Day 51 – 6th November 2015, Muxia to Santiago de Compostela.
What a beautiful morning in Muxia today! Fiona and I rose early enough to catch the exquisite morning light in the harbour. I wandered down there to take some photos of the harbour and marina areas for Brett, because we might decide to dock there one day when we sail around the world on Theros, Brett’s 42 foot Gibsea yacht. (I will write up our adventures here on my travel blog so do stay in touch!).
Fiona and I also took a final stroll down to the headland and walked across to the church Virxen de Barca to see if it was open. The church had been completely rebuilt and restored after a devastating fire pretty much destroyed it in 2013. The main door was open but when we stepped inside we were prevented from entering the church proper by an iron grille. This was a real shame. I would have liked to have spent a few, quiet moments in contemplation and prayer there before making my journey home.
I was packed and ready to go back to Santiago de Compostela. Fiona and I picked up our packs and ambled back to the sea front to catch our bus back to Santiago. It felt strange not to walk so much today. The bus ride back was pleasant and good value for money and it wasn’t long before I was back at the Hotel Real B&B for one, final night in Spain. I had managed to negotiate an even cheaper rate this time (its always worth asking).
In the evening, we decided to go to an Italian restaurant for pizza, wine and limoncello. No more pilgrim meals for me, well at least not until my next Camino!
Day 52 – 7th November 2015, Santiago de Compostela to home.
The next morning, I went on a farewell bimble around the old part of the city, before taking the bus out to the airport and my flight back to Blighty. The sun was bright, and beautifully warm, its rays gently caressed my skin. I absorbed the light hearted hub-bub around me and became enchanted with the joyous singing and music from the numerous colourfully decked out folk bands, who had arrived in Santiago for a music festival, held at the University.
There were only two things left for me to do. The first was to find a suitable spot to take a photo of the symbols I had carried with me all the way from my home in Battersea in my back pack (and I will tell you more about these in the next post). The second was to return to the Cathedral. I was intrigued by the story of a sculpture above one of doors of the Cathedral where the ‘alpha and omega’ symbols are reversed (see feature image above). As you may know already, alpha and omega are the first and last letters of the classical greek alphabet. In the book of Revelation, Jesus is called the ‘alpha and the omega’, meaning the beginning and the end and some scholars have interpreted this to mean that Jesus (or God) has existed for all eternity. So why were the symbols reversed in this case?
Every pilgrim who enters Santiago de Compostela, having completed his or her pilgrimage can enjoy several pilgrim rites, one of which is to attend the pilgrim mass, another is to visit the shrine of St. James for example. The last pilgrim rite is to leave the Cathedral by the south door and the reason given is this:
“When you have finished, exit the Cathedral through the south door, the Platerías door. Look at the facade. On the mullion, between the two door arches, there is a Chi Rho, symbol of Christ. But the letters are backwards: the Alpha has become Omega, and vice-versa. The end becomes beginning. The destination of The Way is now the beginning of another journey, of your new life”
The symbolism is powerful. Although I have reached the physical end point of my Camino pilgrimage, the sculpture above the south door of the Cathedral revealed to me a simple yet profound truth. My new life starts now, from this moment onwards. My Camino is the beginning of another journey on all levels- physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. With overwhelming joy and gratitude in my heart, I turned away and walked on.
Return and re-integration.
I guess, this bit is an epilogue of sorts. During my humanitarian aid career, us aid workers often talk about ‘return and re-integration’ in different ways. In emergency response programmes this term can refer to the safe return of refugees or displaced persons to their homes and their re-integration into ‘normal’ lives. For aid workers themselves, it can refer to their own return home and re-integration after being on mission overseas. It might sound a little strange, but honestly, I can draw some parallels between returning home from an aid mission and going home from the Camino. In what ways, I hear you ask?
Well both experiences have been all consuming and all encompassing from the moment I stepped off a plane. Being on mission and making pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago, means being open to new cultural norms and experiences, as well as to being tested on physical, mental, emotional and spiritual levels. They both require a significant adjustment to new daily activities and routines, while retaining the need for flexibility in order to adapt to changing circumstances. Furthermore, it is possible to experience homesickness, while feeling right at home at the same time! Lastly, but by no means least, they strip away everything back to the very basics and we realise, what we have known in our hearts all along. We are all part of one human family. We all eat, sleep, breathe the same air, laugh and cry the same. We have the same blood running through our veins.
These experiences serve to re-set our internal GPS’s towards the things we value the most in our lives, and one of the most important is that of relationship. Relationship with each other, with nature and the environment, of which we are an integral part and with source. The friendships we make on an aid mission and on the Camino tend to become deep, meaningful and lifelong, because we have delved beyond the superficial social niceties to co-create an epic journey together, accompanying each other through the tremendous highs and lows that reflect the ups and downs of our physical quest.
As I prepare now for my own return and reintegration back home in Battersea, UK, I wonder how I will cope with the sudden cessation of all of that physical activity and forward motion in the open air, so close to nature, the camaraderie of new found friends and a strong sense of purpose I had to reach my goal. One thing is certain, I must integrate some of my new Camino habits and lessons learned along the journey into my daily life. Here are seven lessons that come to mind already, and I’m sure I will uncover more later on:
1) Setting my intention – One of the two biggest things I have learned on my Camino is that when I set my intention with my whole body, mind and spirit I can do anything. The impossible becomes not only possible but achievable. The flip side of this, of course, is to not allow myself to give in to any self doubts;
2) Love myself – The second ‘big’ thing I have learned is to love myself and accept myself just as I am, warts and all. It sounds trite or easy, but this is something I have struggled with throughout my life. The Camino has taught me to put to rest the self judgement that has dogged me, and I’m sure it has for many of you reading this too and that self-love is not selfish, for if we are to do what we can to make a difference in this world, then we have to take care of ourselves as part of this vision, in order to serve others;
3) Our loved ones are always with us – From the outset, I dedicated my pilgrimage to the memory of my mum, Kathleen Stella Packwood, who, sadly passed away in July 2015, from terminal cancer. My Camino has shown me that when we go through our transition of life to another dimension, it is still possible to communicate with our loved ones. This is something I had been very sceptical about until I experienced a tangible sense of my mum’s presence at different stages along my pilgrimage and felt comforted and hopeful as a result;
4) Live my life with passion – I’m sure many of you readers have watched the film ‘The Way’. Do you remember the scene near the beginning when Tom and Daniel are driving along in the car and Daniel says to Tom, “You don’t choose a life Dad, you live one.” For me the Camino has revealed to me that life is ‘both and’. I believe we can co-create our lives with the Universe, which means we all have a choice about what, where, when, who, how and this also includes choosing to live the life we have co-created to the full and with passion;
5) Forward motion is in my DNA – The Camino has given me an affirmation of something I have known to be true all throughout my life, before and during my humanitarian aid career until now. We are intrinsically nomadic. Being in perpetual motion is in our ‘DNA’. My life is all about movement and change. Travelling is natural and does not have to be considered a ‘luxury’;
6) Walking enables ‘flow’ – Walking the Camino every day has helped me to order my thoughts and priorities, problem solve, see possibilities and opportunities all around me and live in the moment. The very nature of putting one foot in front of the other has released my creativity and allowed me to step into and stay ‘in flow’;
7) Be fearless – Hiking from the mountains of the French Pyrenees across Spain to the coast, carrying all I need in a backpack has been an exercise in trust – trust in myself and my own ability and intuition, my friends, that the Camino will provide for my basic needs e.g. food, shelter, water and good company. I have felt completely safe, even when walking alone, and I have never ceased to marvel at the kindness of strangers, wherever I went. When we trust, we can be fearless, knowing that everything will be OK. We can choose love over fear every day of our lives.
My vision for the future.
My post script to the epilogue is that I hold a clear vision for my future from this moment onwards. I know what I need and want to do next. When I return to the UK, I will sell my flat in London and leave my job. Then I will join Brett and learn to sail so that we can co-create, seafaring adventures and epic hiking and biking trips around the world.
As far as my humanitarian aid career goes, once a humanitarian, always a humanitarian. I will find a way to contribute in positive ways to the humanitarian and international development fields, wherever I can. One way of doing this, will be through consultancy work. Another way will be to support other aid workers, community activists and social entrepreneurs through coaching and expanding my intuitive healing work, including reiki. So many amazing reiki connections on my Camino have confirmed this is the direction that is open to me now.
In addition, my Camino has unlocked my creativity through writing and I fully intend to embrace this aspect of myself and give it a free reign in the weeks, months and years ahead.
Thanks for being there for me this far. It has been great to have your company along the way. You are welcome to continue to journey with me as my future plans unfold. Feel free to get in touch. I’d love to hear from you.
For now I will send you plenty of reiki blessings and good vibes,
Peace, love and light,