When the movie The Secret https://www.thesecret.tv went viral in the early 2000’s, there was a sudden surge of awareness around the idea of the Law of Attraction and manifestation. I, being the ‘woo-woo’ person I am, was all about it! Of course, when I didn’t get that million dollars I kept visualizing, forgetting the part about “taking action,” I eventually stopped talking about it to others… stopped practicing it in secret…just stopped. But in hindsight, I can see now how this “Law” has worked throughout my life whether I intended it to or not. Whether it was positive or negative, whatever I wished for or worried about, has all come about…though rarely on my schedule or in the ways I imagined.
What The Secret doesn’t mention, however, is another “Universal Law,” the one about Balance. Whenever you finally do get what you have asked for, you are asked for something in return. A sacrifice must be made. It may not be obvious at first and it may take years for it to occur or even dawn on you that there is a connection, but nonetheless, something or someone will have to be given up. Where there is apparent gain, there will be loss, where there is a windfall, a downfall will follow. Fortunately, the inverse is true as well. When you think nothing could be any worse, something beautiful will emerge.
I could go on and on about the things that seemed so great when they came about initially but ended up leaving me hollow inside, shamed, and feeling like a complete outsider. But the intention behind this blog is to stick to El Camino, what it’s all about and why people from all over the world have flocked there annually for over a thousand years. Having said that, to give some perspective of how El Camino has come about for me, there is no way to not talk about the act of Penance, which, historically, is the main reason for the why behind a ‘long walk‘ that can take around six weeks to complete (on average and depending on the route taken). And there is no way of explaining this without introducing you to my father, Mr. Jones, whose death in 2013 shook the very the foundations of everything I thought about myself and the world around me.
When my Dad died it was the beginning of the most challenging four years of my life. All my guilt, shame, and countless insecurities seemed to bubble up all at once leaving me feeling emotionally paralyzed. ‘What the hell had become of my life, who the hell was I really, and where the hell was I going??’ It was like I had fallen into a vat of my own sh*t and had to take a long hard look at everything I had ever did and, even worse, everything I had never ‘gotten around to.’ I felt like someone had hit me over the head with a sledgehammer but instead of a lot of blood and guts, I was merely a shell, shattered, with nothing but empty space surrounding a shrunken little heart, beating away furiously, fueled by fear and anxiety.
Even writing about this now, after a lot of therapy and hard work, this is admittedly still the hardest writing I’ve ever had to do because its forcing me to digest a lot about my past actions and behaviors that is not all that easy to look at. And because I want to refrain from making this blog end up just another self-pity party for me, me, me, I find myself having to chop up what I know and feel about my Dad’s life and its affects on me into manageable chunks, stripping it down from everything I could say to what needs to be said and when and how to say it in a way that stays on topic; the Camino.
As self-centered as this may sound, I’m attempting to explain how my Dad’s death was a sacrifice he made so that I could learn a hard and powerful lesson about what living is meant to be. That the suffering he endured, what anyone would consider ‘a long and painful death,’ was in fact the most invaluable teaching he ever gave me. And it’s through this writing process that I’ve come to think about his final years of life as his own journey of penance and regardless of the final diagnosis of terminal cancer that had spread through his bones, I feel he really died of a heavy heart, having led a life of constant searching for something he could never find in himself until it was too late.
The final conversation I had with my father, I had asked him what, if anything, he needed me to know. His response was simply LOVE. And so its with love as my underlying focus for my own act of penance that I embark in the footsteps of countless others searching for redemption. No, I’m not talking about hair shirts and self-pity, I’ve done enough of that and it hasn’t gotten me anywhere. I’m talking about learning to love myself, my mistakes, everything that has made me who I am today so that I may use this knowledge to further my evolvement as far as I can take it. And though I falter from time to time, still trying to hold onto to old ways and bad habits that don’t serve me, I am learning to love the struggle of what it means to change and am finally willing to do the necessary work. I won’t pretend to know what that even really means yet and I have given up on the illusion of perfection (thank God!) but I am determined to not let my Dad’s death be in vain, to balance his sacrifice by learning to live my life to its fullest for the sake of what remains of my family and friends who still have it in their hearts to love me after all the crap I’ve put them through.
And so I’ll let it hang there for now but rest assured there will be more to come concerning ‘Me and Mr. Jones’. But before I sign off for the night, I’ll leave you with my own definition of the word Penance, modified only because I am not a Christian (though, I’ll reiterate, ‘Jesus is alright with me‘) and I don’t want to confuse my version of sins with the Ten Commandments. And while I know I read it somewhere, its my belief that my biggest sin that I must atone is not living the life I know I am capable of, letting fear and Ego stop me from using my God-given gifts to the betterment of me and everyone I come in contact with. And so it is my hope that whoever is willing to join me along my journey, that they take what they need, and leave the rest as it is; simply one soul’s experience of what it means to ‘grow up‘.
Penance: An act of self-mortification or devotion performed voluntarily to demonstrate sorrow and regret for past actions and behaviors.
Thank you for joining me on my Camino.