The Pilgrimage, by Paul Coelho


 I seem to get more out of the metaphysical books like The Pilgrimage, more motivation, it speaks my language.  But first I have to find out what my “Sword” is, the instrument, the icon that symbolizes my growth in wisdom.  The guiding principle for finding my sword has to do with my following mantra:

                                    “Where your treasure is, there is your heart”

So I am thinking, where is my treasure right now?  Is it in my security, my comfort, my desire to make money?  I realize this is not a lofty goal. If I force myself to think about what I want in my life, I would say that I value love, the tranquility that comes from being in a relationship with someone I can trust, love and respect. Someone I treasure so much, I will do ridiculously crazy things and convince myself that they are good for me – like this Camino! The Pilgrimage is about as far out there as the book Illusion, by RIchard Bach and like Illusions, provides some important pearls of wisdom. For example, Paulo starts off convinced he must find his sword, but he is not in a place where he can say the right thing or look in the right place in order to have it. He must complete this Camino pilgrimage and essentially find himself; and by extension, be introduced to his sword. So the reason he slogs through this pilgrimage is to learns and practices spiritual exercises along the way. As he practices these rituals, he learns about himself and different ways to look at the world.

I would now like to take a mantra, a practice, an exercise with me on this trip in order to find myself: “Where my treasure is, There is my heart”.  I genuinely treasure love but the devil has made me value money and success.  It is so natural in our culture and so difficult to constantly swim against the stream. Some people see the Camino as a “reboot” for the mind, it allows them to see how little they really need in order to feel happy and secure. That would be an important lesson for me to learn. I have always felt poor and had a need to know I would never live in poverty again. Now I realize there are other alternatives. If I can experience some things before they go away, or before I go away, than I can decide for myself whether experiences are more valuable than the security I derive from material assets. The uniqueness of this personal challenge to my body and my mind allows me to feel alive and proud in a way that staying at home and playing with my electronics can never do. I want this month to teach me about the physical me. Bottom-line: I want my treasure and my heart to be with Joe on this journey. Beyond that, there is my self-care and exploration, those jewels that are inside of me. Joe is the jewel outside of me that I must protect by nurturing and paying attention.

I am coming back to this physical theme for the Camino over and over again. As I fear this trip, I realize it is also necessary for me to break free of this mental/intellectual world I live in. I can enjoy much of the feeling I have when I am outdoors doing something physical. Typically 70% of it is great fun, and 30 percent is scary, and that ratio can change at any moment, depending on what’s going on. For example, if am I driving in traffic in downtown Panama where I am constantly swallowing my heart back into my chest, or if it is walking into St Francis of Assisi’s hometown (who by the way also walked the Camino) and feeling like I have gone back in time to the Middle Ages. I read about some research today that found that people who value experiences over products are happier. It made me think of all the nursery rhymes and stories about people who seemed engaged with life versus people engaged with riches, wealth, power and beauty. Like the wicked witch in Sleeping Beauty or Ebeneezer Scrooge.  I think that celebrity or psychotropics or any intoxicating “heady” feeling will only take you so far.  When its over, you are back to who you were when you were poor, depressed, or an unknown.  It really is like they say, if you can’t provide it for yourself then no matter who tries to give it to you, there is no feeling of completeness or fulfillment.

I look at my patients going back to their “life sucks” mentality after they have been on an antidepressant for a while. The old schemas just start coming back, and for those that are considered “personality disordered” those old tapes just start playing all over again and the unhappiness comes back like a bad guest. Thank God there are people who are generally happy, or anxious people that can take an antidepressant and learn to work on life not just biology. Same thing with celebrity, at the beginning it is much better than a high. With the additional money, it takes even longer to realize there is something missing. Worse yet, I imagine there is guilt having everything a human being allegedly needs to be happy: food, security, typically attractiveness, money for luxuries, people who think you are cool, magic service whenever you want it, wherever you want it.  I would think that the most fulfilling aspect of that experience is having instant acceptance by people around you. The only problem with instant acceptance is that it is based on an image and not the “real” individual. Also, if you have a deep personal relationship, and that person leaves, it is going to be just as heartbreaking whither you are Marilon Monroe or Joe Blow.  I remember watching a show about Brittany Spears in which she said something like, “Whenever I feel depressed, I just remind myself that there are plenty of people out there who have it a lot worse than me.”

But doesn’t money, luxuries, and the love of fans heal all wounds?  If you are the kind of person who would be healed by those things then you haven’t tried drinking from the deep well of love. Now we are talking values. There are some who use their celebrity to volunteer and to add weight to a cause. I bet those are the ones that feel the best in the end. To me, the pinnacle would be to do good as a celebrity. How many celebrities actually do that kind of charitable work? Why is that?  Regardless, if I could have all the money I wanted and true love, then I would definitely take both. But if I could only have one, then I would much rather have the strong, loving relationship.  There is nothing like looking into the eyes of a person you love and who loves you back.

So about this Camino, why am I doing it? Because I want to do something that scares me and that is physical. When I worked, I had to go in everyday whether I wanted to or not. If I was afraid at work it was because I had either screwed up, or hadn’t done something I should have done. Doing something that is physical and scary is a completely different story. It’s like recognizing you could be sued versus recognizing you could be dead.  It places me in a position to think about my mortality both in terms of the time I will continue to feel fit enough to do this kind of stuff and the time the worms will begin to help with my decomposition. I feel like I am in a transition period from hard worker, upwardly mobile, rock star in my profession to an unsure-but-liking-it-so far retiree. This Camino is helping me to measure time in a new way and all I can think of is getting my backpack weight down. Now I truly understand what Joe was saying about having to lose weight as his only other degree of freedom in the obsession to get our loads down to a proscribed weight. 22 for Joe and 12 for me.  He is at 24 lbs and I am at 16 lbs.  Could I lose 4 lbs between now and Tuesday? Another thing I notice in this early phase of my year off or mini-retirement is that I am getting lax. Sleeping late. Reading. Relaxing. I would do absolutely nothing physical if it were up to me. Just eat, relax, think of excuses for not exercising and waste time. The Camino says, let’s kick start your physical dimension in a BIG way.  Maybe it will become a part of my life.  Maybe it will show me what I am capable of, like that bike ride we did in the Smokey Mountains when I rode 23 miles and realized it was easy.  So far, the things I have really liked during our trips have been, churchs, art, and alone time.  My best time was at our Monte Sano cabin in Huntsville.  If I could only do one thing, I believe that had it all for me.  Seclusion, hiking trails, nature, a small city nearby and quiet time with Joe.

Wow! I wrote much more than I had intended but this material is so close to my heart. I have been romanced by Paul Coelho into believing in the power of my dreams and intentions so long as I hold on to them and ignore the fears that chip away at my sense of adventure.  Can I convince Joe to do some of the RAM (Rigor, Adoration, Mercy) practices Coelho did in his book?  If he doesn’t, would I feel embarrassed to do them alone?  We leave for the Camino tomorrow.  Maybe I can put the practices on some index cards and take a risk at looking foolish.

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