk to them, wishing that they find inner peace as well as a means of escaping the physical threats they are under. We can’t experience inner peace while our very lives are under attack. They have to find a way out of danger.

And so I felt much gratitude for having the freedom to step out of my house and walk, with my only goal to connect with the ease of my breath, the ease of being. Walking is not an act that we can take for granted. Connecting to the joy of being alive is what I am grateful for today.

Camino Life Lessons

S.A. and I are still in the Berkshires, but our sons, who drove up for the week with the dogs, have now left for home.

We’re staying a week longer with Katherine to help her with her house and her decision to sell it. Since she’s in her eighties and does not use the Internet, she needs our assistance. The world has evolved from looking for real estate agents in the phone book, alas. 

After our sons left, I felt so alone. I went for a walk up Cone Hill Rd, but after an hour in the sun and fresh air, some of the sadness drifted off and sailed into the approaching clouds. 

On the Camino people were constantly entering and leaving my life. Even though it wasn’t the same as missing my dear sons, I still felt the joy of seeing old friends and the pang of sadness at our leave taking.

Each day on the pilgrimage had a different tenor, and after a while I learned to accept whatever the day brought. 

After reaching Sarria, where many routes converge and the number of pilgrims increases, I listened to the wisdom of a longtime pilgrim who said, “After Sarria, the Camino changes. It becomes a giant picnic where people are out for a good time. You have to adjust.”

Instead of feeling irritated at the maurading teens on the path with their iPhones piping in pop music, I opened myself up to a new experience without judging myself or others. I didn’t love the blaring music and the screaming laughter after my weeks of meditative solitude, but I enjoyed the kids’ enthusiasm for life and their excitement of being with school friends on the Camino. I accepted the new day. 

So now my sons are gone and it’s just S.A., my mother-in-law, and I in her little house near the creek with no Internet or TV. It’s a new phase of my time here without my sons’ lively conversation and zest for life. I’m adjusting to the quiet by walking, writing, and swimming across the Stockbridge Bowl. If it rains tomorrow, I’ll go to a yoga class. 

And it goes without saying that I need to cultivate gratitude for being in such a beautiful place during summer vacation time.    

Keeping the Camino Alive

On a physical level, the best outcome of my pilgrimage is that after 22 years I have been able to go off anti-depressants. 

I don’t mean to judge anyone who takes SSRIs, not at all. We are all trying to figure out what our lives mean and how best to live.  

It wasn’t the Camino alone that helped me ween myself off them. I also had the help of a mind-body therapist who continues to offer suggestions for passing through anxiety and panic, the two main symptoms of the depression I have experienced off and on since childhood. 

If the medications work, then take them. But after more than two decades on various SSRIs, I had fluctuating blood pressure and strange head rushes that led to near fainting, symptoms that have now disappeared since I went off the medication. 

I attribute my peace of mind to the days and days of spending six to eight hours outdoors, walking and meditating. Even though the heat in Georgia can be unbearable, I continue to walk.

Each day is a new challenge in maintaining a balance of body, mind, and spirit. I’m tottering on a fragile tightrope of sanity, but walking and writing continue to be my medicine. 

   
    
    
    
   
Yesterday’s hike:

About 8 or 9 miles, from Burnt Hickory Road to Dallas Highway at Kennesaw Battlefield Park, then on to the visitor’s center and back to Burnt Hickory.

Creatures I noticed:

Dragonflies, ants, butterflies, various birds, including two giant vultures, a wee toad, about the size of my thumb pad, a chipmunk, many squirrels.

I stood still and listened to the cicadas in the trees and the grasshoppers in the tall grass. There was very little breeze, and the trees were still and silent, their leaves dry and weary from the heat. The noise from the highway and the passing trains at times overpowered the silence of the woods.  

It was a heavy, humid trek. I encouraged myself to keep walking by remembering the way I felt toward the end of my walks on the Camino–with sore feet and tired legs, I still managed to make it up those steep inclines. You can do this, I told myself.