My Camino Way Series Article #5
Meditation on loneliness: The Chestnut Forest
In my previous article, Meditation on a Mosquito, I discuss how we can turn frustration and fear into peace and love with a simple mantra. I also touch upon some key ideas in the meditation process - such as creating mantras, connecting with one’s soul, building trust and developing your own personal meditation plan. Here, I write about loneliness as part of spiritual growth and death as a natural part of life, focusing on meditations in nature.
Credit: Sierra de Gredos, Spain; Creative Commons, Wikimedia, 2005
It was Halloween and I was in Avila - a tiny hamlet near Madrid - also known as the Town of Stones and Saints. My pilgrimage on El Camino de Santiago was behind me; I had knelt at the tomb of St. James, walked to the “End of the Earth” and said goodbye to all my pilgrim friends. Now I was sitting in a quiet restaurant, alone, reflecting on all that had passed during the previous 40 days and nights.
In the distance, the Sierra de Gredos mountain range sprawled out across the landscape like a vast painting, its high peaks shimmering in the moonlight with a fresh coat of snow - the mark of an old season dying and a new one being born. Out in the streets, where the scent of roasting chestnuts wafted in the air, a group of young revellers were throwing eggs and generally being rowdy.
Tomorrow was Dia de Todos los Santos (All Saints’ Day), a national holiday and a time when people all across the country visit the graves of loved ones who are christened with the names of saints.
Tomorrow, I too would be part of the festival and visit the cemetery in Avila, the birthplace of Saint Theresa the Mystic, to pay my respects to another saint who holds special meaning for me - Angel Gabriel.
On that night, the Eve of All Hallows, however, I was feeling especially lonely, missing my sweetheart who I would not see for many months to come. My loneliness was intensified by the fact that I was the solitary patron of an otherwise empty dining establishment.
Loneliness is one of the most common - and perhaps the most difficult - of emotions to process while on a relationship sabbatical. Not only are we separated from our partners, but if we’re digging deep enough we’re also experiencing the memory of painful old wounds at the root of that loneliness.
While walking El Camino I discovered that a great many people who undertake spiritual journeys suffer from profound loneliness, whether in a relationship or not. I often battled with loneliness on the Way to Santiago. I missed my partner terribly; I wanted to share my ups and downs with her. And while we did communicate from a distance, I really missed that human touch.
This is where meditation became vital in my spiritual growth process.
As I’ve written about previously, I’ve meditated in all manner of places during my sabbatical. For me, El Camino was in a sense one long walking meditation - which is what life is, if we’re living it spiritually (El Camino being a microcosm of life). While sitting in the restaurant in Avila, the aroma of chestnuts in the fall air, I recalled the many times walking in solitude through wooded trails of beech, pine, oak and, among other trees, the sweet chestnut - a tree that has provided the Spanish peoples with sustenance for centuries.
Trees are life-giving with profound healing capacity. The image of entering into a forest is an archetypal one, the forest being a highly symbolic place in mythology representing our subconscious mind. It is where the primeval spirit lives, where ancient ceremonies have taken place all the world over, honoring the Earth Goddess, and where great transformation can occur. It’s no wonder the forest is so conducive to meditation.
Credit: Creative Commons, Wikimedia, 2005
In one of my earlier walks through a chestnut forest, I had meditated on loneliness with the understanding that I needed to nurture my soul with self-love and acceptance. Before I went to bed that night, I reflected on the chestnut forest and how fitting it was to be here in Avila at a time when people everywhere were partaking in festivities, eating chestnut cakes and remembering their dead by celebrating life.
After all, I too was saying goodbye to someone who had in a sense died - my old self. I too was on the cusp of transforming as I prepared for my India pilgrimage.
Like the autumn leaves on the trees, I had been shedding my old “leaves” - the stories of my past - to make room for new stories and for the person I was becoming.
That night in Avila I sat in my room in a comfortable position, palms facing upward. The tips of my index fingers touching the tips of my thumbs, I closed my eyes, focusing on the point at the center between my eyebrows - the third-eye chakra - and recited my mantra:
I KNOW THAT WHATEVER MY LIFE CIRCUMSTANCES ARE
I AM ALWAYS LOVED AND AM NEVER ALONE
In this way, and by embracing the spirit of the ancient Gaels who accepted death and loss as a part of life, I let go of my loneliness and welcomed my new adventure.
Loneliness is far less about being alone than it is about being disconnected from our souls, as we hold on to old memories and hurts that keep us stuck in a state of fear and self-loathing.
Each season, nature shows us how to let go of the past and “die” gracefully to make room for change and new growth. Each season reaffirms the never-ending circle of life and the more we connect with that circle and with our souls, the more joyous we become and the more able we are to find lasting happiness within ourselves and with our soul-mates.
Stay tuned next week when I’ll be writing about more Meditations on El Camino. 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
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