Monday, September 25th 2017

Reflections of a Modern Day Pilgrim

In a once-in-a-lifetime religious pilgrimmage, a Virginia couple walks the historic Camino de Santiago in Spain

It’s hard to imagine undertaking an activity that will require long distance walking every day for 30days or more. Before I began the Camino de Santiago (the Way of St. James), I used to think that walking 5 or 6 miles was a long distance. Little did I know or
understand what it would take to complete anywhere from 8 to 18 miles a day with a backpack weighing a minimum of 16 pounds plus water.

The first couple of weeks were very difficult for me  physically and psychologically. Not only was I not used to the weight of the backpack which I felt mostly in my feet (my feet hurt or bothered me in someway almost every day of the 30 plus days of the pilgrimage), but I was totally outside of my comfort zone and had to adjust to living out of backpack, organizing my stuff in zip loc bags and using the pockets of my pants as my “purse”. Sleeping with strangers in the pilgrim hostels anywhere from 10 to 30 in a room, washing my clothes at the end of  each day and the relentlessness of the walking all contributed to feeling outside of the modern world.

There was no time or place for television and some of  the smaller towns did not even have public telephones or public access to internet. No TV or newspaper, slowing the pace down to the speed of walking all contributed to this “other worldly” feeling.

In 30 + days, I walked more than 300 miles, lost 10 pounds and regained the tranquility and calm that I had long lost while living in the fast paced modern  world.

The people that I encountered especially the people from  Spain were incredibly kind so much so that I  returned resolved to do “good deeds” each opportunity. On one occasion, on the train from Paris to St. Jean  Pied de Port, I mentioned to the older woman sitting across from me, that I needed to find a way to mail the book that I was reading because it was very heavy and I couldn’t carry it across Spain.  She told me
that she would mail it home for me. I offered to give her money and she told me that it would be her good deed for the day. On another occasion, an older man came out of his
home and offered me food or drink or simply the opportunity to rest. This to a total stranger with no strings attached just simply wanting to be kind to a pilgrim. These were not isolated events but part of a social culture of helping pilgrims.

Several incidents occurred that reinforced my  belief  that God was taking care of me and looking out for me. On one occasion, I thought that I had lost my sun glasses and went back to the cafe/bar to look for them. They were not there but my hat was there and  I  hadn’t even realized that I had lost it. Had I not returned for my sun glasses, I would never have  recovered my hat. I later found my sunglasses in my backpack.

Carrying and living out of the backpack taught me  so many things….we need very little in life; the  more that we have, the more that we are burdened with…using the same analogy, emotionally, we  burden  ourselves unnecessarily with guilt, unharmonious
relationships, sin, etc. We can choose to lighten our load if we only would. I learned to tape my toes to avoid “hot spots” and  thought that if I could only tape my emotional hot
spots, I could avoid the pain.

Even though I didn’t walk very fast, the irony is that the slower pace resulted in aerobic exercise for  6-7  hours per day…I literally walked out all the  stress, toxins, anxieties, etc. that I have carried for a better part of my adult life. Sweating all day long  has a cathartic effect and the relentlessness of  the  walking resulted in smoothing out the rough edges of  anxiety and stress.

Some people were in a great hurry to get to the next village or town or to complete the Camino in the  shortest number of days; some of these folks were  ultra marathoners who had completed the Camino many  times. Others were simply in a hurry to get to the
next village.  One Spaniard from a very small medieval village said to me, you need not hurry; all these people that are passing you by, you will pass them because they will have to stop or slow down  because  of  injuries.  Sure enough, it happened as he said.
The Camino is like life. We all will end up in the  same place. The pilgrims all had the same  destination, Santiago de Compostela….so what is the big  hurry? I  came to really understand that it’s the journey and how  we do it that matters most. So why hurry to what is  ultimately our destination and will be inevitable?

In the 30+ days, I met people from all over the world,  Australia, Brazil, Canada, Mexico, the United  States, Britain, Ireland, Denmark, Norway, Finland,  Germany,  Hungary, France, Italy and Spain. The universality of the Camino is incredible. People from all walks of  life, cultures, languages, norms, etc. all walking from one village to the next, all washing their  clothes, hoping for hot water, coping with the  noise of the hostels, snoring, etc.

I met some very kind and wonderful people. It is an experience that I will always remember and cherish. It allowed me to transition from work to retirement, truly appreciate some of the simple pleasures of  life, such as simply sitting (remembering the weight of  the  backpack and my sore and painful feet), enjoy the beauty of nature, life doesn’t have to be lived at a  break neck speed…it’s up to us to slow things down.

Not everyone undertakes the Camino de Santiago for  religious purposes. I undertook it for religious  and  spiritual reasons and I returned feeling spiritually  enriched, physically and emotionally refreshed and  came to know that I was held in the hand of God every
step of the Way.

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