Tuesday, October 7, 2014

memories and momentum

Joy at the Cathedral; Arriving in Santiago de Compostela, Spain June 29, 2014

I sat this past weekend surrounded by love.  Some of my dear friends as well as my husband and mom were gathered on my deck and I decided that I wanted to share my compostelas (certificates of completing the camino de santiago - and in my case, I have one for completion, one for the distance I walked, and one for completing my camino during the 800th anniversary year of St. Francis of Assisi's pilgrimage) with them.  It was the first time they had been removed from the protective tube I purchased right after I received them in Santiago de Compostela on June 29, 2014.

Together, we relived my experience arriving in Santiago; first to the cathedral, then to the Official Pilgrims Office.  As I described to them the experience and emotions I felt upon getting my compostelas, I was emotional again myself.  It is comforting to know that I can experience those same emotions over again, and it was achingly beautiful to share my story with ones who love me unconditionally.

I'm feeling grateful this morning that we have the ability to recall our greatest triumphs and be filled with the same sense of purpose, focus and achievement.  I need that feeling now.  I need to trust in my ability to tackle another challenge, keep my determination and follow through strong.  My husband has long taught me and other lucky ones how to 'flip back, flip forward'.  By recalling strong, vivid and positive emotions in a past experience, we can apply the strong, purposeful memory of those emotions to the present.

Memories and momentum; it's my mantra for this day.

Love yourselves -
Love each other -
Love y'all.


Monday, September 1, 2014

engaging vs ego

I was with friends the other night; some I know well and see often, others that I know less and see occasionally.  One of the women was asking me about my pilgrimage and we talked about solitude and communal living, blisters and beauty, etc., and then attending masses at the cathedrals along the way - and was I catholic?  I began to talk about my experiences not only of just visiting many of the cathedrals, but attending mass as well every now and then as I walked.

I said that no, I wasn't catholic, but in spite of not understanding their worship AND not understanding the language at all (nearly every mass I attended was in latin), I none the less perhaps understood my emotions and my reactions to the deep and powerful love of the One better than I ever had because I didn't know what was being said; I listened with my heart.  I went on to say that perhaps each of us would benefit from worshipping somewhere in which we don't understand the language of what is going on.  That way, in my experience, at least, I was free to allow my heart to open up and receive love and joy and feel so very, very grateful without worrying about the 'rules', the 'sins', the more sinister side of worship.  A dear friend commented then that he felt that I had just shared my most profound experience yet with regards to my pilgrimage.

I've been thinking about that since; not so much the topic we were discussing, more so the unique position of having an experience that is very profound and inherently solitary - and the great need for other human beings to hear the stories shared by those who have had those experiences.  We want to know the hearts of others, we want to be comforted by stories of experiences that we long to have ourselves.  We want to share in the joy and the pain, uphold, support, and imagine ourselves having those experiences, too.  I wouldn't say that I'm shy or holding back - but when I share my ego is both helpful and harmful; I want to be interesting and enlightening and this sort of realization that others want to hear about it feels different and well, intimidating I guess.

This gives me pause, I am delighted to share my experiences when they arise naturally and comfortably inside of a conversation and I am reserved about sharing because I want to talk or have another's attention...  So many have commented to me in many different ways, but it's all the same; when will you write your book?  The idea of writing a book has it's appeal in some ways - it's more comfortable for me to write rather than talk about my experiences and reactions sometimes.  The idea also holds hundreds of excuses/reasons why I wouldn't write a book.  The foremost is that I'm afraid it would be terribly boring much of the time.

I'm going to continue to blog when my heart is moved to do so, I feel that I'm sharing bits and pieces that are hopefully interesting or provocative or at least shed a tiny bit of light on the experience of doing your own pilgrimage; we'll see about a book, heh.

Love  yourselves -
Love each other -
Love y'all -


Friday, August 29, 2014

sifting & shifting

I wrote several weeks ago about processing my camino experiences.  The internal discovery parallels the external discovery; as one meets special, deliberate, committed people they, in turn, move the internal cogs of understanding the mystical and magical forces of faith and belief and of learning to love others for who they are.  One kind of person you'll meet on the camino (over and over) is the man or woman who is walking the camino for the second, third, fourth, sometimes tenth time.  While I walked, I struggled to understand this type of person.  Why did they do it over and over?  It's hard.  It's so very challenging on every level: emotionally, physically, spiritually & intellectually.

For weeks now, I believed that I would probably never be one of those who feel the call of the camino more than once.  That changed a few days ago.  On a tuesday afternoon, while doing the regular things that I do - in this case - quietly weaving bracelets for my jewelry business, I felt the pang of longing out of nowhere.  I wanted to be back on the trail, living the hard, but simple and rewarding life of a pilgrim.  I longed for the sense of belonging on this planet with the wind, the wild flowers, the birdsong, the peaks and the valleys, carrying everything I need in a pack strapped to my back.  I craved the immediacy of emotional intimacy with fellow pilgrims; sharing what is most important to us in all of the world in the first ten minutes of our first meeting and conversation.  I imagined the utter peace I felt sitting in a hard pew in any of the stunning cathedrals along the Way.  I recalled the absolute quiet of small villages in the last moments before falling into the deep sleep of one who has expected much from their physical body each day.  I even longed for the healing tears that sprung up, unbidden and generally for no particular reason as I walked and walked.

So, as I sift through my camino experiences, there is a shift.  I'm leaning more and more into that girl who evolved from fears and uncertainties into capable, committed and emotionally and intellectually engaged with the bigger picture.  And the bigger picture is beautiful.  May you walk your way with ultimate guide in your heart wherever you walk: Love.

Love yourselves -
Love each other -
Love y'all


Tuesday, August 5, 2014

the power of tears

I don't cry often.  Even when there is an understandable, compelling reason for tears.  Be it from fear, beauty, grief, gratitude - my emotional responses to being alive were tangible and evident as I walked.  I often wondered about this after my frequently, sudden, powerful tears on the camino de santiago.  I still wonder about it.  Now that I'm back home, the tears seem to have receded again.  Was I more tender in the newness of my experience?  Was I more open; my heart aching for the depth of all of my experiences?  In learning to embrace vulnerability, perhaps I was learning to be more accepting of all of the different parts of me that make up the whole.

My first day of traveling involved flying overnight to Paris.  When I arrived, I needed to find the train station inside of the airport and I did.  Then I needed to purchase a ticket to St. Jean Pied de Port without knowing French, and I did.  My debit card was denied; fortunately I had enough Euros on me to pay for my ticket.  That afternoon, my train was delayed en-route, so I missed my connection in Bordeaux, and again, I figured out in my non-existent french how and where to catch the next train to Bayonne which would arrive there at 10:30 pm and I did.  This meant that I would have to travel the final leg to St. Jean Pied de Port the following morning.  When I arrived in Bayonne, very much sleep deprived, I needed to find a place to sleep... yup, in french.  My debit card was denied and again I used Euros that I had, but I did get a room.  When I finally got into my room and locked the door behind me a steady stream of tears silently slid down my cheeks, and I brushed my teeth then cried myself to sleep.  The next morning I spent thirty minutes on the phone getting my bank (which I had already spoken with about travel plans and then confirmed before I left) on board so that I wouldn't be denied traveling money.  I found the correct bus which would take me to my launch point; St. Jean Pied de Port, and when I arrived I walked until I found the Pilgrim's office.

In the Pilgrim's office, I presented my USA passport and my Pilgrim's credentials.  I answered the questions I was asked - how are you traveling  - on foot - and where are you walking to - Santiago De Compostela.  I watched as man helping me first wrote my name, my country of residence and my passport number in a log, then he placed the first stamp in my Pilgrim's passport and the tears began again.  This was the first time of many that I watched someone, a stranger, make a record of me and where I was located in the world and the first time of many that this simple moment had me on my knees emotionally.  There is something so basically affirming about being made a record of; about mattering; the tears, I think, were from the comfort of being accounted for even as I felt so alone and far from 'home', as well as from the joy of fulfilling a commitment I had made to myself.  Blurry eyed and grinning, I looked at my first stamp: 16 Maio, 2014.

Day one, and my steps take me up, up, up, over, then down, down, down a mountain in the Pyrenees, nearly 27 kilometers in total.  I realized quickly that all of the training I had done wasn't enough to prepare me for this.  I also didn't realize that down was much more challenging than up, and my tears began somewhere in about the 22nd kilometer.... I was sure that I wouldn't make it, and I would be looking for a place to lay down in the forest for the night.  I was aching physically, and my fears threatened to overwhelm me.  I did make it to Roncesvalles before nightfall, and I watched as the second stamp was placed in my Pilgrim's passport with hot tears falling from my eyes.

Birds calling, sunrise and sunset, seeking shelter in a cathedral, weaving a cross into a fence in memory of my dad, knowing I was alive, gratitude for every little kindness I was shown, making it up a steep ascent, making it down a steep descent, the relief of be able, finding a bench or even a flat stone to sit on while attending to blisters, biting into an apple, fields of unending red poppies, coming around a bend and finding a village with a cafe, getting a bed for the night.... each of these little things held the power to unleash my tears and cleanse my heart.

When I walked into Santiago de Compostela the morning of 29 June, 2014 and entered the plaza in front of the cathedral my joy, my relief, and even a little sadness had me weeping magnificently.  I was overwhelmed to feel so completely and utterly alive; I felt satisfied in a way that I can't describe very well.  I found my way to the Official Pilgrim's Office and waited in line for a little under an hour to get my final stamp on my Pilgrim's credential as well as my compostela - official document saying that I, Kerstin Hanson, had completed my pilgrimage.  Oh the joy, oh the sense of a deeper knowing, oh the tears.  Sweet, beautiful tears.

Love yourselves.
Love each other.
Love y'all -


Thursday, July 24, 2014


I didn't know if I would want to blog or not during the course of walking hiking across Spain.  Turns out that I didn't; want to or do it.  Since I've been back I've felt a little gnawing pressure for my small handful of followers to blog. here. and say something very profound.  Here's the thing; I'm still processing.  The pressure lies in the ability to write a book based on the amount of stories and reflections that are now filling my spirit, soul, memory and heart; or to attempt to write a succinct and satisfying epilogue.  Blogging isn't for book-writing.

1. Love.  Love. Love.
2. Human beings are the kindest, most amazing creatures I know.
3. Human beings are the neediest, most-complaining creatures I know. *saving for a different post*
4. Were it not for the selfless kindness of human beings, I'm not sure that I would've completed the camino.  (See #1)

Inside of my experience on the Camino Frances my two major take-aways are these:  an open spirit of love (as in spirituality, faith, hope & belief ) is never not there - it's omnipresent, and the very, very best of human nature is most vivid when giving selflessly and fearlessly and allowing yourself to genuinely and fearlessly receive from others.  All of the other shit just. doesn't. matter. that. much.

In the past I've written that I am a very spiritual woman, but not a very religious woman.  It's still evident to me after visiting many astoundingly beautiful, tear-provoking cathedrals and attending masses that my ears didn't understand yet my heart understood completely, that I fall solidly in the belief that world-over what we want; what the Search is for, what we say we believe in, is one and the same.  At the risk of sounding sacrilegious,  Fuck the Rules.  God is everywhere, no matter what He or She is called,  and nowhere is it more obvious than in one's own heart.  I'm ascending and ascending and ascending and my pack is painfully heavy, my blister-riddled feet want nothing more than to go home to the USA, and I'm feeling past the point of being able to carry on .... and then I come out of a curve in the trail to a lovely bench in the middle of nowhere.  Shoes and socks come off, I happily wiggle my toes....in minutes all is right again and I'm strong and I'm capable and I'm beautiful.  Every time something similar to that happened on my journey it made me smile and giggle out loud.  My heart smiled.  Love resides within.  Love gave me countless experiences and gifts that made me feel like I could keep on going.  I believe in Love.

I was about two and a half weeks into my pilgrimage, and having a particularly challenging day.  My body hurt, it was cold, it rained off and on, the wind blew, I walked alone and my heart was heavy.  My pack felt heavy, too.  I approached a small village; so small that there wasn't a tienda (small store), a cafe, a bar....but there was a sign for a private alberque '200 meters' off the trail.  I followed the signs to the alberque and read the hand written sign on the door; open at 14:30 for peregrines.  It was almost 13:00 and I had walked around 19 kilometers so far.  I sat on a wet bench for a few minutes after I removed my rain poncho and my pack.  I decided I could walk four more kilometers to the next village in the same time I would wait so I put my pack back on and did my awkward rain poncho moves to get that back on over my pack and I set off.  Soon I was out of the village.  I came around a curve in the trail and stared down a long, steep descent.  I stood there for awhile just contemplating my current level of pain.  The I turned around and went back to the bench.  I added a kilometer for that nonsense.

When the door was opened (& it was a little before 14:30) I paid for my bed, removed my boots and poncho in the small entry room walled on three sides and blanketed on the fourth, I was invited through the blankets to the coziest, coolest, most comforting private living room.  Then he led me through their kitchen/dining room to a back room that had exactly 10 beds, a fire-heater, and a coed bathroom with two showers, one sink, one laundry sink a three commodes.  I chose a bed, showered, got my journal and a pen a returned to the table in the dining room.  I asked for a beer - 1 Euro, and a cup of tea - donativo - and I sat down with those three things and I began to weep.  His wife entered and looked into my eyes with most kind expression hers.  I apologized for the tears that were entirely out of my control.  She smiled, touched my arm gently, and told me that I was exactly where I was supposed to be; tears and all.  She didn't try to fix anything, and she was so comfortable with my emotion.  She gave me her Love, and for once in my life, I accepted it gracefully.

That afternoon my senses were caressed by incense, by soothing music, by coloring my very own mandala and as the afternoon wore on, a handful of peregrines made their way into this magical oasis and we shared dinner together st the one table in the home in spite of five different languages.  I was sad to say goodbye to that Love the next morning, even as I was better prepared than I had been before that experience for my pilgrimage.

That's two small stories.  I have more, and maybe I'll share them as the days unfold.  If you're reading this because you're scouring the internet (as I did before my pilgrimage) for whatever you can find on doing your own camino - please don't take my words as gold nuggets, instead, take them as tiny launch points to your own discoveries.

Love yourselves-
Love each other-
Love y'all

Camino Frances,  leaving St. Jean Pied de Port France on May 17, 2014 -arriving Santaigo de Compostela, Spain June 29, 2014

Friday, May 9, 2014

scattered but ready

Tonight I find myself looking back over my day - full of making sure I have life's details worked out as an individual, a wife, and a parent (I'm leaving for my solo/1st camino in 5 days time) and I'm feeling so scattered!  It's not 'like' me to feel like this.  I want to (& I imagined I would) feel prepared, confident, and peaceful at this point - yet I find I am worrying about minutia.....will the plants get a drink of water, will the icky things get cleared out of the nether regions of the refrigerator while I'm away....as well as the profound; have I left myself time and space not for packing and weighing and worrying, but for spiritual reflection and guidance before I begin the physical and emotional journey I'm so close to getting started on?  Like a dream in which I've prepared for a big moment, only to find that I've taken the spotlight in my undies....I'm feeling vulnerable.

It's funny how I can stress about what will be out of my control at home while I'm away- yet still have not have purchased a train ticket from Paris to St Jean Pied de Port on Thursday and I think that'll work itself out.  

Scattered yet ready- Kerstin.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

invisibility is underrated

A physically beautiful person, a lovely sunrise or sunset, a magnificent piece of art, amazing architecture, the allure of fresh flowers, a peacock that is gloriously a-courting..... I am grateful for so many things that capture my attention and heighten my senses just for the sake of being beautiful. Yet there is a contrast, a crossroads, a sanctuary or a prison, and when everything lines up just right - a secret and magical place:  that space where one can operate silently and thoroughly and for how short or how long it takes, yet attract no attention.  At nearly 50 with no makeup and my hair in a tie on my head I can operate in that space of invisibility and learn an entirely new story about who I am inside and who I am in relationship to the world.  

Today the story had a happy ending for me.  I began by feeling invisible - I needed help.  Not HUGE help - just retail help as I gathered bits & pieces of gear for my camino.  By outward appearances I fit neither the fit-at-forty-nine-and you're-amazing-so-I'll-help-you look, or the I-don't-have-a-clue-what-I'm-doing look....I was just plain and simple invisible to anyone who might've had the knowledge or desire to assist me.  As I tried on several backpacks and read the literature attached to each one and then used my smart phone to quickly refresh my mind by reading through reviews I had already read  - I began to get fearful then slightly angry that 1) in spite of all of my research, I was still under-confident about my choice and 2) NO ONE CAME TO HELP.  

Well, poor fu*kin' me.  Who is doing this anyhow - them?  The ones who didn't come to help me?  Nope.  (This is for my daughter who'll eventually read this)  "Postura".  It's a word I learned shortly after she turned 18 and had it tattooed on her wrist to remind herself that her attitude determines the quality of each moment in her life as well as her entire life.

In my cloak of invisibility I had a fight  discussion nice visit with myself and my fears - and had to examine then adjust my s*itty attitude in order to complete my tasks with love for myself and for anyone who didn't appear to help me.  I had a funny cartoon thought in my head, imagining that I am at a fork on the path sometime over the next several weeks wondering which to take - waiting on 'customer service' to assist me in my decision..... and, again, I am aware that my journey has begun before I've left my first footprint on the Camino Frances.  Postura, indeed.

Sometimes being invisible is the most direct route from self-pity to glorious consciousness.  And. that. is. beautiful. too.

May I be peaceful, may I be well.  May you be peaceful, may you be well. <3