Ten years ago, on the 6th of April in 2012, D and I walked out of St. Jean Pied de Port on the Camino de Santiago. I remember it was cloudy and cool. The Basque woman in the Camino office told us to go up into the mountains instead of taking the canyon. We followed her advice. We stopped in Orisson and ate soup. We walked all the way to Roncesvalles where I had the greatest shower of my life.
On that day, I did not know that I would write a book about my experience, publish that book as an ebook, and reach a lot of people. On that day, I had no idea where I was going (although there was the distant Santiago de Compostella) on my walk or in life. I was just doing what felt right.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. This post is about the beginning of the journey. There is so much joy and giddiness in the beginning of things when some parts of the journey are uncertain. Wow, I’m going to do this. It’s exciting.
I had read books and seen The Way. I had trained and bought a pair of walking shoes. I had a backpack and a guidebook. However, I had no idea what the walk actually was until I was doing it. My Camino experience turned out to be better than watching The Way, and I say that with great love for that film.
I like the not knowing when I embark on something. It’s fun to stumble around, and there’s less pressure to be a certain way. My writing mentor likes to say that in the beginning, anything is possible. I’ve written a lot of beginnings with no middles and ends. Sometimes it takes a while to find the middle. In many ways, I still feel like I’m in the middle after the beginning in St. Jean Pied to Port.
On the 6th, I started walking.
On the 7th, my legs were stiff, but I kept walking.
On Pico Boulevard in West Los Angeles there is a movie theatre called The Landmark. I used to go there a lot before the pandemic. The multiplex showed art house films along with mainstream fare and Oscar bait.
The Landmark used to be attached to a mall by a pedestrian bridge, but the mall was closed and is now being converted into tech company offices. There also used to be a giant Barnes and Noble book store right next to the movie theatre, but that moved out and was replaced by a high end furniture store which closed pre-pandemic.
I liked going to the Landmark. Their ticket prices were cheaper than the Arclight. The seats were comfortable. Everyone who worked there was super friendly. I could get a cup of hot tea and a hot dog at the concession stand. If I was early, I could hang out in their bar which had some comfortable lounge couches.
I can’t remember the last movie I saw in the Landmark. Sometimes, I would be super excited about seeing a new film. Sometimes, I didn’t care what I saw. I just wanted to see a movie in a dark theatre filled with strangers. I prefer going to movies by myself. I’ve been let down too many times by close friends who like to comment on the movie while it is playing. I don’t mind laughter or gasps or the occasional HOLY SMOKE! Please, I don’t want to hear an actor’s resume while the movie is playing.
The Landmark like other movie theatres is currently closed due to the pandemic. Even though I have access to tons of movies and TV shows to watch at home, it’s just not the same as going to a movie in the theatre. The tea tastes different. The floor isn’t sticky. I hope the Landmark makes it through this okay.
Since the pandemic started, many worse things than a movie theatre closing have happened to me and to others. If you have experienced a loss of any kind, I am deeply sorry. As for me, I am still mentally and emotionally sorting through my own loss, but I get up every morning and stand on my feet. I make a cup of tea. I keep going. I have realized that loss and grief will take time. Fortunately, now, I have a lot of time.
I’ve also been thinking about boredom. During this current pandemic, I’ve had a few moments of boredom. Okay, I’m bored, I thought. Then I chuckled. Instead of feeling bad about my boredom. I’m actually feeling okay about it. While it’s nice to have few distractions, I don’t want distraction all the time. I just want to enjoy whatever the current moment brings. Sure it’s kind of boring, but that’s the fun and challenge of it.
When did it become not okay to be bored? I remember boring car rides as a kid (they were really boring, we were in the Midwest of the United States). My brothers and I learned to deal with it and not fight all the time. I learned to just sit and look out the window at the dirty snow on the ground. It was what it was. I started to imagine things. I pictured a world without snow. I wondered if I could go somewhere without snow. I started to dream.
In the car, we didn’t have the distraction of DVDs and video. DVDs hadn’t been invented yet, and a VHS tape machine was too clunky for car rides. I couldn’t read books because I got car sick. I did have a Walkman permanently attached to my ears, so my views of snow had an 80s pop soundtrack.
I first realized that boredom was okay when I walked across Spain. The Camino does not pass through beautiful epiphany-filled landscape all the time. Some miles are little boring. Since there was no instant gratification except the occasional café con leche, I developed a patience that wasn’t just virtuous. It was enjoyable. All these years later, I still remember some of the boring bits. They were part of the experience too.
I’ve also done some distance sailing. It might sound glamorous—sailing off into the sunset. However, sailing takes time, and there are a lot of days when you are just looking at water. At first it might seem boring, but then I noticed that the water is constantly changing. Sometimes I spotted a sea turtle or a pod of dolphins. Still, water every day can be a bit maddening, but the mind slows down. It becomes pleasant. We’ll get to where we’re going eventually.
So it’s okay to be bored. I think my mind needs some of the down time anyway. Too much distraction becomes background noise and boring too. So I enjoy the boredom. It’s fun.
Finally, it amuses me that I write about the noise of distraction, but it turns out that I’ve just written a distraction. Bon Appetit!
Tomorrow, April 6th, is the eighth anniversary of the start of my Camino in St. Jean Pied de Porte. I’ve been feeling a little rusty on matters of the Camino; then Covid-19 happened. I watched two beautiful countries, Spain and Italy, which had opened their hearts to me, go into lockdown with many sick and dying. It’s heartbreaking, and I know that’s a cliché, but I have no other word.
In social isolation in Southern California, I found myself feeling calm among the uncertainty. It was okay. I could do this. I started to think about how the Camino had prepared me for Social Isolation. Naturally, I started to make a list:
1. We are still connected whether we want to be or not. On the walk, when I was feeling uncertain or unable, help would come from random people I met. I’m seeing the same thing now. People are kind.
2. Physical challenges. On the Camino, there were some physically challenging days—I’m thinking of you, Pyrenees. Now the challenge is different. I have to be still. I don’t have a gym. As of this writing, I can still walk the dog. I found a bunch a Zumba classes on You Tube. I have to find ways to keep my physical self going even though my mind wants to sit on the computer all day.
3. The Camino was a mind game at times. This is a mind game. It’s okay to feel mentally bad for a little while. Let that pass. It’s okay to be worried. Figure out what you can control and can’t control. If the big picture is too overwhelming, focus on the next step, then take it, then focus on the next step, and the next step. If it’s raining, it’s just the rain.
4. Daily habits. Stay clean, stay fed, sleep as much as you can. Do laundry. It’s the little things. There is power in a shower.
5. I’m a human on a planet full of humans. Be kind.
Back in 2012, I bought an Osprey Hornet 46 backpack
for my upcoming Camino walk. In the outdoor supply shop, the backpack sales guy
put weight in the bag and let me walk around the store. I didn’t need an
enormous bag since I wasn’t going to be tent camping. I needed something light
but durable. I also liked that it was red.
That backpack was on my back for the Camino de
Santiago in 2012 and the Via Francigena in 2014. Because it was a perfect sized
carry-on, it went with me on several plane trips. In the last few years, it
also went on several overnight sailing trips with me. The last time I used it
was on a sailing race from Santa Barbara to Redondo Beach. In addition to
holding my stuff, it also was a nice pillow during the night.
Right after I got on the boat, I discovered that
the backpack’s lining was starting to shred. It was some sort of rubber compound,
and it got on all the stuff in the bag. It appeared to be a reinforcement
layer. Still, the bag came through the trip totally fine.
Back on land, I discovered Osprey had a generous
repair policy. They will repair any Osprey bag. I just had to ship it to Colorado.
I filled out the online form and sent the bag to them. On the online form, I checked
the sentimental value box. This red pack had been my faithful companion on my
long walks and sailing adventures.
A week or so later, Osprey called me. They could
not fix the lining of the bag. I had two options: they could send the bag back
or they could replace the bag. However, they no longer made the Hornet 46, so I
would be given an equivalent. Osprey sent me some options.
I trekked to the local outdoor supply shop to try
out the potential new bag. I put it on, and a different backpack sales guy
helped me adjust the straps. Once again, I walked around the store and went up
and down stairs. It was different but also super comfortable. It was basic
black. The fabric felt different. The straps were wider than the Hornet 46, but
I liked it.
Still, I would be giving up the Hornet 46. Could I
do it? Faithful companion. It didn’t just hold my stuff. It held my hopes and
dreams. We had been through rain and mud together. Then, I remembered something
I learned on the Camino. It was just a thing. Let it go. I am sentimental about
it, but does that mean I have to keep it?
So farewell, Osprey Hornet 46. You served me well.
Hello, Osprey Talon 44. Let’s do some adventuring.
Today, six years ago, I started my Camino. For this last week, I have been blogging about things I have learned from the Camino and how they apply for to my life now.
Or something like that.
I remember the day I arrived in Santiago de Compostela. It was one of the happiest days of my life, and I am someone who doesn’t like to use phrases like happiest day. I was so happy that day. I was reunited with all of my Camino friends. I found a nice place to stay. I went to a friend’s birthday dinner. We stood in the square, and everyone sang Happy Birthday in their native tongue. It was a day of joy. We had arrived.
The next day, I put on my pack and walked out of Santiago. I wanted to go to Finisterre. I wanted to go to the water. I felt that I wasn’t quite done. Even though I felt so much joy arriving in Santiago, I felt even more joy leaving it.
I love watching awards shows like the Oscars. Yes, I like the pretty dresses. At the same time, I like noticing the ones who are happy winning but are also looking toward the next thing, the next project. It’s as if the award is not the end of anything but the beginning of something new. Yes, this is great, but I can’t wait to do the next thing.
When you get there, what’s there? And isn’t the real fun in the going on? So here’s to you all making whatever journey you make. Celebrate when you arrive, then keep going. Isn’t it all so much fun?
I’ve heard this story often. It usually begins with: I was walking the Camino. Then something bad happens: I was hurt, I was hungry, I was tired. Then there’s a miracle: I met a massage therapist, someone gave me a chocolate bar, someone carried my pack.
When I was preparing to walk my Camino six years ago, I had a lot of questions. Would I find food? Would I find a bed at night? How well is the trail marked? I kept hearing, the Camino provides. The Camino Provides. Don’t worry. The Camino Provides.
But what about ladies bathrooms??? Don’t worry. The Camino Provides.
As an American, I pride myself on being active. I set goals, I act, I get results. The Camino Provides is passive. True, the Camino won’t walk the five hundred miles for you, but the Camino will help you along the way.
Twice, on the Camino, I was tired and unsure if I could go on. Twice, someone showed up and walked with me to the next place. When I was hungry, I found a café. One time, I showed up, and the alburgue was full, so I walked another mile or so to the next place. It turned out to be a nice place with a good bed and a hot shower. That night, I had a lovely dinner with the other pilgrims and a great night sleep. I could go on the next day.
I wonder if the Camino Provides can apply to life in general. Maybe I have more resources than I think I do. Sometimes, I just need a little help to get to the next place. I haven’t been there, but I want to go there. Maybe that’s enough. I’ll keep walking. When I need a little help, the Camino will provide.
This is day five of my week long blog-a-thon where I look back on lessons from the Camino in order to inspire others and myself. It’s my way of reconnecting with my Camino six years after my walk.
Who am I really? Who is this Sunshine Jen person? She seems adventurous. She likes to write. She likes to walk. She likes to sail. But who is she really?
Back in 2004, I was given a blog on the Happy Robot. The owner of the site wanted some west coast flavor. I figured I would write until I ran out of ideas and got bored with it. I took a break in 2016/2017, but the ideas are still coming.
I walked the Camino de Santiago, and I wrote a book which I self-published as an ebook. Then to my shock, people read it. I published another ebook, and I did another walk and wrote a book about it. I learned how to build a website and blog on it.
But who is Jen? How much of me is Sunshine Jen? I like to call Sunshine Jen my internet super heroine. Sunshine Jen just keeps going. I think Sunshine Jen has made Jen a better person. In a way, Sunshine Jen is Jen without the hours of silence spent typing into Microsoft Word documents (I’m a PC user).
Do we recreate ourselves or do we just become more ourselves? I’m in my mid-forties now, and I feel I have recreated my life several times. There have been definite stages. I have no idea how it’s going to turn out, but I am enjoying the journey.
In the last few years, I have felt better about living in my skin. For starters, I don’t have the horrible acne I had as a teenager. I feel more confident. I am still a shy person in many ways, but I’ve turned that into an advantage. I make it a point to be polite and kind to those around me. I’m honest with myself about how I feel about things.
But wait, how can I be honest while being anonymous? In this age, everyone is sincerely themselves. That’s fine too. I just like being Sunshine Jen in the blogging.
At the end of one of the Iron Man movies, Tony Stark stands up and says, I’m Iron Man. It’s as if he’s saying, fine, I am the hero, now can we all move on? I want to go work on my suit.
For the record, as I’m typing this, I’m wearing black pants and a navy blue top. I’m not wearing reading glasses although I need them from time to time. The eyes are starting to go. I have some grey in my hair, but I don’t worry about that. I’ve had grey since my twenties. I like wearing running shoes, and I can no longer wear high heels for long periods of time. When I was walking the Camino, I promised my feet that if they got me through, I would not torture them by wearing heels for a long time.
Also, I am currently eating a snack bag of cheez-its. According to the bag, they were made with real cheese. Would a snack ever admit to being made with fake cheese?
A phrase that came to me when I was walking the Camino six years ago was: Trust the Love. It’s a phrase that comes back to me again and again.
Trust the Love. It’s a command. You must trust, Jen. I’m a modern city-living lady. I have mastered the squint of distrust. I’ve trusted and been burned. I do get leery. But when she gets leery, try a little tenderness.
Okay, thanks to Google, I learned the lyric is weary, not leery. I apologize for my imperfect lyrical memory and move on.
Trust the love. What is this love that I have to trust? It’s not a tangible thing. It’s not something that has been proven. It’s an act of faith in something bigger than myself, and oh, how hard it was for my ego to think about something bigger than myself.
Trust the love. It’s not just about loving people although it’s good to love those around you, to be kind and generous to those around you. Loving others is good.
So is loving what you do. I have discovered that when I do what I love, I find others who love doing the same thing, and we form a community. On the outside, we might seem different, but together, we have a shared love. We enjoy each other’s company, and isn’t it nice going through life enjoying the company of the people around you. It’s such a pleasant way to be.
Love can lead to courage. I have fears, I can be extremely cautious, but when I’m surrounded by people I love and trust, those fears go away. What am I really fearful of anyway?
Yes, I realize this kind of thinking does not apply to every scenario on planet Earth. When I see a rattle snake on the path, I am not going to pick it up and love it. I’m also not going to give up hiking either.
I’ve also learned from the walking that part of loving is letting go. This can be letting go of fears or insecurities, letting go of a certain self-image you had of yourself, letting go of something that causes unhappiness. It’s okay. I say, it’s okay, to myself a lot.
It’s okay, Jen, you’re still on the planet. You’re still breathing. How can you not love that?
For all of my adult life, I have lived in cities in the United States. I am used to convenience. I am used to everything moving in a systematic way. I can buy groceries twenty-four hours a day. I like sleeping in a comfortable bed. I like hot showers.
But what if I don’t have that? What if things become unsystematic? What if the shower is cold? What if I’m sleeping in a room full of strangers and one of them is snoring loudly? What if I step away from all my expectations of my daily routine? Could I survive without wifi?
When I walked the Camino, I stepped away from the convenient and the comfortable, and I found I enjoyed the inconvenient and the uncomfortable more than I thought I would. Inconvenience became fun especially after I realized that it was not about me.
Things just are what they are. I decide whether a long wait is a bad thing. I decide whether the snoring in the middle of the night is sooo terrible (although I did have ear plugs which did the trick). If my feet start to ache, I decide whether it is pain easily curable by resting or some terrible suffering.
Since the Camino, I have found m my own way to comfort. A blanket is comfort when I crash on a friend’s couch as cats crawl over me at night. I will sit and have a cup of tea or coffee to take a break from my day.
I like to be comfortable, but I don’t want to comfort to be a reason to not do something. It’s okay if I have to wait for something. It’s okay if I have to sleep on top of sails on a long boat trip. It’s okay if it’s all not perfect. It’s just life.
Recently, I was sailing (which I do a lot). The wind picked up and sea state got choppy. Suddenly, the boat hit a wave wrong, and everyone on the boat was soaked. It was a chilly day, and the water wasn’t very warm. Still, I couldn’t help laughing. Oh well, now I was wet. On a sailboat. What part of that was really truly awful?
This is day two of my week long blog-a-thon where I look back on lessons from the Camino in order to inspire others and myself. It’s my way of reconnecting with my Camino six years after my walk. And I like writing.
When folks asked me how many miles I walked in Spain, I would say five hundred. That usually led to a look of shock and awe. I would then reassure the person that I didn’t walk five hundred miles in one day. I walked between twenty and thirty miles each day, went to sleep at night, got up the next day, and walked twenty to thirty more.
My hardest day to get up and walk was Day Two in Roncesvalles, but I got up and walked anyway. What was I going to do? Stay in Roncesvalles and think about walking the next day? Besides, they were kicking us out of the albergue.
When I was training for my Camino, I didn’t focus on being super fit. Instead, I focused on getting up and walking every day. Slowly, I worked my way up to walking five days.
It’s not about the big number, the five hundred miles. It’s about all the little numbers. It’s about the three miles to the next café where I will have a café con leche. It’s about the twenty-three I walked that day. It’s about all the little things that I did every day to get myself to where I wanted to be.
Even though I do not put new words on paper every day, I do work at writing every day. I read. I rewrite. I brainstorm new ideas. I find ways to get my words to readers. I work at it every day. It has become natural to me like walking on the Camino.
I love what I do, most of the time. Sometimes, it’s challenging. Sometimes, I go to sleep at night tired and frustrated. But then I get up the next day and do it all again.