When I go out to meet the light, the shadow of my body follows me, but the shadow of my spirit precedes me and leads the way to an unknown place
- Kahlil Gibran

Saturday, May 31, 2008

A visit from Grandma

It is 420am here in LA on my first night back from Spain and I am staying at my friend Tom's place. Tom and his girlfriend were with me in Spain for the last half of my trip. I am glad for their company, I have not known Tom for terribly long but I already know that he is among the truest friends I have ever known. I will count him certainly high among the people I will miss most from California when I leave shortly.

I am writing at this odd hour because I've just had an experience that I believe to be the culminating catharsis of my trip to Spain. My Grandmother passed away last year at 91 years from cancer in Malaysia. She was my last remaining grandparent and the rightful strong matriarch of the Shori clan (8 children!) due to her keen insight and sharp wit in matters. We all admired her a great deal and aspired to be like her in many ways. She was always very much involved in our lives, counselling and praying for her children and grandchildren. Being in California I was unable to see her in time before she passed away as most of my other relatives had done. I arrived a couple of days too late.

One night at a point roughly halfway on the camino I dreamed vividly of her. She had come downstairs from her room to address a big gathering of the Shori family, aunts uncles and cousins were there. But before she said anything to anyone, she turned to me and gave me a long hug that left me wondering why I deserved such a long hug when others were waiting her attention. It was nevertheless a deep fulfilling hug.

An hour ago as I was sleeping I dreamt of her again and I awoke from the strength of the experience. I had been meditating everyday in Spain and I was often aware in those times of a well of sadness within me that my mind would repress because most of these times I was not truly in privacy and I didn't wish to allow any emotions to show on my face. An hour ago some of these emotions were set free and I thank my Grandmother for leading me through this.

In my dream I remember being in her home on the island of Penang, and sort of hiding because I was carrying some burden of guilt about something that I had done, I don't even remember what it was but I was avoiding everyone. My younger cousin Ansel was there and ran to tell my Grandmother, I was dismayed and fearful so I chased him into her room to stop him. But he proclaimed my guilt before I could stop him, thereby rousing her from her bedrest since she was afflicted with cancer. In my dream, I broke down in front of her and sobbed and begged her forgiveness. I remember collapsing at her bedside with the force of my sorrow. Then I felt her gentle hand touch my shoulder and urge me from the floor. Through my sobs I remember clearly saying "I'm sorry, I'm not a better person." She looked at me lovingly and simply said "but you were right" meaning there was nothing to forgive in the first place. I woke up at that point and I felt my eyes were wet on my face, I recounted the event of my dream and that's when the emotions really broke through. Without really knowing why I then went through several waves of wracking sobs in my awakened state.

In Spain I had written in my personal journal the question, "Spain will you deliver me from bondage?". I thought it to be a clever play on a scene from one of my favorite movies "The Fountain", in that scene Queen Isabel asks her favorite conquistador "Will you deliver Spain from bondage?". I think having this dream immediately upon my departure is in response to my question. The key to a successful Camino is to carry as little weight as possible. :)

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Camino de Santiago Part II

“Walking, I am listening to a deeper way. Suddenly all my ancestors are behind me. 'Be still they say. Watch and listen. You are the result of the love of thousands.'” - Linda Hogan

On the final day (day 11) of my Camino, I took a bus to Santiago from a town on the coast called Ribeira where due to unforeseen circumstances, I had spent the last 3 days with my friend Lorena and her aunt instead of continuing my walk. When I walked into the grand cathedral in Santiago I didn't feel an overwhelming emotional force wash over me. I had heard of people on the camino breaking down and sobbing at points on the trail when barriers within themselves crack, others have mystical experiences as they realize the unity that surrounds them. I did not have either one though I did feel quite emotional at certain places on the trail when the beauty around me seemed too much to bear. In such moments of wonder so intense that it seemed I was on the verge of dissolving completely and becoming part of the landscape before me.

Standing in the cathedral reminds me of the churches and cathedrals these past few weeks. They appear as mighty yet garish displays of wealth and power intending to serve as temples for worshiping God or to proclaim one religion mightier and truer than another. I felt a stronger presence of 'God' in the spontaneous loving embrace of fellowship between the Norwegian sisters and myself at one point during the Camino than in any of the churches and cathedrals. I touched the pillar in the cathedral that had been worn smooth as polished marble by the hands of thousands of pilgrims before me for centuries and I didn't feel a blinding flash of revelation. What struck me instead was the irony that this enormous cathedral had been built to honor the resting place of one of Christ's apostles but the facts showed that the person laying in eternal slumber in the sepulcher was actually shown to be more likely that of some heretic than St.James. So what was the supernatural mystique that drew us to this place in the first place? Or was it really purely a mental construct? It was just a physical symbol whose worth was entirely ascribed to it by our minds. The Camino can be any destination that we choose to create, indeed our whole world experience is formed by our minds. I have heard it said that the Universe perfectly reflects our thoughts back to us, one small mental shift can result in a huge change in the quality of our lives. Vast amounts of energy can be wasted holding onto self defeating beliefs and protecting them. On my Bright Path I want to drop the burden of these thoughts, return to my innocence and become fearless again. Let me remember my true identity.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.

We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God.
Your playing small doesn't serve the world.
There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you.

We are all meant to shine, as children do.
We are born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.
It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone.
And as we let our own Light shine,
We unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear,
Our presence automatically liberates others.”

-Marianne Williamson

The fields of Spain.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Camino de Santiago Part I


Outside in the Barrio de Santa Cruz of Sevilla, the tourists are wandering purposefully to capture the landmarks marked on their maps, and to experience as much of the ambience as permitted by their itineraries. The local merchants and restauranteers along the narrow, cobbled streets tempt the tourists to part with their money with offerings of souveniours, tapas and alcohol.

I have spent 8 days of walking the Camino. I had intended to walk 11 days but circumstances dictated that it be curtailed. I am certain that this short yet moving experience will be the highlight of my trip and from it I now have a clear mental reference for the level of tranquility and beauty that this world was meant to provide for us. When life becomes too hectic I can journey to this place again and check if I have strayed too far from what it means to be a sane person with my feet firmly on the ground and my mind fully present and connected with my surroundings.

Already in the succeeding days since the Camino I have found my mind struggling to stay where my feet are planted. In particular, the cities such as Madrid and Sevilla pulled me far off base and I lose completely the sense of all that is divine within myself. The self destructive thought patterns return with a vengeance, there are too many distractions and the fears pull my level of consciousness down. The world becomes hostile and unsafe again, I retreat deeper within lost in the maze and twisting labrynth of my thoughts... it is exhausting.

But I can return to the Camino as I do so now with a few breaths of awareness to write these words after a tiring day of walking the old streets of Sevilla in the Barrio Santa Cruz and El Centro districts.

If I were to use a single word to describe my experience on the Camino it would be... expansion. It was an expansion of my senses reaching outward into the world around me like feelers, I've never been so intimately connected to my surroundings. An expansion of my Self because I had all the room in the world to expand who I was, unencumbered by any identification with possessions, social status, family or friends. An expansion also because though it was a solitary journey I encountered fearless people, other Paths and seekers of the truth of who we truly are, who permitted you the space to simple BE. People who in those moments were not trapped inside their own minds operating on an agenda, or seeking anything from you other than to learn about the path that had led you here. To compare notes and be on their way again with an exchange of goodwill. It was safe for me to speak my mind with them and to love them. In my experience, the other people on the camino are often there to remind you of how amazingly talented and beautiful you are. Too often, we are led to believe otherwise I struggle and continue to do so to recognize myself the way I truly am.

The Camino was like your life condensed into the amount of time you had planned to arrive at Santiago, or wherever you define your objective because it really doesn't matter. It doesn't even matter that you complete your task because life decides that for you. I didn't walk all the way to Santiago but I felt in my heart that it was right not to do so for me, I relinquished the Camino due to unforeseen circumstances and though I could have altered the circumstances to continue walking I didn't do so since I was confident that I had walked the correct journey. Maybe it had to do with my realization that the Camino was not ending with Santiago, it would go on for me beyond these borders of Spain until I return Home. I saw how I lived my life by my journey on the camino, and I learned some lessons.

The first day was focused on reaching my objective in the least amount of time so I could move to the next experience. 'The more the better' – not so. Despite being warned by an experienced pilgrim who had walked the distance from Barcelona to the starting point of my camino in the ancient town of Astorga. Alberto in his 30s had already endured over 30 days of walking. He spoke with such passion of his experience. “Be open”, he urged. “The camino will change you... everyday I speak with my Mama and my girlfriend on the phone and they tell me that I am different.” As a final bit of advice he added, “Go slow, take it easy the first 3 days!”. I didn't quite listen to him, I feared that I would be the last one to reach the objective of the first day and I would be arriving in the dark without any place to stay so I hauled ass the first day and covered the 13.3 mile objective to the village of Rabanal in just 4 hours. Over the next couple of days my pace was humbled more and more as the punishment of my feet and back from the hard flat terrain took its toll. I walked the first few days alone and it was a struggle, the journey although shortened to just 11 days by starting my journey from Astorga instead of the French border seemed too much to bear. By the 4th day I was arriving around dinner time. It is the journey not the destination that matters, being forced to take frequent breaks meant that I was aware of my environment more. I had to trust that there would be a place for me to lay my head down at the end of the day and that people would be willing to help me otherwise.

The Norwegian sisters Kirsten and Marion.

“He who walks fast, walks alone. He who walks far walks with a friend.” - African proverb. By the fourth day I found myself walking alongside a pair of sisters from Norway that were my age. They spoke English well and I found that I could connect with them well on a spiritual and intellectual level since they were willing to look beyond the logical realm of science for answers to the mysteries of our existence. With them the miles flew by and there were healing moments since one of them had trained in Reiki and the other was a yoga instructor so we would sometimes start our day with Sun salutations to prepare our physical selves and often end with Reiki healing. In return, I shared with them the learnings I had acquired from my readings on metaphysics, existentialism and God. And there were many moments of laughter, healing of the past and learning from each other. Suddenly I didn't want the journey to end, we took every opportunity to rest at the taverns along the way and though we arrived later than ever before, each day was lived more fully and felt more complete because we had contributed to each other in a significant way. There was a certain energy that carried us. I realized that they saw me in a light that I could not see of myself. After the camino, the younger sister, Marion, emailed me an excerpt that she had translated for me from Norwegian. It is written by Paulo Coelho and it has touched me deeply:

" A warrior of light never forgets to be grateful. He was helped in his battle by the angels and the divine powers that made order and made it possible to share the best of himself. His friends says "He's so lucky!" And the warrior will often accomplish beyond his skills. So he kneels by the sunset and gives thanks to the mantel that he's swept in. But his gratitude is not only limited to the spiritual world. He is never forgotten by his friends, because on the battlefield their blood has been mixed with his. A warrior of light does not need anyone to remind him of the help he has received by others, he remembers by himself, and shares all his rewards with them" – from the Handbook for the warriors of light

Sometimes the friend that walks with you when you are weary is not even human in being.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

This Life... before it is taken.

I sit here on my bed in the Hostal Adriano in Madrid city, I've completed the Santiago trail and now have access to my laptop again. This Hostal is small and cheap yet quaint and clean, it is ideal for a budget traveler looking for 3 nights accommodation. Downstairs the narrow streets of the Sol district are coming to life as the weekend late night revelers begin to fill the streets to slake their thirst for sensual stimulation.

The Santiago trail was magical, I lived a completely different life for 10 days in a magical fairy tale land. I was Don Quixote traversing the Spanish landscape of meadows, pastures, rolling hills, streams, villages, towns... some these places were still very medieval in appearance.

The night before I started the trail I kept waking up each time I fell asleep, it was a reflexive response beyond my control. It was as though in that hotel room, there was an entity waiting to take possession of my body. It dawned on me that the real source of my fear was that I would not wake up the same person because I knew that in the days ahead the Camino de Santiago would change me. There was nothing to anchor me to who I was for the next few weeks ahead. Walking the trail for that period meant I was anyone I wanted to be... the possibilities were completely open. I had left behind anything that may have indicated that my name was Aaron Shori - possessions, job title, family, friends. nothing was familiar, not the landscape and even my language didn't work anymore. And when you walk 8 hours a day with none of the usual distractions instead surrounded by achingly beautiful scenery, in the tranquil undemanding embrace of nature, your spirit begins to rise and expand. Yes, for 10 days I walked a remarkable journey as a peregrino (pilgrim) and I was intoxicated with life.

I will write more detail on the experience of the Camino in a subsequent post. For now I wish to pay a small tribute to a coworker of mine. He passed away on May 12th in his late 30s, he used to sit 10 ft from me at my work and for 3 months he was on disability suffering an inexplicable health complication that had him in and out of ER sometimes 3 times a week. His name is Fazlul and I was blessed to have to opportunity to know and contribute to him in the year prior to his parting for that is when he joined the company, he had moved from Canada a year ago with his wife and 2 children. Not knowing anyone in California and his wife being unable to drive meant that he had to rely on his coworkers for transportation from the ER to home to medical appointment, week after week. Numerous tests were performed for months but there were no answers for the dizziness, nausea and intense pain in the neck that accompanied his frequent attacks. Before I began my journeying for April he called me to the hospital where he was admitted to see his newborn 3rd child - a boy named Sean Ryan. I never saw him again, for I had since then moved out of my apartment and had begun traveling on the Bright Path. Today in Madrid, as I opened my emails to catch up on events I learned of his passing. His body will be brought to Bangladesh and his wife will return to Canada with the 3 children.

Fazlul, may God bless you and your family. You didn't deserve to suffer your last days on this earth in this life the way you did. Your Camino in this life has reached its final step and now you as you start a new one on another path in another place and time, I bid you in the fashion among the Peregrinos of the Camino "Buen Camino my friend", journey well and far.