A Slice of Youth Perspective

Patio Dialogue
Patio Dialogue

The pitch of youthful voices is one of the enduring sounds of the Camino. Sharing in hundreds of these conversations has been both a privilege and an eye opener. The very nature of these dialogues not only gifted me with the views of these spirited pilgrims; but also provided me with a mirror of my own perspectives. As the weeks progressed, I began to realize that I had unconsciously programmed my thinking with media-driven, stereotypical messages in terms of how our youth of today are embracing the world’s pressurized environment. As the season came to an end, it became clear that the views expressed by this coming of age generation run counter to the main stream media reports of their dismal future outlook, their restricted aspirations due to destabilized economics, and their resulting apathy associated with elections and conventional politics.

Holland
Holland

Early on I came to understand that the young people with whom we were conversing did not respond, nor express their views of what the future would hold in terms of “good” or “bad”; “positive” or “negative”; “optimistic” or “pessimistic”. Rather than falling into the fixed polarized lenses held by previous generations, these young people preferred to define and convey their future in terms of its “reality”. Even in the context of a projected poor economy, low youth employment, and the disintegrating environment, their perspective did not fall prey to the type of schism that causes people to distort their thinking and decision making with judgmental filters. They were decidedly indifferent to the debate of good or bad; better or worse. Rather, their focus was on finding out what they needed to do to pursue the lifestyle that would be the most realistic in these unpredictable times.

Italy
Italy

Our young pilgrims described their respective realities with clarity and a type of mindfulness that illustrated their desire to take it on – whatever that would mean. There were few statements that conveyed victim-like behaviour – i.e. the “disenfranchised” and “unfortunate” circumstances that they had inherited, but rather a straightforward commentary of the options that were in front of them and the decisions that they would need to make. They appeared to “own” the life that appealed to their beliefs and was visible within their grasp.

Portugal
Portugal

 

Many of our walkers were students, some on their gap year, while others were traveling between terms.There were those who were either employed, or seeking employment upon their return. A significant number were living in, or moving to countries other than their homeland. And, as with the nature of the Camino, a small percentage was simply walking – with no particular destination or future plan in mind.

We were immediately intrigued by the mobility of this group. We experienced a freedom in their attitude and plans for the future that did not restrict them to a particular location or established expectations. Even those who were in graduate and post-graduate programs, including the most often identified fields of medicine, advanced communications technology, agriculture, architecture, and social (international) development spoke of alternative avenues that were available to them should their primary choice not sustain their interest. National boundaries, language and already acquired experience did not appear to restrict their views of what the world could hold for them.

Canada
Canada

They were neither naïve, nor arrogant. They simply believed that they could carve out a life that met their needs amidst the realities of this world.

Of course, politics was a subject that presented a wide range of alternative perspectives. One wouldn’t expect anything less with the captivating mixture of eastern, western, northern and southern worldviews. Such impassioned dialogue would momentarily pivot on global affairs and the governmental giants – moving more often than not to the area of influence where these young people felt they had real impact – to their communities of interest – geographic, professional, or interest based.

Spain
Spain

Without question, we experienced a generation who are committed to civic responsibility; not in the traditional sense of political parties or voting, but in the role each of them want to play in making a difference for their current and future families. For some, their voices are heard through demonstrations and petitions. For others, their commitment to sustainable living is evident in the cooperative communities in which they live and work. The universal appeal; however, appears to be one of civic collaboration, working towards a more tolerant, sustainable and fair society.

I certainly do not want to leave you with a Pollyanna taste in your mouth. You may be thinking that I was wearing rose coloured glasses throughout the past several months. Of course, there were many views stated that have not been represented in this blog. There were significant fears and vulnerabilities expressed, as well as momentary anger and anxiety. They were however, the tip of the iceberg – the stepping-stones into a deeper pool of thoughts, feelings and beliefs. Below this surface, it seemed that reality, freedom, ownership and civic responsibility prevailed.

Stay tuned to our next blog “A Pictorial Essay of Wellington Boot”. It is sure to be a hum dinger as we explore the life and times of the Camino’s Canine Hospitalier.

 

 

 

The Unspoken Code of the Camino

IMG_1669 IMG_1847 The very nature of an “unspoken” code is that it defies definition. When Geof and I walked our various Caminos, we experienced first hand the deeply -rooted ethics of trust, honesty and respect. We unconsciously came to realize that walking through unfamiliar terrain, bedding down with strangers, and finding ourselves in countless moments of raw bewilderment were only possible when the inner journeying was made safe by the outer experience. As the mysteries of the Camino unfolded before us, we became aware that we were safeguarded by the implicit principles that no one explicitly states; yet everyone lives by on the way.

Our exposure, however, until this spring, was limited to our fellow journeyers who shared with us the common sense of timing, route, weather, and direction on each of our respective Caminos. As we began our first season as hospitaliers, Geof and I wondered if and how this silent code would be evident through months of Camino experiences and well over a thousand visiting pilgrims.

With 18 beds and café /patio seating for 30, we would be considered a medium size Albergue. Our aspiration from the very beginning was to be a “home away from home” for our guests. This was the reason why we built pilgrim-friendly sleeping quarters, bathrooms and an intimate café with a “home-cook” feel. But most of all, we were committed to hosting with love – love of the Camino and the people who take it on.

shoes They say that respect begins at home – and in our case, it did indeed. Throughout the past six months, our Albergue has been universally treated as a well respected home. Without direction, nor instruction, boots were routinely left at the Albergue door, beds were made, help given in food preparation and dish washing, and not an item broken – okay a couple of wine glasses but that was it! The atmosphere was one of friendship, excitement, and gratitude. Everyone was welcome – not because of any marketing strategy; but because we deeply believed it to be a privilege that people would choose to stop at our Quinta on his or her way to and from Santiago. We never doubted that we were the ones blessed to share our home and our story.

IMG_1676We discovered that this particular belief enabled Geof and I to transcend language barriers. Our inability to speak Portuguese and Spanish was in the vast majority of cases, an opportunity to use common human gestures as a means to communicate needs and offerings. (Of course, our main gal Jessica, who speaks Portuguese, Spanish, English and French, was there to rescue us if we appeared completely bewildered.) As I became increasingly comfortable with my role as host, I found my French coming back to me from my childhood in Quebec, Canada. As I transcended my fear of appearing stupid, my memory opened up like a floodgate.

But regardless of the spoken word, we found that the universal language of the Camino seeks to connect – regardless of language. As most pilgrims will tell you, the implicit code of the Camino overcomes superficial linguistic challenges. The human desire to bond and belong has its own heart-felt language that overrides nationality, cultural differences and dialect. Such was the case when laughter and appreciation were often the outcome of Geof’s multi-linguistic attempts – stringing together French, Spanish, Portuguese and English words (with an accent) in sentences that were completely unrecognizable to anyone. The message was simple – he just wanted to engage. His heart was louder that his voice. And he was understood!

We serioIMG_1911usly put the code to the test when we decided to operate solely on donations for everything – from a coffee to our nightly accommodation. While the details of this will be the subject matter of an upcoming blog, we can say that we were most often stunned by the generosity that showed up in our Donation Box. We came to learn that there was a significant correlation between the time we were able to spend with individuals and the nature of their contribution. It seemed the more our walkers came to know us and the underlying reasons why we had chosen to significantly change our lives, the more we sparked their fearlessness and willingness to reflect on their own dreams. Their recognition of the Camino’s code in action, as evidenced by the spirit of this phoenix farmhouse (from a barn to a home for hundreds) showed up in our Donation Box.

Lively conversation would easily arise around our tables, inside and out, as soon as a new pilgrim inhabited a chair. Common ground was unanimously sought across national boundaries, cultures, ideologies, generations, gender, and beliefs as a means to further the shared experience of the Camino community.   We never experienced an outburst of anger nor any conflict, even as intense dialogues mined the depths of people’s emotions, motivations, and experiences – personal, professional, political, economic and social.

IMG_1792No lockers or safes were provided in our hostel, yet not a worry was expressed as up to 22 people a night shared their living arrangements. Backpacks with all of one’s immediate worldly possessions were left untended throughout the Albergue. Our fridge filled with beer, wine, drinks, and food was made openly available to pilgrims with the request to use the “honour” system of placing their respective donations in the Donation Box. This box sat on the serving buffet, unguarded so as to be openly available for giving. Since part of our offering was to wash our walkers’ clothes, our drying lines were continually full of clothes hanging in and outside of the Albergue. These lines included everything from the very best in walking gear to the most basic in pilgrim attire. Every morning, our Camino trekkers removed their clothes from the line and packed up – never once missing an item.

Over tIMG_0936his season, we began to understand why all of this was possible. It is the underlying principle that underscores the unspoken code – the Camino is an inherently safe place- made safe by the thousands who walk it every day across Portugal, France and Spain. They make it so with their resolute commitment to walk in trust, honesty and respect. These living values are the very ingredients that sponsor one’s ability to travel internally while transporting oneself through external landscapes. Such a powerful ethos releases the fear that undermines one’s ability to find inner wisdom. It triggers one’s deepest hopes to surface. This way of life unfolds without any explicit media or mention. There are no posters, billboards, pamphlets, orientation programs or education seminars used to instil these values – simply an unspoken and inherently created safe, deeply human environment.

So what, you might ask? For me, these realizations have led me to question some of the most perceptively successful practices I routinely performed over the past thirty years as a management consultant. Organizations have spent billions of dollars hashing out and inculcating vision, mission and values statements. During the latter stages of my career, I began to question the validity of such significant investments in money, time, and most importantly human emotion. I have come to think that such grand gestures are the misguided fabrication of leaders who are unable to create and sustain safe environments.

infinity in sandThe concept of safe havens goes well beyond organizations. Truly safe neighbourhoods, which are not policed to be so, are even more important to our well-being. And where does such a notion sit inside our family lives? How do we enable our members to intrinsically experience such a deep sense of security that they are able to function without fear? How do they sustain unconditional safety and the unspoken code of trust, honesty and respect evident in the symbol of eternity in which each creates the other?

Only then can this natural, yet magical energetic power empower people to garner the courage to undertake what they once thought to be impossible? Isn’t that the quest of our new world order – to find solutions to what have become crippling social and economic issues?

These are the very topics that found themselves central to the dialogue around our dining room table over the past several months. Yes, indeed, it has been an incredible season. The experience has been both humbling and inspiring.

We did not go into this adventure with any explicit expectation of witnessing such enlightened behaviour, nor such deep investigations into the world around us. But on the other hand – I doubt we would have set off on this journey if we hadn’t believed it to be so.

Please stay tuned to future blogs on subjects such as “The Quest of Youth Walking”; “The Economy of the Camino”, “Our Wishing Tree”, “The Tales of Wellington Boot”, and “The Elixir of Love on the Camino”.