What if that’s all it is?
What if all the spiritual talk about finding God or yourself isn’t the thing that we take away from walking the Camino de Santiago?
What if it’s just that for a few days, we can do whatever we want?
I had this discussion with my daughter who is planning her wedding. I told her, “It’s the one day when you get whatever you really want.” Like Christmas, I suppose, when the toys you unwrap are just what you asked for, or like New Year’s Eve when you have someone to toast with champagne and you stay up as long as you want.
Picture this: you have just spent the night in a heated albergue. You get up, go down to the common room, and hot coffee and toast are waiting for you, along with a friendly hospitalera who got up even earlier than you did so your breakfast could be waiting for you.
You get your pack and your poles, you check the laces on your boots, you bid a fond farewell to the albergue, check to make sure you have your phone, and you walk out the door. Now, you can have everything you want. It’s thrilling. It’s even a little bit humbling, and more than a little bit terrifying.
As you walk, you make small, impactful choices all along the way. Will you walk with someone from the night before, someone who has traveled to Spain with you, or will you leave them behind and walk on ahead by yourself? You can let them go and pray the Rosary while you walk in silence behind them. You can sing. You can dream. You can solve problems or just look to see how many different kinds of trees or birds you can identify before resorting to looking things up on your phone. You can step lively, cautiously, slowly, taking in your surroundings or moving ahead to your next stop.
Do you stop for lunch or keep walking? Do you order a menu or just a sandwich? Do you eat at the restaurant or take it on the road? And do you stop at 1:00 p.m. and select a bed, or keep walking to the next town?
Imagine doing this in your everyday life at home. You get up, shower, dress, grab your keys, go to work. You come home, drop your keys, change clothes, make dinner. In the morning? Let me guess: you get up, shower, dress, etc. Five days a week. How many decisions do you make other than what to wear and when to eat? And how many decisions are made for you by your financial constraints, your family, your boss, your partners and friends?
Then you leave this all behind – the routine of it all, the predictability of it all – and you find yourself relying on your skills. Each decision is something you make because you are getting what you want. In no other facet of life on this planet can you so comfortably get what you want, all day, every day.
I think that’s why we want to go back.
We want to be able to decide the best course for our days, regardless of constraints or obligations. The only obligation to walking is that you do, in fact, walk. Where you spend the night, do you send your pack along ahead, do you take your time, do you take photos and movies – all of these decisions are made in the moment – in order to get you everything you want.
That’s heady stuff. It’s a compelling argument for walking again and for applying the various insights you walk away with to your everyday life such that you start getting more and more of what you want when you get home. I found I didn’t need a big house so I sold or gave things away and moved into a small studio. But now, I am surrounded by my books, I live close to the airport, and I have everything I want.
I also found I could be more assertive within the confines of my daily routine so that I can leave the office and walk into the back of a church just as 5:30 Mass is starting. I’m not sure I used to make that decision as freely as I do now. In every instance, I try to vary my routine to capture as much of the Everything I Want mantra as possible.
And I have started talking to people more. That’s the one thing I love about walking is how easy it is to strike up a conversation with strangers. “Where did you start walking?” or “Where are you from?” or even “Do you speak English?”
I’m sure there is still lots of real soul searching or spiritual needs fulfilling that goes on, but for me, I get what I want. And I do it day after day until I have to come home. Then I start looking at airfares and plan out how I can do it again.
I haven’t got everything everything I want just yet. But I am getting the hang of getting lots of everything I want. And I am grateful I found the Camino and that it has shown me the way.
My new book is available!
It’s a pilgrim’s tour of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.