What I Found On The Camino And Beyond
Did I find myself, or was I already there?
When I set off on the Camino de Santiago, it was because I was trying to find my new way. It’s now over two months since I got back — longer than I was walking for — so what did I find when I was there?
I didn’t head out to Spain expecting to magically find all the answers to everything that was troubling me before I left. Sure, I wouldn’t have objected if I encountered a weatherbeaten old traveller waiting by the roadside or at a crossroads with a series of tales and anecdotes that helped me come to a deeper understanding of myself before striding off into the distance. Sadly for me, and anyone hoping for the latest self-help literary sensation, that didn’t happen.
There’s a temptation around the Camino that I tried hard to resist. It’s not the Devil offering short cuts and foot massages, but a way of seeing it as both physically and mentally separate from our lives before and after it. This is quite a modern way of seeing it, because it used to be that a pilgrimage was something that started at your front door and ended at your destination, whether that be Santiago, Canterbury, Rome, Jerusalem, Mecca or wherever else you had the urge to travel to in search of meaning. There would be points on the way where your journey converged with others, but the process of leaving and returning to your life was a gradual one, not a sudden transition.
I didn’t walk all the way from my doorstep, but I consciously chose to not fly there and back. The train journey down to Saint-Jean and the train, bus and ferry journey back to England from Galicia were my way of rooting the Camino within that greater landscape, something I’d travelled through to get there, not flown over. It was important to me to feel all of it as real places I was walking through, pat of a modern nation and enmeshed in the world, not a magical trail through a land separate from the mundane.
I was careful in describing and thinking over my aims for the journey when I left…