My Camino Way: Article # 13
THE POWER OF MUSIC ON EL CAMINO
“Do you know,” wrote Leonardo da Vinci, “that our soul is composed of harmony?”
This same idea is echoed centuries before in the philosophical writings of Plato, who believed music could “restore the soul as well as ... discordant bodily afflictions, to the harmonic proportions that it shares with the world soul of the cosmos.”
As a peace educator, I cannot think of a topic more befitting than music to continue with my stories in this New Year.
Down through the ages, many of the world’s most gifted human beings have reflected upon the nature of music and its ability to affect us in a profound way.
When I look back on my journey walking El Camino de Santiago in 2012, I find it remarkable how synchronous music was during this time of great transformation – how it seemed to magically appear like an invisible bridge to other worlds. Its power was undeniable.
Here are a few of the memorable scenes on El Camino, those rare moments when I stopped to rest and enjoy life a little, and when music found its way into my soul.
THE OPERA SINGER: ... Standing at the bar in a taverna in Hornillos, a little village just outside Burgos, Spain, holding a glass of wine and trying to get warm. The pub was abuzz with laughter, chatter and the clinking of glasses. Amidst the din a melodious voice rose up into the air and the room fell silent. A woman – one of my fellow pilgrims – was at the center of the taverna, singing the most beautiful opera song. I didn’t recognize the song but it didn’t matter. Everyone in the room, including me, was spellbound. When she was finished, the entire pub rose to their feet with wild applause.
THE EFFECT: That ‘evening at the opera’ reminded me how music knows no barriers. It is a universal language that everyone understands, no matter our culture or differences. For me it was a great way to connect with my fellow pilgrims, share experiences and fill our glasses with wine and song to fortify body and soul.
THE CELTS, MY ANCESTORS: I am hunched over beside a roaring fireplace rubbing my hands together, trying to get the feeling back in my fingers. A great boar’s head is staring down at me. It makes sense since I’m at The Boar’s Head Tavern, a medieval inn perched atop a mountain in the hamlet of
O Cebriero – a place that even time seems to have forgotten.
A palloza (an ancient thatched cottage) in O Cebriero, ithe Galacian region of Spain
The wind is blowing something fierce outside. It comes in off the Atlantic and when it hits the mountains it makes for inclement weather ... O Cebreiro! The name sings when you say it out loud [o thee bree ro]. In the distance a faint fairy-like music wafts into the room. It has a Celtic feel to it and I get the shivers. At that moment the inn bursts to life. The staccato notes of a flute swirl about me in the air, tempered by the gentle chords of a harp and the steady sound of a drum beating. ... I have been transported to another time.
The drumbeats are horse’s hooves and I am racing across the Scottish Highlands, the land of my ancestors. It feels like I am in Lord of the Rings and a hobbit might peek through the window any time.
As the dance grows more frenzied and the winds outside whistle through the trees, the beating of the drum builds until all the notes come together and climax in a single moment, and in that moment something dies and something else is born ... This is how my ancestors must have arrived: hearts beating slow and steady at first; then racing down from the mountain, they emerge out of the mists like a wild and beautiful song. - from my recently released book Becoming Love
THE EFFECT: My desire, while walking the Camino, was to open myself up to adventure and connect with my soul and my higher power, which meant I needed to first connect with those key energies and “personas” that are part of our ego: my inner child, my yin and yang, my ancestors. If there was any place I got in touch with all three at once it was in O Cebriero, one of the most timeless magical places I’ve ever visited.
There, in that ancient hamlet where time stood still, music took me by the hand and into other worlds.
It was where the child in me had awakened fully and where my masculine and feminine energies were flowing freely back and forth, as they’re meant to, in perfect balance. I really felt like I was on an extraordinary adventure.
WHAT’S GOING ON? After I finished my pilgrimage on El Camino de Santiago, I had several days to relax and explore before heading off to India. One of the cities I stopped in was Lagos, a coastal town in the Algarve region of southern Portugal. By the time I arrived, it was dark out but there were plenty of people milling about.
The Algarve Coast, Portugal
As I strolled through the lamp-lit streets I could hear in the distance the soft strumming of a guitar. It sounded familiar so I followed the music, which led me into a tiny bar with an outdoor patio. Two musicians, guys in their forties, I guessed, were sitting side by side singing their hearts out.
“It’s not time to make a change ...” sang the one musician.
No Way. I couldn’t believe it. They were playing Cat Stevens!
I bought a beer and sat down at one of the few seats that were empty.
How strange it was, after all these months, to land in this little place by the sea and, of all the bars in town (Lagos I’m told is famous for its vibrant night-life) to discover this one, at exactly the same time that two musicians are singing perhaps the only song in the world that had the power to take me back in time and trigger some of the saddest feelings I have ever had – those about my father.
My father and I weren’t that close. He passed away when I was in my thirties...
Tears welled up in my eyes as I recalled that loss, which got me thinking about Anne-Marie, and how much I missed her.
It wasn’t that I was terribly sad. On the contrary, I was actually pretty excited about my life. After all, didn’t I just walk 500 miles on one of the toughest pilgrimages on the planet?
But there’s nothing like music, especially those familiar songs that you have a history with, to stir up the emotions. And so, as I listened to Cat Stevens, many feelings came up all at once and mingled together: nostalgia for the good times gone by; gratitude for all the great things I have had (and still have) in my life; longing for those times that were yet to come, when I would be with my true love once again – and yes, a sadness for what had been lost, and for what I never did have to begin with.
The relationships we form with our partners bring up all manner of stuff, and the Camino in turn provides us with whatever we need to free ourselves from the shackles of the past and of old outdated beliefs. It is also where we do the alchemy - sifting through the sediment to capture the gold, and then tossing out what will no longer help up get where we are going.
Cat Stevens once said that he wrote Father and Son for those who “couldn’t break free.” I thought I had done that long ago and had come to terms with my parents. I know in my heart they did their best with the tools they had at the time. But perhaps there was a bit more dross to burn yet before I could put that past completely to rest. My big lesson continued to be trust – in myself, Anne-Marie, my children and in the Universe. I was still learning how to break free of my biggest obstacle: myself.
I took another swig of my beer. In a few days I would be in India, even farther away than I already was from friends and family. I thought how nice it would be if Anne-Marie could be here enjoying this timeless song with me, sharing this moment. But it was not to be.
“...Now there’s a way and I know that I have to go away.," sang the musician who was playing the part of the son. His timing was perfect. "I know I have to go...".
Musicians deserve a place in the medicine books as doctors of the soul.
THE EFFECT: As I walked back to my hotel room I could still taste that last sip of beer. It had gone to my head, along with the Marvin Gaye lyrics from What’s Going On, which they played right after Father and Son.
“Brother Brother Brother ... War is not the answer...”
I felt different, lighter, and it had something to do with the music and the mood it evoked.
So what was going on?
The musicians in Lagos were not only musicians; they were storytellers, retelling stories that other musicians had told through their songs, just as those before them had done. In doing so, it reinforced the feeling that we all share common emotions and are all connected by our experiences as human beings.
Music had gotten into my soul and synchronized with my hopes and fears and dreams. It evoked memories and helped release old feelings I didn’t know was still weighing me down. And music had lifted me up, also, as it mirrored back to me the harmony and grand organizational design in life.
What was going on in Lagos was nothing less than the universe shining its light and showing me that I was doing exactly what I was put on earth to do. I had broken free from the societal restraints that keep us from pursuing our dreams and was following my own dream, walking the path of my soul purpose. And music was with me every step of the way, because it was inside me.
There are many more memories of music I could share - like when I finally arrived in Santiago de Compostela and heard the ethereal music sung in Latin at the Pilgrims’ Mass, but I will let you discover how the music moved me during the swinging of the botafumerio when you read my new book Becoming Love.
As I think back on those moments on the Camino I realize that the people and the music I encountered were all part of a grand design, like tuning instruments for the soul, tweaking here and there, plucking the strings of distant memories, some of them as ancient as the songs themselves, bringing my own music to the surface and me closer to my vision of peace on earth.
Now I've been smiling lately, dreaming about the world as one. And I believe it could be something good's bound to come...The Peace Train’s Sounding Louder... – from Peace Train, Cat Stevens
Amen to that.
Stay tuned for more El Camino stories. Meanwhile, feel free to contact me if you’re considering El Camino as a relationship sabbatical or simply for your own spiritual growth. There’s plenty of information on El Camino and many ways to walk it. So, if anything has resonated with you while reading this, it may be a special sign, divinely arranged just for you.
Buen Camino, Pilgrim