I've been walking across the north of Spain for the last 24 days along the Camino de Santiago, an ancient pagan and Christian pilgrimage. It is so strange to type that I've walked around 550 kilometres so far, with another 210 to Santiago de Compostela, plus about 100 to Finisterre; the end of the world, well at least it was the end of the known world then. I've met hundreds of other pigrims from around the world over the last few weeks, who all undertake the walk for different reasons. Some religious, some spiritual, others to enjoy some space from a busy life at home. But many walk the Camino to find the next step in life.
The countryside here is so beautiful. Today for example, I walked over a mountain covered in wildflowers of yellow, purple and red. Other days find me meandering along old country roads surrounded by wheat fields swaying and twisting in the wind. It is amazing to just stop in my tracks and take the time to marvel at nature. The fresh air, sweeping panoramic views coupled with walking 20 to 30 kms each day, makes for a epic journey. I am overwhelmed by gratitude for this opportunity to experience the Camino, for my health to walk it, and the joy I am able to experience in the ever changing scenery. Simply awesome.
They say that the Camino works on you in mysterious ways, bringing out what you need to confront in your life. Perhaps it is due to the routine of walk-eat-wash-sleep that is shared by all the pilgrims, or the mystery of an ancient soul-line stretching across the old world which allows what is suppressed by the grind of daily life at home to surface and confront you. For me, I've had to confront physical pain. Coming over the Pyrenees from France, my feet swelled up and my shoes were too small (were perfect for hiking in Nepal a few years back though!). This left them covered in blisters, and as I hobbled into Pamplona on Day 3, I had to buy shoes another two sizes bigger. Of course, new shoes need to be broken in too, so new blisters under blisters made the pain excruciating quite often. What was the lesson the pain was trying to tell me? I was frustrated that my body was refusing to allow me to continue at the pace and distance that I desired, ans as I tried to continue to push through the pain, my feet would just get worse. My body was telling me to slow down. If fact, it has probably been telling me that for a while at home too, as I continue to persist in my daily life at a fast pace, driven by passion and a strong sense of purpose. If I only wasn't so damn strong-willed, and listen to the limits of living in a body. As I slowed down, somedays only walking 3kms, the pain would dull and the pace allow me to soak in every step in this beautiful walk, almost meditative.
A few weeks later, I stayed at an albergue (pilgrim hostel) where a renowned healer lived, and he took a look at my feet before I began again for the day. As he held my feet, he said that the Camino had a way of letting the body and mind work through and let go of what has bottled up in the world at home. For some, it is confronting personal demons, unresolved issues or attachments. For me, it was pain that needed to be expressed. He reminded me that pain doesn't exist in the feet, but in the mind. The act of walking and connecting with the ground, coupled with gravity, made the feet the perfect place to push out what needed to be expressed. he said, after a few days walking slow in my sandals for plenty of air, I would be fine. And he was right.
There is a mystery in the Camino, and I observed many others working through challenges of life, love, and meaning of life. The focus on walking one step and then another (I estimate that I'll have walked 2 millions steps by the end) is the perfect opportunity for each of the thousands of pilgrims that travel it each year to find their way to a sense of personal renewal and absolution.