My Camino Way Series: Article #3
PART II of THE RELATIONSHIP SABBATICAL
EMBRACING YOUR INNER FIRE: HOW I FOLLOWED MY FLAME ON THE CAMINO
In my previous article “You Should Do El Camino!” I wrote about the relationship sabbatical and the power of synchronicities during spiritual growth. Here, in Part ll, I’ll be going a bit deeper into the spiritually charged relationship sabbatical - how it works, what the benefits are and why it’s so important in our society today.
Credit: Public Domain, Wikipedia; photographer: Ken Thomas, 2010
Bell Rock, Arizona, 2012
Bits of charred paper fluttered about me in the air as if they were alive - dancing specks of fire, falling onto my clothes and hair and threatening to land in the nearby bushes.
I was in one of the driest spots of land in all the United States - Bell Rock in Yavapai County, Arizona, which was essentially a tinderbox of dried scrubs - praying that the flurry of airborne sparks would extinguish before hitting the ground.
This was not the way I’d imagined it playing out.
I’d just built a little bonfire to burn my journal when suddenly the wind picked up.
Holy Moses! What on earth had I been thinking?!
It wasn’t my intent to recreate the Burning Bush on the mountain top - and thank goodness I managed to snuff out the remaining flames so it didn’t go any further than a few stray sparks.
But those sparks really got me thinking...
In two days, I would be boarding a plane out of Phoenix headed for Spain to walk El Camino’s 500 mile pilgrimage. I’d been on my relationship sabbatical officially now for two months and nine days, with just under 10 months to go.
Being such a spiritual hotspot (no pun intended) Bell Rock seemed the ideal place to burn my journal, which was also a diary of the past few months of my life.
The purpose of burning my journal wasn’t to destroy my memories or wipe out my past. Before I did it, I naturally made a copy and sent it to my son for safe keeping.
Journals are treasure troves of deeply private memories, reflections and other recordings. They provide us a place to be honest with ourselves, to release our feelings, they help us see where we were at during a particular time in our lives and show us we’ve grown since that time.
Journals are also an essential tool while on a relationship sabbatical. (For those who aren’t familiar with this type of sabbatical, it is a sacred time away from our partners so that we can get acquainted with our souls, let go of our baggage and evolve spiritually. In this way, we are able to have deeper, more meaningful relationships with others).
The ceremonial burning, then, was a highly symbolic act to mark the ending of phase one of my sabbatical and to signify my intent to let go of whatever no longer served me - whether those were feelings or dreams, memories or beliefs. In doing so, I was also readying myself to embrace the next phase of my spiritual journey.
The fact that the ceremony at Bell Rock went a little awry was actually an important sign to receive right before leaving. It was reminding me that not everything can be contained and controlled, that our inner flame yearns to dance freely. As I headed off into the unknown, I was being asked to not smother that flame lest I miss out on the adventure that awaited me.
One of the most symbolic adventures on the Camino Way that echoed the Bell Rock lesson was during the Festival of San Mateo in Logrono, when I almost got locked inside the Concatedral de Santa María de la Redondal where I’d been meditating.
Credit: Concatedral de Santa María de la Redondal, Logrono, Spain, from Wikimedia Commons
After finishing my meditation, I went to the front door only to find I could not open it. At first I thought it was stuck but I soon realized the door was actually locked, presumably from the outside. The place was like a tomb, with not a human in sight.
Fortunately, before too long, a very surprised and slightly amused priest appeared and led me down a corridor to a mysterious side door.
When the door swung open, the world I was viewing outside was in stark contrast with that of the church. The streets were alive with people dancing, singing, laughing and drinking. The festival of San Mateo was in full swing.
It was one of the most magical times of the El Camino trail. And I had, quite literally, almost locked myself out of the adventure.
If this wasn’t a sign, I don’t know what was.
The kind solemn priest, dressed in full-length religious garb, was leading me out of the confines of the church, away from a place of silent reverence and into to a world of magic and mayhem. In that moment, he was acting as a divine guide, showing me, unwittingly, that I needed to balance my solitary spiritual pursuits with more earthly ones.
How wonderfully synchronous it was then, once I’d completed my meditation in the church, that I was sent out into the streets, so to speak, where I’d be connecting with my fellow pilgrims and finding the joy I deserved and needed to experience.
El Camino de Santiago for me was such a profound time of spiritual growth. It helped me immeasurably to overcome my fears and other feelings that were holding me back from evolving.
A relationship sabbatical is hard work. You have to dig down deep, meditate, pray, exorcise your emotions, challenge yourself to expand your heart, mind and soul. It asks you to trust - in your partner, yourself, your higher power and in the universe.
But it’s not meant to be joyless or painful. Part of the process is also about freeing one’s inner fire and allowing ourselves to have fun, meet new people and get out of the tight restrictive garments that, if worn too long, can repress our true selves and hinder our spiritual growth.
These “garments” can be, symbolically, the masks we wear that hide our true selves and hold in our creativity or other expressions that we need in order to grow.
One of the ways we change and grow is by allowing ourselves to stop and smell the proverbial roses, to feel joyous in the miracles of life.
More people today are involved in spiritual growth than ever before, and the relationship sabbatical, which is becoming something of a trend, is a big part of that.
We are learning new ways to have more evolved relationships, and I find this to be a very hopeful development in our society. It shows that we as a race desire to resolve our inner and outer conflicts.
We have the power and wisdom to live more harmoniously, but “Peace on Earth” begins with us as individuals working on our relationships, starting with the one we have with ourselves.
When we are connected to our souls, it has a profound effect on the lives of everyone we come in contact with. Even one highly evolved soul has the power to effect change in millions, as did great spiritual leaders such as Gandhi. So it isn’t difficult to envision how our communities can evolve as well, with spiritually evolved individuals lighting the way.
This is how we arrive at peace.
And as we evolve, it is vital that we partake in the feast of life, explore new worlds, mingle with other cultures and allow our playful inner child to come out as much as possible. As the Dalai Lama says, we are not meant to be full of suffering. We do not need to be living in such pain and turmoil, with violence all around us. The reason we live this way is that we are disconnected from our souls and, as a collective, we are therefore disconnected from the Universal Soul.
This is a huge part of our lesson as human beings - to let go of our suffering and pursue joy.
One of the most important lessons I learned while on my sabbatical was to allow myself to have adventures while also “burning the dross” as one of my spiritual teachers, Yogananda, refers to it - shedding our old baggage.
Walking 500 miles on the Camino trail was quite challenging, physically speaking, but the real challenge lay in those moments when I walked into the “dark night of the soul” and began to face those fears buried deep within.
It’s where we must all go before we can step through that side door into the sunshine and partake fully in the joyous dance of life.
I feel so blessed with the life I have. During our sabbatical, my partner encouraged me to grow and embrace change - to find the magic in our separation. She did not demand that I change. She only asked that I consider it. And to consider her in the process. I knew that she trusted in me enough to let me go for a while on my own adventure. More importantly, we both trusted in the Divine process that things would unfold as they should.
And that may well be the most important lesson when embarking on a relationship sabbatical. The wider you open your arms to change and the more willing you are to learn and grow from that change, the sooner you will find your way home - to your soulmate, your own soul and the Divine Universal Soul.
Stay tuned next week for Part III on The Relationship Sabbatical where I’ll be writing about 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