The question that I heard often on the Camino is ‘Why are you walking the Camino What was the event that prompted the desire to leave behind your daily life and to walk across Spain?’
This journey started when my wife Saide & I watched ‘The Way’. Being a Christian I was drawn to the idea of pilgrimage and started reading and researching the Camino de Santiago. We had been married for 33 years and the longest time we had been apart was 12 days when I was a Scout Troop leader at 3 Jamborees.
I had only ever travelled overseas 3x for work so this was the first time I’d travelled just because I wanted to, so it was all going to be new to me. I wouldn’t know anyone, my limited Spanish was likely to be more of a source of amusement for the locals rather than an effective source of communication and I’d be entirely out of my comfort zone. I would be a stranger in a strange land.
Given that I was travelling all the way from Australia and didn’t know if I would ever be back, I decided that I would walk the Camino Francés, then onto Finisterre, Muxia and back to Santiago. As a result I obtained 2 Compostelas, 1 Fisterana and 1 Muxiana, the certificates of achievement.
The Camino provides an amazing opportunity for personal reflection. Firstly my reflections on Community, Relationships & Waymarkers.
My first night on the Camino in St Jean-Pied-de-Port was at the Beilari albergue with its communal evening meal. The purpose of this meal is to get to know pilgrims that will be heading off at the same time. During that meal we formed a small community. We shared who we were and where we were from and a little bit about why we were undertaking the pilgrimage. Over the course of my pilgrimage I met a number of these people on multiple occasions: in fact two of them I met in Muxia before I returned to Santiago, others I never saw again.
The Camino, in some ways, is like a condensed life. There is a beginning and a destination, and the pilgrims are on a journey through that life. The pilgrims and those within the Spanish community all want you to succeed in reaching your destination. The following are a number of ways that a pilgrim is supported on their journey:
- Books containing descriptions of the routes, including maps (hard or soft copies). I also had an iPhone app with the Camino Francés route, and via GPS it would indicate where I was. These show the route, and some also provide elevation details.
- There are signs everywhere… professional markers as well as waymarkers. Plus a vast array of yellow arrows painted on almost everything. In fact, some people have said that on the Camino Francés a map isn’t required as the signage is so thorough.
- As you walk each day there are usually pilgrims ahead of you and behind you. If there aren’t any, then you may need to consider if you are off the track. Noting that as a pilgrim you are walking in the same footsteps of countless thousands of pilgrims over the ages before you.
- Some people you will meet and form a relationship with such that you walk together for companionship.
- The locals provide guidance and direction to pilgrims. If asked they will provide guidance and sometimes they will just call out if they see a pilgrim that didn’t observe and follow the signs.
- Pilgrims are met (and encouraged) by other pilgrims and locals continuously – Hola, Buenos Dias, Buen Camino (Hello, Good day, Good journey).
Stepping back from the Camino I compared this with everyday life.
- Destination, we are all going somewhere: do we know where that is, do we know how far along our journey we are, what information do we have access to that will assist us in our journey, to plan and then to provide guidance along the way?
- Signs, what signs or waymarkers are within our journey, how do we know we are on the desired path and what are the waymarkers that indicate aspects of significance?
- We live within a community and have relationships with people. How do these people support us on our journey? Do they know where our destination is, where we are right now and the joys and struggles we are facing? If we never share our lives with them then they won’t know and be able to support us. What is the quality of our relationships, deep and meaningful, shallow and superficial? Where are we on our faith journey and do we share that with others?
I provided the following message to the hospitalero at the Bielari for new pilgrims. (I’ll let you replace key words that would make this relevant to your own lives; Camino/Life’s journey, Beilari).
As you now enter your Camino and the creation of the family at the Beilari, know the following. As you made the decision to commence at the Beilari you have already opened yourselves up to the Camino and what lies ahead. There is a community of pilgrims, all of you are travelling along the Camino, in part, or the whole Camino Francés. As you travel you will meet people every day. It will be your choice as to how much of your life you share with them and whether you allow them in or not, just as it is theirs. However that community is able to support you in your journey if you let it, be open to what lies ahead. As you travel, know that the community, both those travelling the Camino and those that live along it, want you to reach your destination. They can guide you on the path if you are open to their guidance.
Are we equipped to be able to provide the companionship and guidance/wisdom that others may need on their life’s journey?
I commented above that pilgrims are met (and encouraged) by other pilgrims and locals continuously. Once I arrived at Camino de Santiago and stepped off the route the sense of community (among people) disappeared. The challenge to us all is, is that it? It was a nice trip nothing more, or did the spirit move within us, so that we yearn to recreate that sense of connection with others?
My second set of reflections relate to my journey on the Camino, the questions: “What might happen & when something happens how will I respond and why?”. I commenced my Camino stepping out in faith. Faith in my own abilities, faith in God and faith that many people had trod the same path as I and survived. As you walk along the road and there is a crest ahead, there is that wondering, what is on the other side?
I stepped out in faith and left Melbourne with two back-to-back flights to Paris, and 3 train rides to arrive at my only albergue booking (for my Camino) 15 minutes before dinner commenced.
I discussed the following aspects with fellow pilgrims, sharing insights:
- Expectancy (what do we expect to occur), how do we respond when they are or aren’t achieved!
- Perception (what do we observe), patterns, colours, things that occur, sounds, smells, senses. Our senses are heighted and attuned to what we are trying to observe/perceive.
- Perspective (luck, good or bad) about things that happen to us and our perspective of others and what they do. Don’t respond immediately, consider/reflect, solve for. Interestingly there was an article on this in the magazine on the flight over.
Following on from my Camino I am now wanting to undertake further studies on Positive Psychology and Emotional Agility.
My third reflection relates to the saying “The Camino will provide”. It poses the question, “How open are we to things working out, what are our expectations?” Alternatively, putting my second reflections into practice.
On the day that I left Finisterre for Muxia I rose in the dark and packed my bag, as I had done every morning. I headed off, when I was about 10kms out from Muxia I stopped, took my pack off and realised that I had left behind on the bed my dry sack that contained all of my sleeping equipment… what to do! I considered my options and decided to continue to Muxia. I decided that I had a range of options, I could catch the bus back that day, walk back to Finisterre the next day (it is a very nice walk), or something else might present itself. I arrived at the albergue in Muxia and found that the hospitalero only spoke Spanish. Another pilgrim assisted in the role as a translator as I explained the situation and enquired about options. It just so happened that the hospitalero’s daughter worked in Finisterre and would be able to bring my equipment to Muxia. There were also phone calls to the albergue in Finisterre to make sure that my gear was still there and to let them know that his daughter would be coming. I was told that she would arrive at about 9pm with my gear. Well at 10pm he walked in and handed me my gear.
The next day I walked down to the rocks and located where Tom threw Daniel’s ashes into the sea in the movie ‘The Way’. I, like Tom, had reached the end of my Camino, so much richer for the experience.