A Painting Workshop on the Camino

You feel the energy of the Camino right away at the retreat centre in the small village of Castrillo de los Polvazares. I've just returned from teaching  a workshop in Northern 
Spain with Rebecca Crowell. Even though the Camino is about walking a sacred journey, about contact with the earth, I felt an ungroundedness, a sort of lightheadedness, an open vulnerability.  Basia Goodwin, one of the owners of the retreat centre, Flores del Camino, talked about the idea of the Camino being divided into three stages of personal growth, corresponding to the three distinct geographical regions. The first is the physical part, which is all about the difficulty of walking, the energy required, the blisters, the aching muscles. The second third is the mental/emotional part where the pilgrim is walking through the vast, treeless plains of the Meseta. There is much time for thinking about self, about life, about the reason for the journey. In this expansive place, doubts, fears, regrets and sorrows come up to be examined. The body is broken down and reformed. The last third of the journey is the spiritual part, where the pilgrim walks up into the mountains, literally taking an upward journey. Flores del Camino is located right at the transition between the mental/emotional stage and the spiritual stage.  Pilgrims come to this little village in a very open, vulnerable state, ready for the final and more spiritual leg of their journey. These stages of personal growth on the Camino could be compared to Jung's concept that "The first half of life is devoted to forming a healthy ego, the second half is going inward and letting go of it." I felt that same vulnerability, reforming and letting go, just by being present in one place on the Camino for 3 weeks.

With only one week at the retreat centre for the workshop participants to experience this place, I devised a couple of exercises to help them connect with the land more quickly than they would have if they had taken the time to walk the Camino. One exercise that I do very often in my workshops (only those held in beautiful places), is having the students do sit spots. I've written about Sit Spots before in a blog post I wrote about a workshop in Sweden, (as well as in other posts) where Mena Martini, one of the participants wrote a deeply felt poem about place. Sit spots involve choosing a place to sit outdoors in a quiet place and simply observing. Connecting with a place simply by being present in it.

Another exercise that I used was for participants to write a 'Word Painting", where they sit outdoors to write about what they see in a descriptive way, that a person reading it would get a good idea of what artist sees. I borrowed this idea from a book written by Linda Lappin, called The Soul of Place: A Creative Writing Workbook, where she gave this exercise to writers. I thought it would be a great way for visual artists to connect to place as well. And it was! The writings from the students were deeply beautiful, descriptive and poetic. It would help them take some of Castrillo and the area, home with them.

Of course, we also connected with the place through some lectures given by Basia and Bertrand, where they presented some information on the Camino, did a slide presentation about the Petroglyphs,  and gave us a small workshop on sacred geometry.

Bertrand also led us on a day-long excursion in the area, where we walked quietly up a dirt road in a wide-open valley to see the sun rake over the nearby petroglyphs at dawn, clearly delineating the ancient carvings. Each person sat alone and silently to honour this sacred site


After breakfast, we collected some coloured soil beside the road, found rocks alongside a river that would easily grind up into pigment, and visited the Cruz de Ferro the Iron Cross, a sacred place and the highest point on the Camino where pilgrims leave stones or other objects they have brought from home. Some leave prayers, blessings, their names on stones. All are left in a reverential fashion.

In the end, and back at home, many of the students wrote to say how the experience of being in this tiny stone village on the Camino was life-changing, in ways they could not describe. It was the same for me. This experience will stay with me a very long time.

A Painting Workshop on the Camino