Evolution of my self

OM Times Magazine states that personal evolution is a change of perspective. How one’s beliefs, self-image and self-knowledge affect us emotionally, mentally and spiritually is determined by testing new knowledge through experience and turning it into wisdom.

This said, this past year I’ve been going through a lot of re-evaluation of so many things in my life. Never as often as this summer, where I had some beliefs take a complete turn on so many subjects. I spent many hours with acquaintances and friends this summer, and many of them offered some interesting view points.

I also had the opportunity to have very deep philosophical conversations with priests and one brother who came to Moratinos to be part of a chaplain program. I posed some very tough questions, and the conversations that ensued put my beliefs in need of re-evaluation.

I also found myself trying to understand certain reactions I had to people’s ways, looks and habits. I deliberately took notice of my attitude and found myself aware of preconceived notions that turned out to not be as sound as they may have seemed 10 or even 5 years ago.

A big one for me is the concept of aging.  I met a man who was 79 walking the Camino with is 19 year old (wait for it) … SON. Yes, his 19 year old son. This man didn’t look 79, and he was fit and had so much energy and was a joy to get to know. I met a woman who was 85 who still gardened every day, who walked 5 km a day and swam in the ocean every week of the year! So what is aging? One of my misconception was regarding grey hair. In my own mind, I was ok with having loads of wrinkles, but somehow, couldn’t accept having grey hair. I’m fine with anyone else having silver strands, but I refused to let mine show… Until now.

I had a very vivid dream where a toddler (that I knew somehow was my grandchild) was playing with my long curly beautiful silver hair. IT looked fabulous! Soon afterwards, I had another dream where a voice told me “Your body or your hair do not define you. Be your authentic self – and don’t worry about what others think.”

Today, I took the first step to adding authenticity for my self. I made the first pass at letting my hair be its real colour. It will be a multiple step effort, but from this point on, I will embrace who I truly am… and let my ACTIONS, attitude, my “joie de vivre” define me.

with my new lighter hair

with my new lighter hair

Walking down the Camino memory lane

During the last 4 years, March has been  a month of preparation for my Camino journeys. Three times have I found myself packing, repacking, shopping for new items, retiring older items and dreaming about the upcoming magical journey that is the walking on the Camino de Santiago.

This year is a stay-at-home year. My last Camino journey, in honour of my fallen sister, was cut short due to a medical issue, but I never once thought that would be my last Camino. In fact, my plan is to continue to live the Camino life as often as health and providence allows.

I will however relive my Camino memories through a challenge I opted to take, that of blogging from A-Z during the month of April. This challenge requires us to write a blog entry focused on each letter of the alphabet, on a daily basis. The subject is totally up to our choosing, and I decided to dedicate my challenge to my Camino memories. I have over 5,000 pictures taken during my 3 Camino adventures, and I decided to combine text and picture to share my experience with readers.

2015 header

Most of my blog readers are not pilgrims, but most have let me know they enjoyed experiencing the Camino through my photographs and stories. In honour of the Camino and all it has brought to me, I dedicate my challenge to it. I will post 4-5 pictures each day and in choosing my photos this weekend, I opted to aim to give a less traditional view into my journeys.

I looked for pictures that perhaps were not obvious of the Camino, but pictures that still to this day stir my soul and makes me long to return once again on Spanish soil.

I hope you enjoy this 26 day photographic essay and if you prefer the convenience of receiving updates as part of your emails, you can sign up on any of the pages of my blog and updates will be delivered directly to you.

I have received much more than I could ever give back to the Camino and I hope that for pilgrims, this brings back great memories and for non-pilgrims, I hope you discover a new side of what can be while walking the Camino de Santiago.

Of Poppies, Denise and Joy

April the 5th next month will mark the one year of my sister Denise’s passing. Much has happened since then, and although we’ve managed well through the various celebrations, all with much remembering, some tears and many smiles, there are still days that pull me into the grieving bubble.

I feel it’s a bubble because it encases me completely and for anywhere from a few seconds to a few hours, my thoughts and emotions are focused on Denise. It sometimes manifest itself because of someone or something that we shared is part of the moment.

Of late, a few strange things have been manifesting themselves, and to some, they could be called coincidences, to others, they could be call totally unconnected unrelated events, and to myself, and others, manifestations of Denise’s essence.

I believe they are manifestations and they bring me joy. They bring on tears but that’s part of the beauty of missing someone, tears of longing. They bring on deep thoughts, and challenge my belief system. They bring me ribbons of memories that are vivid and multisensed – the sound of her voice called me “kiddo”, the sight of her face, the sense of her presence.

Recently, I’ve been hearing lots of Neil Diamond songs, and this is expected as Neil Diamond is actually giving a concert tonight in our city. Denise loved Neil Diamond, and I shared this admiration for the singer. She and I saw many concerts of his and I cannot help but think of her when I hear him sing. Giving his concert, the local stations have played many of his hits, but it’s still strange that I seem to hear them each time I drove to work, and around town.

Denise loved poppies. I named last year’s Camino Journey “the Way of the Poppies” in honour of her. She always praised my poppy pictures from the Camino, and she used to tell me this would be the part of the Camino walk she would most like to experience – to see fields and fields of wild red poppies in real life. I’ve seen at least 5 sightings of Poppies in the last week alone.

Am I paying more importance to poppies as the date gets closer to April 5th? Perhaps. But, could it be something else inciting me to see these poppies?

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After all, I changed the dates of my Camino last year, after I spotted a picture of huge red poppy amongst the many pictures of Denise I was gathering for her memorial. That picture somehow mysteriously disappear from the group of pictures, and I just considered this a manifestation of Denise’s essence.

Late last week, My daughter Lisa told me about a series of painting workshops called Paint Nite. You buy a ticket for the evening, and an instructor walks you through painting a pre-chosen piece of art. I decided to select one, and I picked the week of early April. And wouldn’t you know, the chosen art piece for April 7th…

poppies paint

This brings me lots of Joy, and happy memories of Denise. I am sure that as I am painting these poppies thoughts of Denise will envelope my creativity. This will be a wonderful evening.

 

The Ripples of our Actions

butterflyPerhaps you have heard of the butterfly effect The name of the effect is derived from the metaphorical example of the details of a hurricane (exact time of formation, exact path taken) being influenced by minor perturbations such as the flapping of the wings of a distant butterfly several weeks earlier.

I truly believe that our actions create reactions, and we often know little of those reactions or consequences. Although many find the word consequence to be of a negative connotation, a consequence is simply a result or effect of an action or condition.

I try to think of the consequences of my actions, but I am well aware that I have no idea of the breath of depth of these outcomes. I take pleasure in reading stories of a pay-it-forward type of action that trickles down and affect dozen, hundreds or many even thousands. A simple one that I read about of late was an unbroken chain of pay-it-forward coffee chain at a local Tim Horton’s coffee shop. The “I’ll pay for a coffee of the next person behind me” action lasted almost the entire day shift! What a fun and encouraging event.

Our words have immense consequences, both positive and negative. A genuine compliment, a kind uplifting comment or an encouraging statement can change someone’s day in a matter of minutes. Conversely, a insulting comment derogatory words can negatively impact someone’s self confidence. All our actions have the possibility of uplifting or bringing down people.

This past week I was privy to an action that created nothing but anger, disappointment and a lot of head shaking. I participated in one of the city’s largest craft fair, offering my handcrafted folded fabric ornaments. I take pride in my work and ensure that only the best quality ornaments are offered to the public. I carefully measure each piece of fabric that is used, and I constantly check for accurate creation of the end product.

As we were setting up for the 6 day fair, a letter was circulated that informed us artists of a certain group of women who would be having lunch outside the craft fair area, and would  then visit the various kiosks. When I chanced outside the craft area I was privy to admire the many women that were dressed with class and affluence. There was an air of sophistication that could be felt as I watched them mingle drinking unique cocktails and chatting away. BCF 2We were asked to consider giving a donation to the group. Knowing a bit about this group and some philanthropic activities, I opted to donate a Breast Cancer ornament whose profits are returned to the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation. I felt this was an appropriate donation given these were women and the likelyhood that most knew someone who had been affected by this disease.

A few days later, I was told that my ornament was in the back office, and it wasn’t used for the networking event because it’s value was far below the expected $100 value. I stood there in utter shock. None of us knew of this arbitrary expectation of donation value. I’ve run events and when there are donations that are of lesser value, we bundle them up to create a combined prize, therefore, the fact the donation was of lower value did not negate its potential for a nice combined gift.

I felt quite insulted that someone based on their own judgement deemed a donation to lack worthiness for their event. Giving it back seemed to be akin of a virtual slap in the face and a pure dismissal. Somewhat like leaving a penny tip to a waiter – worse than not leaving a tip at all, a penny tip is a loud and clear statement of unworthiness. I discussed this situation with many of my neighbor artists of the craft fair, and each and every one of them (men and women) felt this was appalling, insulting and devoid of compassion and gratitude.

It is unfortunate that the actions of one sole person who had the task of managing the donations tarnished the reputation of the entire group. In reading the profiles of some of the group’s leaders, I don’t doubt that most would not have acted this way, however, the only action we were privy to experience was that of the outright rejection of a valid albeit less expensive gift, and one associated with a cause, no less!

A few hours later, the rejected beautiful ornament (I may add as per all the feedback I received) was rightfully bestowed as a gift to someone who battled breast cancer and was now in remission. This person will appreciate this small token as a true gift of caring for what this recipient has gone through to win her battle. This gift would  not be looked upon as lacking a set value of X dollars, or a well-known label of X name.

ripplesWe can recognize that the power of our actions, immediate or delayed affect others. Perhaps if we consciously take a moment or two before making our decisions, we might recognize that like the beating of the proverbial butterfly wings, our actions will have rippled effects… hopefully positive ones!

Falls brings on nostalgia

Fall has always been my favorite season. My creativity soars in the fall, and this is when I wrote my first NaNoWriMo novel (National Novel Writing Month) P1030254sitting at the table in our cottage. The leaves were falling all
around the cottage, and the air was crisp and clean.

I find solace walking in the woods watching the leaves gently float down and carpet the ground with a burst of red, orange or yellow. I relish the sound of crackling leaves under my step as the colder air nips at my ears and fingertips.

colours fall Sylvie Hanes

My camera captures some of the moments where the sun kisses the colorful leaves or the gust of wind tears them away from their tree. The flutter of chickadees and bustling of workaholic squirrels remind me I am not alone in this space.

It is a magical time when every changing hue of bright color seems to infuse my mind with touches of inspiration for new writings, poems and photos.

Along with the increased creativity comes the increased nostalgia. Perhaps it’s a wish for a simpler life without so many electronic distractions grabbing our attention at all times of the day. Perhaps it’s the search for a quieter time when schedules lighten and free time is abound. Perhaps it’s simply the beauty of nature begging for our attention during its last act before its curtain call.

P1030270I allow myself to be lulled into this magical season and I feel blessed to live in a part of the world that provides me with such a colorful show. Each day is different, each walk is new and each glance provides me with a new act of this beautiful nature play. Soon the curtain will fall only to replace this radiantly rich chromaticity with  bland depleated tones but until then I will relish each day of this beautiful season.

A day at the library

Fiction, mystery, romance, biography… any book will catch my attention, and this since the tender age of six. Books were my friends when I was young as there were very few kids of my age in my neighborhood.

I had no favorites, all books were a treat to me. During the summer months we had an extra treat as a book bus traveled every two weeks in our area. In those days, we were allowed to borrow as many books as our age. Given my voracious appetite for reading, I felt this wasn’t enough for me, even at the age of seven.

I spoke to my Dad about it, and he suggested we visit the local library lady (as I called her) to see if we could get that limit increased. I remember feeling quite nervous as we entered the building but I felt confident walking in with my father. She sat in her large wooden chair as we stood in front of her waiting to be acknowledged.

Dad explained that I had a very special request to ask of her. She took off her glasses and motioned us to sit down. I nervously explained to her that I felt the book limit was too low for me as I usually finished my allocated amount within the first week and I was left with nothing to read until the book bus would return the following week. As coached by my Dad, I mentioned the fact that I returned all my books on time and in good condition.

She listened carefully, and after a short pause, she asked how many books I wanted to borrow. I had decided that since I was seven, I would be brave and ask for an additional book to my allocated limit. I hesitated and at that very moment, she asked if ten would be enough.

Imagine my surprise and joy at that beautiful number: TEN! I was so excited as I watched her write the number “10” on a small piece of paper, adding her signature and pasting it to the back of my library card. My father smiled and we both thanked her and shook her hand. I quickly headed to the children’s section to pick out ten new books for me to read.

Decades later I would constantly travel for my work often staying in one city for months. If my project was a lengthy one I would always locate the closest library and get myself a card. Never would I be short of reading material and over the course of fifteen years of travel I accumulated more than twenty out-of-town library cards.

Today I own an e-reader but nothing can replace the look and feel of a physical book. I relish the thought of walking into a used bookstore and wander about, feeling and smelling old books. No matter what the challenges are in my life, I know there is always the pleasure of escaping with a new tale, an old familiar story or a good biography.

Long live books!

all lc

Renewed focus on returning to my Camino

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESEverything was set; my backpack was as light as could be, my plans were open enough to allow for changes, but focus enough to get my end goal accomplished. Although my first two Camino weeks were challenging in many ways, nothing was set to prepare me for a halt… not just a halt for a few days, but the complete halt of my third Camino.

For the past fifteen years or so, my sleeping habits had taken a toll for the worse. A byproduct of a corporate traveler’s life, my hours of work were very high and my hours of sleep were low. Along with this were less than stellar eating habits; late evening dinners consisting of whatever was left in the office kitchen, in my hotel room or rented apartment, late dinners with clients, airport food and grab-and-eat moments… Exercise? mostly running from one meeting to the next or trying to catch that late flight. Years of such a lifestyle took its toll on me. When I retired, I counted more than 7 daily medication going into a very tired and out of shape body.

My goals upon retirement were three fold; First to wean myself off the too frequent medications, second to get back to an active lifestyle and third (and hopefully as the byproduct of the active lifestyle) to get to a healthier weight. Well, one byproduct of my not so healthy lifestyle of the past was the need of a CPAP machine to help me sleep… oh, and actually not die IN my sleep due to obstructed airways. I’ve been on the machine for almost 3 years, and although I’ve made progress with some of my goals (down to two meds, both low dosage) and a much more active lifestyle, I still have some way to go for a healthier weight.

Last summer, I completed my Camino and chose not to bring my heavy CPAP machine with me. I managed to make it through with less than optimal sleep, but no other consequences. This year, thinking I would do the same and I headed out without my CPAP. Compared to last year, I was in a bit stronger body taking less medications.

After walking more than 160 km (averaging 20 km per day) I woke up in the middle of the night with strong cheat pains and problems breathing. I panicked, woke up the pension owner, and grabbed a cab to the nearest hospital. Turns out, after a few tests and some resting time, that the doctors discovered my body had gotten used to the CPAP and no longer could do without, and because of the exhausting walks, my body no longer could wake itself up without putting undue stress on my heart and lungs. I needed to return home immediately to deal with this challenge.

Rest assured, I realized how lucky I was to wake up – severe sleep apnea can cause a person to simply not wake up enough to get breathing again… but I still am upset that I am at this stage. The good thing, it CAN be reversed! It really can, and the solution is simple. I didn’t say EASY, I said SIMPLE! When I get to my healthy weight, I will no longer need this CPAP machine that has allowed me deep sleep for the past 3 years. However much I appreciate what it has given me, I do not want to be slave to this machine. Therefore, my focus is SIMPLE and anchored… and I will get there by what I like to do best, WALKING!

After all, walking is what I was doing on the Camino de Santiago – – I got to Burgos from Pamplona, and now will virtually walk my way to Santiago and will focus on doing everything to get me ready to return to my Camino in late summer of 2015.
The focus is set, the tools are in place (water for swimming, treckers for walking, music for inspiration).
My feet are walking feet, and from this point on, my focus to get those feet back on the Camino!
Happy trails!

Unspoken compassion and understanding

I knew this Camino would be an emotional rollercoaster but I really didn’t know the extent of even the first few days. I personally have a very strong belief that life on earth is but a step in a longer journey. This is not everyone’s belief and I appreciate this as I always try to revalidate my thinking every so often.
On the Camino, I don’t question my belief as I constantly feel many
things that tend to reaffirm my belief. Whether this is the ultimate truth or not, it is the truth that I need in my life. I also believe that everyone has the freedom to their beliefs and I will always respect this.

This morning I set out for my first “official” walk day. I was looking forward to reaching the challenging climb leading to Alto del Perdon, an iconic set of metal cutouts Representing various pilgrims. When I arrived there, I took off my pack and pulled out the fabric case that holds some of Denise’s ashes. This was her first stop. With strong emotions and tears running down my face, I said a prayer and released some to the wind. I stood there silently for a few minutes, oblivious to the sound of the incredibly strong wind and the wind turbines near by. I turned around to see 4 pilgrims standing there with their heads bowed down.

alto del perdon 1
Seeing me walked towards them to get to my backpack all four of them walked to me and one by one hugged me. Not a word was spoken, nor were any needed. They then proceeded to offer to take my picture with my camera and then, and only then did they ask in whose memory was I walking my Camino.

Those kind gestures will likely be one of the most impactful memory of this Camino. This was a true sign of compassion and empathy!what a way to start this journey!
Cheers from the Camino
alto del perdon 2

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