Inner and Outer Experiences of the Camino de Santiago

Our Camino, September – October 2013 by Eric Broussine

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.

cross-at-san-justo

I walked the Camino with my wife from St. Jean Pied de Port to Santiago de Compostela 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 programme on TV and suddenly an image, a memory, a thought of the Camino will explode in my minds 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.

Mansillas-34-countryside-with-moon-darkerMy 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 kilometres 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 can 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 Compestelo 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.

Reference

Brierley J. (2013) ‘A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino de Santiago’, (9th Edition), Forres, Scotland, Camino Guides.

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6 Comments

  1. Olivia on February 23, 2015 at 4:41 pm

    Thank you for this text. For me it’s just about seven months ago since I finished the Camino and turned back home. But even after seven months there is no day without thinking on the Camino. This “déjà vu” each day, the same you explained in your text, makes me feel so good and wants me to go back to the Camino as soon as possible. Since it would be possible to turn back to this amazing way it’s good to hear, that this feelings may still be there even after 18 months and maybe even much longer.

  2. patsykate on February 25, 2015 at 2:10 pm

    Lovely remembrance of an outstanding experience. I also walked the Camino in Sept-Oct 2014 with my friend and share many of your thoughts. And yes! I would walk it again and I had wondered with chagrin at those who did such a thing. The spirit is always there.

  3. william franklin on February 25, 2015 at 5:58 pm

    i will take the first step on 16 april 2015 from st jean. my experience began with a why not, now however it has drifted toward a pilgrimage, this is easy for me, although i am not catholic i am married to a catholic for the past 40 years, i look forward to understanding the catholic way and hope i too can meet a spiritual person who will motivate and guide me. i would like to remain optimistic about what my pilgrimage will do for my inner being, i am already religiously orientated and like most folk i am looking to becoming a better person, i need all the time out to meditate, i know it will be a challenge, the overriding challenge however will be looking into the inner self, renewing my spirituality and at the same time enjoy the challenge and the people i will meet on the way. Eric, i enjoyed reading your inner and outer experience, it has broadened my mind as to what i can expect, i look forward to the experience and challenge.

  4. Eric BROUSSINE on March 2, 2015 at 4:54 pm

    William,
    In many ways I am envious of you embarking on the Camino. Do you have a sense of excitement, trepidation, anxiety even? For me, the Camino was an opportunity to have an adventure, walk through some remarkable countryside and tap into my raison d’être. I didn’t know it at the time but during the challenges, the rain, the conversations and the multitude of experiences I was becoming a more enlightened individual. Walking and more walking is a most recommended contemplative past time and you will be transformed. Be prepared to be enlightened pilgrim. Buen Camino!
    Eric

  5. Saša on March 28, 2015 at 11:32 pm

    The first time I’ve heard of Camino was about 10 years ago from a friend of a friend who completed the pilgrimage,and I didn’t have a clue what she was talking about.So, for all the years I never thought about it,untill a few weeks ago I stumbled upon the movie “The Way” starring Martin Sheen on tv.At the end of it I was glued to my sofa but my mind was working 100 km/h. Then and there I decided that I’m going to walk the Camino.
    I’m not religious at all,in fact I’m not even a christian but there is something in the Camino that I feel drawn into. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m going through some significant changes in my life and I hope that by walking the Camino and if I’m very lucky, I’ll maybe, start to find important pieces of myself which I lost through years.
    So, I’ll see you next year on the trek.
    Buen Camino everyone 🙂

  6. Nancy Frey on April 3, 2015 at 9:12 am

    Hi Eric,
    Thank you for your moving piece on your inner Camino experience and reflections 18 months after finishing your 2013 Camino. Would you mind elaborating on the relationship to media technology (mobile phone usage, social media, blog, etc) that you had on your 2013 journey? In the 1990s I studied and wrote about pilgrims’ experiences on the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage in my book Pilgrim Stories. On and Off the Road to Compostela (UC Press, 1998). One of the things that I did was follow-up on the return home. Your experiences resonate strongly with many of the people I interviewed and describe in my book. This research was all done pre-internet. I am now researching again how our new relationships to media tech are impacting the Camino and the experience of being a pilgrim. I am curious to know if you could elaborate on your media tech habits while walking the Camino. If you were relatively connected or disconnected (in comparison to your daily life), how do you think that impacted the profundity of your experience? I don’t mean to intrude on your experience. If you don’t want to answer, I understand. Thank you. Nancy Frey

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