The Way of St James: a metaphor of life
El Camino… That is the Spanish expression to refer to this pilgrimage route starting right before the Pyrenees in the French-Spanish border, and covering a distance of approximately 940 km to end up in Finisterre, considered in the Middle Ages to be the end of the earth (from the Latin: Finis= end; Terre= earth)
El Camino… Full of magical stories and… not so magical ones. As one of the three major Catholic pilgrimages (the other ones being Rome and Jerusalem), el Camino was used as a means of punishment for those accused of sorcery during the Middle Ages (those who were lucky enough to escape the burning stake, that’s it) It is still uncertain whether walking it was a better solution as the pilgrims had the face all sorts of difficulties to get it done and many of them perished.
Far away from those times, it still retains the magic and the spiritual component. People from all over the world walk el Camino every year, making it The True United Nations. Every pilgrim has a passport that gets stamped every day they are walking and that, “upon checking out”, will grant them the Compostela, which is a certificate given to those brave enough to have achieved such an enterprise. We don’t need to dream about a common passport, there is already a place in the world where we all carry the same passport, regardless where we are coming from.
El Camino originated on the belief that the bones of the Apostle St James were buried in the place where the Santiago de Compostela cathedral stands. Is it true? We don’t know it. What is known is that no one who walks it stays indifferent.
El Camino teaches the pilgrim many lessons, life changing lessons.
It is open all year around and to all ages. There are no boundaries to it, you can walk as much or as little as you wish. It doesn’t require much to walk it either: a backpack, comfortable boots and cotton clothes preferred. Just follow the yellow arrows or the shells (the shells were carried by those pilgrims making the way back as a proof that they had managed to get to Finisterre, and stayed as a symbol for pilgrims), and you will eventually get there.
However, the pilgrim starts to learn since the very first day they set their feet on the road:
How much are you carrying in your backpack?
Remember that you have to carry it on your back during many, many kilometres. Don’t carry so much that it makes it impossible to walk. Don’t carry so little that you won’t have enough. What is the middle point? It is up to the pilgrim to decide.
How much do I truly need to live?
I am talking about basic needs here. The pilgrim rises with the sun, eats, walks, eats, walks, eats and rest. Life gets reduced to the minimum and this doesn’t devaluate the experience, it actually enhances it.
How comfortable are your boots?
Blisters are a very common occurrence among pilgrims. Your boots should always be comfortable enough to carry your feet for as long as you wish.
How many kilometres can you walk a day?
Have you ever thought about your boundaries? Are you pushing yourself too far? What about slowing down and enjoying the way?
Which kind of terrain I am walking on?
As in life, being aware of our surroundings is a very important part of the journey. Different terrains require different ways of walking and being able to adapt to them is part of the success.
What is my rhythm?
Many people are met during the pilgrimage. We walk along them for a while and comes a point, when they are going faster than us, or we are going faster than them. Can we force our rhythm on someone? We learn to detach, we learn to let go and be at peace with it.
If you have the chance to live this experience, don’t let it pass. You will never regret it.
Before you go, let me finish with these verses of the great late poet Antonio Machado:
Wanderer, your footsteps are the road, and nothing more;
Wanderer, there is no road, the road is made by walking.
By walking one makes the road,
and upon glancing behind one sees the path that never will be trod again.
Wanderer, there is no road —
Only wakes upon the sea.
You can visit me on www.shizencoaching.com
Lots of love and strength,