Go further and go higher.
My Cammino di Santiago with Paulo Coelho.
We have walked for 150 km, coming from Bordeaux and heading to Bilbao. As I defined it during the path, it has been “a pill of what the whole Commino is”, an introduction of a mind-blowing experience that I will surely re-start from where I left it.
The Cammino is one of the three main sacre roads of pilgrimage for the Christian world: the first leads to tomb of Saint Peter in Rome, the second to the Holy Sepulchre of Christ in Jerusalem and the third leads to the mortal remains of the apostle, San Tiago — Saint James in English, Jacques in French, Giacomo in Italian, Jacob in Latin. He was buried at a place on the Iberian peninsula where, one night, a shepherd had seen a brilliant star above a field. The legend says that not only San Tiago but also the Virgin Mary went there shortly after the death of Christ, carrying the word of the Evangelist and exhorting the people to convert. The site came to be known as Compostela — the star field — and there a city had arisen that drew travellers from every part of the Christian world. Thanks to the French priest, Aymeric Picaud, who walked to Compostela in 1123, the route followed by the pilgrims today is exactly the same as the medieval path taken by Charlemagne, Saint Francis of Assisi, Isabella of Castile, and, most recently, by Pope John XXIII. This is amazingly exiting for me.
Learning out of my port.
We got Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, in France, the 30th of July. Here, where the French path starts, the feeling of starting a challenging journey was in in the air. As for Paulo Coelho, I knew that even if I was not able to find my sword (in his book, The Pilgrimage, he walks the Cammino with his guide, Petrus, looking for his sword), the pilgrimage along the Road to Santiago was going to help me to find myself.
The first part was the most challenging one, going to 1400m and then coming down again, everything in a little bit more than 27 km. We walked through rain, wind and we found barely a couple of spots where to stop. I got to Roncisvalles at 2 pm and Kelly jumped hugging me. She was already there. As for Paulo, I was overwhelmed by emotion, and my eyes filled with tears: there, in the Monastery, the full impact of the fact that I was walking the Strange Road to Santiago finally hit me. We decided to start from the very beginning: there is no point to skip a part just for our eagerness to get to the goal, we said. As Petrus said to Paulo, “You don’t have to climb a mountain to find out whether or not it’s high” — learning is the process that enriches you second by second. A process which have been quite challenging for someone, like me, who wasn’t used to hike for many days in a row. Nevertheless, I know that the ship is safest when it’s in port, but that’s not what ships were built for. The most enriching learning experience we can have is a process to live and we need to go out of our comfort zone to actually experience it. As Prof. Andy Molinsky recently said, “You may stumble, but that’s OK. In fact, it’s the only way you’ll learn, especially if you can appreciate that missteps are an inevitable — and in fact essential — part of the learning process. In the end, even though we might feel powerless in situations outside our comfort zone, we have more power than we think. So, give it a go. Be honest with yourself, make the behavior your own, and take the plunge.”
Making my own path.
I had an extremely interesting conversation during the second day of walking that lighted me up. We were heading to Zubiri, a tiny village along a river, just 25 km ahead. The sky was finally blue and the sun was shining. We just got to Navarra region, one of the richest lands of the whole Spain; here for the first time we got into basque-speaking villages. I had a conversation related to relationships and the important role of mentors, guides and masters. A guy told me: “Learning from others is one of the best things I’ve done. But I had hard time realising that I was not all those people. You are you — Get off the beaten path, and create your own.” It was so obvious but it hit me so strongly.
It reminded me Petrus while climbing a rock with Paulo in The Pilgrimage. He said: “You have your own way of living your life, of dealing with problems, of winning. Teaching is only demonstrating that it is possible. Learning is making it possible for yourself”.
If I rest, I rust.
The forth day, leaving Pamplona to Puente la Reina, we had a really hard time. After spending half a day in the Navarra’s capital city, enjoying tapas and good wine, we got into walking again. We had less than 100 km on our legs and it was 5 am. My mind had been unfocused the previous night as we approached a big city after three days of nature and tiny villages. It was incredibly hard to start again, mentally and physically. I thought to stop several times actually, until when we stop for a break and we met again some pilgrims. The French group of friends we shared diner with a couple of days before, were having hard time without even thinking of giving up: the oldest man of the band had two sticks, it was completely wet and he breathed through the respirator. A German lady was alone, without speaking so much English and craving a Tortilla. A French family was going without too many problems, carrying three little kids. I asked myself if we really could dare to stop. I didn’t think so. That’s probably the most valuable lesson I’ve learned. Train yourself to become a person that can endure difficulties, both physically and mentally, as the two aspects almost always go together.
Giving More Than I Take.
The fifth day we got up early as usual. I dressed up, ate a peach and we left. For the first time I was without my stick: I left it on the way the previous day. We didn’t speak for hours. I met the German mother and daughter having a piece of bread and I finally had a quick chat with someone.
At a certain point I bumped into a guy from Turin who was phoning. He was talking loudly about job. He broke the atmosphere, destroying the overall mood. It reminded me Paulo asking Petrus about the time he was spending walking instead of working; Petrus said: “I am very glad to be here, because the work I did not finish is not important and the work I will be able to do after I get back will be so much better.”.
It reminded me a quote of Jim Carrey I read months ago: “The effect you have on others is the most valuable currency there is.” In every occasion we need to give more than we take and when we realise we are not doing that it means we need a change, a break, a breath. Instead of always focusing on what we want from the world, start thinking about what we have to offer.
Always looking for agape.
The most interesting and challenging seed I got from Paulo Coelho guiding me through the Road is the concept of Agape.
Agape, together with eros and philos, is a form of love I’ve never rationally focused on. Agape is total love. It is the love that consumes the person who experiences it. Martin Luther King once said that when Christ spoke of loving one’s enemies, he was referring to agape. Because according to him, it was impossible to like our enemies; but agape is much more than liking.
It can be experienced directed also at a particular idea or a specific thing. It is ecstasy, enthusiasm. When we love and believe from the bottom of our heart, we feel ourselves to be stronger than anyone in the world, and we feel a serenity that is based on the certainty that nothing can shake our faith. This is the feeling we should look for: the unusual strength which allows us always to make the right decision at the right time. Nothing else is important when you got it: it’s the enthusiasm that carries us toward our goal.