From a place of gratitude, I have been reflecting on my recent walk on the Camino de Santiago. Any time I take a long walk, it becomes a meditation of sorts. Whether scaling rocks in the white Mountains of NH, or walking through unfamiliar towns & villages, presence is a necessity. Slowing down my movement to the pace of walking allows me to notice things I wouldn’t otherwise.
The author Erling Kagge writes the following in his book Walking One Step at a Time – “Walking, I can stop whenever I feel like it. Take a look around. And then continue on. It’s a small scale anarchy: the thoughts that stream through my mind or the anxieties that I sense in my body shift and clear up as I walk. Chaos is king when I first strike out on my walk, but as I arrive, things have become more orderly, even when I haven’t given a thought to the chaos as I’ve walked along.”
Even when experienced partially, the Camino de Santiago is a walk of connection, of challenge, of simplification. When you scale back to carry only the essential belongings on your back, it is liberating. I wore the same clothes to to walk in each day (though I did rotate shirts and socks) and the same “cleanish” clothes after walking. It simplified things tremendously. No decisions to make in that department. Did I miss my pillow, my favorite moisturizer, my mac book, my electric toothbrush and full sized hairbrush, the variety of clothing options I have at home… YES. And it was worth every moment of doing without some of these luxuries. They were easily forgotten while feeling the sun on my face, the wind in my hair, and my feet ambling upon the earth.
It required a trip to another continent for me to embrace this particular experience of meditation. For many reasons, destination walking meditations force my life of convenience & digital dependence to take a break. Traveling opens some boundaries to new exploration and simultaneously closes boundaries around sacred time “away” from the usual demands of living in the world at this time. Like other famous walks, The Camino de Santiago is a path walked for centuries by many other spiritual seekers. There is a palpable sense of the history and yearning intentions of those who have walked before me in the landscape. People with poignant questions, heart-breaking losses, and life transitions explore this kind of walking as pilgrims.
In a few short weeks, I met and walked with people from Holland, Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, Canada, England, Belgium, Ireland, Lithuania, Mexico, and from many parts of the U.S. I heard many stories about what brought them to this particular pilgrimage.
We met people who had recently retired and were walking to find answers to “what’s next”. There were people grieving losses and some walking with a parent/adult child for quality time together. Along with a reason for their walk, people I encountered were walking with hearts wide open and a willingness to talk; to talk about things that mattered in their lives. I heard stories of loss, stories of missed connections, and stories of celebration. A recent college graduate I met during a walking break was planning to enter the Peace Corp, but didn’t pass the medical clearance. She transformed her disappointment into this chance to walk across Spain.
I personally had moments of overwhelming gratitude. For my health and the opportunity to take this time “away”; for the loud Gregorian Chants that served as our wake-up call while staying at an Albergue in Roncevalles; for sharing bunk beds, bathrooms, laundry sinks and human vulnerability with everyone else on the path. I also had moments of frustration while “tolerating the consequences of being myself”. Confronted with the slower pace and limited distractions, this frustration eventually became productive time for me to be with many emotions that came in waves: my own sadness, losses, and grief. It felt spacious and safe to be with it all.
I have been gifted the chance to make my walking meditations a priority; to plan my travels, excursions, socialization, and connections – one step at a time. As I await the next extended walking meditation experimenting as a minimalist, I will bring the lessons learned to my brief local walks.
It is no secret that a different profound “walk” is only a few days away. As I anticipate watching my daughter and her father walk up the aisle to exchange her wedding vows, I am reminded that ‘life as a walking meditation’ is truly transformational.
Some BONUS favorite moments:
+Walking hard and fast on my own… feeling strong
+Hearing the bells of sheep, goats, wild horses and cows while walking through the Pyrenees.
+Listening to the stories of others; not forced or rehearsed, but spilling out from their hearts.
+Removing shoes, socks during rest & stretch breaks.
+Placing legs up the wall at the end of the day.
+Starting before dawn to appreciate the sunrises.
+Sitting in churches quietly saying prayers
+Coming upon a cafe with friendly familiar faces after hours on the path
+Spending 12+ hours/day outside
+Community dinners with people from all over the world