If you did not had the chance to follow the Walking Mentorship week in July 2017 over the Alps, you can read the complete story in pdf here Via Francigena July – 2017
If you did not had the chance to follow the Walking Mentorship week in July 2017 over the Alps, you can read the complete story in pdf here Via Francigena July – 2017
Day 07 – Aosta / Geneva (250 km by Taxi, Walking, Bus and Train)
The “graduate” from Walking Mentorship know that the last day is not an easy day. Never been and never will. The intensity of the week, pushes to the extreme the normal boundaries of time, making it malleable and elastic, a skill we all dominate when we were kids but lost as we grown up.
When we manage to expand time, we also refresh our capacity to trust in other people and the ability to dream, something adults tend to avoid for different reasons. Once a participant (credit to Claudia Pfister) referred to the program as an honeymoon with your soul, I couldn’t say it better.
Our week in the Alps is about to finish, life does not wait, it keeps happening dynamically and whatever we don’t manage to live in a certain day we will never get it back, and today was no exception.
During the route, while stopping at the Grand Saint Bernard, one of the persons responsible for the Auberge gave me a “present” to share with the group. That same evening was very different from what I planned and once again challenges seem to be undercover opportunities, again and again nothing really happens by chance.
Because of a last-minute change in the bus schedule from Aosta we end up going again to the pass and wait for three hours for another Bus to take us down to Martigny and afterwards to Geneva.
Once we arrived, the weather at the Col seemed almost taken out of a movie, the Skies were deep blue with small fluffy clouds to help us build perspective, and above all there was no wind, a rare moment at such altitude. We had time, so I decide to stop under the statue of Saint Bernard de Menthon at Mountjoux. And there I deliver the “present” to the group.
I had seven chocolate bars, one for each. Now Imagine that each person is a chocolate, with a unique flavor, texture and set of ingredients. You can decide to eat the all bar in your hands and most likely be happy in the end but you can also decide to do it differently. If you share what you have, giving away little pieces and in return receive other flavors, you will end up with an endless combination of possibilities.
By giving away what you have you create a totally new chocolate bar, which is unique, diversified, way more interesting than the initial and above all, everyone that shares gets the same augmented experience, everyone gets more by giving.
Today is the end of this journey, but also the beginning of a new one, each of us will return home with a refined action plan and plenty of new things to do, improve and share. It is also clear to me the incredible mixtures of flavors and experiences that each one brought to the group, making the whole greater than the sum of its parts.
Without saying a word, the most powerful “picture” of the week was crafted at the top of the mountains.
I look forward to walk with you again.
Day 06 / Echevenouz – Aosta / 18km
I once heard “The true miracle of life is not walking on water or walking in air, but simply walking on this earth”, a sentence that describes perfectly the purpose of the Walking Mentorship. To refresh my mind our last stage in Via Francigena, was a 3D postcard of emotions.
After selecting outcomes and committing to clear objectives in the Choices template, each of us are ready to detail an Action Plan. This is the final step of our program and also the beginning of a new stage of intentional living.
It is truly special when we arrive at the last section of our walk and feel the happiness of our hard work in self-exploration. There is a tangible sensation of empowerment, the true understanding of a strategy for success and a roadmap to implement it.
The route today, took us to flank the “rus”, old masterworks of hydraulic engineering: little channels that bring water from mountain streams to cultivated lands down in the valley. An amazing walk of kilometers with a little twist…each one was walking alone, in silence…in total harmony, peace and connected with the world.
In a particular spot, blessed by an eternal spring that drops fresh water on an image of Mary and a very young Jesus, there is an invitation to stop and enjoy two things. First, the water as a sign of forgiveness, water that eternally washes what is not clean and help us to reborn. Secondly the meaning of the sculpture, Mary holds with both hands Jesus shoulders and points the way on the route, our route.
In the middle of our silence a very, very tall man appeared from the woods, walking funny with his backpack and when he start talking was even more funnier. Soon I understood that he started walking the Via Francigena in Belgium and was on his way to Rome (be aware, he had 1000 km already done and almost 1000 km still in front). Respect !
Few minutes later I start to understand that life was not exactly been the easiest thing to him, he was struggling with many challenges and physically seemed very tired. When he was about to continue on his route, I felt the need to ask him if he was ok.
Suddenly, what first I saw as odd, strange and almost unpleasant, become the highlight of my day. This person that I will never know the name, looked at me and before answering, opened up a smile that I could count all his teeth. He breath deeply and told me “I live everyday to the fullest” and repeated “everyday to the fullest”. I swallow my pride and saw him start walking. Few meters down he waived back and I could barely hold my emotions.
Smooth journeys along channels alternated with steep slopes can test your leg strength, honest smiles and genuinely good people prove that you have a heart and it is worth to take care of it.
The second section of our final walking day took us across bright orchards before entering Aosta, a very charming town dating back to the Roman period. The ancient town walls of Augusta Prætoria Salassorum are still preserved almost in their entirety. Before 16h00 the backpacks stopped.
One of the most beautiful and unrepeatable weeks of my life is drawing close to an end…or should I say to a beginning ? Tomorrow we go back to Geneva, maybe there is still time for a little surprise ?
Day 5 – Col du Grand Saint Bernard / Echevenouz (20km)
Inside the crypt of the monastery at the Saint Bernard there is a spring permanently running from the oldest wall into the floor and from there on a perfect parallel line that crosses the whole space.
I heard yesterday that during the winter time and despite the ice, the water continues to run underneath, peacefully, consistently, no matter what. Like almost everything in this place, you need to pay attention and train your listening skills to be able to capture its essence.
Time is implacable and like every other day, there is an exercise, kilometers and the new things to be discovered. Just before a last look back into the Pass, I promised myself to keep this powerful thought all the way down the valley while starting our descent.
Sometimes I wished I could be more like this water.
Now that we have imagined our future, each of us started building a bridge from the vision (yesterday’s exercise) back to the present. Today’s journey was about choices, while keeping an eye on the big picture, we focused our energy toward a few key objectives. This exercise urged each one to put some stakes into the ground – a first step forward to make our desired changes more tangible.
The route after leaving the Hospice and the adjacent kennel where the St Bernard champions are bred, moved us to the border. Already in Italy we took a mule track with a incredible panoramic view that kept us silent for kilometers and kilometers. There is so much beauty around us that the best thing we can do is to welcome it into our heart, stop few times to breath, take billions of mental pictures and continue, step after step. Few more bends on the valley and we will stop for the day.
After spending hours and hours walking and talking with each one of my companions I feel that my role on this route as a mentor is coming to an end. They already draw the way to their future and I can only be grateful for the opportunity to be somehow part of their story and at the same time fulfill my life purpose.
Aosta will be in front of us tomorrow, and as the distance to the final destination approaches, the actions needed to move forward also need to come into play, but that’s only tomorrow, because today we still have an amazing day to live.
What is the purpose that guides you in your future actions and decisions?
What is the source of Love in your life ?
Have you feel that “spring” that despite the ice, continues to run underneath, peacefully, consistently, no matter what?
Day 04 Bourg Saint-Pierre / Col du Grand Saint Bernard 16km
Imagine that you are in the future on a date that you select, reviewing your life at that time. You are looking back over what you have done and how you are living. Today’s task was to detail our story.
As we went up the mountain we used our time to dream big, to express our heart´s desire. Typical this is an exercise of visioning, placing each person thinking the same way a writer conceives a story or an inventor creates a prototype. A prototype of our life.
Regarding our route, Bourg-St-Pierre that we left this morning is the gateway to Italy and last village before the Great St. Bernhard Pass. The village’s history is dominated by the pass crossing, ancient armies crossed the valley as early as the 3rd century BC. From Hannibal and his 300 elephants to Napoleon and an army of 40.000 plus, it is hard for me to believe how they manage to do it. Me and my backpack alone seemed to be enough of a challenge.
Every day of our life can be a totally new experience (if you are open to that) and today was no exception. Besides the constant changes of wind and the growing potential of a storm at such altitude an additional layer was about to be added to the experience.
One of our companions have been struggling with a back problem since the early days of the journey and unfortunately the cold is not much of a help, leading to an increase of pain. In the Walking Mentorship we don’t have any rules but there is one principle I specially like; Time, security, health, etc, is a group asset not an individual property and in certain situations we can only think as a group, otherwise we will suffer as a group (just like us and this blue planet we live in).
One by one we rotate the backpack of our friend, and by magic (or not) we immediately learned a very important lesson. You will never know the weight on someone’s else “backpack” until you have to carry it. How many times in life we criticize others without having any idea what they are going through? When was the last time we offer to easy someone else burden? if you are the one in “pain” what is the felling of having (at least for few kilometers) an unexpected relief?
Step by step we finally arrived at the top of the pass. Saint Bernard of Menthon founded the monastery and hospice at the pass summit in the 11th century, paving the way for what became an important landmark and beacon of hope to travelers and pilgrims in Via Francigena. The renowned St. Bernhard dogs were also bred here until recently, the most famous of them being the legendary Barry, said to have saved the lives of 40 travelers in distress on the snowbound pass between 1800 and 1812.
What about us? Can we be “Barry” in someone else’s life today?
Tomorrow we are off to Italy, but when you leave this place you know the place will never leave you 🙂
Day 03 – Orsieres / Bourg Saint-Pierre – 16 Km
After a long journey, we had to experience a shorter route today in order to recover fully our energy and get ready for the ascent to the Col du Grand San Bernard on Wednesday. I am never sure if it is because of the altitude or because of my feet but let me tell you, how good it is to sleep when you are tired:)
When I opened the window in the morning and the first breeze conquered my room, I could recognize the typical atmosphere of alpine country. Once we stepped outside and I looked at the fresh snow on the top of the mountains I was almost certain that we would have a “white carpet” waiting for us tomorrow up on the pass.
It is our third day into the Walking Mentorship program and “time” as we know it was already left behind many kilometers down the valley, the days started to stretch and faces that once looked distant to meet are now part of my history and the experience we are building together becomes unique and unrepeatable, step by step.
Back to our survival kit, yesterday, during the Cross Section exercise we began to see some areas for improvement. Now we are ready to take stock of the elements that will affect the changes we want to make.
During the morning, first individually and after in pairs with the walking buddy assigned for the day, we focused on the Inventory template where we summarize and assess our present capabilities and anticipate our future prospects.
As we practice more and more the “magic” approach of helping our close one to make sure that’s the shortest route to help yourself, we start clarifying where we struggle and where we can excel and become prepared for the next step – To create our vision of personal success.
The hours went by with blue skies and fluffy clouds along meadows and rivers. At times the raincoat replaced by a light shirt to be followed by a fleece.
The elements of nature rule from now onwards and all we can do is to put all our skills at service and turn every single challenge into an opportunity.
How do you do that?
“Your feet will take you where your heart is” – Irish Proverb
Day 02 – Martigny / Orsieres (25km)
Yesterday I learned during dinner that in Germany if a kid does not finish the food on the plate the mother will tell that there will be bad weather the following day. Looking at the window this morning it is obvious to see the consequences of having left part of my pasta.
The section we had ahead of us is considered to be the most difficult one between Canterbury and Rome, there are no options to do the official trail, except jumping over the challenge and take the train or a taxi to the next village.
We knew that a decision would have to be made until the last train stop, after that would be either forward or backwards to the initial point. Individually and collectively we assess our conditions and our level of confidence and we went forward with our task.
Today’s challenge was loud and clear, not only in our route (rain and wind was a given) but specially in our daily exercise. The Cross Section step allows you to see how your daily activities are aligned with your inner self.
This exercise asks you to work from the inside out. You begin at your core by articulating what replenishes and motivates you. Then, on the surface, you consider the resources that you usually access and that are available. Finally you chart how you are spending your time and how satisfied you are with your current reality. As a result you begin to see areas of improvement and identifying where you want to make changes.
It is a tremendous amount of work making the physical part of the exercise look like a walk in the park, which wasn’t 🙂
After more than 6 hours of narrow paths, rain, wind and a little parkour between boulders we arrived in Orsieres, our final destination for the day, but most importantly, each one arrived where we would like to bring change into our life.
No matter what you have in front of you, don’t turn your back on a challenge, unless of course it is part of your strategy.
Tomorrow shall we go up a little more ?
Day 01 – Saint Maurice to Martigny – Something between 15km and 20km 🙂
Nothing is more difficult than change, but once you start, change becomes easier and easier, like a river that once was blocked and suddenly starts flowing again, skating on a natural course.
One of the biggest challenges I see on participants in the Walking Mentorship is related with the process of accommodating change into their daily life, specially few weeks or months after the program.
During one week we break away from routines and focus solely in life, we devote time to think, to make silence, to listen, to discover new things about others and about ourselves, eat well, drink well, sleep like babies and walk…endless walks.
As a result, our mind becomes clearer, our body becomes fitter and overall we manage to tell our biological clock to tune into “happiness time zone” a destination you don’t need a Visa. After a couple of days, what seemed fuzzy and problematic becomes, step by step, understandable (first) and achievable (secondly).
By the end of the week, most people are ready and eager to go back home and start working on their new ideas, insights and put them into action. This is exactly the first moment we can fall into the biggest trap of all…we think that change is done, achieved and most likely just a matter of time until the full process is concluded, and it is not.
The same way we are dynamic beings and never fully complete in our existence, the same goes for change, it is an endless journey, where the maximum we can successfully achieve is the objectives dreamed and planed for each day, because the following morning we have to start from scratch all over again.
Every time I start a new group of Walking Mentorship it helps me to understand better the power of new beginnings in life and also helps me to focus on what each day can offer to us and receive from us.
The magic to keep change in our life is to understand that there is no magic, just plain honest work that always starts inside yourself and spreads outwards into the world, everyday, all day long…if you are willing to reborn every morning and accepting that we know so little and have so much more to learn
Today was very special, shall we raise our stakes tomorrow ?
Day 0 – Via Francigena July 2017
I spend so much time in airports that I always wonder where are all these people are going?
Most of the passengers look always frantic and nervous. I put my sociologist hat and my fun begins.
My first guess and since we are in the Summer time, I would say they are on a run to be happy 🙂
My second guess is about the destination. I remember to read, hear and actually see people refusing to return to places or situations they believed they were happy, I think they fear to ruin the memory of the magic or the magic of the memory. Most likely they search for new destinations.
I understand we are living in a world where the need for new and incredible experiences seems to be more important then anything else, becoming even more crucial with the inevitability to balance the amount of unpredictable and unstable events that feed the breaking news and society in general.
Can it be different? Sure it can !
Seated on 10f on my way to Geneva with a nice window view, I am returning to Via Francigena just 4 weeks after my previous Walking Mentorship in the same place, the same mountains and most likely the same unpredictable weather is waiting for me, knowing that I was extremely happy there last month, last year and few times before that.
I believe people make places look differently the same way I believe places can make people look differently, I also know that we forget more than half of the things we heard, learn and said but we will never forget the way we feel with someone or somewhere, no matter what.
The same way I return to my family after each trip, knowing that every reunion is an opportunity to become a better person, I also return to destinations like the Alps, the Camino of Santiago or Azenhas do Mar, again and again, because despite the route that I know well, everything else is different, always granting me the opportunity to become more complete and as a consequence an happier man.
Follow my advise and return over and over to the places you have been happy before.
Shall we go for a walk tomorrow?
Today leaving the mountains was not for the fainted heart, from 19 degrees celsius up in the pass to 37c in Aosta our journey took us into the middle of a beautiful nature showdown.
Rain, wind and lightning in one side of the mountain and on the other extremity a rainbow and a tiny opening up in the clouds. I could not avoid the parallelism with life and the current world situation.
We as mankind have been trough a pretty bumpy ride in this new century. We face challenges far from easy to overcome and looking at the forecast, one can say there is more on the way.
The storm on one side of the mountain is real and in some moments seems that is going to sallow our path. The rainbow on the other extreme of the valley, with a little tiny opening in the sky, makes me want to go for it, propelling my heart and giving me the courage to be brave enough to cross into the open and reach a clear blue horizon.
Up in the mountains of our life no one can guarantee you that you are going to make it, but I can tell you that it is worth it to live trying despite the scenario.
Around us there is a strange quietness, announcing the end of a cycle and the begging of a new one. In my mind there is a song playing, an “old friend” that was my companion every morning during a professional assignment in a faraway land.
The music plays something like this:
I don’t get many things right the first time,
In fact, I am told that a lot
Now I know all the wrong turns the stumbles,
And falls brought me here
And where was I before the day
That I first saw your lovely face,
Now I see it every day
And I know
That I am, I am, I am, the luckiest
After each walk I can see clearly that everyday and every minute of my life, everything that happens, the good, the great but also the not so good is part of the same path, and the same love story.
This journey is open, I can feel that we are permanently at a crossroads and we have the capacity to say yes or no, every minute, every step and every actIon of the way.
I am limited in some aspects of my life but there is one thing I know I can be the master of the Universe. I am fully responsible for the quality of my thoughts and ideas, something worth it to tattoo in your arm.
On the way back from the Mountains, out from my window, the world continues its own way, cities wake up and cities go to sleep Indifferent to this story, or maybe not 🙂 maybe we are all part of the same web, an incredible puzzle with billions of pieces and unlimited combinations.
There is so much to absorb, so much beauty around us, so much music to listen, rivers to cross, mountains to climb, oceans to dive in and incredible people to meet with a universe inside each one.
I close my eyes and lean my head on the window, I understand it is too much to take in for any soul, and whoever tried or did it, was not able to return, the same way to the world of the living.
To take in this much, the only way a human can do it it’s by blending with the universe, one day, the last and the first day of the rest of our life. It is a comforting idea.
One day I would like to take a long walk with you, I think you are going to enjoy it very much 🙂
Heureux Ceux Qui Perseverent* is a wonderful thought written by the Saint Bernhard Canons on a bench inside a mountain refuge.