Over the next few days I crossed paths with different people as I began to find the rhythm of my Camino. On the 4th morning I met Manoel and Sue as we left the City of Pamploma. I had met them a day or two before and this morning we walked together. As the morning wore on I felt more and more exhausted and as they walked a little ahead of me I called to them and said “I’m going to have to give in”. As soon as I said it I knew that “giving in” was about more than just taking a rest. I went to sit down and contemplated what else was meant by that statement.
Well for a start I considered myself a good walker, not normally the one who is lagging behind. Manoel is 20 years older than me and at this point he is walking better than I am. Before this trip I had never considered the possibility that I would not walk every day, I never considered the possibility that I would not make each stage as laid out in John Brierley’s guide book and I had not considered it remotely possible that I might not reach Santiago on or before my target date of 28th September.
But I was discovering that walking day after day was tiring and that my muscles and tendons became sore and tight. Apart from the physical weight I was also carrying some very heavy emotions with me too and they were often more difficult to carry than the rucksack. So I was now having to consider what doing the Camino actually means and whether I would consider myself to have completed the Camino even if I didn’t walk all the way to Santiago! And at the same time I wanted to do my Camino, my way.
I was also conscious of all the other people I started out with and whether I was ahead of or behind them. I had a growing sense that in order for me to do my Camino I was going to need to let go of notions of keeping up and preoccupations about where I was in relation to pilgrims who had begun the same day as me. I may have to let others go ahead of me. I also saw this as a metaphor for life and living and that I was being challenged to let go of deeper perceptions, notions and ideas that any other person could ever be behind me or ahead of me or that I am ahead of, beside or behind anyone else. So the key challenge was to allow myself to walk my Camino at my pace and in my way as this mirrored the challenges of my own life and living.
On the first night in St Jean Pied de Port I walked around the town to get a feel for it and to shop for provisions for my first day of walking beginning in the morning, the 27k trek across the Pyrenees to Roncesvalles. Then on my way back to the municipal albergue (pilgrim hostel) I noticed the church and I decided to enter. I sat down with my shopping bag beside me just absorbing the atmosphere. The church itself was small and was beautifully lit with candles. There were lots of people walking up and down, talking, taking pictures, lighting candles and saying prayers. After a while I felt quite moved and realised that I was going to make clear my camino intention here.
I decided that I would walk up and light a candle as part of my intention ritual. There were, perhaps oddly, a lot of different types of candles to choose from and some of them were named ‘pilgrim candles’. However I found myself drawn not to the pilgrim candles but rather the long stemmed thin white candles and so I chose one of those. By now the whole experience felt very sacred and as I placed my candle I closed my eyes to find my true internal intention. I didn’t know what the answer was going to be, when I had thought about why I was doing the camino up to that point I might have said for stillness, connection, unity…but the word that arose loud and clear was ‘sincerity’. With tears flowing down my cheeks I promised that I would walk the camino with sincerity. With that any other concerns I felt were gone.
The clarity and certainty of my intention towards the camino experience came back to me many times along the way. In times of doubt, confusion, disconnection, loneliness and struggle I reminded myself of my intention to be sincere and so I could feel more accepting of the emotions I really didn’t want to experience, they had their value and I needed to experience them too and it was sincere to do so.
When I decided to walk the Camino de Santiago, I was aware that I wanted to immerse myself in a holding container long enough for me to find out what is calling me. I had the sense that I was meant to be doing something else with my life and that I was holding back on what God had given me. In any event I knew my soul wasn’t being fully satisfied; there was a longing I needed to address. I hoped and indeed I expected the Camino to help me find the truth of that longing.
I realised before I left home that the Camino was about letting go and trusting I would be okay, although I couldn’t anticipate how the challenges would present themselves. But really the energy of the Camino started before I left Cork! The easy part was making the decision to go, a couple of months ahead of time it seemed no problem, I thought ‘I can’t wait’. However as the departure date got closer, I became more fearful, I was going to have to let go of whatever control I had in my life, my comfort, my livelihood, my emotional crutches and safety nets and surrender to the unfolding experience of Camino life.
So to go at all I needed to let go of what was familiar and face the vulnerability that arose in the absence of the crutches and the safety nets. That took courage and more importantly it took a level of belief in the possibility and of my own potential and trust in the universe. To grow requires a will to do so, no one said this would be easy but then neither is it easy to live life in the shadows.