One piece of advice I would give to anyone getting ready to embark on The Camino is to allow time to be alone and be open to some time sharing conversations with fellow pilgrims along the way. A “Pilgrim” by definition is a person who journeys to a sacred place for religious reasons. I would broaden that definition to religious/spiritual reasons. The reason being, religion can, for some people, automatically create barriers for example when one is Jewish, or Catholic, or Baptist, Buddhist, or fill in the blank, and the other is of a different religious background. I do think, however, these potential barriers are softer when on this quest together. “spirituality” is like the wind that flows through all the religious labels and delivers the deeper message of the heart.
Like I said in a previous post about walking the Camino, one of the greatest conversations you will have is the one you have with yourself. If you get embraced, as many do, by a group of people about to start the journey who wish to make a pact of “let’s do it together” It may well be a sound decision that can build lifelong friendships. I would encourage most people to be a bit aloof of this proposition or at least be honest upfront, that you are open to travel as a group, but you will have days where you will want to walk alone. An upfront conversation will stave off future conversations of “are you mad at us? Why don’t you walk with us today?” Group dynamics have benefits and occasional pitfalls. Bottom line is, THIS IS YOUR TRIP, and above all, be true to your needs as a pilgrim. A balance of togetherness and solo time allows you the time to hear and share in the stories of others and to also listen to your inner voice that can be muffled in obligations to others. Be sure to give yourself time to experience walking with your very soul.
I had plenty of time alone for which I am very grateful, and I also ran into many people on the trail or at a dinner meal who would share their experience with me. Most conversations will begin with, why are you walking the Camino? The answers are as varied as there are people on the trail. It may be for their health, or the health of a loved one that can not make the journey. Some are walking for forgiveness, either of their own quest or as a directive of the catholic church to walk the Camino as penance and request for holy forgiveness. Many are looking for peace, understanding, or the recovery from a recent loss or a terminal diagnosis and seeking either a miracle or a way to come to terms with the impermanence of life.
I heard many many stories. Some were so interesting and even fun. Many were heavy and caused me to stop for a moment when tears would fill my eyes and blur my vision from continuing to walk. The willingness of strangers to be open and the desire to let go of old ways of thinking are so profound you will no doubt hear things that would, under any other circumstance, be kept under a tight lid. This is the healing of the Camino. And whether you are a believer in miracles or not, some travelers have returned home healed both emotionally and physically. I think many cancers may be a result of the emotions we hold back, and when we finally let go of the toxic emotions, the body finds reasons to keep living. There is an internal pharmacy, that given the right environment can often provide us with miraculous results.
Miracles come in many forms as they say. The eradication of illness is certainly one of those. The acceptance of an illness is another. Getting the diagnosis of an illness, especially a “terminal” illness can cloud the time one has left on this earth. It has the potential to steal the remaining life you still have and what a shame to lose the remainder of the functional time you still have. There are many pilgrims on the Camino checking off bucket list items. They are there to embrace every living moment they can have from their end of days. These are the stories that crack your heart open, reminding you of the gift of health and reminding you, as you momentarily walk in their shoes, that all time is precious.
On the Camino silence is precious, so is the time you will spend with strangers. I am 7 years from my last walk on the Camino de Santiago and still my reflection on those days generates new ways of looking at things. It is a walk that never ends, you will walk with all those souls again from time to time in your mind and their stories will continue to unfold more wisdom as you mature on your path in life.
The Camino, once you have traveled in its legendary magic you will be changed and you will also leave your energetic imprint there that will expand into all those you meet along “the way”.