Arrows of Intuition! Follow them!!

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“Trust your hunches. They’re usually based on facts filed away just below the conscious level.” – Dr. Joyce Brothers.

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted, so I thought while I’m not working, this would be a good time to clear the cobwebs accumulating over in the “creative side” of my brain! While I may not have tons of travel news and photos to convey, I am posting from my new “home” in Florida! Leaving Tennessee was a difficult move, but one I feel is truly best for me.

In the past few weeks, a number of people have commented to me about how “brave” I am to  pick up and move with no job lined up and no big savings in my pocket. When I was travelling alone through Southeast Asia, I heard the same thing about how brave I was to travel alone. Of course, when I returned to the United States, I continued to receive wonderful praise about being brave. Funny thing though, I rarely heard that on the Camino de Santiago!

The Bing Dictionary definition of brave is the ability to face danger, difficulty, uncertainty, or pain without being overcome by fear or being deflected from a chosen course of action. With that definition in mind, I think of all the people I met along the Camino. We all walked with determination to stay the course, to have no fear, to not be deflected from our journey. At the time, it was not bravery at all – it was simply the desire to walk with grace. It was a walk of faith, a walk of kindness, a walk of solitude, a walk of peace, a walk of forgiveness. It was whatever each of us needed it to be. I don’t think anyone walks it to be “brave”.

On the Camino de Santiago, I woke up every day in a room full of strangers in a foreign country. I ate meals with people who didn’t speak my language and yet, we communicated! On the path, I was greeted with the familiar words of “Buen Camino” and passed those words on to other travelers. And how did I know where to go? Simply follow the yellow arrows that were painted on barns, etched into trees, formed with rocks. It was as simple as that….just follow the arrows and trust they will always be there for you. Think about that: a single woman in a foreign country with only a backpack following arrows across the landscape! And yet, they lead unfailingly! They were always there!

Now as I continue on with my life, I realize how important it was for me to take that walk. I appreciate so much that people see me as brave! While some may think that to move to another state with no job and no money is foolish, I see it differently – I am brave! I’m taking once again a walk with grace. I’m following the arrows and choosing to believe that they will lead me unfailingly. This time though, the arrows aren’t painted on the fence posts along the Spanish countryside. They are in me…it is my intuition that is leading me! I’m following my little arrows – my hunches!

So, here I am in Florida, with no job and no big savings and feeling brave. I will find a job, I will get settled, I will survive! I of course, am thankful that I have help (love you Aunt Sandie and Uncle Terry!!!) and I’m looking forward to this new journey! You too, should follow your arrows! Buen Camino!

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Ending the Camino….bringing down the wall….

555The last time I posted a blog, it was May of 2012. It was shortly before I started my journey across Spain walking the Camino de Santiago. One of the committments I made to myself concerning the Camino was that I would not do a “daily log” type of blog about the Camino. I really wanted to spend my time walking and absorbing the journey. Little did I know that when I finished the walk, I would have so little to say for so long! The truth is, even now it will be difficult for me to talk about it. So am I breaking the silence? Because I finally have the strength to do this…..

It’s easy to superficially talk the the Camino. It was a 794 kilometer walk. Yup, that’s a long ways – about 500 miles. I can give you all the logistics about the terrain, etc., but in reality, none of those details are important. I could tell you all about how and what to pack, best places to sleep, and how much money you need. But again, you can pick up any Camino guidebook and the information will be there.

What I want to tell you about, is the effect of the Camino on me and what I learned…so here goes!

1.) I am not alone. While I was not raised with any formal religious teachings, it became very clear to me on my walk that I couldn’t possibly be alone. There were so many moments when taking one more step seemed impossible and yet, one foot followed the other (blisters and all!) and I reached my destination. No matter how lonely I felt at times, I always knew I wasn’t alone. Returning to daily life, I continue to feel that presence…every day. I am not alone.

2.) I am compassionate. I’ve been told many times in my life that I’m not a compassionate person. But compassion isn’t just about caring for the sick. I’ll admit – I don’t like being around sick people. On the Camino, I found myself crying with a woman who had lost her husband to cancer; I found myself helping an older man up a steep hill just by slowing my pace and waiting for him; I found myself loaning my walking sticks to a woman who sustained an injury one day on the path. Nope, I don’t like being around sick people but, I am compassionate.

3.) I am strong. Day after day, I faced physical challenges unlike anything I’d faced in my life before. Walking over the Pyrenees became sort of a joke because in reality, there were so many different and equally massive challenges throughout the journey, that they seemed like just a walk in the park! But being physically strong is minor in comparison to the mental strength that’s needed. Finding a place to sleep every night, ordering food, seeking medical assistance….all were challenges…and all had to be done with the language barrier. Sleeping in dorms with literally dozens of people from all different countries takes emotional strength. I am strong!

4.) The path in life is always marked. It’s hard to explain to others how I found my way each day. It’s a weird feeling to wake each day, step outside into a foreign country and look for something as simple as a yellow arrow. Whether I was walking in a big city or through miles of vast open land, it was up to me to find those arrows. Arrows were on trees, curbs, on the back of road signs, formed out of rocks on the ground, painted on barns…..but the reality is….the arrows were always there even when they weren’t always clearly visible. Never once did I get lost. And life is the same….the path is always marked. All I need to do is look for the arrows!

5.) Life, like The Way, is meant to be shared. I have a tendency to keep a wall up around me. I have friends and family around me, and yet, I consistently feel the need to keep an emotional distance from most people. I know it, my family knows it, and I’m sure my friends can sense it at times too. But on the walk, you have to share….there is no way around it. You have to share your pain, your food, your space, your laughter and your tears. There was no way I could do the journey alone. I may have walked alone, but always there was someone sharing the road. I know that sooner or later, I have to let the wall come down because life, like The Way, is meant to be shared.

It’s taken me a long time to open up about my Camino experience. For each person, it is a different journey. We all walk the same path, but the experience is unique. I will always have good, bad, scary, tender, funny memories of my adventure. But more importantly, I recognize the things in me that are good, bad, scary, tender and funny for having taken on this challenge.

To those who will take on the challenge…Buen Camino! For myself…..it’s time to work on the wall and to absorb and apply the things I learned!

Aside

Just some stuff I’ve noticed…..

I’m not sure this counts as a blog, but I really wanted to document some stuff that I’ve noticed here in Bangkok and since I’m saving the rest of my journal pages for the Camino, I thought I’d just put them down here! So, here goes:

1.) When you walk into a major department store you will find there are usually more employees than customers. They seem to congregate and talk amongst themselves even when you are seeking help. Or, they are in the middle of the linen section texting.

2.) When you walk up to or within 10 feet of a street stall, you will be immediately “greeted” by the salesperson who will proceed to actually watch where your eyes are looking and try to sell you that object.

3.) People who walk around in the middle of the mall reading their Facebook or emails on mobile phones should be shot. Yes, I know that’s harsh, but it’s just so frustrating to try and get around them when they seem to consistently weave where you want to walk, without even looking!!

4.) I do not really like being called “Ma Dam”….it’s rating right up there with Hey Lady in my book of irritations!

5.) Tuk-tuk drivers are fun to tease. They want to rip you off so bad it’s hysterical. I kinda walk near them which makes them sit up from their reclining position (I should say it more correctly – they are completely laid out across the tuk-tuk), and say, “hey lady, tuk-tuk?” To which I reply, “no thank you”. That’s when the fun starts! They always ask, “Where you going?”.  I love that question! I tell them with a big smile, “far, far away”. Of course, they want me!! That’s when I rub my tummy and say, “No tuk-tuk, too fat, gotta walk”!! And they just laugh and laugh!! Priceless…I’m not sure who has more fun with that one!!

6.) Do not, under any circumstances, try to outdrink a Thai (girl or guy). You are asking for pain. Step in front of a bus first, it will be much easier and less embarassing. At least you won’t be throwing up in front of everybody!

7.) Asian women don’t seem to like us farangs (foreigners)! I’m not sure why – none of us can fit in their clothes, so it’s not like we’re out buying clothes away from them!  The street stalls are full of clothes that only fit them! And surely, none of the guys are looking at us – we’d squish them!

8.) Some of the Asian guys are pretty darn cute. The women might be pretty, but I’m not really sure because I’m afraid to look at them! Seriously.

9.) There can’t possibly be another place in the world (except maybe Hong Kong or Toyko) that has as many places selling cell phones, pc’s, and cell phone holders as Bangkok. I can’t figure out who they’re selling this stuff to! In MBK (the biggest tourist mall here), there is a whole floor dedicated to nothing but cell phones and cell phone covers. Now, let me make sure you’re getting the drift here. This mall is huge and the ENTIRE floor is all cell phones and covers!

10.) Lean processing does not exist here. Today, I walked around the mall looking at the employees in different places. In KFC, there were 8 people behind the counter which had 4 registers. There were 6 people cooking. Two young guys were in the seating area doing nothing but standing there waiting to clean off tables and mop if necessary. There were 12 customers including me. Do the math. Oh, and there was one girl who only sells desserts. On the way home though, I did stop at 7-11 and there was one person on each of the two registers they had and possible an employee in the back. There were 17 people in the 7-11.

11.) Yesterday I saw something very strange. It was the Google Maps Street View car. I had to Google that to find out what it does. It actually has a series of cameras mounted and does live updates of traffic in certain places. It produces a 3-D view of the buildings, etc. if you do the Google Earth thing! Only in Bangkok…

Goodle Maps Street View car!!

It’s not a sin to be happy…..

“It is not a sin to be happy…Because of my pride in wisdom, you made me walk the Road that every person can walk, and discover what everyone else already knows if they have paid the slightest attention to life. You made me see that the search for happiness is a personal search and not a model we can pass on to others.” Paulo Coehlo

These are by far the greatest words I will take with me from “The Pilgrimage” by Paulo Coehlo. The things in life that are important to me don’t have to be important to anyone else!

These words confirm my feelings that it’s okay for me to be silly, to laugh at myself, to have fun, to cry, to grow old, to love, to make mistakes.  No one owns my happiness but me! Travelling makes me happy – it’s okay for me to dream about it, be enthusiastic about it, do it with abandon and no sense of fear, and rejoice in it!

I am proud of what I’m doing in my life. I’m now travellling without fears and always with a sense that “there’s no sin in being happy”!! I hope you will do the same in your life! Be happy!

Last quote from The Pilgrimage…

“For the ancients, enthusiasm meant trance, or ecstasy – a connection with God. Enthusiasm is agape (unconditional love) directed at a particular idea or specific thing. We have all experienced it. When we love and believe from the bottom of  our heart, we feel ourselves to be stronger than anyone in the world, and we feel a serenity that is based on the certainty that nothing can shake our faith. This unusual strength allows us always to make the right decision at the right time, and when we achieve our goal, we are amazed at our own capabilities.”

There were times before this trip, when some people grew tired of my constant chatter about where I was going, what I would see, the check-off list I needed to complete, etc. Because I could sense this, I became quiet around those people and chose not to continue showing my enthusiasm. Looking back, it was a wrong decision on my part. My enthusiasm with new challenges is a part of me and does give me strength as the writer talks about. When I’m excited about doing something new, I have diminished fears – they may still be lurking in the background, but they are manageable. My eagerness allows me to have faith that I will be successful in the project or venture I’m about to tackle.

This trip was a goal for me in many ways. Most think the goal was about saving the money, planning, etc. But for me, it was much, much more. First of all, I am deathly afraid of snakes. SE Asia is a hot, humid country perfect for snakes! And I’ve always heard stories about the pythons here. I remember my ex father-in-law telling me about being here and seeing where the snakes shed their skin on the sides of the buildings. THAT was my impression of SE Asia and Thailand in particular! My first challenge was getting past my own impressions and thoughts about what it would be like!

I was also afraid of the culture, not so much because there’s anything wrong with it, but because it’s totally unlike ours. I was afraid I would do or say something out of place, that I couldn’t communicate with people, that the food would disagree with me, that the sky would fall (okay, not really), but you name it, I’ve been afraid of it!

For me, the goal was about tackling those fears. The goal wasn’t to “get here”….money can do that easily. The goal was to “be here” – without fears – to be here enthusiastically! I can honestly say, I have done that! The Malaysian and Thai people have embraced me whole-heartedly and I, them! The countryside and cities are magnificent. The snakes apparently are not shedding on buildings anymore!! And the cultures of the countries are something I’m learning about on a daily basis and recognizing that although they are different from mine, people are not! I am ecstasically happy to be here!

We’ve all had something we were enthusiastic about….getting married, going to Disney World for the first time, seeing old friends or relatives – you name it…we’ve all experienced it. These are all goals, big and small, that we get excited about and feel a sense of contentment when we achieve them. We have every reason to feel that sense of enthusiasm, that faith that is unshakeable that we will be successful! Going forward, no one will curb my enthusiasm! I am at my best when I’m excited, throw caution to the wind, and let faith guide me! I hope you will do the same!!

Cheri 🙂

More from The Pilgrimage by Paulo Coelho…..

“We must never stop dreaming. Dreams provide nourishment for the soul, just as a meal does for the body. Many times in our lives we see our dreams shattered and our desires frustrated, but we have to continue dreaming. If we don’t, our soul dies, and agape (spiritual love or selfless love of one person for another) cannot reach it.”

I know I’m a dreamer! I always have been and always will be! Over the years, I’ve felt uncomfortable thinking that my dreams were somehow related to an unhappiness with my life. But the truth is, dreams are just really goals wrapped up in a different package! Dreams, for many, probably seem unattainable while achieving goals is simply the end result of hard work. But that’s not true! Dreams do come true….and many times, by doing the same things you would do to achieve a goal! The added element is simply a leap of faith!

There are people in my life who seem to have given up on their dreams. I’m sad for them because without dreams, what motivates us? They seem unhappy and lost. While some may believe that dreaming puts our head in the clouds, I think dreams put our feet firmly on the ground. They give us something to hope and work for, something to believe in, and a sense of accomplishment when we achieve one. That is how I’m feeling now! Some say that I made a foolish move by quitting my job during a bad economy. Some say that I’m unhappy with my life in the US so I’m always searching for something different. Regardless of what others say, I only need to be true to myself.

In saying that, here is my truth: The reality of this journey has surpassed every dream I ever had about it! Giving up my apartment, selling most of my things, leaving my job, family and friends – all of it was worth what I’m experiencing now. I feel wonderful about my decision and I’m proud that I took that leap of faith.

A leap of faith!

Some thoughts about travel….

Stacy, Jillian, Zamina, and Emily - 4 best roommates EVER!

When you travel, you experience, in a very practical way, the act of rebirth. You confront new situations, the day passes more slowly, and on most journeys you don’t even understand the language the people speak. So you are like a child just out of the womb. You begin to attach much more importance to the things around you because your survival depends on them. You begin to be more accessible to others because they may be able to help you in difficult situations. And you accept any small favor from the gods with great delight, as if it were an episode you would remember for the rest of your life.”  Paulo Coelho   The Pilgramage.

I just finished reading this book and was struck by many of the passages and so, I’ll be using them for the next few blogs. The book is basically about one man’s journey on the Camino de Santiago of course, but many of the passages reflect my own thoughts about travel and at times, about life in general.

How often I’ve had the same thought but could never, ever express it as eloquently as Mr. Coehlo does in his book. It’s amazing how I’ve become attached to my backpack and the things I have with me now. Yes, most everything can be easily replaced while travelling, but it’s really more a matter of keeping close to those things that are mine from home. I have a little cross with me that my Aunt Sandie made…I like knowing that it’s in my bag, along with a few other special items. But I am especially careful about those things that provide me with security while traveling – my passport, money, bank cards, etc. They ensure me that I will always have a way to head home if I need to or provide me with shelter and food in the event of an emergency! A simple moneybelt becomes a security blanket!

I’ve found too, that I am more open to speaking with others. It’s necessary for survival for all travelers! We learn from each other – which hostels to stay in, which to avoid, how to get the bus from here to there, etc. And we are a comfort to one another when we need to be. When I was in Melaka, Malaysia and Sonia arrived from Penang, she was crying and upset about her journey on the bus. Just a few words from me and we were soon out walking at the night market and enjoying dinner together. I’m sure I will need that shoulder one day too and I have no doubt that someone will be ready to comfort me. It’s just the way it happens.

When I got here to Krabi, Thailand, I was hot and tired and frustrated from the mini-van ride which quite honestly, just about made me puke. It was an awful journey. On top of all of that, I found out the only bunks left were the top ones! Truthfully, I felt like that was going to be my moment. But unbelieveably, the girls I’m sharing a room with offered to trade…several of them! And so, the gods offered up this little favor in the form of wonderful roommates! And yes, it IS an episode I will remember for the rest of my life. To Zamina, thanks for trading bunks…you are a sweetheart. And to Stacy, Jillian, and Emily…..you are absolutely the most wonderful roommates….you all make me smile!

What great gals to be around!

Travelling truly is like a rebirth. I’ve forgotten over the years how wonderful people can be. It’s as if I’m looking at all the world through new (and wishfully younger) eyes!

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