I saw the Camino as a chance to cut down on needs and musts, to the bare essentials on my back and only having to think about eating, walking and sleeping for days on end! With less worries about outside things, I could spend some time pondering things inside. And the more I walked, the more I saw the parallels between pilgrimage and life in general.
The backpack being one of them. You do well if it’s not too heavy. A couple of kilos too much, and it will affect your walking considerably. Many fellow pilgrims went through their backpacks along the path and got rid of things they didn’t need. What are the things in life that weigh on our walking? As I go through my life backpack, what am I carrying that I don’t have to carry?
Maybe it’s guilt. If so, I can own up, be forgiven and let the burden fall off my chest. Maybe it’s a hurt I haven’t let go of, and if so, I can be the one to forgive. Maybe it’s anxiety – worrying for someone else or for yourself. If so, there is peace to be found. Maybe it’s my riches that weigh heavily in the backpack, and keep me from walking carefree.
Another thing that affects your walking is your feet. If feet are happy, you are happy. But with the wrong shoes or socks that can’t breathe, your entire walk could be ruined. My feet get blisters really easily. This was one of my worries before starting the Camino. But a miracle came my way, in the form of BlissWool – simply loose wool applied inside socks on the extra sensitive or moist areas. Over 400 km and only 4 blisters!!!
It’s funny how the most foundational things in life, like feet, make the biggest difference. Take rest, for instance. Only 20 years ago we had regular rest from activity, on a Sunday. Still today, in pockets of Europe, commerce shuts down one day a week. You have to plan your grocery shopping before 4 pm on Saturday. And can enjoy a day of collective stillness. To many of us, however, this is a luxury that belongs to the last century. Or to the Camino! So this made me ponder my foundations in life – maybe I’ll reintroduce a day of rigid rest every week!
Another way that the Camino can serve as a metaphor for life is how you’re stripped of the things that normally define you. You realise how much you rely on them to fill your life, create identity. Or reversed, how much you can feel “homeless” when you don’t have them. Who am I when I have no family, partner, occupation or possessions to define me?
And is there anything beyond it all? Like a final destination is to the pilgrim? Sometimes it is first when you’re “poor” to other answers that you start asking the real question. I guess you have to know something’s lost before you
start seeking it.
Walking along, I realised I’d allowed other things along the path to define me. More deeply than they should. And thus keeping me from the real sense of home that I could be enjoying all along.
So, apart from incredible meetings, friendships, talks, laughs, dinners, bunk bed sleeps, sangría, countryside and fabulous exercise, pilgrimage meant I had a proper look through my backpack, my foundations and got a new focus on Home again. It should make the walking a bit easier now. Well, at least it did, until those 44-km-in-one-day on an old cobbled Roman road killed my heels…