The Art of Pilgrimage by Phil Cousineau, Conari Press, 1998
Pilgrim: a traveller who is taken seriously. (Ambrose Bierce, Devil’s Dictionary)
I first saw a copy of Cousineau’s book when it was left behind by a pilgrim in the albergue at Grañon where I was working in 2001. I was taken by the opening lines of the foreward: The object of pilgrimage is not rest and recreation – to get away from it all. To set out on a pilgrimage is to throw down a challenge to everyday life.
This neatly sums up the constant laments we read every day on various Camino forums which seem either to bemoan a sadness at the loss of ‘authenticity’ in today’s Camino or, somewhat defiantly, to defend those doing shorter mini-Caminos, with luggage transport and comfortable accommodation. Although the Camino Francés was already very popular in 1999 when I first walked it, today’s over-crowding and widespread commercialisation was much, much less evident – and I walked into Santiago on 13 July. With very little information available at the time, my whole experience was definitely “a challenge to everyday life”.
Years ago I attended a public lecture by a Lutheran priest in Melbourne who structured his Camino talk around the 7 stages outlined in Cousineau’s book. Namely the Longing, the Call, the Departure, the Pilgrim’s Way, the Labyrinth (which he called Getting Lost), the Arrival and the Return Home (Bringing Back the Boon).
Much of Cousineau’s writing reflects his quite Zen approach to life; he has travelled extensively all over the world, is extremely well-read and quotes from a wide range of authors to illustrate his points – Goethe, Bruce Chatwin, Aldous Huxley, Alan Watts, Bettina Selby and Basho to name a few.
His motto for pilgrims striving for mindfulness is: “Eat simply. Dress simply. Care little.” To that I add, “And take those lessons home!” He exhorts us to carry our gratitudes openly as we strive to make our lives more meaningful. Which reminded me of a sign I’ve seen in several albergues: “Turistas exigen. Pergrinos se agradecen.” (Tourists demand. Pilgrims are grateful). A pilgrimage should be a transformative journey to a sacred centre, rather like a labyrinth. Unlike in a maze where you try to find the centre, in a labyrinth you try to find your own centre.
Sentences like “moving from a dependence on others’ images of the world to unfold your own path” and “finding yourself by losing your way” reflect the book’s subtitle: ‘The Seeker’s Guide to Making Travel Sacred’. It’s an interesting read for those who enjoy walking as a meditation.
An added pleasure for a word-lover like me is the explanation of word origins such as ‘to saunter’ which derives from those walking to the Holy Lands or ‘santes terres’. This is a good book to dip into whenever your thoughts turn to things Camino.