Finding Relief in a World of Panic

Camino de Santiago by Frances Schultz

I confess to a strange sensation amid a world in the panic of epidemiological meltdown: I feel relief, a curious lightness of spirit borne not of sangfroid, but of surrender. To be sure I am gravely concerned for all of us in this COVID-19 nightmare. We are all in it together, and we are all responsible. But as I sat yesterday erasing line after line in my calendar (paper and pencil, quaint, I know), of speaking appearances, book signings, a TV shoot, a working trip to Europe, a vacation, and a considerable amount of money, I couldn’t help feel the kind of conflicted joy that might accompany a string of stay-at-home snow days: a pain in the neck but also an opportunity (a painortunity?) A sort-of vacation, but minus the anxiety of what you left undone… because you haven’t actually left, and probably won’t anytime soon.

As I emailed participants about postponing our spring painting trip along the Camino de Santiago, I thought about the gift of found time. I thought, as perhaps they did, and you might, about having set an intention, and made a plan, and watching it go “poof.” There is a Japanese haiku that says, “My barn has burned down, and now I can see the moon.”

Along the Camino de Santiago in Spain
Along the Camino de Santiago in Spain

The Camino de Santiago, which I’ve walked parts of three times now with my friend and business partner Hollye Jacobs, and others, is a storied and beautiful trek across the north of Spain. For many who walk it, it is also a spiritual pilgrimage. How great was our excitement this year to combine the walk with sessions of sketching and painting, yet another way to connect to the earth, to our divine gifts of creativity, to one another, and perhaps to the divine itself. And now, pfffff.

Or maybe not.

The scallop shell is a symbol of Sant Iago, Saint James, and of the pilgrims who walk his way.__2288
“The Way,” as it is also known, is marked by signposts and scallop shells, the latter a symbol of Sant Iago, Saint James, and of the pilgrims who walk his way.

There are many ways to be a pilgrim. If a pilgrim is one who journeys to a sacred place as an act of devotion, then there are endless routes through the metaphor to arrive at the desired destination: transformation. Big or small, inward or outward.

Me, I’m planting a new garden. No big deal, but it makes my heart sing and means the world to me. Allowing myself to do something that makes my heart sing, is a kind of transformation. Why don’t I do that more often? Why do I do so many things that do not make my heart sing? Why do so many of us? And I’m not talking about paying the rent here. I’m talking about agreeing to chair the committee that you don’t even want to be on, let alone chair it. Why do we do so many of those things?

At Fisterra, "world's end", in Galicia, which the Spanish believe is the western most part of the Continent, although the Portuguese beg to differ. __7526
At Fisterra, “world’s end”, in Galicia, which the Spanish believe is the western most part of the Continent, although the Portuguese beg to differ.

Later, instead of flying to Europe I’ll fly to the East Coast (when advisable), and I will deal with the furniture and things in storage that have bothered me for years, years. I know I’m not alone in this debilitating preoccupation with STUFF, and enough has been said elsewhere about the subject. But that is what I’m doing, and the project feels every bit as daunting and exciting as the Camino. It is my “meanwhile camino,” and I am thrilling to it. Even as I dread it.

It will also feel like burning down the barn, what with the history and the sentiment all those stored stuffs  carry. But after three years of writing morning pages (see The Artist’s Way) and a mortifying percentage of them containing phrases like “Bring Mama’s chair to ranch” and “Give sofa to Jacob” and “Jettison the sofa,” I realize I am not going to move forward in my one precious life unless I clear the way.

Entering the next decade, I am keen to embark on my next chapter, except that I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT IT IS. I’ve got to burn down the barn so I can see the moon. Maybe I have to burn several barns. I HAVE NO IDEA. But I’m starting here.

What about you? Have you got a barn blocking the moon? I’d like to hear. I bet we all would. Just like with the damn virus thing, we are all in this together, and the virus is a powerful reminder of that. We are all connected.

Other than that, at the end of the day we HAVE NO IDEA what’s going to happen in our lives, in our medical labs, or in our financial markets. So think about this: Having no idea is having every idea. When you have no fixed beliefs, no impossibility, no yes/no, black/white, Democrat/Republican, then you are open to every possibility. The Buddhists call it “don’t-know mind,” an elevated state of awareness.

Rainbow over Rancho La Zaca IMG_2665
Rainbow over Rancho La Zaca, with the newly blooming lupin in the foreground

I believe profound and positive things can and will come of this global health crisis. The storms of disruption are awful, but then the rain stops and the rainbow appears. The same is true in our personal lives, if we will allow the simple “what-is.” Our circumstances now, today, might give us the space in which to pause from our infernal busy-ness (speaking of pandemics) and to re-connect with ourselves, our loved ones, and our community—safely of course. We might, in moments of fear or stress, decide to look past our conscious thoughts and catastrophic what-ifs and simply allow the what-is with a don’t-know mind. We might consider the possibility, as St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “to see through a glass darkly, and then face to face.”

     Y’all be careful, and stay well.

                                                                            SDG, Frances

P.S. And hey, it’s a good time to curl up with a great cook book  🙂 , fire up the stove, and gather small groups of friends and family at home. Just a thought… And if you are interested in joining our trip on the Camino de Santiago, or other Frollye adventures, leave a comment letting us know and we will put you on the list.

IHollye Jacobs and me at Fisterra, "world's end," and the final stop on the Camino de Santiago.MG_0421
With Hollye Jacobs at Fisterra, “world’s end,” and the final stop on the Camino de Santiago.


    1. Hah yes very funny! The first email I sent linked to the chocolate cake by mistake. I am still semi-hopeless at this, but I hope people got a laugh…And it is true that chocolate helps everything! Thanks for writing, BAK, Frances

  1. I have loved the constant inspiration and beauty of your posts. Love to hear of all your future adventures and opportunities. This enforced quiet time might just be turned into a positive time.. … I, for one, will isolate with the quiet nature of our beautiful Maine Coast!

    1. Hahaha! Oh yes I did and I am, in some ways, and not in others. I bet the same is true with you. And who says age has anything to do with who can be neighbors ?! 😉 Take care Roxy, Frances

  2. Dearest Frances, your insightful writings never fail to deliver something of value and beauty…most grateful!
    During this present cycle, I intend to clean my garage… so I can finally see the moon…
    María del Carmen

    Ps I would love to hear more about the possibility of joining your trip.

    1. Beautiful message. Thank you Will share with those that have such anxiety the last few days. And yes please add me to the list

  3. So many beautiful thoughts to ponder and exercise. Why is it that our stacked storage unit makes me feel so guilty and anxious? I avoid it for months, knowing that i have to dispose of 90% of its contents – probably just dump the stuff. Maybe it is a metaphor for me to get rid of the internal stuff as we all want to live lighter as we get older!

  4. Just what I needed to read this morning, Frances, as a volunteer project I’ve been planning as chair for the last two years just got cancelled. My barn has been burned down, and now I’ve got to find my moon. It’s nice to know I’ve got good company searching for what’s next. Thanks as always for your clever and thoughtful words!

    1. Oh Alison, what a terrible disappointment, and I am so sorry. I hope that your event can be re-scheduled at a later date, but that meanwhile you enjoy your new view of the moon. xo FS

  5. Thank you Frances. Thank you for your very timely thoughts, well said. You’re so right, surrendering to the “ I don’t know” of it all can be liberating rather than frightening, it just takes a tweak in perspective. Love being reminded of the the old burn down the barn to see the moon story. Perfect. Now go forth and make your garden, both literal and metaphorical, and I will keep painting (aren’t we so lucky? Really.) And then there’s all that damn stuff… xoxox

  6. Hi Frances,
    I loved your thought provoking message.
    I’m looking at my bursting closet, too many things. My goal this isolation period is to reduce it by 1/2. Now it’s in print, I’ll do it!
    My second goal is not to gain pounds during this period of introspection.
    So glad you sound grounded and peaceful…..and glad you are still painting and writing.

    1. Thank you dear Linda. it is so good to hear from you. Good luck, and let’s keep in touch. I mean not actual touch because that would be against protocol, but, you know, virtual touch. 😉 xo Frances

  7. What a fabulous post. I do think this is going to create a much needed societal shift in this county. To refocus on who we really are as a person -> people -> nation -> world.

  8. What a thoughtful and comforting post this is; thank you. As we say in WV (and elsewhere I’m sure!) you made chicken salad out of chicken sh**. We women are so good at doing that aren’t we? Deciding what no longer serves us, being grateful for it but letting it go always seems to open us up to the flow of new blessings to come. Enjoy your new plans and quiet time.

  9. I absolutely think you have the correct attitude about this and have given us options of sanity to ponder upon (as well as great goals) while our country has seemed to crazily crumble around us. I’m really quite worried for those who might not be as fortunate as we are, able to endure this “painortunity” as you call it, both financially and psychologically. Thanks for your views, writing, humor, talent……..

    1. Thank you for your writing and for your kind words, Katy. It is true that during times of crisis and disruption, vulnerable populations are even more at risk, and their day-to-day anxiety becomes all the worse with fear and uncertainty. And I realize this isn’t what you were asking, but I think this is where we look around us, at our immediate surrounding communities, and see and ask what we can do. If we don’t know, reach out to local charities or churches to see what they are doing and learn how we can help. I saw a quote recently that said “When you don’t know what to do, do something for someone else.” We can also all do our bit of course to follow health protocols and to educate and lead by example. That in its own way, is doing something for yourself AND for someone else. Blessings, FS

  10. Thank you for the insight to dealing with our current crisis. I live to travel and would welcome trip information.

  11. Well said! You have always had such a way with words, Frances. A beautiful way with words. I haven’t held a paintbrush in my hand since I was 5 years old but would love to hear more about the Camino trip. Please put me on the email list. Many thanks!

  12. thank you Frances. i’m on same road (not camino Santiago, another one). nice to have a companion. i’ll share my matches for the barn with you xxx

  13. Hi dear Frances, love your thoughtful and more than timely message from ‘don’t know’ mind to seeing the moon…
    Have been emptying closets of OLD but
    ‘good’ clothes for the past month and now I know why..have donated and given away…. it feels wonderful and makes me smile… now I know why.
    Keeping my heart and mind open to whatever is coming along.
    Would also love to know more about your Camino trip when the time comes.
    Stay well and please keep posting.
    Thank you, Pixie

  14. Frances – of all the many notes and wisdoms sent to me in the past week, your words are my favorite. Trash bags and GoodWill boxes are piling up on the porch. Clients are sharing potential losses and the solutions we offer with grace and gratitude and the understanding that we are all in this together. My library is in use, my windows open, my bird feeders filled. You PERFECTLY articulate my confusion, concern, and AWE, as a travel company owner and as an individual. Thank you, and don’t stop posting please. Betty Jo

  15. Frances,
    Thank you for such a inspiring post! Most of everything I have is in storage, being in a holding mode. Your thoughts, are so spot on. We all like our stuff, but today the world has changed & so we must, too! XO

  16. Frances hey its Jay, on lock down here in Italy now for over a week. love reading this refreshing piece. I truly hope that this will be a real barn burner for a lot of people because it so desperately needs to happen. Oddly the last week there was the most beautiful, enormous, orange moon hovering above me, and had there been traffic and confusion and the rush to get somewhere, I may have never noticed. Stay well, Jay

    1. Oh Jay, thank you for this. So good to hear from you and to know you are staying safe there at Ground Next to Zero. I agree with you about something needing to happen, to wake us up, to open our eyes. No one wishes for catastrophe of course. But just as sleep has its price, waking up has its rewards, and the moon’s beauty, like our spirits, is eternal. Love to you, F

  17. Frances, Thank you for your beautiful message and for sharing it with such love and generosity. You are such a gem and I’m grateful for you.

  18. Thank you for your inspiring message, Frances.
    Please add me to your trip to Camino de Santiago. I am a complete newbie at painting but participating in the pilgrimage has been a lifelong dream.
    Thank you and stay well.

  19. Disappointed to know that I had been missing all of your most recent blogs on my email–I had been subscribed for ages and then they STOPPED !!! Hope I can now reconnect as I don’t Facebook, Twitter, etc (a TRUE dinosaur ) Thanks to Gayle Alston for sending along your latest.

    1. Dear Cookie, so nice to hear from you, and we will make sure you are subscribed. My site was hacked a while back, which created mischief, and then there were long stretches where I did not blog at all, so I doubt you actually missed much. I am active on Instagram. Find some teenagers and get them to show you — it’s fun! Take care and stay well, Frances

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