Begin again

When you slow down you see more, hear more, feel more, remember more

I’d planned a loose itinerary before leaving home on the Chemin du Puy. After the first few days of short distances I had decided I would be able to walk up to 25km in a day. Little did I know how many and how steep the hills would be. The rain and mud on some days made the going slower. Before Les Gentianes a series of cockie’s gates further slowed me. I’m not sure what the French call wire gates looped to posts but Australian stockowners are called cockies and cockies’ gates are usually improvised and temporary, and require a problem-solving attitude to open. Some stumped me and I climbed through the adjoining fences.
When I woke, my room-mate Denise and I discussed our walking strategies in broken French. Her maximum walk was 15 km per day. Her priorities were to enjoy the landscape and the food, and to refresh herself after a very bad year. As she went along she was learning to appreciate each day as it played out. For her tomorrow was too far away and yesterday held too many painful memories. Because today was so important she conserved her energy so that she could take delight in every step.
As Denise and I slipped and slid down the hill to the farmhouse for dinner, I reflected on the wisdom of her slow way. Time is elastic on pilgrimage. Distances irrelevant. When you slow down you see more, hear more, feel more, remember more. I needed to slow down to feel how I am now, who I am now and how I want to live my life.
I recalibrated and remembered that a pilgrimage, whether a day long or a month long, always brings something surprising: a renewed connection with field and forest, bird and tree; an insight or new perspective on a problem, person or place; a way forward; a creative idea; a fresh commitment to a relationship or path of life; at the least a shedding of personas and a stripping back of things. Something unexpected is always delivered. At our table in front of the fire I determined to revise the distances I walked each day and to give myself time to recover.
Friends Cam and Angela were already in the dining room when we arrived. The farmer’s wife served us aligot, a delicious dish of mashed potato beaten with butter, garlic and a smorgasbord of cheeses, typical of the region. The aligot stretched out in long elastic strings from the plate to our forks and mouths. The four of us were soon in stitches of laughter. It was more difficult to eat than spaghetti. Together with my attempts to translate Denise’s French to English for the Koreans and to understand their limited English, the hilarity escalated.
During the meal it began to snow. Beyond the warm room and the white curtained windows the barn and fields caught layer upon layer of snowflakes. As Denise and I trudged through them back up to the gite my body reminded me that I was drowning in fatigue and cold. As I subsided onto my bed wrapped in my sleeping bag and all the spare blankets I could find, I wondered how I would ever go on.
After 10 hours sleep I had a new body. Keen to get going I ate breakfast with the Koreans and set out through the silent white landscape. Overnight miracles like this happen frequently, and not just on the Camino. I go from thinking I have reached my limits or have failed at something, to remembering that I can always begin again. Every morning is a new beginning. I am a perpetual beginner, always ready to learn, to pick myself up, to rest, to allow things to settle and set myself to beginning again.

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