When I was in grade school, a priest came to talk to my class about vocation, specifically the path of a religious life. He spoke of it as a “calling.” I remember laying in bed that night and thinking that maybe God was calling me to be a Catholic nun. It terrified me! I didn’t want to be a nun. I wanted to date, get married, and have children someday. Although I didn’t “hang up the phone” on God that night, I was also glad that it didn’t keep ringing in the weeks and years that followed.
Looking back, I think the essence of what I felt was a desire to be of service. I wanted my life to make a difference. That’s still a calling I feel deeply, and it shows up in different ways.
Flashback to my first pregnancy. It was unplanned, but there’s no doubt in my soul that I was called to be a mother. I was young, single, and had just gone back to college again. I held the pregnancy test in my hand and stared. There was a momentary wave of fear that rolled through my body, and then there was the joy of knowing that I would have a child. It was irrational, but somehow it made sense. It felt less about making a choice than knowing that this was what I was meant to do.
Both of my daughters have been the greatest gift that Life has given me, and being a mother allowed me to be of service on a level I’d never imagined. It still amazes me that I was chosen to bring two bold, creative and inspiring women into this world through my body. It’s humbling! My service to them was to love them unconditionally, keep them safe, and constantly reflect back to them their own radiance and courage.
Yet there’s still more that I’m called to do. There always has been. I’ve been so divinely guided and supported in my life, especially when I’ve been willing to listen. A “calling” feels different in my body than my usual desires to do or to have. Someone or something external may trigger an initial thought, but then there is a response in my body - a feeling that accompanies the thought.
In these moments, there is a “YES” in my body that’s almost audible. My heart feels open and my breath more expansive. There’s a softening, a melting of tension. Most importantly, there is a pulling sensation. It’s almost too subtle to notice, but it’s as if someone has taken my hand and is guiding me gently forward. I don’t always know where I’m going to end up, but the next steps are visible and clear.
That’s why I’m here. In Spain. Walking the Camino. I don’t know why I was called to be here, but I have no doubt that it’s exactly where I’m supposed to be right now.
To some, it may seem that I’m running away from something. I’m not. I’m walking, miles every day. I’m walking toward whatever it is that called me to leave so much behind and trust that the Universe has much more to show me and to ask of me.
Along the Camino, there are yellow arrows to mark the way. Each time I see one, I know that I’m still on the road to Santiago de Compostela.
The route is usually well-marked and easy to follow, but I got lost on my way from Zenarruza to Gernika. It was raining. I was trapped in thoughts about the past few months of my life, and I clearly missed seeing one of the yellow arrows. I was also confused by the yellow and white striped waymarkers for the Pequeno Recorrido (“Small Route” local hiking trails) since many of these markings had coincided with the yellow arrows on previous days. I followed the wrong waymarkers and found myself wandering in the rolling hills of a foreign country. I hadn’t seen any other pilgrims for at least half an hour, nor had I seen a single yellow arrow. I was lost.
I recognized the feeling of disorientation and tension in my body. I had to find my way back.
I stopped. I breathed deeply and turned around. I backtracked a bit, and when I still didn’t see any yellow arrows, I used my mobile phone (and Google Maps) to find my way to Munitibar, a small town that my guidebook showed was on the Camino. This meant walking a couple miles along a busy highway, listening vigilantly for vehicles so that I could stay out of the way when they passed.
I arrived safely in town and felt the tension drain from my body when I saw a bright yellow arrow pointing the way forward. “YES” my body cried! I’m back on the path! I’m where I’m supposed to be, and there are signs to show me which direction to go from here!
Whether on an unfamiliar road in Spain or in my day-to-day life, I’ve wandered off the path before. I’ve veered from my truth and my calling. I’ve mistaken others waymarkers for my own. Sometimes, I just stopped paying attention and let go of the hand that was guiding me. Other times, I saw the yellow arrow pointing the way, but second-guessed it and turned in another direction that seemed less steep or more scenic.
On the Camino, my inattention to the waymarkers cost me less than a couple of hours. However, feeling lost created a considerable amount of tension in my body and mind. I felt depleted and worried and less able to enjoy the beautiful scenery all around me.
In my life, it has cost me more than that. I’ve often wandered far from my truth, and it has caused me a significant amount of emotional and physical distress. Somewhere in the last year or two, I stopped paying attention and missed a waymarker. I knew I was off my path and was betraying myself with some of my choices, but I kept believing that I’d find my way if I kept moving forward.
I didn’t. I was lost. I felt depleted and disconnected from myself and my body. It was time to stop. To take a deep breathe. To find my way back.
I’m following the “yellow arrows” now. I’m paying closer attention, listening to my inner knowing, and holding tight to the hand that guides me. Will it take me to all the way to Santiago? To Finisterre?
I don’t know where I’m being called to, but I trust that I’m being called to be of service in new ways. I look forward to walking and writing and dancing and loving my way there.