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Sabbatical 1: El Camino de Santiago de Compostela

The best blog is the one I’m actually going to write- so here are some notes after walking from Burgos to Santiago between September 25 and October 15, 2011

1. Community:

I think in my mind I expected a “pilgrimage” to be a fairly lonely experience with little contact to anybody. That was corrected on day 1: we had casually met Sue from Toronto as we walked out of Burgos. A few miles down the road entering a small village where we hoped to have a break and some food we were greeted by her waiving to us from a cafe inviting us to join her and another friend. This is an attitude we would see frequently – peregrinos (pilgrims) inviting others to their table at restaurants and bars. There was always the option for solitude but also the possibility of connection.

 

2. Peregrino culture:

Very quickly after joining the walking ‘community’ the group behaviour becomes obvious:

a. People take their boots off anywhere- in restaurants, on park benches, in the lobby of an albergue. Often this is accompanied by some treatment of blisters etc.
b. Upon arrival at the albergue you set up your bed space with your sleeping bag etc and
c. proceed to take a shower. Refreshed you then
d. go to the washing station and wash your walking clothes (since you only have one set of clean clothes)
e. Take a rest after hanging the washed clothes
f. Do some journalling
g. Scout out the best place for pilgrim’s menu in the village and take in the sights, perhaps go for a beer
h. Optional visit to the local church and or pilgrim’s mass
i. Join other peregrino’s for dinner ca.7 pm (long before any locals look for food, but the albergue closes at 9 or 10)
j. Full and tired go to bed at 9
k. Wake up early- if you’re the very early type you best learn how to do your packing very quietly
l. Leave the albergue before daybreak to get a good start on the walk and better chances at a bed at the next location
m. Wish everyone ‘Buen Camino’ as you pass them – also allow people to pass and exchange a greeting
n. Peregrinos loose all good habits when it comes to traffic: they wander all over the road, pay little attention to vehicles…

     

    3. It’s Peace making in its own way:

    The common goal of  ‘doing the camino’ gives a connection point that removes differences of status or other background. We are all pilgrims at this time. We talk to each other in many languages (with more or less skill) laugh and cry, struggle with our bodies, our backpacks and our minds. And we practice tolerance when we get frustrated about the behaviour of others (snoring, zipping bags, flashlights at 4 am etc) . Men and women share sleeping rooms and bathrooms, and we have to give space by turning our glance at times.

     

    4. Pushing my limits

    I never thought of myself as a hiker, and before this a 6 km walk seemed like a daunting exercise. Now when we look at 15 km I think “that’s just 3 hrs” and I feel quite able to do 25. Walking has become a serious mode of transport and is in fact a very pleasant way to explore places ( I knew that for visiting towns but hadn’t considered it for longer distances).

     

    5. Simplicity

    All there is to do is walk: Follow the yellow arrows and the sign of the shell and you will get there.

    Getting dressed is pretty simple too: One spare set of clothing and perhaps something in the morning to offer some warmth.

     

    6. Other Highlights:

    • The rich textured stone walls along the path and in the villages
    • The sound of Church bells and birds
    • Regional foods: ham in many varieties, Cheeses and Wine
    • The City of Leon
    • Stork’s nests everywhere
    • The changing colours of Earth
    • Harvest time and trailside gifts of food: figs, apples, pears and grapes

     

     

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    Leaving O.U.R. Ecovillage

    

    When I first came to O.U.R. I was just establishing myself as a natural builder. I was living in Courtenay and worked a lot with Cobworks on Mayne Island during the summer. OUR was in its first years of establishing vision and zoning and every time I was there I saw a group of people in meetings all morning and then in work parties all afternoon.

    Little did I know that I would be one of the people in the meetings a few years later.

    My interest was to promote and teach cob and Natural building. I had not spent much time thinking about community and didn’t see myself as a community member.

    As my relationship with O.U.R. became more familiar , Brandy and I talked about hosting a longer building program every year. We started with a program we called Plan B : Practical Leadership and Natural Building.

    Preparation for this was the design of the Healing Sanctuary: a process of community inquiry into needs and wants and a design that would make sense of all the ideas.

    This building was much larger than others I had built and none of us really knew what we were getting into when we started into the season. We knew we wanted to build a stone foundation, cob and straw bale walls and a living roof. We also knew that for permit things would be better with a post and beam structure.

     

    As for the program I learned a lot about group dynamics, leadership and communication. We had a few wonderful support staff who kept breaking up tense energy when needed and brought in fun and lots of heart.

    Everybody camped on the land (this was and still is typical for most natural building projects) and shared meals. We shared our knowledge in “each one teach one’s”, started our days with yoga, and struggled together as we built the massive foundation walls, log post and beam and cobbed and built bales through the summer.

    When the program finished we wrapped up the building site and made plans for the next season.

    So it came to be that O.U.R. Ecovillage now has several natural buildings, built in summer programs by a temporary learning community.

     

    When the second season came along I decided to participate more in the “community” piece realizing that I quite enjoyed the processes and times spent together. The core group was small then and the idea was that more committed folks would join to hold this dream together. This is where I began to learn the art of “holding space”. I have since come to appreciate that this is key to the success of the programs and it is something that doesn’t fit a job description. It’s energy, synergy, and it comes from intention and attention to each other as we relate to the whole.

    Most importantly it takes time.

    As we developed more facilities OUR garden also became the focus of a learning program that was somewhat parallel to the building. We called our programs “skillbuilders” from then on:  either Natural building or Sustainable Food production Skillbuilder. The number of people on site in the summer kept rising and each year we added a few more events that became regular occurrences in our annual cycle.

    All along Brandy tirelessly built relationships with funders and successfully landed grant money for most programs. We sometimes held our breath when signing large contracts: can we really pull it off?

    We laughed and cried, problem solved, went through endless cycles of norming, forming and storming always thinking that we would finally end up just performing. Ha! That’s not how it works though and what we did learn is to expect the ups and downs and ride them with more grace.

     

    As I write this I am acutely aware that I learn most when in contact with others. The deeper the connection, the more vulnerable we become, the bigger the learning and the more I feel a sense of belonging.

    O.U.R. Ecovillage, especially the people at the heart, have seen me through my cycles of growth, challenged my sense of what’s possible over and over again, and in the end I now operate from “WE” more than from “I”. As I step away I wish to express deep gratitude for all the subtle shifts in my being that living in community caused. I am more open and more whole as a person.

    My work here has been fulfilling and rich, challenging and rewarding on so many levels. I am honored by the trust invested in me over the years and I am proud of the accomplishments we share. My heart is imprinted in the earthen walls all around here and I hope that this body of work will continue to inspire the future buildings for the village.

     

    May the voices around the commons be joyful, may your steps be light and bouncy and may your circles be deep and warm.

    out of the ordinary

     

    Every once in a while the universe sends me a gift. I don’t always recognize it immediately and it doesn’t ever look the same:

    It may be something stopping things from the way I expect them to go and giving a little space in time to slow down or take a walk.

    It may be a detour in traffic that takes me along a route I haven’t traveled.

    It may be a person showing up in the middle of my busy day.

    A few days ago a visitor came to meet with me at the ecovillage. I had agreed to this semi-consultation with some hesitation and set a time frame of half an hour.
    The conversation quickly drew me into a space of curiosity and expansion- touching into ancient teachings and philosophies and healing.

    We moved from cob and its possibilities and limitations to exploring heaters and other clay work.

    My guest had fascinating ideas and knowledge of ancient healing practices and subtle energies and we spoke about health challenges of our conventional housing and ways of doing things.

    I learned that the energy of cooking on electric stoves is not supporting our well-being: both the person exposed to a high level of EMF’s in the vicinity of the stove and the food that’s being prepared are affected. Choosing a gas burner is a better choice and best from this point of view is cooking over a wood fire.

    stew from a cob oven

    Looking into this a little I found this conversation about gas/electric on the cyber macro health forum

    Something to think about!

    You probably gather that the conversation didn’t stop at the half hour mark- during the conversation I felt a sense of timelessness. That is the magic and I am deeply grateful for it.

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    Housesitting

    Lately it seems that most of my time is spent at the computer: planning, writing, communicating, sketching, and even some entertainment courtesy of youtube and TED.
    So when we took on a house-sit near Duncan the one main concern was: can I get online?
    We’ve been here for a few days now and I am getting used to the sounds of the house, the vistas and the abundance of space. I notice that I move from kitchen to upstairs office to kitchen to bathroom to office to kitchen etc.- and I don’t spend much time in the other areas of the house.

    Here’s an exercise I do with participants of my workshops: Draw a plan of your house and trace with a pencil your daily movements. You will notice which places are always visited and which only rarely. Some never get used! Try this for your place and let me know what you discover.

    Of course, coming from a 300 squarefoot living space into this ? squarefoot home is triggering all sorts thoughts.
    So far I really like:

    • This house is facing the sun!!!! (Sadly this is worth mentioning)
    • The kitchen cabinet hardware that prevents doors and drawers from slamming shut- it slows them down to a gentle stop.
    • The spacious shower- no elbow bumping!
    • Watching all the birds both at the bird feeder and farther away in the wetland by Quamichan Lake
    • Lots of uninterrupted work time (but that’s really not a design feature of this place just  opportunity and intention)
    • Reading some Wendell Berry (ditto)

    So while this Sunday is rather stormy outside I will now return to other pages on my computer…..