Be careful what you ask for: thoughts on the Camino
Funny thing, that Camino de Santiago. Maybe it's not the Camino, maybe it's any pilgrimage, or any solo journey taken step by step, traveling as lightly as possible, lighter with every step.
Lots more than my clothes seem not to fit, now that I've returned from that walk.
I'd recommend the Camino de Santiago, or any journey like it, to anyone. If you stopped by this blog because you're thinking about walking the Camino, here's my sage advice: know the Camino will do exactly what you ask it to do. Ask it to simply buff your legs and I suspect it will. Give yourself over to it, and you're in for some bumps and big decisions. I asked for the full treatment, and it hasn't disappointed.
A lovely description of the experience, from Following the Milky Way by Elyn Aviva:
Pilgrimage: a setting forth, a leave-taking from the familiar, from familiarity. A trip into the unknown, both interior and exterior. A moving away from what is known into what is unknown but longed for.
The journey begins with separation leaving home and friends, leaving behind the well-known signposts of location and behavior, of expectations and rewards, conscious, intentional movement into an unfamiliar realm, both physically and psychically. Perhaps this separation is marked by a blessing ceremony; perhaps it is marked by pinning the scallop-shell emblem of the pilgrimage to Santiago onto your backpack, or by hanging the shell by a ribbon around your neck.
You enter into a time in-between, a "liminal" period named after the threshold at the bottom of a door, the threshold that the bride was traditionally carried over to signify her movement into a new state of being. Like the bride, you, the pilgrim, cross the threshold and enter into a new realm, one full of possibilities as well as challenges.
What lies beyond the distant mountain range? What waits behind the next curve in the road? What deep insight will be revealed after a day of walking in silence or after an afternoon of conversation with companions?
Your routine role and status get left behind. Blisters form, legs become weary, shoulders ache, regardless of your amount of education, your job title back home, your level of physical preparation. You become a pilgrim, sharing with fellow pilgrims the travails and pleasures of the journey.
Time itself becomes different, marked not by the clock but by the movement of the body through space. And space itself becomes different because you are walking through sacred space. You have entered a landscape punctuated by shrines and churches, hermitages and cathedrals, sacred springs and sacred mountains. Day after day, week after week, the longer the better, since distance and time help your body grab hold of the experience, help your heart open up, help your mind detach from old patterns, help your soul expand into itself. You move toward your goal.
And then the goal is reached. You may find, however, that it is no longer the goal, its importance having dissolved with every step on the Camino.....
....Finally, you return to your home community, your friends, your family. This may be an eagerly waited return or an apprehensive return, a return made with feet dragging each step of the way or with feet joyfully dancing toward home, a home that will never, ever, be the same again because you will never, ever, be the same again. The changes may be subtle or obvious, slow growing or erupting full-blown into your awareness. But changes there will be.
For you are now a pilgrim and you have been become a life-long member of a new community, a community made up of the millions of fellow pilgrims, living and deceased, who have walked the Camino before you.