Since completing the Camino de Santiago I have read 2 books by individuals who have described their inner and outer experiences, their trials, their triumphs, and their fellow pilgrims along the way. Although fairly interesting and at times amusing they write about their unique journey and whilst there are certain shared experiences, (places visited, blisters, aches and pains, albergues, pilgrim menus, and the euphoria at the end), they are still their experiences and not mine.
Reading the books felt a bit like looking at a painting or watching a film – interesting but someone else’s interpretation and I sensed a degree of detachment and disappointment. Every pilgrim takes a personal voyage along the Camino and I want to explore and write down my own inner reflections.
I walked the Camino with my wife from St. Jean Pied de Port to Santiago in 47 days from early September to the end of October 2013. We met some amazing like minded people, ate lots of pilgrim menus, stayed in a variety of municipal and private Albergues, hostels and hotels, and walked through some beautiful Northern Spanish countryside where everyone will have some recollections and no doubt lots of photos. So, my ruminations are going to focus on internal, spiritual experiences rather than the outer journey.
Nearly 18 months later there is hardly a day that goes by when I do not think about the Camino and what we achieved. The memories are like a warm duvet that enfold me, where I snuggle down and have an overwhelming sense of wellbeing.
The Way is a close friend, a constant companion, and a confidante.
I can be walking down the street, driving somewhere, looking at a building, a sunset, or a program on TV and suddenly an image, a memory, a thought of the Camino will explode in my mind’s eye. Somewhere local will have resonance with somewhere on the Camino and I suddenly remember a specific part of the walk.
The feelings they raise is akin to ‘déjà Vu’; a little disconcerting and strange but powerful and satisfying at the same time. It is as if my internal psyche is keeping the flame of the Camino alive and well, but why?
The Camino was a profound experience, no doubt. What started as a holiday and adventure with some reservations about completing it, soon transformed into a more internal, spiritual journey. Yes, I learned about Catholicism, the Knights Templar, and the 1000 year history of the Way. Yes, I learned about Pamplona, Logrono, Burgos, and Leon, the regions of Navarre, Rioja, Castille & Leon, and Galicia and yes I learned about deserted villages, monasteries, and pilgrim hospitals, wine and farming, chestnut collections, and the scallop of St. James.
But perhaps, more importantly, I began to learn more about myself, my motivations, my strengths, and weaknesses; what I enjoyed and loved, what I found difficult to contend with, and what aspects I was tolerant and intolerant to.
My wife and I had the good fortune to meet 2 Australian Catholic nuns of the Presentation sisters order early on the walk. One of them walked the Camino with us, became a close friend and a spiritual mentor to me. I was always cynical about the Catholic faith but through our friendship, I began to learn compassion, patience, and acceptance of people and events.
We often had deep meaningful discussions about the concept of God, the church, faith, and religion. These conversations, whilst at times intense, began to take on parallels in our lives in general and the Camino more specifically. I was beginning to appreciate perhaps for the first time, a spiritual awareness that I had never felt so profoundly before.
Thanks to the sister and a rather lengthy walking meditation based on who I am, where I’ve been, and where I’m going in my life, I was maturing and learning about the context of my life, something I had little time for before. In essence, I was getting in touch with my core, my very being, what some may call my soul. I have never experienced to such a degree this intensity of self awareness before.
To add to my nascent spirituality, I was also beginning to appreciate why pilgrims walk the Camino more than once. When we met 2 Canadian women who were walking a second time I exclaimed, “What, you’ve done this before, you must be crazy!” Now, however, having completed the pilgrimage I understand and value why they were walking again and my wife and I have every intention to either walk it all again or at least walk the last 100 kilometers or from Santiago to Finisterre.
So, I am beginning to understand why the Camino has become such an integral part of my life. I think it was John Brierley (2013) who said that the Camino could be divided into 3 parts –
the first third of the Camino is a physical challenge, the second third is a psychological challenge and the last third is a spiritual challenge.
We succeeded with all three aspects but for me, it is the spiritual dimension that lingers and lives on within me. The Camino has helped make me a more rounded, more complete individual and for that, I am eternally grateful.
The journey from St. Pied de Port to Santiago de Compostela was in part a physical experience but became an internal transformation from a religious cynic to a spiritual disciple. That is probably why the Camino is such an important part of my life and why my wife and I want to take on the challenge all over again; a replenishment if you will.
Post by: Eric Broussine
I love hiking, backpacking, and camping. From the Camino de Santiago to the West Highland Way in Scotland or simply a great day hike on the weekend. Hiking refreshes me, my mind, and keeps my body reasonably fit. So far I have walked three Camino routes and many other long distance hikes in the UK, Canada, and around the rest of Europe. One of the best was my hike up Ben Nevis.