What does a dream coming true look, feel and taste like?

When I was younger I was so in love with the idea of Spain.  I wanted to learn the language, travel to the country, immerse myself in the culture – even since my teenage years.  I wasn’t sure why, not then or as I got older, but I was strongly drawn to the country.  I must admit at the time I really didn’t know too much about Spain, only that I wanted to be a part of it.  In fact, when I was a very late teen, I was so desperately in love with Spain (or the idea of Spain) that I went ahead and got engaged to a Spaniard whose name was Antonio.  Such was my desire for Spain….

Needless to say, that didn’t work out (possibly becoming engaged to someone because you love the country they were born in could work out, but for me, well, no).  But what did work out, after many years, was my desire to travel to Spain.  After years of keeping that dream alive, I left on a jet plane to spend the best part of three months in the country I’d dreamt of since I can remember.

I travelled first to France to start walking the Camino de Santiago Frances Route from St Jean Pied de Port all the way across the country to Santiago de Compostella.  That’s a trek of about 800km.  After that I extended the hiking on to an extended route out to the ocean, the Camino Muxia and Camino Finisterre.

I spent my first 40 days and 40 nights in Spain as a pilgrim, with all of my possessions in my backpack.

 

hay field
Resting wherever I could…

Of the hundreds of thousands of pilgrims who arrive in Santiago each year on the various Caminos, only about 5% walk on to the coastline with most of these going from Santiago to Finisterre (a 90km extension).  Finisterre was known as the end of the world and for me, it was more important a destination, or completion point, than Santiago was.  However I also wanted to walk to Muxia, a town further north on the Atlantic coastline, and even less than 5%  walk here first, and then on toFinisterre, a 120km extension from Santiago.

Following the Camino my travels took me to Ourense, Salamanca, Madrid, a week long stint in Portugal, Seville and the Andalucían area, and to end the trip, some time in Barcelona.

So did my dream to travel in Spain, walk the Camino and experience the culture and language of this country come true?

Sure.  You can see it did by the previous paragraphs.

But what did it look like, what did it feel like and what did it taste like?  Was it all I dreamt it would be?

What did this dream coming true look like?

It looked like fear sometimes.  It looked like love sometimes.  It looked like Groundhog Day sometimes.

It looked like me with my backpack on, walking 30km a day in the searing heat. Swearing a lot, sometimes.  Other times, just walking and taking every step as it came.

It looked like beauty.  It looked like poverty and despair.

It looked simple, and significant at the same time.

It looked like my comfort zone, and then it didn’t, and then it did again.

Heaven and Hell.  Wonder.

It looked like I thought it might.

It didn’t look anything like I thought it might.

 

jumping
It looked like this sometimes

What did this dream coming true feel like?

It felt like love.

Sometimes it felt like fear.

It felt like loneliness and then it felt like connection and belonging.

It felt frustrating, and it felt freeing.  It felt right, and sometimes it felt wrong.

It felt painful.  A lot of the time.  Blisters, muscle soreness.

It felt joyous.

I felt grateful.  Emotional.  Emotional a lot of the time.

I felt shattered, and also full of energy.

I felt at home, when I wasn’t feeling homesick.

I felt strong, except when I was feeling weak.

Torn. I felt torn.

I felt done – physically, mentally and emotionally.  Then I’d have a beer and a chat to new friends, a meal and a sleep.  And I didn’t feel done anymore.

It felt so right.  Walking day in day out.  Only a few decisions to make each day – where will I sleep, what will I eat?

It felt easy.  It felt hard.

Sometimes I would feel like quitting.

Sometimes I would feel like I could walk forever.

I felt disgust – when watching a bull fight.

I felt overwhelmed. In awe.

I felt brave and full of fear. Sometimes at the same time.

I felt guided.

I felt that the universe was consipiring  to provide me with what I needed. Not necessarily what I wanted.

 

heart
It felt like discovery

What did this dream coming true taste like?

For me, it tasted like Tarte de Santiago.

 

tarte
The taste of dreams coming true

In keeping my dream alive to walk the camino, for many years I’ve been making Tarte de Santiago for my family and friends. A traditional cake based on almond meal originally fed to pilgrims walking. The first time on the Camino that I had a slice of Tarte de Santiago was …well a little surreal for me.  I was alone and in a small village as I took my first taste.  It was at that moment that I understood what a dream that comes true tastes like.

It also tasted like pilgrims meals day in and day out.  And then it tasted like tapas and octopus (not something I would try again) and tortilla and red wine.

It tasted like shared meals with friends. New friends from all over the world.

So what now?

So I am settling in to return to work and back to my life in Australia after fulfilling this lifelong dream which in the end, was exactly everything I expected and dreamt it could be, and at the same time, completely different to anything I expected and dreamt it would be.

It also provided me with more personal growth every day than I could have ever imagined.  I was graced with beautiful new friends, some who I know will be in my life for a long time to come and others who were in my life just for the moments they were meant to be.

 

horse
Ultreya – onwards with courage

My belief in the goodness of people was tested and at the same time, confirmed, over and over again.

My belief in myself was tested, and at the same time, reaffirmed time and time again.

Not everyone will understand my journey.  That’s ok because it isn’t their journey to understand.  It’s mine. And even if I don’t fully understand it, that’s ok too.

Buy the ticket, take the ride.  See what happens.

I know my journey gave me so much.  There is a saying on the camino that “the camino provides”.  I agree and I experienced this day after day.  I have a new saying for the camino to add to that one.  “The camino also takes away”, and that is just as important.

Don’t confuse your path, with your destination.  Enjoy your journey.  Thanks for the memories Spain!

“Let your life be your message” Mahatma Gandhi.

 

Right of Way – A Pilgrim on the Camino – Episode 3 – Groundhog days

Well I’m done walking – for now. I was on the Camino Frances for a total of 36 days and then extended to the Camino Muxia and Finisterre for a further 4 days – bringing my total to 40 days and 40 nights and around 920km.

I was contemplating my days toward the end of the journey. How each day is the same, and at the same time, completely different, and how the days, or at least the way I think of the days, changed from my first few weeks to the last few weeks.

There are some things that seemingly remain the same, every single day. Even after 40 days of walking.

Like these things:

I’m on the top bunk in a room full of other people all in their own bunks.

5.30am Plastic bag rustling commences.

I know the other pilgrims in the albergue (hostel with bunk beds for pilgrims) are trying to be quiet.

But they are failing at that.

I’m familiar with the sound now but wish they’d all brought dry bags instead of plastic bags. Less noisy.

I push my earplugs in my ear harder and cover my face. I need more sleep.

I get tired of trying to sleep with the noise and get up.

Sleep sack goes in the bag and I stuff my sleeping bag.

Find my toothbrush. Wait in line for one bathroom that services 60 people.

And wait.

Finally.

Get dressed in exactly the same clothes I wore yesterday. And the day before and the day before….

Pack my backpack.

Pyrenees backpackOver the Pyrenees – blessed with stunning weather

Put in on hoping it’s going to miraculously be lighter than yesterday.

It’s not.

Leave the albergue.

Walk.

Mostly it’s dark for a while. Hope I don’t twist an ankle in the dark. Keep walking for about 2 hours.

Think about what it might be like to not have to walk today. Briefly.

Then just walk.

Take a seat at the next cafe.

Cafe con leche grande (big coffee with milk), bocadillo con queso y jamon ( Ham and cheese baguette) and zumo de naranjo (freshly squeezed orange juice).

Then walk.

And walk.

Stop again after another 2-3 hours for another coffee or cold drink. Take my shoes off. Check my feet and blisters.

Talk to friends. Meet new friends.

Then walk.

Arrive at a place where I want to stay. Look for a bed.

Find a bed.

Fingers crossed for a bottom bunk.

Get out my sleeping bag, and my other set of clothes (my ‘going out’ clothes).

Check the line for the shower.

Get in line.

Shower.

Find a sink and hand wash today’s clothes (which of course are tomorrow and every other days clothes). Wring the life out of them and find a line or some other obscure but sunny place to hang them.

Hope I remember to get them in before dark.

Go to the bar.

Drink a large beer. With lemon.

Talk to friends from all over the world.

Eat the pilgrims dinner.

And drink the wine that comes with it.

Go to bed.

Restrain myself from poking the guy snoring with my trekking poles.

Listen curiously to the person sleep talking.

Try hard to ignore the moans and groans.

Feel an itch on my leg.

Spend the night thinking the bed is infested with bed bugs (only once in actuality but the fear remains).

5.30am plastic bags rustling.

So while it seems from the above commentary that each day was the same – it was, and of course, it wasn’t.

Every day provided me with new experiences, new friends, deeper friendships, opportunities to stretch my comfort zone, the chance to push myself physically, daily tests of my mental endurance and emotional strength, many opportunities to laugh, differing views and vistas (mostly beautiful, some industrial), new food, the chance to practice my Spanish and of course, the unexpected. Always the unexpected.

What did change over the 40 days was the way I thought about each day.

I recall early on I would check the elevation profiles of the stage for the next day, and dread the hills I knew were coming. I would think constantly about the kilometers I’d walked that day, how many more were to go, how quickly that time might pass. I was forever focused on my blisters, my pain, my sore feet. The twinges in my leg muscles telling me to back off. Constantly focused on the body.

After a few weeks, I measured my day in hours. If someone said something was 10km away, I immediately translated that to 2 hours away. I stopped vigilantly checking the elevation profiles the night before, knowing that there would be hills, or there wouldn’t (unlikely) but that whatever the day held, I’d get through it. I measured the morning as the part before the sun came up (and reasoned to myself that any distances made pre-daylight were a bonus) and the part until I found a cafe for breakfast. The rest of the day just flowed along. Walking. Talking. Contemplating life. Celebrating life. Knowing that at a point in time that day, I would arrive somewhere to sleep.

So as they say, some things stay the same. But even in the sameness that was my walking for 40 days, there was so much to celebrate, so much that was different.

What kind of different can you find in your everyday sameness?

“Let your life be your message” Mahatma Gandhi.

The poetry of mountain climbing

Here’s Peter McFadyen guest blogging for Life Support on his poetry of mountain climbing.  Love adventure?  Peter does.  

Mountain Climbing is now one of the joys of my life (and for those grammatically inflexible amongst us; yes I do realise that I have capitalised “Mountain Climbing” but that’s how I pronounce it in my mind).  Once I had recovered from climbing Mt Meru and Mt Kilimanjaro to the extent that I was no longer adamant that I’d never climb again, I began to look into the changes that I had discovered in myself since the climb. 

I found increased levels of self-confidence, an inherent trust in my ability to take on challenges and do well.  I found the yardstick against which I measured challenges to have grown taller, making any challenge I now came up against seem that much smaller.  I was also much more comfortable with being uncomfortable and so my resilience and ability to persevere were greatly increased.  This is a very pleasant way to live life and I found that many of my previous peaks and troughs were now smoothed out by the personal growth and awareness I had gained by taking on challenges and seeing how my actual experience matched my expectations on how I’d go.          

Man climbing ice Something changed – I was part of the mountain and it was part of me.

Something had fundamentally changed in the way I viewed the world and the way I viewed myself and my place in it.  This was not by the way of increased ego, or a superman complex, but more in an increased sense of myself, my place in the world and an ease of living that was borne of experience.  In short, I was happier being me and more confident that I could make a worthwhile contribution to the planet – albeit in a small way.   I also knew that when it came right down to it, I could push myself to achieve and that I would enjoy the experience no matter the effort required. 

Another joy of my life is poetry.  I love reading it, I love discovering new verses and finding the message within them and I love writing it.  Consequently I have a love of the ‘notes’ area on smart phones as I will often be doing something and a phrase will pop into my head.  From discovering that phrase I will normally have a fully formed poem a few minutes later.  I’m not sure how that works and at times I believe that I am just a way of the poem coming to life rather than having ‘created’ it myself. 

In this instance I was driving along a back road and saw a mountain peak in the distance.  Rather than just thinking “Wow that’s pretty” or “I wonder what that’s called” my thoughts immediately ran to “I wonder how I’d climb that?”   What?  Why that thought?  I realised that, having climbed a mountain, I was in some respects a ‘mountain climber’ and my view of the world had changed.  I then thought, “having climbed a mountain” – I could do something with that.  And so the following poem came to life:

Having climbed the mountain

Having climbed the mountain, there can be no “un-climbing”

Your view of the world is forever changed

You have outgrown yourself to be there

And having outgrown, you no longer fit into your life as you once did.

Having climbed the mountain, you have made the sacrifice

You have left something on the mountain

You have carried something away with you

You are no longer the person who commenced the climb

Having climbed the mountain, there is now a question

Each time you see a peak, you ask “How would I climb that?”

These may be physical peaks or challenges of the heart and mind

All peaks must be met, just needing time and devotion to task,

Turning from a peak is no longer in your being

Having climbed a mountain there is now a void

A challenge waiting to be met,

A dissatisfaction with your old path or any easy path

An ache to once again go beyond

Having climbed a mountain there is now a choice

To turn your back on what you have become, or

To embrace the fear of knowing that you can go beyond

And in doing so, bring the mountain into your being.

View from mountain top We all have our mountains to climb – and when we do the view is amazing

We are all capable of ‘climbing the mountain’ – of moving outside our comfort zones.  It is here that growth occurs; the benefits of which can last a lifetime if we choose. 

What mountain is waiting for you and what can you do to ready yourself to climb it?  What will you leave behind and what will you take away?   I hope you have the opportunity to find out soon.   

“Let your life be your message” Mahatma Gandhi

Lessons I learned climbing mountains

Welcome to Life Support our guest blogger Peter McFadyen, who in this post shares some of the lessons he learned climbing mountains.  What mountain are you climbing?  

Let your life be your message.

Michelle

One of the joys of my life is mountain climbing.  I came into the sport late and, in truth, just to spend some time with my wife and get a chance to visit Africa and maybe see a cheetah or two!  At that stage I was more interested in the safari than the summit!  We climbed two mountains that trip.  Mt Meru came first as an acclimatisation climb.  At 4,562m it was a truly challenging introduction to mountain climbing!  From the top we could see our ultimate challenge – Mt Kilimanjaro!  At 5,895m it’s the highest peak in Africa and the highest free-standing mountain in the world.  Our attitude towards this sort of adventure is that if you are going to do something then it may as well be a challenge.  It was an amazing adventure in an amazing part of the world spent with an amazing group of people, some of whom we are still close friends with.

I came away from that most amazing of experiences swearing that I would never step foot on another mountain again in my life!

Over the next three months, I noticed that the problems in my life all seemed much more manageable.  I had grown a lot more confident in my ability to handle just about anything that came my way.  I had also become a lot more comfortable in being uncomfortable and this allowed me to be more open to opportunity and challenge.  These three changes to my nature provided a powerful springboard to my journey of personal development and making the most of my life.  About that time a great mate of ours said he was training a new group of climbers to take on Kilimanjaro to do some fundraising and asked me if I’d help them train.  Once I started training again I realised how much I loved the training and being around people who shared my passion and I began to wonder if I had perhaps been a bit hasty in my decision never to climb again.

 

Mt Kilimanjaro in Africa
At the summit of Mt Kilimanjaro in Africa – the highest freestanding mountain in the world

This great mate of ours tells people that “Whenever you climb you leave something of yourself on the mountain and you take something away” – and I believe he’s right.  I now climb with him and we’ve since moved on to more technical climbing.  This requires a greater level of training and a lot more focus and in return it rewards you with even greater insight into who you are and allows you to be comfortable with that person.  Of course, this is the benefit in taking on any challenge that pushes us and there are “mountains” around us all the time in our everyday lives just waiting to be climbed.

On a recent climbing expedition I ended up with a failed attempt for the summit of Mt Aspiring in New Zealand.  Despite it being a “failed attempt I did get in a few other summits, I had a great time and learnt a lot of new skills that would come in handy in later climbs.  While I was writing down my experiences each night I ended up building a random list under the heading of “Things learned while climbing.”

On my return home I found that lot of those lessons could be applied to help me in my everyday life and I’d like to share them with you.

·     Preparation and application are key to success.  Wishes don’t climb mountains!

·     Never panic.  Stay centred and move with determination and with a clear path in mind.

·     Each step must be taken in order to reach the summit.

·     Do few things quickly but when speed is needed, do these things well.

·     If at first you don’t succeed be open to a better path – it’s there to be found.

·     Don’t dwell in difficult areas.  Move through them to a place of rest and a clear view.

·     More can be learned through hard earned failure than through easy achievement.

·     We are capable of great things if we go into them willingly, with a smile and a clear purpose.  The greatest limit is in not attempting the challenge.

·     The emotion you feel on achieving your goal may not be the one you expected but it is the right one for you if you allow it to be.  Take thetime to enjoy it and learn from it.

·     Many things must combine for you to summit. No-one summits or fails to summit by themselves – to claim that is to carry an unbearable load.

·     Look forward to see your goal, look back to see what you have already achieved, focus on each step to ensure the next step is on the best path.

·     Your chances of success rely just as much on your partners as they do on yourself – what are you doing to help them to be ready to summit?

·     Take on challenges not to achieve but to believe in the best of yourself and make it true.

 

Climbing in snow
Reminders every day of what I learned climbing and how it helps my life

I have these lessons printed up on my wall and refer to them whenever I feel I’m losing my way or when I feel a goal I have is unattainable.   Mountains are all around us in our everyday lives and every time we set out to “summit” we grow in our abilities and our self-knowledge.

What mountain are you climbing right now?  What gifts can they give you?  What are you learning?

“Let your life be your message” Mahatma Gandhi