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Day thirty-one: Camino is in my rear view mirror

Today I arrived in Santiago de Compostela. No drama. No great difficulties overcome. No great fanfare. The cathedral is sprawling and confusing and full of scaffolding so I had no idea where I was supposed to go or how to get there. The usual entrance is closed for restoration, and there was a long line when I finally figured out where I was supposed to go to see St. James’ statue and casket. So I didn’t arrive in a typical pilgrim manner, getting to the cathedral and having a grand spiritual moment. But no matter. I have tomorrow to rest and explore the city, which looks to be really lovely. Lots of old buildings, tiny streets, unexpected plazas, lively atmosphere. Maybe some spiritual time as well.

I will go to the pilgrim’s mass tomorrow night when they will use the Botafumeiro, a large incense burner that requires many people to operate, and apparently quite the sight to see. I saw it hanging in the cathedral, and the cathedral is so massive it looked rather small in context. The reason for the large incense was, as most Catholic traditions turn out to be, quite practical, as the ancient pilgrims were quite odiferous and full of disease! I ran into a few of those types along the way, but many more pilgrims with high end backpacks, shoes, hiking boots and good looking athletic wear. I was the one lowering the bar with my plain cotton t-shirts and shorts! But I hope I never smelled!!

I went to the pilgrim’s office and received my official certificate of completion, in Latin of course. My first name in Latin was something I’ve never seen before… Waited in line for almost two hours. Luckily I had a book to read on my phone.  Said hello to a few familiar faces along the way.

So. Destination reached. But this wasn’t really about the destination for me. It was about the journey itself. The man who gave me my certificate said I was the only American woman who walked alone that he had seen. We talked about the value of doing this walk alone. I found it to be really worthwhile. It gave me so much time to think, to face some hard facts, to feel peace, love, and gratitude. To trust and to learn that all is well. Taking this journey one step at a time, while a cliche, reminded me that is the only way forward. Each day, more progress. More opportunities to be grateful and to follow love and peace. Not a bad way to spend a few weeks…

As Paulo Coelho writes in his book “The Pilgrimage”, about his walk on the Camino:

“Life always teaches us more than the Road to Santiago does. But we don’t have much faith in what life teaches us…. Life teaches us lessons every minute, and the secret is to accept that only in our daily lives can we show ourselves to be as wise as Solomon and as powerful as Alexander the Great. But we become aware of this only when we are forced to teach others and to participate in adventures as extravagant as this one has been.”

Now to Paris, where the t-shirt and shorts look will NOT do!

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My first steps towards my bonus life: A 3 month sabbatical

I have been intrigued by the gift of a bonus life since I first heard of it in 2009. I had gone to see the Dalai Lama speak on a panel. But my memory wasn’t what that revered man said. Instead, it was what a woman seated on his panel said.

Her name was Dr. Ingrid Mattson, president of the Islamic Society of North America at the time. To paraphrase, she said that never in history and nowhere else on the planet today, do people have about 20 ADDITIONAL years of life that we do!

On average, of course. But still. 20 extra bonus years?!? That is almost an extra adulthood. And it is unique to us today here in the developed world. And the better news? Not only is our life span increasing, but so is what the medical community is now calling our “health span” – the amount of healthy years.

Wouldn’t it make sense that I would think of my adulthood differently? Not “plan to save more for retirement” but plan to LIVE more in adulthood? And couldn’t that extra 10-20 years be leveraged to really make a difference?

What will we do with that extra life??

In the ensuing years after that panel with the Dalai Lama, I tucked that concept away. I was focused on what I was going to do with my life. I needed and wanted to work. But I knew I wanted some fulfillment. I wanted to know my strengths, gifts, talents, and then use them in service of something that was meaningful to me. Small goals right? But I was determined. Why NOT go after work that won’t feel like work? Why not explore what my North Star is? It seemed important. I took classes at various venues in Chicago, such as the Women’s Exchange in Winnetka. Life Planning was a great start. Learning about Enneagram and Myers Briggs. Taking a class on the Artist’s Way. Meeting Joan Anderson, who explores this concept, and taking a one day workshop with her. Working with life coaches, career advisors. Traveling to the Omega Institute in New York and to Kripalu in Massachusetts and the Sophia Institute in Charleston. All this and more. All were in service of learning. About who I was. About mindfulness. About living creatively.
And then it dawned on me. What I was trying to do could be the purpose I was searching for. Engaging with people like me who want to approach this “bonus life” in the way I want to approach it. With intention, purpose and the freedom to craft it without some constraints we face when we are younger.

It is a journey to mindfulness, meaning and purpose that can lead to fulfillment.

Well, here I am. My youngest son just left for college and my nest is (relatively) empty. Time to stop thinking and wondering and learning. Time to start doing.

So I quit my job. It was a great job. I worked for a large family foundation that made an enormous impact in Chicago and throughout the world. My colleagues were smart, dedicated and a joy to see every day. But it just wasn’t “it” for me.

I wanted to take a sabbatical. Time to really reflect on what I can do that will be of service to the world and provide fulfillment and meaning to me in a profound way.

So I am off. On a three month trip alone to Europe. To immerse myself in different ways of living. To learn to trust myself.

I’m taking a big risk. I have tuition bills still to pay. I need to work. I need to get a job as soon as I get back. But I believe that this bonus life is real and it requires time, intention and commitment to discover what it can be. I am on an adventure of discovery. A treasure hunt.

As Mary Schmich of the Chicago Tribune published, and my friend Marlene also passed along, the following poem seems to sum it up:

When you travel, you find yourself alone in a different way, more attentive now to the self you bring along, Your more subtle eye watching you abroad; and how what meets you touches that part of the heart that lies low at home.