“YOU SHOULD DO EL CAMINO!”: HOW A CHANCE MEETING WITH A FRIEND SET ME ON THE PATH TO WALK AN ANCIENT PILGRIMAGE
My Camino Way Series: Article # 2
PART I of II on THE RELATIONSHIP SABBATICAL
In the first article of My Camino Way Series, I wrote about Ernest Hemingway as my dӧpelganger and how, through certain synchronicities, I was gently awakened to its significance. Here, I’ll be writing about another synchronicity that nudged me in the direction of El Camino de Santiago, which was part of a year-long relationship sabbatical framed within a greater journey to grow spiritually so that my relationship with my partner, myself and with God would blossom as I continued on my soul path as a Peace Educator.
When I was walking El Camino trail in 2012, not a few people were curious about the reason I was there. I was on a year-long relationship sabbatical, and the famous pilgrimage of El Camino de Santiago was part of that journey.
“And what exactly is a relationship sabbatical?” many of my fellow pilgrims wanted to know, as well as others I encountered during the 12 months I was separated from my partner in peace and love, Anne-Marie Collette.
The idea of a relationship sabbatical (sabbatical referring to a “break” from) is still relatively new in our society. We are used to hearing about relationship breaks as signifying the beginning of the end, such as with marriage separation, which almost always leads to divorce. In contrast, the spiritually-based sabbatical is a highly evolved way to approach our relationship with others by first connecting with our spiritual self and dealing with our own baggage. The ancient pilgrimage, then, is an ideal place to purge old baggage and kickstart the journey into more enlightened communication with one’s significant other.
Most people who go on such pilgrimages are there to heal old wounds, whether they are conscious of them or not. Those wounds (which go back to early childhood and perhaps even to past lives) shape our relationship with others as well as that which we have with ourselves. If we do not heal these wounds, all our relationships will suffer. The success of a relationship sabbatical will depend greatly upon our willingness to open up to the signs that guide us along the way.
One of the first significant signs that would shape the path of my sabbatical came at a most symbolic time and place - at an airport, shortly before the sabbatical officially began.
As an accountant I spend a great deal of time during audit season in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Canada, where many of my clients reside. I had just finished my stint up North and, as usual, was at the airport - this time to catch a plane to Calgary.
The official start date of my sabbatical was July 1st and I had yet to figure out what I would be doing for the entire time. I knew I would be living out of my motor-home for the initial months, and some of that time would be spent travelling through the United States. I had also fixed on going to India for an extensive spiritual retreat, but the gap in between was still a mystery.
So there I was in the airport, on my way to grab a bite to eat before boarding the plane, when I run into my long-time friend Chuck who lives in Yellowknife. After exchanging our usual pleasantries, I convey to him that I am taking time off to do some spiritual healing but have yet to work out all the details.
“Well, you should do El Camino,” says Chuck.
“El Camino?” I asked, intrigued. “What’s that?”
Chuck explained that he learned about the ancient pilgrimage from the movie The Way - a deeply moving story about a father (played by Martin Sheen) who walks the Camino (also known as The Way) to trace the footsteps of his son who died tragically while trekking through the Pyrenees, at the onset of that same pilgrimage.
I thought it was a fascinating story. On my flight to Calgary, the idea that I “do the Camino” percolated in my mind. It seemed the perfect solution to my yet-to-be-defined plans before India.
In travelling to India, I would be taking a huge cultural leap into a whole other hemisphere. El Camino, then, might be a great training ground for that.
The Camino would take me through France and Spain, so I’d still be in the same hemisphere with similar linguistic roots. It would be more familiar, especially given my Celtic ancestry - and closer to home, so to speak - not to mention the fact that it was a spiritual pilgrimage. By the time I got to Calgary, the idea was starting to make a lot of sense.
I began reading up on El Camino de Santiago and before long I had made my decision. I booked a flight out of Phoenix for September 11th, headed for Spain.
I was really doing it!
As it turned out, the Camino was indeed the perfect training ground for India - but it was a great deal more than that as well. It was a grand adventure all its own, where profound spiritual growth took place and my path as a peace educator was further illuminated.
And it might never have happened had I not met Chuck that day at the airport. But I did, and I took that meeting as a divine sign.
Timing is a crucial part of synchronicity. It may not be unusual when two friends from a small town meet in the town’s airport. But where it gets special is when you run into somebody who provides you with crucial information that leads to a life-transforming decision. Had any of the events leading up to that meeting unfolded differently I likely would have missed Chuck.
It also seemed synchronous that I received this vital information about the Camino at an airport. Airports are highly symbolic as junctures that take us into other worlds where new opportunities for change and growth occur.
Me in Northwest Territories, about to go up in the air
During my entire relationship sabbatical I was, literally and figuratively, up in the air a great deal of the time.
In order to grow you have to step out of your comfort zone and be open to change and new experiences.
Especially with the spiritually-based relationship sabbatical, where you are exploring a new way of being with your partner, things are up in the air. But it is also under these uncertain conditions, and by trusting in the divine process, that we learn how to love more wisely.
Stay tuned next week for Part II on The Relationship Sabbatical where I’ll go into more detail about the hows and whys of it, and where it fits in the big picture of peace.
Meanwhile, feel free to contact me if you’re considering El Camino trail as a relationship sabbatical or simply for your own spiritual growth. There’s plenty of information on El Camino Way 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