Last week I talked with my friend who had exciting news. She’s leaving on Friday with a travel partner to walk the Camino. After years of not taking any vacations, she’s spending six weeks trekking their path which is 500 miles. She’s never gone on a pilgrimage, never set out on such a long trail that’s been walked by people around the world for over a thousand years. I understand her desire to complete this path; I’d planned to do the same years ago but never realized that dream. Now, I’m happy for my friend and I told her, “Your life will be changed in the course of those six weeks through the people and places you encounter.”
To leave home, the familiar, the routine, and to go forth into the uncertainty of a foreign land, is challenging. She’ll likely feel resistance this week as she checks off the tasks she must accomplish before she flies away. No doubt she’ll question the practicality of her decision, taking so much time away from the charity she founded in order to walk a long path that will just benefit herself. But as I’ve learned from much shorter, less arduous journeys, sometimes you need to go away to look back at your life–then return home and know more of your true self. You also return home more ready to serve where you’re planted, seeing the purpose in the work you’ve been given to do.
The Camino has become a well-known path, the subject of the movie “The Way” with Martin Sheen and in many books, including The Pilgrimage by Paulo Coelho. Recently, a podcaster whom I listen to, J.F. Penn included the Camino in her book Pilgrimage: Lessons Learned from Solo Walking Three Ancient Ways. How exciting it would be to journey through the open countryside and ancient villages that have been host to pilgrims for centuries.
Most of us can’t take six weeks to walk a famous pilgrims’ path. So how do we simulate that in a more ordinary way?
When I’ve hiked sections of the Appalachian Trail, and years ago when I hiked Mt Constitution in Washington State, what I discovered is how seldom I unplug from my environment. Much of the time, I’m either listening to music, looking at my computer, watching television, or talking/texting with family and friends. But when I was on those hikes in the forest, I was only plugged into nature, the sound of my boots stepping on the path, the rhythm of my breath.
When pilgrims complete the Camino de Santiago they receive a scallop shell. It has become the symbol for that ancient path. There are various explanations for why the scallop shell, which is seen in the directional markers along the Camino, has become its symbol. One interpretation from the internet:
“The shell is a metaphor, its lines representing the different routes pilgrims travel from all over the world, all walking trails leading to one point: the tomb of Saint James in Santiago de Compostela. However, it is open to interpretation.” (source https://caminoways.com/camino-de-santiago)
Just like there are various routes pilgrims take to reach the goal of arriving at the tomb of Saint James, there are various routes we all take in our lives. At any given point, our journey can focus on a certain area, a question we need answered, a conflict to resolve. We can choose to go on an extended walk, a time away, a solo journey and unplug from all the clatter around us. In our quest to reach our own end point, we will be like Camino walkers who depend on the grace of people in their path. We can bring back something from our journey that’s a symbol of what we received from our time away.
Years ago, I took my yearly solo journey to Michigan. I didn’t have a lofty goal in mind; I simply needed a road trip to an unfamiliar destination and time to recover from moving. My end point was the shore of Lake Michigan where I wanted to observe the turquoise waters that I’d seen in photos. On the way, I spent a couple of days in the city of Petoskey. One afternoon I browsed in the downtown shops and spent most of that time in an art gallery. I was drawn to a mixed media piece.
The artist who waited on me, made a remark about my Southern accent, that was off-putting at first. Later, I realized that embracing my voice was also embracing part of my “true nature.” On my drive from North Carolina to Michigan, I stopped for a couple of nights in Toledo, Ohio to stay with my cousin. We had delicious conversations over morning coffee and evening glasses of wine. Through those talks I learned a lot about her and more about myself. On the following Saturday night in Mackinaw City, Michigan I came upon a performance by an Elvis impersonator. Caught up in the fun of that crowd, without the constraints of eye-rolling exasperation of my husband and sons, I was the first to greet “Elvis” when he came off stage. I uncovered part of my “true nature” that’s spontaneous and didn’t care what anyone thought of an exuberant, mid-life woman.
I suspect my friend will know more of her true nature after completing her 500 mile walk on the Camino. While she is far away, she’ll be able to look back at her everyday life in North Carolina and see it with new eyes. And when she returns, she’ll remember those points on the path–the people and the sites she encountered, and the new revelations that she gained at each point.
I wish her the best on this life-changing journey. And I wish all of us, with lesser destinations, brief amounts of time, to walk paths of discovery in the week ahead, traveling to a place of knowing more of our true natures, of experiencing clarity in finding the answers we seek.
Best to you all,
4 thoughts on “Walking a Pilgrim’s Path”
Connie, here I go. Trail Treks are my favorite. As you mentioned the Long ones do make a difference in your outlook on life in general, as well as you and your position with the World. There is so many experiences that your friend will encounter, all worth the time, and some very revealing to the reason for living. I need not expand, as there are the surprise of finding something that was not considered to be on venue. I have never done the Camino de Santiago, yet there may be one more super trek in me. Your reference to “talking” in Michigan, is interesting, Being from the North as my early years were in Northern Indiana, going to Michigan was like finding another Land, “over there”. As always, it is a treat to read whatever you write, because it is you. Love and Blessing to you. John,
Thanks so much for reading and for sharing your perspective. It’s always interesting to hear what you get from the post– how you put your own meaning and experiences into your responses.
Interesting that you’re a native “Northerner.” It’s something when we’re young and the world opens up when we travel to new territory–as it did for you”over there” in Michigan. I remember on a previous post, you told me about going to the area of Sleeping Bear Dunes and Betsie Point Light House.
Best to you, John,
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Hi Connie. Thank you so much for all that you do to inspire me to reach outside the box and enjoy the unknown. Just reading about your life journeys with a friend or alone gives me the courage to experience something new in my life. Thank you me beautiful friend for your love and support.
Thank you as well John for your encouraging words. I will share my experience and will be looking forward to hearing about yours as well in the future after your next super trek journey.
Many blessings and much love.
Thanks so much, Terry.
I’m glad I’ve been an Encourager in your life. You’ve done so much with your work with Veterans and Dogs needing Rescue that you inspire me and others.
Blessings for Safe Travel and Beautiful New Experiences along the Camino,