I arrived in London four weeks ago today. I never thought I would travel halfway around the world to spend weeks sitting in my friend Viv's living room but that is how I have spent most days since my back seized.
Pain and illness are often our body crying out for us to look at what is happening in our lives. Too often we ignore it and get on with life and its busyness.
In Australia, I grew up with the Codral Cold n Flu ad telling me to "Soldier on with Codral, soldier on, soldier on."
And that's what I did for many years. It's even what I did during my Via Francigena pilgrimage—I acknowledged the pain and kept walking.
This isn't a time to "soldier on" but follow the cues of my body and to care for myself and I have been doing just that.
I have been seeing a lovely holistic osteopath. When there is sunshine I buy a coffee from a local café and go the heath to lay in the sun or wander around Greenwich Park. Some days I can only wander for an hour before my back becomes too stiff and sore and I know I would have no chance of walking with a 10+ kilo backpack. Some days I haven’t left the flat and have spent my time following my inner impulse: watching movies, writing, drawing, cooking, cleaning, dancing, meditating, developing a publishing plan for my book and just sitting and looking out the window.
There have been tears of pain and frustration and there has been anger and pounding of pillows but there’s been a lot of self-discovery and learning too.
Every morning I wake up with hope only to roll over and move my body to discover the pain hasn’t run away while I slept.
There have been times when I thought I had lost the desire to walk altogether. Pain does that—it brings you into the present moment (or a fight against it) so you can’t think of any other reality but the pain you are in.
Sometimes we disconnect from our desires so that the disappointment isn't as great.
Then I saw Rick Stein’s From Venice to Istanbul on TV. He visited Italy, Albania and Turkey and as I saw the amazing hilly landscapes I felt that tug in my heart as I remembered the calling to walk that pilgrimage route.
Optimistically, I changed my original flight to Rome to the 15th September and then I had to change it once more. Viv has been very supportive and accommodating but I can’t stay here forever. I have a flight to Rome on the 1st October that I will be on whether I walk or not.
With little improvement to my sacroiliac joint since the beginning of July I felt it was time to start accepting that this isn’t my time to walk.
A few days ago, I reluctantly sent an email to my family telling them that I have decided that I won't be walking from Rome to Jerusalem right now. I am deeply disappointed and upset that after 20 months of dreaming and planning my life around this journey that I can't go but my gut feeling is that I need three months to heal and get strong.
Then in an unexpected but perfect unfolding of events, I stumbled across a miracle worker.
On Thursday, I felt the impulse to tell Indy, my osteopath that I had a lot of fear in my foot and that I felt like I needed to learn how to walk again. I had been looking at Feldenkrais or Alexander technique practitioners when I return to Melbourne. Indy referred me to her colleague who specialises in human movement using kinesiology and other techniques. I had a treatment session with Dan on Saturday and in 90 minutes he unlocked my frozen ankle joint, realigned my hips and got me to distribute my body weight more evenly on both feet again—I had been so protective of my left foot I have been putting most of my weight on my right side for the last six months.
Dan believes that with a little more unlocking and resetting of my body system, that I will be able to do this walk.
He thinks I am physically strong enough to do it, it's just that my body is out of balance.
After what he showed me and helped my body to do, I believe him.
The question is do I still want to walk from Rome to Jerusalem right now?
I still love walking. I love feeling the earth under my feet and being able to make my own way through the world. I love the adventure of walking out of a city into a new unknown landscape. And I know I want to walk from Rome to Jerusalem I'm just not sure that I want to do it right now—that’s shocked and surprised me too. But I'm not entirely sure that I don't want to do it either.
I have discovered every time I sit down to draw with my pastels that the picture that emerges is always different than what I set out to draw. All I have to do is surrender my idea for what wants to be expressed in that moment. Sometimes I have to sit and wait until I know what my next colour and move should be too.
I came to London to start drawing the picture of pilgrimage from Rome to Jerusalem and it seems that something else could be emerging.
Isn't this the beauty (and sometimes frustration) of creating a life—letting go of the attachment to how we think things should be, letting go of the need to know exactly what our next step is at any point in time, and learning to trust our creative impulses as we surrender to the great mystery?
The view from Viv's living room
Our Ladye Star of the Sea church at sunset, Greenwich
The Rose Garden, Greenwich Park
Angels be with me, Greenwich Park
My friend the crow kept me company for 30 minutes the other day