The countdown begins

Three weeks from now I shall be heading to Spain to begin my third Camino de Santiago journey, walking in honour of my oldest sister Denise who left us after many years of struggling with health challenges. When I walked my first and second Caminos, Denise followed my every post with much support and a touch of envy. She always said she traveled vicariously through my many escapades, and my Camino adventures were her favorites.

DSC_4956 She especially enjoyed my poppies pictures as these, along with sunflowers were her favorites flowers. She listened with much attention to my many stories and she often asked many insightful questions about my journeys. She was quite interested in the mysterious events or moments that lacked logical explanations which pilgrims often share only with their closest ones. She enjoyed hearing me describe Spain’s varied landscapes and its gastronomical treats. She enjoyed looking at my pictures and shed some tears when we both watched the movie The Way.

But oh, my poppy pictures… Those were the ones she asked to see multiple times. She mentioned they would make a great calendar. I planned on making her such a calendar but never got to it and I wish I had.

When her son called me to let me know I should come to her hospital room the very next day in order to say our last goodbyes, I quickly modified one of my credentials document to include a picture of her so that I could share it with her and let her know she would be with me on my next Camino. Alas, I never got to do that since she left us before I had a chance to see her.

I have the strong belief that even though one leaves one’s earthly body, the spirit, the soul, the essence of the person remains with us forever. I feel she knows and is aware of everything we say and do. In fact, when I was looking through my many pictures to select those of Denise, I saw on my computer screen, right in the middle of the many rows of pictures a bright macro photo of poppies and I heard in my head “Oh, I so love poppies”. This is when I knew I would walk the Camino in prime poppy time. When I looked back at my screen the poppy picture was not there… Was this a sign or my imagination? Either way, it was the deciding moment for my change of dates.

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I am undertaking this journey in a very different approach than my previous Camino journeys. I am leaving everything to the moment. I will arrive in Madrid on May 19th and at that point in time, I will decide in which city to start my Camino. I have no set plans other than being in Madrid again on July 18th for my flight back to Canada. I will live in the moment, every day. I will revel in the large fields of poppies and remember all that Denise brought to my life.

“The way of the poppies” is what I am calling this very special, unique and magical journey both Denise and I are about to undertake. She will be with me every step of the way; this I believe with all my heart. I know there will be many tears, many heavy heart moments, moments of anger at her absence, but mostly, days and days of remembering amazing times and lots of gratitude and love for the years we spent together.

The Camino is a special place that healed and soothed my soul as well as opened my heart and my mind. I am ready for this journey and what it will bring and I will savour each day, each hour, each minute and each moment.
I am ready…

Poppies in Spain

Poppies in Spain

Three weeks ago…

Three weeks ago, I stopped by the store to buy tulips for her room. Three weeks ago, I drove over, unannounced because I wanted to surprise her. Three weeks ago, we visited and I took her picture, for the last time. Three weeks ago, I left her with a big hug and kiss and a “see you soon”. Three weeks ago, I didn’t have a clue that this would be the last time I would see her.
“Life changes in an instant” we say, and I know this, but it doesn’t always make itself apparent and we go one with our day to day life without really thinking about how quickly life can change.

These past weeks my mind kept going back to one of my mantra “Carpe Diem”. We should wake up in the morning and remember to “Seize the Day” and be grateful for all those who surround us and love us. I try to end my day in gratitude for all that I have, and all that I have seen, done, been and loved. I get lazy some times and slip into sleep without once thinking of how lucky I am for my life. This past few weeks have been challenging however I have been reliving so many amazing moments with her in my life and this made me even more grateful for the relationship we had, and will continue to have.

A good friend of mine sent me a poem and it resonated so well with me. Thanks Mary, this truly opened my eyes… It was written by Henry Scott Holland.

poem

What a beautiful way to see that the loss is true, but it is not the end.
Carpe Diem – Carpe Diem – Carpe Diem

A chain has been physically broken…

Poppies in Spain

Poppies in Spain


A chain has been physically broken…
But never to be separated soulfully. Our oldest sister passed away this week – and when you have a chain of 5 siblings, closer than most families, more linked in every way … then the departure now marks the space that held the chain together… we will need to leverage the love, the commitment, the understanding and the compassion to keep it together soulfully…

I am truly blessed as I am to undertake my third Camino de Santiago in Spain. This Camino, however, is one of a journey of two souls, but only one set of steps. Two hearts connected forever will discover new insights, new ways to communicate, and a truly double appreciation of what the Camino provides.

Calmness when silence is needed to manage the emotions. Beauty in the nature that will surround us. Comfort, connections, smiles and support from other pilgrims. The solace of a worn down pew seat in a small village church. The wind in the crops, the sun on the flowers and the cold refreshing waters of the fountains.

She really enjoyed poppies, therefore my dates have changed to have us stroll through the country, jostle through the large cities, shed tears at sight of the largest crimson jewels stretching out to reach the rays of the warm sun.

May 19th – my feet on some part of the Camino (to be determined upon my arrival in Madrid) will start this amazing journey that will be as unique as our Canadian snowflakes… one of a kind journey of two alike souls.

This journey will ignite the healing needed to recover from such a loss, and will offer endless ways to connect at much deeper levels.
My boots are by my door, my pack is slowly gorging with items, and my heart and soul are preparing for an amazing experience.
41 days and counting…
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The universal communicator

This past month my husband, brother and sister-in-law spent time abroad on an amazing journey which brought us to several countries where English was not broadly spoken or understood. While visiting those countries I came to the realization that there is, without any doubt, a universal communicator so to speak, that transcend any language barrier.

I realized we often leverage this universal communicator without even knowing, and for some, it is a trademark. It opens doors to further communication, it weakens aggression, it establishes a connection, it softens attitudes and it does all this without a single utterance of a word.

It is the genuine SMILE. I know, some of you are rolling your eyes and wondering what other “pie in the sky” statement I will write. I’m sure some will not espouse to my theory and that is fine. These postings are a reflection of my experiences, therefore I am not assuming that all will agree, but I challenge you to consider its validity.

I especially noticed the effect of this universal communicator in foreign lands. In Thailand and Vietnam I noticed that when I sought information (price of items, directions etc) taking a moment and smiling before the actual inquiry seem to put most at ease. It wasn’t always easy to get my point across or decipher the response I got, but the attitude changed immediately if smiles were offered at the onset of the interaction.

I also noticed that while walking down the streets, when eyes would meet, a smile almost always was assured a return smile; even with the ones who seemed to frown or scowl the most. Smiling is not something foreign to me, especially when looking at people I don’t know. However, in foreign locations, the results of a genuine smile seemed more apparent. I made efforts to do so with everyone whose gaze I could catch, and it almost became a game of observation for me.

Seldom did I not get at least some form of a smirk, sly smile, head nod. Most times people just returned the smile and occasionally I received a word or two which I assume might have been a hello, good day, or equivalent. Being an optimist, I’ll assume those foreign words weren’t something negative!

It seems so simple… a smile. I needed to be reminded of its powerful tug is can have on the heart, mind and soul of human beings. It was comforting and empowering and made me feel that even though I couldn’t utter a word, a connection was made, even if it was for a fleeting moment in time.

I’m sending out a virtual smile as my closing… Cheers to you!

The Slow Down Challenge…

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It’s 6 AM on a Wednesday morning, and I have been tossing and turning all night. I’m fighting a cold, fighting a cough, and lately, fighting myself. “In what way are you fighting yourself?” you may ask.

It’s the beginning of winter and winter, for my body, means cocooning in a warm blanket of quietness. I should follow my body’s wants and just enjoy this time of the year but somehow my type A personality seems to not accept cocooning as a viable option.

I’ve always been at odds with myself during the season of frigid cold winds and whiteouts. Winter, I believe, is why soft cuddly blankets and warm cups of cocoa come about, bringing a natural slowdown to our hectic lives. Who can keep the old spring or summer pace when the simple of act of dressing for the arctic air could easily end up as a multi-paged process diagram?

This is the only time of year where my mind just doesn’t seem to pay attention to my body’s need for a more koala-like pace; slow, deliberate and zen-like motions alike one entering a still lake with the intention of minimizing waves. My mind, however, wants to keep a running cheetah speed and this is when my internal fighting happens.

However, I am a firm believer in positive thinking and projecting what we want out of life. I believe that things happen when they need to happen and today is not exception.

In light of my tossing and turning I opted to surf the web for some inspirational nugget that might enlighten me or offer my brain a little bite of busyness. As it often happens when one has an open mind for the “whatever”, I chance upon a title that catches my attention – The Slow Down Challenge.

“When we slow down, we do better, more creative work; we become better stewards of the relationships in our lives; and we grown grateful for the small things in life” writes Author Jeff Goins.

The Slow Down Challenge project is a five-day series of reflection and action that will help participants to live with greater intentionality, have better focus and develop deeper relationships.

Perhaps this is what I need to get myself into a slower paced frame of mind. I will document my daily insights and findings (a requirement of this program) and hopefully my mind will slow down and allow me to sync to a more harmonious state with my body.

My soft cuddly blanket awaits…

The Purpose of Belief

Anthony Robbins states “What’s the purpose of a belief? It guides us in making decisions about how to avoid pain or gain pleasure more quickly. Because of our beliefs, we don’t have to continually start from scratch in making those decisions. Sometimes in our moments of greatest fear, pain, or emotional intensity, we look for relief in the form of a belief.”

I’ve been struggling with trying to share my experience of my visit to Lourdes in France. Having been raised in a catholic environment at least in my early formative years, I have been taught much about belief and how it applies to religion.

As I aged and questioned much of the notions imparted on me, the question of belief always confounded me. As an adult I recognized that belief did ease the pain of losing my father, at least, at the onset of his passing. I wrote a letter stating that I felt he was lucky to be in heaven near Jesus, and this when I was only 9. Religion and church was important to me as it was intricately woven its reach into my daily life.

The older I got, the more I questioned everything, including the effect of belief and its value in my life. Not only belief in terms of religion, a higher being, a greater place than our physical world, but also the belief in destiny, in our own abilities etc.

This summer I had the privilege to visit Lourdes in France. Lourdes is famous for the Marian apparitions of Our Lady of Lourdes said to have occurred in 1858 to Bernadette Soubirous. Each year approximately 5 million tourists visit this site, many in hope for a healing or a cure for their ailments.
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I arrived at this location expecting to see some injured and sick visitors but I was taken aback at the number of wheelchair bound visitors, many in an advanced state of illness. Blue wheelchairs pushed by hundreds of volunteers dominated each area and I imagined that a bird’s eye view would display an ant-like colony in movement.

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Hundreds of people were strategically placed in front of the statue where the sightings were said to have happened. Prayers were said and rosaries were clasped. The overall mood was somber yet dare I say, hopeful. A caravan of buses unloaded their passengers as all made their way to the main area which consisted of some benches, but mostly open space to accommodate the wheelchairs. Some knelt on small cushions while praying quietly. Some openly and unabashedly cried while others sat and stared at the statue.

We walked over to one of the churches and joined the mass already in progress. We stood in the back behind hundreds of blue wheelchairs; a sight that moved me to tears.
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The one sight that stopped me in mid step is etched in my mind. On a stretcher a person was draped with a blanket while being hooked to a variety of life-sustaining machines including a tracheotomy unit. I counted 12 individuals surrounding the stretcher and at that moment I realized just how strong one’s belief must be to travel in such a state in order to physically be in this special location.

I wonder if this was the wish of the patient or the family. Was this visit in hope of a cure or for a type of last rite before passing? I looked around at all the injured and ill believers and wondered if they were seeking divine intervention or simply felt the need to be in this sacred place? What I can tell you is, however strange this may seem, in my mind, belief is what I saw in abundance that day.

I am honored to have had the privilege to visit this very unique location.

When was the last time you whistled?

In honor of Happiness Happens month, I decided to revive a piece I wrote in 2009 about a very special person who was the inspiration for this story. I think of him now and then, and wonder if he is still whistling – somehow, I think he is!

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This was a typical evening, long day at work, back at the apartment, dinner was finished and I was still working. I then remembered I had an early call in the morning but had noticed that the snack counter in my training room was low so time to replenish it. Given I had a 7 am call it seemed best to head to the nearby 24 hour grocery store.

I pulled into the parking lot, went in and spent about 15 minutes picking up my favorite boxes of 100 calories snack packages. I like to have snacks around, but healthy is a good approach! As I headed back to my car a driver pulled up beside me in a van. I started unloading my cart and he came around whistling happily. “Can I help you with your groceries” he asked with a smile. He stood about 5″10, mid thirties, dressed in blue jeans and a blue shirt with rolled up sleeves. He smiled constantly and as he walked over, he said “I’ll even take your cart so you don’t have to put it back” he said.

I looked at him and listening to him whistle. “Well, you seem like a happy person at 10 o’clock at night” I said to him.
“Well, I’m almost finished my shift” he said.
“OH – so you are happy you are almost done” I mentioned heading to my car.
“Oh no, I’m just happy” he said smiling.
“You must love your job” I asked a bit intrigued.
“Well, I’m kids’ dreams and parents’ nightmare” he said laughing.
At this point, I was both curious and a bit apprehensive.

“So, what kind of job do you do?” I asked.
“You’ll see in a moment” he said, opening the back door of his van.
He started pulling out gum ball machines – the type you see in grocery stores or department stores. He just kept pilling them up in my empty cart, and all this time smiling and whistling.
“I have a great job” he said, and a bit more seriously “I don’t make much money, but I get to sleep in as long as I want, I only start at 2. I get to work when the sun goes down, and here in San Antonio, that is a good thing. ”
“I meet lots of people, and it’s an easy job….”
He laughed and turned to me and said “I hope you like your job just as well; life is too short not to be happy!” and he smiled again, waved and wished me a good night.

I have to admit the entire encounter barely lasted about 5 minutes. Somehow, I knew this was one of those encounters that would touch me.
Here was someone who seemed to be one of the most joyful person I had ever seen.

To many, a job lugging candy and bubble gum machines to stores after stores could be seen as a boring job. Yet, to hear him whistle, and see him smile and listen to him speak gave me the feeling that he was likely the best in his role, in San Antonio, perhaps in Texas, maybe even in the U.S. of A.!

He took pride in what he did, he was happy and just seemingly content… and for a moment, I tried to remember the last time I saw someone so content and peaceful and joyous! – I’m still trying to remember…

It seems these days I have been really trying to determine what it is that makes me “whistle” – what makes me smile, even a few hours before ending my “shift” (if my shift really ever has an end..) I thought about those around me – when was the last time I hear someone hum, or whistle or just smile so big that we wonder what one must be thinking to be so happy…

Sometimes, life hands us these moments to make us reflect. We get caught up in the hustle, the rush, the stress, the urgency, the muti-tasking and we may not realize how much we get swept in the motion like being caught in a vortex. We don’t realize the pace we keep, the level of continued stress we accept as tolerable, the amount of moments when we need to take deep breaths to get clarity in the midst of chaos.

I stood by my car as i saw him make his way into the store; his cart overfilled with dispensing machines full of gums, toys and trinkets and as he made his way I could still hear him whistle and nod to those passing by.

One has to wonder, are we in a whistling mind set or are we so focused on everything else we don’t feel the joy of what we do, in a way that makes us sing, or hum or smile ?
When was the last time YOU WHISTLED?????
Cheers
Sylvie

Tragedies remind us to CARPE DIEM

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I sat at my home office desk when I first saw the headline “Tragedy, train crashes in Santiago Spain” and my stomach cramped, my throat got dry and my eyes filled with tears. Without even knowing the extent of this terrible accident or the details, I was flooded with emotions because once again, when tragedy happened I was filled with both intense gratitude for being safe and sound, and awareness of the fragility of life. There have been quite a few times when tragedy hit me hard even though I wasn’t a victim of those events.

These past few months were spent in Spain and France, and several times I have been on high speed trains in Spain. In fact, my last train ride was from Sahagun to Madrid less than one week ago. When the twin towers fell in New York in 2001, I was at a business conference in Orlando, and flying from the various airports where the doomed air planes left their respective runways that day was something I regularly did in my career. In these times, even more often than usual I am reminded of the saying CARPE DIEM. We know it as a loose translation of SEIZE THE DAY.

A phrase that is used over and over again to emphasize that we should FULLY live in the present. My philosophy has been to live life as if it was my last day because, well, one day, that will be the case. I try my best to not have any unfinished business. I do not hesitate to live life to the fullest of my abilities. I try not be miss an opportunity to let people know I care and love them. I give life my 110% as often as possible and I am grateful every single morning I wake up at the realization that I have one more day ahead of me.

I know that tomorrow is promised to no one and this fact alone makes me well aware that each day is truly a gift. This latest tragedy hit home quite hard. I even considered an invitation to be in Santiago on the 24th to experience the joys of the Santiago celebrations and I wonder what might have happened had I decided to go. I could have just as well been one of the names that we now mourn from afar.

My thoughts turn to those who are struggling to overcome this tragedy, to the families who have lost loved ones and to all who have been affected by this event. And tonight, as I have done since learning of this tragedy, I will think even more about the fact that I am blessed to have the life I have, the health I have, the loved ones I have.
CARPE DIEM my friends, CARPE DIEM.

Leave it behind

Leave it behind

Leave it behind

During my first Camino, I chanced upon this message, a mere hundred or so meters after the famous Cruz de Ferro (Iron cross), a very important symbolic location on the route. Pilgrims are encouraged to bring a rock or memento from home and leave it at the Cruz de Ferro as a symbol of leaving your troubles behind.

When I set foot on April 23rd to begin my second Camino, I will have left it all behind. All the potential little concerns of life, all the details of the day-to-day, all the distractions and all the potential angst related to the status of my feet. Everything will be left behind with the idea that I trust, yes TRUST, that the Camino will provide.

Many of you have shared with me of your concerns with my ongoing feet challenge. Please know that this Camino is as important if not more than my first Camino and I would not risk anything that could keep me from getting to Santiago in time for my volunteering work.

I have so many options in regards to any potential slow down caused by my feet needing some TLC, rest or attention. I know how important our feet are, especially when undertaking an 800 km walk! I can say with true honesty “I’ve been there, done that, got the shirt”.

I will be leaving any worries behind when I walk on that plane in a few weeks. I want you all to also leave any concerns you have for my safety, health and wellbeing BEHIND as well.

Trust that I will not take any unnecessary risks, remember that I will be surrounded by friends and Nestor (he could always carry my pack if need be!) and that my aim is to enjoy this Camino at a much more leisurely pace than my last Camino.

I want to start my journey with nothing but positive energy and an open heart and mind.
So feel free to send positive thoughts, vibes and messages! All of these would be greatly appreciated and welcomed!
Cheers from a very excited pilgrim!

The Camino – Spiritual preparation

This is my father's rosary - he passed away when I was just nine

This is my father’s rosary – he passed away when I was just nine

Back in March of 2011 I spent a lot of time preparing for my first Camino experience. The preparation was 80% physical, 20% emotional and not at all spiritual.

On the physical plane, I ensure my body would be ready for the long distance walks. I trained with my new equipment and ensure I had put at least 100 kilometers of walking behind me. I bought all the necessary equipment, read as much as was available, and I deemed myself ready for the departure.

On the emotional plane, I mostly tried to anticipate how I would react being away from my family for more than 6 weeks. I had so often been away from them during my work projects, but somehow this was a very different separation.
I vowed to them daily updates on my blog (when at all possible) and periodic calls.

I didn’t even consider needing any preparations of the spiritual plane. Yet, I was embarking on a highly regarded as spiritual journey, and I carried with me a load of baggage. “My backpack” you may ask? Not at all. I carried the stress of a highly visible, highly high paced, highly stressful career. I had left my many roles and opted to rush to the Camino within a few weeks of my career departure.

Being a true “Type A” I assumed I could get rid of all that stress within a few weeks of walking. I wanted everything to slowly dissipate as my feet walked kilometers after kilometers. How silly of me to assume I had any control over that transformation.

MY first Camino was so amazing, and I learned so much during that month. Looking back now, I know that I likely would have learned even more had I taken some time to prepare spiritually.

“How does one prepare spiritually?” you may wonder. In my case, it means to create a clean and open mind. To lessen any concerns or focus that may occupy too much space in my mind. It means to cast aside worries about things over which I have no control. It means to forgive what can be forgiven to allow more openness in my heart. It means to be in a state of mind whereby I would undertake this second Camino with as much openness, gratitude, non-judgmental eyes and ears, and a heart willing to give as much as accept.

This time around, my preparation consists of updating my equipment and preparing my injured foot for the long hauls, but these activities are only taking up about 20% of my effort. The rest is solely spiritual.

I discovered that although the Camino gives, we also need to give in return. I want to be the most I can be as I embark on this new journey.
I want a clean new book waiting for words of wisdoms, beautiful impromptu moments, and colorful landscapes.

The efforts of my upcoming 35 days will include long walks, but mostly longer contemplation and uncluttering of my mind!