Pilgrims

With my Korean pilgrim friends on the Via Podiensis

Unlike mere travel, a pilgrimage is a journey into the landscape of the soul

On the Camino I met pilgrims from all over the world, walking for as many reasons as there are pilgrims. The adventurers walk to prove to themselves and others that they are physically and mentally strong enough to walk many hundreds of kilometres. The tourists carry fancy cameras around their necks and comprehensive guides. They are interested in the history, geography, or landmarks of the land they are walking through.

Perhaps the majority of pilgrims are seekers, looking for meaning, connection to others and creation, or a way forward in their lives. “Unlike mere travel, a pilgrimage is a journey into the landscape of the soul,” Vivienne Hull writes. I am this kind of pilgrim. There is time and space to journey inward as well as onward to the physical destination. Always on pilgrimage I reset my life compass, remember what I value, and deepen my connection with Spirit, God, and Nature.

Pilgrims seek meaning in the daily rhythm of waking, walking, and engaging with others. Communal meals offer opportunities to learn about others’ journeys and articulate our own. Difficulties in communication with hosts, shop keepers and other pilgrims teach us about ourselves and our expectations. The simplest request requires profound patience and humility when few words exist in common between a pilgrim and the provider of an urgently needed item or service.

My Korean friends in the picture above spoke no French. She only spoke Korean. His English was serviceable. My French was so-so. At the dinner table and in the gites I translated from French to English for him and he enlightened his wife in Korean. Somehow, with patience and a lot of laughs, we got by.

Silence wins through

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We are forever writing our inner commentaries on everything, commentaries that always reach the same practiced conclusions

In the beginning of a Camino silence only breaks through in patches. Although the forests and fields are free of human noise my own thoughts and worries crowd in. Most of my thinking in the early stages is repetitive and circling back on itself. Richard Rohr captures this bind when he writes that “we are forever writing our inner commentaries on everything, commentaries that always reach the same practiced conclusions.”

The steep ascents and descents focus my mind on my feet and legs, and on the rock strewn, muddy path. Birds call me out of blindness to my surroundings whenever I threw myself down on my pack to rest. Exhaustion shatters my rationality. Silence wins through in the end. The long daily walks work like meditation for me, quieting my mind and allowing me to spiral down into silence and inner stillness.


[1] Rohr, Richard, “Just this: Prompts and Practices for Contemplation” Centre for Action and Contemplation, Albuquerque, new Mexico, 2018

Going on pilgrimage

My sister Deb and I on the Camino Sanabres

Going on pilgrimage is a journey of trust, discovery, and frequently, serendipity. “The Camino provides” is an oft-quoted adage. The difficulties of the road teach pilgrims to trust. Experienced pilgrims trust that accommodation will be found, that opportunities for meeting just the right person will arise, that fatigue or blisters will be an excuse for experiences more interesting and satisfying than reaching the destination set that morning. They are open internally as well as externally to whatever arises and know that whatever happens is what was needed and right in that moment. They are open to mystery and alert for the gifts that each day brings.
When I return home from pilgrimage I bring a feeling of deep peace. The anxiety and staleness that I left home with has been quelled by weeks of solitude and the daily rhythm of walking. I feel centred and alive, and I am more engaged with the people I meet each day at work and at home. A sense of trust that all will be well sustains me. I more readily see the sacred in people and places, and am alert to moments of delight and connection.

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