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  • Calista Ocean

Slow dance to Santiago

"So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing." - T. S. Eliot

It’s been a few days since I arrived in the Praza do Obradoiro in Santiago de Compostela. It was the end of a walking journey which started in Irun, Spain and brought me more than 500 miles along the Camino del Norte to stand with other pilgrims at the western facade of the cathedral.

Although I hadn’t planned it that way, the pilgrimage had taken me 47 days - one day for each year of my life.

That morning, I took a couple minutes to share my arrival with friends and family via social media. Over the next few days, I received many messages filled with admiration and congratulations for the accomplishment of having made this long journey on my own. I was incredibly thankful for the love and support in their comments, and it was also strange since what I was feeling wasn’t a sense of accomplishment. It’s hard to describe even now, but I think I was feeling a grateful sadness. Grateful for the beauty of the Camino, but sad that this amazing journey had come to an end.

The noise of the city rushed in and swept away the silence of the last several weeks. I became aware that the plans I’d made for my remaining time in Europe would be more structured and require that I pay more attention to my schedule.

My romance with time - a slow, sensual dance that I’d been enchanted by for weeks - felt like it was changing. It was taking on the edgier feel of a familiar partnership where expectations and demands creep in and the tempo changes.

I felt myself grasping to hold onto something elusive. I whispered “Please don’t leave me like this.”

Time whispered, “You’re the one who is leaving, my dear. Let me know when you want to dance like this again.”

My heart still hears the music we danced to. It sounds like dynamic stillness - ocean waves pulling on rocks, roosters crowing in the afternoon sun, wind blowing through Eucalyptus trees, the shuffling sound of my boots walking over loose gravel on a quiet road through the woods. I carry that music with me in my heart. I feel the rhythm of it in my pulse when I take a few moments to become still, to sway within the embrace of silence.

For weeks, I’d spent more time by myself - with myself - than I had in years. There were days when I walked for two to three hours without seeing another human being. Even when I saw other pilgrims, it was often just a brief encounter and exchange of “Buen Camino.” Then I was alone again.

Solitude is healing. It’s an experience that cannot be put into words, but I can feel the openness of it in my body. I didn’t even know how deeply I was longing for this spaciousness, until I was moving through it and it was moving through me. I love connecting with others, but this slow dance has taught me the importance of creating time to be alone.

The other incredibly sexy thing about this love affair was allowing Time to lead. Letting go of the need to control the rhythm of the dance gave me the sense of being carried. It reminded me of standing on my great-grandfather’s feet when he waltzed me around his living room as a toddler.

I didn’t have to finish my pilgrimage within the “normal” timeframe. I didn’t have to set a certain pace to meet a schedule or keep up with the pace of others. Time placed a hand on my waist and gently guided me through each day. It was a sultry and delicious tango.

There were times when maintaining my own rhythm was uncomfortable. I watched all of the other pilgrims I started with pass me, which sometimes made me question my own strength and endurance. I had to remind myself that I didn’t come here to pass a test or prove that I was capable of a physical challenge. I came here to slow down. I came here to walk.

Living without a schedule is a luxury that I’ve so rarely enjoyed. It’s intoxicating. I may have to set aside my dance shoes for now, but I’m committed to slowing down more often to experience the dynamic stillness of this dance again.


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