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Parataxic distortion

PhyllistheAuthor— Have you ever noticed how when you buy something like a new car you suddenly see that make of car everywhere? Psychologists call the phenomenon parataxic distortion. Since our journey along the Camino de Santiago to Compostela, Spain, we see scallop shells—traditional symbol of the pilgrimage—everywhere. Even Coquilles St. Jacques, a favorite scallop recipe, takes on new meaning.

In spite of my heightened sensitivity to scallop shells, on a recent visit to the new archeology museum celebrating the 400th anniversary of the settlement at Jamestown, I was taken aback to see three Compostela pilgrim badges displayed among the artifacts. I have lived three miles from Jamestown since 1985 and frequently visited there, and this is the first time I have felt a real connection to the early settlers. It is often said that everything is connected, and I’m beginning to believe that is true.

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Camino Reflection #9

Many years ago, I read a novel called The Fountain by Charles Morgan. The story turns around a dying man’s withdrawal from life into the divine. As his body fails, little by little the man subtracts himself from the things of earth, from status, possessions, and even the love of his wife. Such release is at that heart of meditation and the Christian message of losing one’s life to find it.

Walking the Camino, we left behind status, accomplishments, and possessions. The way and the weather were so uncertain that we were never sure where we would eat, rest, or spend the night. The physical demands were so great the day came when we was too exhausted to go on. We had to recognize our limitations, give in, get a hotel room, and rest. We had to give up control.

The image of a fountain gets to the heart of the Camino experience. As the burdens and the clutter of the world fell away, I felt a lightness of spirit. The rainbow that we followed for hours one day reappeared inside of me. Joy bubbled up and splashed out turning dried grass into diamonds.

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Reflections of a Modern Day Pilgrim

Reflections of a Modern Day Pilgrim

In a once-in-a-lifetime religious pilgrimmage, a Virginia couple walks the historic Camino de Santiago in Spain

It’s hard to imagine undertaking an activity that will require long distance walking every day for 30days or more. Before I began the Camino de Santiago (the Way of St. James), I used to think that walking 5 or 6 miles was a long distance. Little did I know or
understand what it would take to complete anywhere from 8 to 18 miles a day with a backpack weighing a minimum of 16 pounds plus water.

The first couple of weeks were very difficult for me  physically and psychologically.

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Camino Reflection #8

I was in the grocery store when someone in the next aisle answered their cell. Harsh words followed. I tired to ignore the intrusive, one-sided conversation as I maneuvered through the onions and potatoes to the bananas. A stranger was inflicting me with their angst.

That brought me back to the Camino where I delighted in the chirruping of birds, the buzz of bees, the swish of wind in the trees, and the distance clank of cowbells. It is no wonder that many stores sell relaxation CDs featuring the sounds of nature.

The most memorable sound of the Camino, however, was silence. A silence so profound and meditative that when I heard a slight gurgle from my half-filled water bottle, I had to empty it.

Since my return from the Camino, I hear as if for the first time the wail of sirens, the whir of tires, the screech of brakes, the roar of motorcycles, the constant clatter and chatter of media, all part of our constant noise pollution. I long for the restorative silence of the Camino.

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The Tao of Nerds

The Tao of Nerds

There’s something inside the psyches of computer programmers that draws them to the intractabality of Zen koans. Combine that with a passion for sci-fi and faux mysticism and it bestows upon all mankind a prolific online library of teacher-student koan dialogues

Here’s a sample from The Tao of Programming:

A programmer from a very large computer company went to a software conference and then returned to report to his manager, saying: “What sort of programmers work for other companies? They behaved badly and were unconcerned with appearances. Their hair was long and unkempt and their clothes were wrinkled and old. They crashed our hospitality suite and they made rude noises during my presentation.”

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Camino Afterthought #7

For 30 days, we did not read a newspaper or see the news. On the Camino, we survived without Google News, the Daily Press, and CNN. And we missed the whole Paris Hilton soap opera. This morning as the headlines included the President’s colonoscopy and the furor the NFL football player Vick and his alleged dog fighting, I wished I was back in Spain.

I do not intend to cancel my newspaper, cable, and Internet subscriptions. However, I am struck by how non-essential information clutters our lives. It may be diverting, even entertaining, but it can easily take up too much of our attention. We are glued to the news when we could be out walking.

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Camino Afterthought #6

Often when we meet others, we ask:  “And what do you do?” In that way, we defined others by their work. And in turn, we are defined by our work. On the Camino, people are careful not to ask that or other prying questions. You learn about others only what they want to tell you.

So we don’t know if the people we meet are doctors, hairdressers, or Indian chiefs. We do know if they are courteous, helpful, thoughtful, and pleasant in spite of crowded hostels with limited facilities and the long trek over rough terrain.

The Camino is not anonymous. You are known there, but you are known not by your status, family, marital status, or income. Instead, you are known for yourself.

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Camino Afterthought #5

If you wash and wear the same three t-shirts and two pair of slacks for a month, on occasion your clothes don’t match. If you get up in the dark, pack your backpack, and leave in the dark, there’s not much opportunity to put on makeup. If you shower and wash your hair in a community shower without a blow dryer, and sometimes not even a mirror, and then wear a hat for several hours, you definitely will have a bad hair day.

Bit by bit on the Camino, we—and other pilgrims–became stripped to the essential person. To our delight, we found that people liked us, not for the outer person, but for ourselves.

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Camino Afterthought #4

I traveled in Spain for 30 days with only three summer shirts and two pair of slacks. It was a continual cycle of wash and wear. At home again, I opened my dresser drawers to find them stuffed full of shirts, so many in fact that the overflow is piled on a shelf in my closet. I was both amazed at my great array of choices and aghast. Did I really need all these shirts?

My husband left an almost new pair of Rockports in one of the refugios on the Camino. Because of his blisters, he could not wear them. They were heavy, and he didn’t really need them.

I’ve been to several clothing stores since my return, but I have an aversion to buying anything. I have found that I have more than enough to wear.

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Camino Afterthought #3

Throughout our pilgrimage in Spain, we saw pilgrims walking on the Camino in varying states of duress. We saw pilgrims with bleeding blisters. Others had to walk in flip flops because their feet were in such rough shape. Many people had a knee wrapped in an ace bandage and I saw one woman with both knees encased. People limped and coughed. They were exhausted and sore and yet they carried on.

A woman from Austria recounted how she had gotten a hotel because of the rain. She had determined to spend the day resting until she looked out the window and saw the other pilgrims trudging on in spite of the weather and she knew she had to join them. She had miles yet to go on the Camino.

Having a goal, in this case, completing the pilgrimage to Santiago, enables one to preserve and keep going no matter what happens along the way. Without a goal, the blister, the aches, the rain, the pains become ends in themselves. With a goal in view, however, these things take their proper place as temporary and non-essential annoyances.

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