Santa Barbara to Santiago de Compostela: A Healing Journey
For centuries, pilgrims have walked the Camino de Santiago in northwestern Spain looking for absolution, healing, and spiritual inspiration. In recent years, seeking a reprieve from the complexities of ordinary life, people of all faiths have been trekking this ancient route, staying in dormitory-style hostels and collecting stamps in a pilgrim’s passport. Similar to Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey, simply walking the Camino often becomes an inner quest to discover what’s not working, let it go, and move on. Recently, I sat down with Sage Parker to talk about her personal Camino experience in 2013. Here’s her inspiring story.
“My intention wasn’t to get someplace or tick off a bucket list,” she said. “It was to heal myself by being present every single day.”
Since she could remember, Sage said she had wanted to walk the Camino but the timing had never been right. This all changed several years ago when a painful, debilitating accident rendered such a journey seemingly out of reach and, yet, the only way forward. As illogical as it was, her deepest wisdom told her to go.
Given the state of her health, Sage’s determination to walk the Camino was both significant and heroic. To prepare, she got up at six every morning to walk to Trinity Church and back. On the first day, she met her travel companions: pain and doubt. To counter their resistance, she concocted the mantra: “God is within, walking a little bit farther and a little bit more each day.” Although many who knew Sage worried about the physical logistics of her plan, they were eventually convinced by her conviction. On her last training walk, Sage opened the front door to find friends and family lined up to join her. These included Nora Gallagher, Sally Terrel, Mimi Kaupe, Patricia Clark Houghton, Marci Simmons, Saral Burdette, Willow Sprout, and Ian Lang. Maggie and Paul Tucker posted signs of encouragement along their route and, once at the church, Reverend Mark Asman gave a blessing. Sage was on her way.
“Spirit showed up in every encounter, every experience,” she said.
The Camino Way
As every seeker knows, making peace with the shadow is part of the initiation. Staying at a little hotel in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port with her longtime friend and Camino partner, Dr. Jadis (Lala) Blurton, Sage saw the towering Pyrenees in the distance and thought, “Am I nuts, what was I thinking?” Remembering her “God is within” mantra helped her make peace with the shadow of fear. Along the way, whenever self-judgment reared its ugly head, she found comfort in the truism “Judgment doesn’t protect you from anything.” And, when she found herself judging others, the saying “Every person walks their own Camino” helped her regain equilibrium. Each time she grappled with physical or emotional discomfort, she applied the Camino adage “Just walk with the sun until your shadow disappears.”
On the way, people greet each other saying “Buen Camino,” deferring to silence unless otherwise invited. But as we all know, quieting the mind can be a challenge. Remembering to be in her body helped Sage calm her chatty, storyteller’s mind. The forward momentum became a moving meditation that magnified the subtleties of Spirit. She could feel the healing power in the ancient ground. She could hear her inner voice and its wise counsel. And, she witnessed the sweet presence of the divine in simple interactions and synchronicities every day. For instance, in the middle of nowhere, when Sage felt she couldn’t go on, a taxi appeared with a driver named (no kidding) Jesus Ángel. It seemed that each step, each encounter along the way helped Sage walk away from her limitations and embrace the infinite potential of “a spiritual being having a human experience.”
“The Camino didn’t begin when you started,” she said, “it doesn’t end when you come home.”
Sage wanted a rebirth but what transpired went way beyond expectation. She came home with an overwhelming sense of gratitude for “the crazy opportunity to spend time on such hallowed ground – with absolutely no distraction – to do nothing except walk and pray!” Besides her story, Sage brought home two precious insights to share with our community: “We’re rarely silent and, without silence, it’s hard to listen deeply to the wisdom of body and spirit.” And, once you learn to be quiet and listen, “No matter what comes your way, by being present in your body, you’ll have the presence of mind to make the right choice.”
You don’t have to go on a long walk in order to be quiet and listen to your deepest knowing. Just turn off the screens, disconnect from earbuds, and go outside. Shift your awareness from your busy intellect to your sensual body. Feel your feet on the ground, smell the crisp autumnal air, listen to the wind in the trees, see the light dancing on water. Open your heart to the spirit of thanks giving. It’s everywhere.
Before setting forth from her birthplace of Orleans in 2013, Sage got her first pilgrim’s stamp from Elisabeth Hendricks, the canon at the American Cathedral in Paris (formerly associate rector at All Saints-by-the-Sea); she received the final stamp in Finisterra at the end of her journey. In total, Sage walked for three months, traveling nearly 1,000 miles on and around the Camino. When she returned to Santa Barbara, her physician, Dr. Jeffrey Kupperman, was stunned at the transformation in her physical being. By now, knowing for certain that body and spirit are one, this didn’t surprise Sage at all.