Category Archives: backpacking

Gijón – Chapter 19

We took the train to Ribadeo where we ride bicycles around the town.

Something unusual.

Our lodging was on the Camino Norte pilgrim route (the coastal route to Santiago which turns inland at Ribadeo). We follow, on foot, the shell markings for a while. We see a sign advertising our lodging.

The next day, we take the train to Gijón. The route runs along the coast, an area with tidal rivers and views of the ocean.

We pass through the town of  Luarca.

I read chapter 19 of the Tso te Ching:

“Throw away holiness and wisdom,
and people will be a hundred times happier.”

[Lao tsu does not advocate religious belief or specialized expertise. He suggests paying attention to reality and the present moment.]

We arrive in Gijón and walk on the route by the ocean.

“Throw away morality and justice,
and people will do the right thing.”

[Lao tsu urges total simplicity — and sometimes he offers advice to political officials. I suggest thinking of his text as pertaining to self-direction with regard to meditation. Let go of concerns about right and wrong and focus on your breath. People often hold stories about someone doing something wrong or harmful and this becomes a theme in their life. These thoughts can rob you of your happiness.  Let go of such stories by practicing meditation.]

“Throw away industry and profit,
and there won’t be any thieves.”

[I offer no suggestions about politics, religious doctrines, or economic theory.  The Inner Way involves meditation. By meditating, you can let go of your thoughts and experience the result.]

We see the famous monument.

“If these three aren’t enough,
just stay at the center of the circle
and let all things take their course.”

We visit the art museum.

Most people are powerfully affected by those around them.


You were affected by the stories you were told you when you were young.

We harbor attitudes toward technology — technological change has unforeseen impacts and people’s occupations are affected.

The painting is a Medieval portrayal of a demon causing the plague. People create stories to explain their experiences.

Joseph and the Christ child. Many people’s self-stories involve their childhood. What did Mary and Joseph tell Jesus about his parentage? There was a powerful stigma regarding illegitimacy.

Adam and Eve — a story thought to explain sin. God prohibited eating the fruit of knowledge regarding good and evil and Adam and Eve violated this prohibition. If they had no understanding of good and evil, why was their behavior regarded as wrong? Why did God lack empathy?

Cain and Abel preparing their sacrificial fires. Cain’s fire is not burning that well — his sacrifice was not considered as good as Abel’s sacrifice.  Of course, this resulted in bad feelings — and ultimately, Cain killed Able — so things did not work out for either of them. The sacrificial fire method of worship did not work very well.  You need to figure out what methods will work for you.

Famous artwork — copper — people at the fish market.

A wide variety of people — many fish.

All are at this place because of the fish.

We walk by the beach.

Lao tsu suggests giving up holiness/wisdom, morality/justice, industry/profits. Are these things enough for you?

You don’t have to become a weird hermit who dwells continually within the shadow world of spirits and ghosts. You can become happier by meditating each day — letting go of the dysfunctional stories you devised to cope with your difficulties. Then you can perceive the peaceful center within.

Santiago Cathedral – Chapter 15


We attend the Pilgrim’s Mass at Santiago Cathedral.

After the mass is complete, the officials swing the Botafumeiro (incence burner) from the central nave. The largest Botafumeiro in the world remains idle but the regular-sized one is used for everyday services.

The Botafumeiro is launched. It’s original function was to carry the prayers of the faithful to heaven while masking the smell of the unwashed pilgrims who had walked in from all over Europe.

After the song is complete, the Botafumeiro is brought to rest.

It is secured above the cathedral floor.

We return in the evening to attend a second mass, standing in position to watch the Botameiro as it swings side to side (this video takes 3.5 minutes).

I read Chapter 15 of the Tao te Ching:

“The ancient Masters were profound and subtle.
Their wisdom was unfathomable.”

The Baroque Main Altar dates from the 17th century. St. James, the Pilgrim, on it peak, holds a staff in his right hand, with King Alfonso II and King Ramiro III at his sides. Below is a statue of St. James sitting. Pilgrims are permitted to walk through a passage behind the altar and reach around and hug him!

Karen hugs the Saint.

We visit the saint’s relics — stored in a passageway under the cathedral.

During a less busy time, I approach the altar to meditate.

The altar

In front, hangs the largest Botafumeiro  in the world. It weights 80 kg and has come crashing down on three occasions (without fatalities).


Angels on the altar

We walk counter-clockwise around the cathedral, capturing images .

I read from chapter 15:

“There is no way to describe it;
all we can describe is their appearance.”

“They were careful
as someone crossing an iced-over stream.”

Tomb, altar, ceiling

“Alert as a warrior in enemy territory.
Courteous as a guest.”

“Fluid as melting ice.
Shapable as a block of wood.”

St. James holds a scroll which states “I was sent by God” [to bring the Gospel to España].

“Receptive as a valley.
Clear as a glass of water.”


“Do you have the patience to wait
till your mud settles and the water is clear?”

“Can you remain unmoving
till the right action arises by itself?”


“The Master doesn’t seek fulfillment.
Not seeking, not expecting,
she is present, and can welcome all things.”

There is a dark side to the legend of St. James in Spain.  Within the Spanish tradition, St. James was an apostle of Jesus, a pilgrim who brought Christianity to Spain — but he later came as a vision in the sky to assist in conquering and driving out the Moors. He was thought to have appeared as an apparition during a battle and rallied the Christian troops to victory.


I will discuss the legend of St. James more fully when we visit the Cathedral museum and the Pilgrim’s Museum.

“Do you have the patience to wait
till your mud settles and the water is clear?”

Museo of Pilgrimage and Santiago – Chapter 16

We visit the Cathedral Museum ( Museo Cathedral de Santiago).

It is time to think about the history of the St. James story that led to building his Cathedral in Santiago.

I read Chapter 16 of the Tao te Ching.

“Empty your mind of all thoughts.
Let your heart be at peace.”



In the Cathedral Museum, we see a video which shows the Portico de la Gloria – the main entrance to the cathedral (currently closed for repairs). The video portrays the need for restoration. The video briefly shows the 24 elders of the Apocalyse — which include the 12 apostles of Jesus.  There are also images of St. James (Santiago).

In the Museum of Pilgrimage and Santiago, we learn about Santiago the (1) Apostle, (2) Pilgrim, (3) Moor-slayer.  Above, St. James, in orange, is show in his typical position at the last supper – seated close to Jesus.

James was present at the “transfiguration” of Jesus (a powerful spiritual experience). He was also among the select group with Jesus during the night in the Garden of Gethsemane, the night of prayer before Jesus was crucified.

This medieval painting shows the Apostle James holding a book and staff, accompanied by the Apostle John. The three most important apostles were Peter (the Rock upon which the church was founded), John (the one Jesus loved), and James — whose actions after the crucifixion are not well-documented. James and John, both fishermen, were brothers.

“Watch the turmoil of beings,
but contemplate their return.”

St. James (right bottom) was thought to have a special role regarding a dying person’s soul. Mother Mary could intercede through her connection with Jesus and God — thwarting the Devil. Mary could be influenced by saints and priests. James conveyed insight to a person about future possible outcomes, something that would allow the person to take action before death. That could make all the difference regarding heaven and hell.

By by the end of the 6th century, stories developed describing  St. James as a missionary to Spain. He was said to have gone to the “End of the World” (Finis Terrae), in what is now Northwest Spain. He was thought to have returned to Palestine. The Book of Acts (12:2) states that he was put to death by sword — on orders by Herod Agrippa.

St. James became the first apostle to be martyred in the year 44.

According to one story, his disciples took the body on a small boat back to Spain — the boat was magically carried by the currents — and the body was buried in a secret place. Another story describes angels transporting the body to Spain on a stone boat. In 730, the ancient historian Bede mentioned the transport of the body. There is no evidence of James’ Spanish visit previous to 9th century traditions.

“Each separate being in the universe
returns to the common source.
Returning to the source is serenity.”

In (perhaps), 830, a hermit, Pelayo, heard music and saw mysterious lights which led him to a place — the “field of the star” (which became known as Compostela). Bishop Teodomiro heard about Pelayo’s experience and the Bishop, after fasting and prayer, discovered Christian tombs — three bodies — which fit the idea that this was St. James and his two disciples.

“If you don’t realize the source,
you stumble in confusion and sorrow.”

King Alphonso II accepted the idea that this was the tomb of St. James. He built a small chapel at the site in 834 and declared St. James his patron saint. It was common for authorities to encourage worship at local shrines and to support region-specific cults. The chapel became a pilgrimage destination.

“When you realize where you come from,
you naturally become tolerant,
disinterested, amused,
kindhearted as a grandmother,
dignified as a king.”

Later, King Charlemagne had a dream in which St. James told him to open up pilgrimage routes to the tomb by liberating Moor-held lands. The Moors were a major problem — in 997, Abn Abi Aamir (known as al-Mansur) captured and destroyed the Compostela church but the saint’s relics were not disturbed.

“Immersed in the wonder of the Tao,
you can deal with whatever life brings you,
and when death comes, you are ready.”

News of the destruction of St. James Shrine spread throughout Christiandom and powerful rich supporters provided money to build the cathedral and support pilgrimage routes.

St. James, the Apostle, acquired the characteristics of St. James, the Pilgrim.

In 1236, with the recapture of Córdoba by Fernando III, the bells of the cathedral were returned to the rebuilt cathedral. This began the golden age of Pilgrimage — with Rome, Jerusalem, and Santiago the three main destinations.


Pilgrims devised special songs which were accompanied by the instruments of the era.


A story developed regarding the Battle of Clavijo, in which an image of St. James appeared in the sky and led Christian troops to victory against their Muslim foes. Although no such battle occurred, St. James became Santiago Metamores, St. James, the Moor-slayer. Appeals to him were part of a common battle cry, used by Christians in battle. The Knights of the Order of St. James of Compostela were founded in 1170 to re-conquer Muslim-held areas. The Order became wealthy and powerful.


I listen to the pilgrim music with these people. I do not know which country they come from but they look like pilgrims — they are dressed like pilgrims.


Karen and I walked from Sevilla to Santiago de Compostela, a distance of over 1000 kilometers. We have a sense of unity with other pilgrims. We feel that Europe is far better off being united rather than fighting wars. People benefit when they overlook their differences. Travel helps people understand this.

In the museum, I saw a piece of an ancient Roman wheel, portraying the wheel of fate. St. James became an apostle, pilgrim, and Moor-Slayer — but today he is a unifying element for a secular pilgrimage that hundreds of thousands of Europeans, Australians, and some Americans (north and south) undertake together. I understand that the wheel of fate turns and that sometimes evil, foolish leaders take over.

I know what war is like. The Inner Way is a means for adjusting to this. When a thought emerges, take note, and let it go.

“Immersed in the Tao, you can deal with what life brings.”


In the morning, we take the train to A Coruña.

The practice of meditation may stimulate religious experiences but you should realize that our minds are like a house of mirrors. We bring up visions which can be used for selfish ends and it is difficult to see the difference between light and shadow. The Inner Way involves letting go of all thoughts.


Many blissful experiences are delusional.  When the idea for a battle cry arises, let it go. It is best to remain silent.




Santiago Cathedral – Chapter 14

The image above shows the Santiago Cathedral before it was covered with scaffolding. During each of my three visits (2011, 2014, and now  2017), the cathedral has been “under repair” and this time, the main masterpiece, the Pórtico de la Gloria, is covered over — not available to tourists. It, and the main towers, are being restored.


Most pilgrims arrive from the north, taking what is known as the French Camino. They pass through the Praza da Immaculada.  The  cathedral has the form of a cross and this is the top, northern part. Above the double doors is a statue of  the Pilgrim Santiago with Kings Alfonso II of Asturias and Ordoño II of León, praying to him.

I read Chapter 14 of Lao tsu’s Tao te Ching (translated by Steven Mitchell):

“Look, and it can’t be seen.
Listen, and it can’t be heard.
Reach, and it can’t be grasped.”

[Lao tsu portrays the Tao as beyond imagination; Christianity includes many, many images — which can be seen, heard, grasped.]

Below Santiago are four figures and a blindfolded statue representing faith.

“Above, it isn’t bright.
Below, it isn’t dark.”

[There are elements within faith that are parallel to the Tao — faith has a hidden quality.]

Our experience during this visit was characterized by construction and repair work. These doors were open for the French pilgrims but there is major construction work going on.

“Seamless, unnamable,
it returns to the realm of nothing.”

[Christainity is filled with symbols — many names, ideas, images.]

Walking to the east, clockwise, we come to the Holy Door. Typically, it is closed. Above the door is a statue of St. James and his two disciples (Teodoro and Atanasio). To the left and right of the door are 24 carved figures of saints, apostles, and important religious figures (some of whom appear Asian). The Holy Door is open only on years when St. James’ Day, July 25th falls on Sunday. The exact identity of many of the images is unclear — specific objects have become connected to certain apostles and saints. St. James, for example, is often shown holding a pilgrim’s staff — reflecting his journey to Spain  (not historically documented but accepted by believers). St. James stands above the door and is not among the 24 figures.

On each side of the Holy Door are carvings by Maestro Mateo of saints, apostles, prophets, and Asian guys.


Walking to the south, we come to the Plaza das Praterias (Praterias are silversmiths, who used to have their shops here). This is the entrance for pilgrims, like us, who come from the south. There were also shops selling provisions for pilgrims.

“Form that includes all forms,
image without an image,
subtle, beyond all conception.”

[Lao tsu portrays the Tao as something that cannot be seen, heard, grasped, named — beyond conception. The cathedral functions as a kind of teaching tool — bringing the Christian stories into your awareness — but some elements have become obscure for modern listeners]

This plaza is often crowded — there are many tour groups visiting the cathedral.

“See the world as your self.
Have faith in the way things are.”

The cathedral doors in this plaza are surrounded by intricate artwork. On the left, are carvings showing the temptation of Jesus in the desert (note the monsters), on the rights is the “passion of Christ” (but I have not completely figured the exact meaning of many of these images)


“Love the world as your self;
then you can care for all things.”



Obscure images



We walk to the west and view the Praza do Obradoiro — the famous image on the 1, 2, and 5 cent Spanish coins — but, much is covered by scaffolding. I play with the sun.



We visited many times — sometimes walking from the north. We pass a beggar and listen to bagpipes.


When we visited the Museum, we looked down on the Plaza from a balcony passage.


The camera concludes by looking toward the Plaza de Praterias.


During the many times we walked through this Plaza, we saw many pilgrims arriving. Over 200,000 pilgrims walk the French Camino each year.



We leave the Plaza do Obradoiro,  walking south toward the Plaza das Praterias.

We enter — it is time for the Pilgrim’s Mass. You must come early if you want a seat.

Lestedo -Chapter 12


We are walking to Lestedo — where we will be 12 kilometers from Santiago. We leave early in the morning, hoping to avoid the intense heat of the day.


I read Chapter 12 from the Tao te Ching, translated by Steven Mitchell.

“Colors blind the eye.
Sounds deafen the ear.”



“Flavors numb the taste.
Thoughts weaken the mind.”



“Desires wither the heart.”



We see see a shrine, established by previous pilgrims.



The shrine is set within a living tree. People have left images and messages.


“The Master observes the world
but trusts his inner vision.”


I look at a fountain, the view, and an airplane.


“He allows things to come and go.
His heart is open as the sky.”



We are close to the Casa de Casal, where we will spend our last night as hikers — it is extremely hot.


Lao tsu expresses the motivation that stimulates the Inner Journey — the idea that something is wrong with normal reality.


We are close to completing our physical pilgrimage and I have the hope that my blog encourages you to follow a spiritual path. Some people will turn away from the physical realm while others will use it as a guide.

Physical shrines — special places for meditation — can be useful.

Here is something to ponder: Be cautious regarding your inner visions. Let go of all visions and encounter emptiness.

Santiago de Compostela – Chapter 13

We begin walking the final 8 miles to Santiago. We look towards the north, but the city is not in view (we had been told we might see it but the haze was too thick).


I read Chapter 13 of the Tao te Ching:

“Success is as dangerous as failure.
Hope is as hollow as fear.”

“What does it mean that success is a dangerous as failure?
Whether you go up the ladder or down it,
you position is shaky.”


“When you stand with your two feet on the ground,
you will always keep your balance.”


We continue walking toward the city — ahead are scattered houses, not the actual city.


We climb a hill, look back at some other pilgrims who are climbing, and look at a construction site.

“What does it mean that hope is as hollow as fear?
Hope and fear are both phantoms
that arise from thinking of the self.”


We walk on, entering the urban area.

“When we don’t see the self as self,
what do we have to fear?”


The marker shows that we have 2.26 kilometers to go before we reach the cathedral.

“See the world as your self.”



“Have faith in the way things are.”


“Love the world as your self;
then you can care for all things.”



We cross a bridge.

“Love the world as your self;
then you can care for all things.”

We reach the Cathedral of Santiago — the door associated with those coming from Portugal and Southern Spain.



We go to the Pilgrims office and stand in line. We will show the official our pilgrim credential with stamps that we received during our 1000 kilometer walk on the Via de la Plata.



I show my credentials with stamps for each location I have visited on this pilgrimage — beginning at Sevilla and now ending at Santiago.  Our hike was so long that we filled every space in the standard pilgrimage document so we used a blank page to display all later stamps.


I receive my Pilgrimage certificate  — I have walked 1007 kilometers. Next, we will go to the Pilgrim’s Mass at the cathedral.

We return to the cathedral.


The main altar — Santiago (St. James)

There is mystery involved in completing this pilgrimage and there is much to see regarding this cathedral. I will show many photographs and videos of these marvelous things and you will take another step toward your karmic destiny as a result of hearing about these things.

“Have faith in the way things are,” Lao tsu says. “Love the world as your self.”



Bandeira – Chapter 11



We walk to Bandeira, starting early in the morning, hoping to avoid the intense heat of the afternoon.



I read Chapter 11 of the Tao te Ching, written by Lao tsu, translated by Steven Mitchell:

“We join spokes together in a wheel,
but it is the center hole
that makes the wagon move.”



“We shape clay into a pot,
but it is the emptiness inside
that holds whatever we want.”






“We hammer wood for a house,
but it is the inner space
that makes it livable.”



We walk walk under a bridge.



“We work with being,
but non-being is what we use.”



water under the bridge






An old man and woman walk with their dog beside the church.




We drink coffee. Karen greets a passing pilgrim, saying, “Buen Camino.” [Good voyage.]



We walk on an overpass above the highway. The heat is intense.



Lao tsu’s poem draws attention to the use of emptiness. When you meditate, you will encounter moments when no thoughts come — when you encounter the inner emptiness.


the secret

A Laxe- Chapter 10



We walk from Castro Dozón to A Laxe.

We pass a house with sculptures — Santiago (St. James), a crucifix, gate ornaments.

I read Chapter 10 of the Tao te Ching, translated by Steven Mitchell:

“Can you coax your mind from its wandering
and keep to the original oneness?”


“Can you let your body become
supple as a newborn child’s?”



“Can you cleanse your inner vision
until you see nothing but the light?”



“Can you love people and lead them
without imposing your will?”

During recent weeks we have seen few fellow pilgrims but today we have encountered Spanish pilgrims who started off recently and are walking the final 100 kilometers to Santiago.

There are many bugs in this area.

“Can you deal with the most vital matters
by letting events take their course?”


We enter a deep hedgerow-road cut.

“Can you step back from you own mind
and thus understand all things?”


We see a mole, who seems anxious — he probably prefers to be underground.

“Giving birth and nourishing,
having without possessing,
acting with no expectations,
leading and not trying to control:
this is the supreme virtue.”


We walk in the hot sun. It is unpleasant to walk in the heat.

Lao tsu asks if you can do things that are difficult to do — having no expectations — not trying to control — not imposing your will. I don’t think that many people can do these things.

Follow your own Inner Way. Practice without concern regarding how well you are doing. The Inner Way is not a contest. Realize that there is nowhere to go, nothing to do. Everything will fall into place.



Castro Dozón – Chapter 9


We leave Cea. We walk to the albergue at Castro Dozón.

I read Chapter 9 of the Tao te Ching (translated by Steven Mitchell):

“Fill your bowl to the brim
and it will spill.”

“Keep sharpening your knife
and it will blunt.”

“Chase after money and security
and your heart will never unclench.”

“Care about people’s approval
and you will be their prisoner.”

“Do your work, then step back.
The only path to serenity.”

We come to an overpass over a highway and see a place where pilgrims have constructed crosses in the fence.

Making these crosses is a way of focusing the mind.


Lao tsu advocates a way of being but is unclear about how to attain this state beyond “doing nothing.” The Lao tsu describes a  “Master” who has a highly focused mind but who “steps back” rather than being overly compulsive. The Master does not cling to a particular ideology, method, or doctrine.


“Doing nothing” is at the heart of meditation – but there is irony involved. The meditator must expend effort to continually focus his or her mind on a target, such as the breath.

I suggest trying different methods to see what works for you.

Some people find  that Hindu, Buddhist, and Christian mantras (repeating a phrase over and  over) are useful for focusing the mind. You can repeat a mantra while sitting, but a mantra  can be particularly useful while walking. Repeat the mantra again and again in time with your steps.

I used the mantra “Om mani padme hum” for many years.

We arrive at our destination. The albergue is full of bunk beds. We are in a noisy environment.

Mantras can be useful for helping you gain peace of mind when faced with compulsions, unwanted thoughts, desires, memories.

I struggled after I came back from the war in Vietnam and I found mantras to be very useful. You should plan to practice a mantra for a long time, perhaps for many lifetimes.

You can select your own mantra but you may wish to try different ones to see which one works best for you.


I have found that different mantas have different effects. After a few days of intense practice, the manta becomes part of your being. It changes things — and you can reach your self-less self.

Cea – Chapter 8

We are walking to Cea, about  80 km. from Santiago. The weather forecast warns of extreme heat. We  walk in fog.


We climb to a high elevation.

I read Chapter 8 of the Tao te Ching, translated by Steven Mitchell.

“The supreme good is like water,
which nourishes all things without trying to.”

The sun burns away the fog.

“It is content with the low places that people disdain.
Thus it is like the Tao.”

[I came to understand this verse when I was a social worker in a psychiatric hospital]

“In dwelling, live close to the ground.”


(The sign says, “Welcome to A Bouzas. Have a good Camino.”)

“In thinking, keep to the simple.”


“In conflict, be fair and generous.”


“In governing, don’t try to control.”

“In work, do what you enjoy.”

“In family life, be completely present.”

“When you are content to be simply yourself
and don’t compare or compete,
everybody will respect you.”

Want more advice?

Don’t sleep with someone who has more problems than you.

Be careful about using alcohol or drugs.

If you feel sad, depressed, or anxious much of the time, take up meditation.

It is difficult to figure out the patterns within that prevent happiness.

[The sign says, “Beware of the dog.”]

Lao tsu says “Be yourself,” but sometimes being yourself doesn’t feel good.


Practice daily meditation — focus on the breath, let go of the thoughts that arise, then refocus on the breath. You will eventually learn what is going on inside yourself. It may not feel good, at first. Eventually you will grow used to yourself and will see patterns within that prevent you from being happy.


A feeling, emotion, memory of trauma — it comes up and you let it go and return your awareness to your breath.


You don’t need to become a Master – Zen, Taoist, Buddhist, mystic — or anything like that. You need to cope with what is going on inside yourself. Talk with friends, relatives, therapists — but ultimately, you have to do the work yourself.



If you practice the Inner Way, you will come to see things as they are. Then you can figure out what to do about it.