Tomorrow it will be a week since John and I walked into Santiago de Compostela.
Our bodies are beginning the journey to recovery.
Sure the level of fitness might drop away a bit, but I suspect doing something like this is a physical reset. At the very least, when I think of the Camino, I no longer ask myself can I do it. I know I’ve got the physical strength and the psychological grit it takes. That’s quite something.
One reader wondered what made me do this. I don’t have a clear answer, other than beforehand I suspected that the act of repeatedly doing the same thing day after day would likely be contemplative, meditative in its effect. That it would, as one graffiti artist along The Way wrote: make space for the state of grace.
The long term physical exertion has the effect of silencing internal chatter, and it does so relatively quickly. As I quipped to a fellow walker, there’s nothing like the pain of blisters to keep you in the now.
But walking the Camino is far from a solitary experience.
More often than not, especially in the albergues, and often on the path, it’s a crowded experience. The motives for walking were as varied as the people. John remarked at one point that it’s a bit like being on an active cruise, and he’s right.
For some it’s a sporting event, others see it as the trendy thing to do, many are making a religious or spiritual pilgrimage.
I was surprised by the number of women who told me they thought it was a safe activity for women to do on their own. For myself, I doubt that it is any safer than most other travel activities. Sadly, as is the case anywhere women on the Camino de Santiago need to be vigilant.
People of all sorts and types walk the Camino. John and I encountered bullies, the snide, the creeps, those who were only too willing to tell me how to make my way; there were braggarts, and, sigh, those who openly made a play for my beloved right in front of me.
All that made me wonder about the benefits of a silent retreat. At least in such an environment one would be less exposed to the vagaries of others, although more exposed to the vagaries of the self. And that, I don’t doubt, is likely even more challenging.
The meditative state the walking induced in me did increase my vulnerablility to the less commendable attributes of fellow walkers. Sometimes I wondered whether that was a good thing.
A week later I’m sure it was, even if it was uncomfortable.
Along The Way we also met the thoughtful, the gentlest and kindest and most generous of souls; the prayerful, the friendly, and those who were always cheerful despite their enduring pain. They are the people I’ll remember. They are the people I’m grateful to have met, they are the ones who taught me the most, the ones who were like a salve to my soul.
My prejudices, my weaknesses, and my greatest strengths have all had the brightest of lights shone on to them. I’ll be growing from that for a long time. For me that’s what a pilgrimage is all about.
We’ve followed in the footsteps of millions, those who’ve walked this way for more than a millennium.
I suspect The Way has always been the same way and for me that is both consoling and redemptive.