Mindfulness on the Road to Santiago

???????????????????????????????  On a sunny June morning in 2009, I set out on the pilgrim’s road to Santiago de Compostela.  Blue skies. Light breeze. White cotton ball clouds. Green hills. Only the sound of my own panting breath and the crunching gravel beneath my feet broke the silence. Beauty and solitude.  After months of preparation, I was finally on my way with nearly 500 miles of  The Camino still ahead.  Friends along the Camino  Just a few miles outside of St. Jean Pied de Port, I hit a proverbial wall – the first of many in the days to come.  Out of breath, sweating, and a bit dizzy, my body stopped moving and my eyes fixed on the steep trail ascending the mountain before me.  The physical and emotional intensity of the moment and the uncertainty of the days that lie ahead stopped me in my tracks. This was not so much an experience of awe and exhilaration as it was one of dreadful anxiety. I pulled off my backpack, gulped down some water, and sat on a nearby log.  A friend on the log  WHAT WAS I THINKING?!  Where am I?!  Why haven’t I seen anyone else on this road?  Five hundred miles – walking?!  Are you kidding?! What if I don’t have a place to sleep tonight?  Did I forget anything?  Maybe I packed too much gear?  My thoughts raced.  My shallow breathing quickened.  I was on the verge of a meltdown in the middle of the Pyrenees.  When all at once, I heard an interior voice speak these words: Now. Here. This. Now. Here. This.  For some reason these particular words found their way “up” through my inner turmoil and caught me by surprise.  I focused on the words as a single phrase and as I did my breathing calmed and my body relaxed.  Now here this.  The phrase seemed vaguely familiar although it felt like it came out of “nowhere”.  The fact is, I had heard of this tricky combination of words years earlier while watching a film about the life of Thomas Merton, a twentieth century Trappist monk. Tricky because the second word is not “hear”, which would make sense, but “here”.  It is not a command to listen to someone or something but an invitation to be present to the moment. In the 1984 documentary Merton: A film biography, the monk’s close friend Ron Seitz explained how this phrase came about and it’s intended meaning.  I had not really thought about it since I first saw the film, yet at that very moment, at the beginning of my journey, it surfaced from the depths and relieved my overwhelming angst: not yesterday or the day after tomorrow but NOW; not further down the road or back “there” but HERE; not that thing or distraction but THIS; to attend to the moment; to let go of the fears I had regarding any lack of preparation and my anxieties about the days ahead.  With each passing day of my journey, I thought of this phrase as a gift from God, a way to honor and bless the here and now. Four years later, the phrase continues to remind me to be present to what is in front of me: Right now, I am here and this is it.

Thomas Merton 1915 - 1968

Thomas Merton 1915 – 1968

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