How much are you carrying on your back?

Lessons from the Road: A Pilgrim´s Diary

GUIDE TO TRAVELING WITHOUT SPENDING MONEY

In real life, though the theft is not always so obvious.  When we lose something or someone, we first complain and crib because we fail to see the logic of it.  It is easy to ask, “why me?”

Pilgrims on Camino often leave things at pilgrim´s shelter that they cannot carry any longer with them.   The person-in-charge at this shelter where are resting for the night shows me the basket full of clothes, hats, medicines, etc. left by pilgrims perhaps for someone like me who had lost everything right at the start of the track.   Strangely though, I don’t find myself short of anything in particular.  I reluctantly pick a hat.

Next day, we walk a whole day and reach the pilgrim´s shelter at Vega de Valcarce, another beautiful hilly village in the region of Galicia.   I buy a poncho and a pilgrim’s staff but soon I find them also unnecessary. I also buy some essential clothing also. We hit a stretch of steep downhill thereafter.  First blisters show up.

We walk about 20 kms to reach Cebrero.   Here in a souvenir shop, I buy a small backpack and finally, at almost one-third of the size of my original backpack, I am once again a regular pilgrim with all I need for my journey!

Who would believe that when I had left Madrid I was carrying such a heavy backpack with so many things which all seemed so essential to me.   I could not remove any of those things to reduce the weight until the thief robbed me of all my stuff!  All that weight now seems so futile.

Isn´t it true that away from this surreal journey, in “real” life too we end up gathering so much useless stuff along our journey?   Stuff that we don’t really need but all of which, of course, seems essential and indispensable to make our life happier and more comfortable.

Then there is this other kind of burden – the burden of emotional baggage – which is even more difficult to get off our backs and left behind.  Be it the weight of a regret from the past weighing on our conscience or that of a relationship whose expiry date passed long ago and all it does now is poison your present.

In real life though the theft is not always so obvious.  When we lose something or someone, we first complain and crib because we fail to see the logic of it.  It is easy to ask, “why me?” It takes a while though, and sometimes, a lifetime to realize that an apparent loss could eventually prove to be a blessing in disguise.   That perhaps we needed a new backpack and one with only essentials this time.  If we could do that each one of us could walk lighter and reach farther in our journeys.

 

When the hearing turns into listening

Lessons from the Road: A Pilgrim´s Diary

We enter the region of Galicia.  The landscape is changing. We pass through a lush green valley which is abuzz with all kinds of birds chirping and the music from cowbells.      We surprise ourselves – we are walking about 30 kilometers in a day!

We are gradually growing into veteran pilgrims.  We can now guide and offer advice to other pilgrims joining us from other starting points on the trek subsequent to ours.  We can treat blisters like a trained nurse.  We meet great people all along.  Even the usual conversations are interesting.

Just like in our day-to-day life, here on Camino as well, each pilgrim seems to be passing through stages.  First, you are a skeptic then as you realize it’s okay to talk to total strangers sometimes, you gradually end up telling your story.

There are pilgrims who would not even mind interrupting their own journey so that they could walk along with you to share their stories and there are ones you would have to work on for a few miles until they start opening up and are ready to tell their story.

Why would one do that?    Well, that’s what you learn to do on the Camino.  It´s all about being a good storyteller one day and a good listener another.

You can easily tell when you meet someone who has a story to tell.  All they need is a little bit of confidence and faith in you that they would not be judged or misunderstood based on their stories.  They should have the confidence that you would understand that it is not always in our control the way things turn out.  That if they couldn’t keep up a promise, it was not their fault entirely.  That it is just that sometimes life takes a path on its own and all you could do is keep walking.  And it is easy to lose our way because no one bothered to put a yellow sign pointing us in right direction!

That night at the pilgrim´s refuge, I wrote in my diary:

“I feel I am becoming a better listener as I progress on the Camino.  After over 100 kms of walking so far, I realize I have stopped hearing and started listening.   Just as much as hearing has got to do with ears, listening has got to do with the heart.   I learnt to listen with my heart.”

“I learnt that if we listen with compassion, we can not only feel but also share the pain of the person telling the story.  It relieves them of their pain and the next day,  when they see you on Camino they greet you with a grateful smile.  You can just tell by seeing them, they are walking lighter and happier.”

“Apart from listening to other´s stories, on Camino, you also learn to listen to yourself as you get plenty of time to spend alone as well.  A constant soul-searching and an internal dialogue go on intermittently.  You re-live your childhood, review your personal story so far and draw new conclusions.   As if it were the best time to rearrange some stuff, weed out the unnecessary and plant new seeds!”

At the Mountain of Joy, our hearts are filled with sadness

Lessons from the Road: A Pilgrim´s Diary

Tomorrow onwards, our lives will be back to the “real life” and our fellow ‘travelers’ sufferings, their joys and their sorrows would no longer be our business.

On the eleventh day of the trek, we are at Monte del Gozo – Mountain of Joy. We can see the domes of the Cathedral of Santiago from the hilltop.   We are sad because tomorrow the journey is going to be over.

We have been walking towards this goal since last eleven days and when we are just on the cusp of achieving it, it doesn’t really seem to matter a lot.   Turns out the journey has become more important for us than the destination itself.

After settling down at the refuge, I am standing at the hilltop next to this monument for pilgrims.   Standing at this point I am telling my friend Joseph:

“Tomorrow onwards our mornings won’t be filled with the excitement of walking towards a clear and definite target.  A target which becomes our personal goal for the day, and our evenings will no longer be a celebration of having achieved that goal.

We will not be looking after those travelling beside us.  We will  not be tending to the blisters of a complete stranger.  Tomorrow onwards, our lives will be back to the “real life” and our fellow ‘travelers’ sufferings, their joys and their sorrows would no longer be our business.  All we would be expected to do is worry about achieving our own goals – goals which would neither be clear nor there would be any yellow signs pointing us in the right direction.”

Joseph, who had been trying to pay attention to what I was saying despite him feeling equally sad and lost in his own reflections responded, “If this is the description of our lives away from Camino, that’s not a lot to look forward to”.

Yes, it is certainly not a lot to look forward to.  Unless, of course, we go back with the resolve to change all that;  unless we decide to implement in our lives the lessons learnt on the Camino, and unless we change our apathy towards people around us to the compassion, the empathy we have been showing to our fellow pilgrims on the Camino.

How do we achieve that?

Well, tomorrow we are going to walk the last leg of our journey.  I hope we find answers before we end this journey.

 

Not ashamed of my tears

Lessons from the Road: A Pilgrim´s Diary

The last day on the road, as we were walking towards Santiago de Campostella, we were sad.  We were sad not only because our journey was about to come to an end soon but also, in part, because we expected a better welcome in the city towards which we had been walking for all this while.  The locals didn’t seem really excited to see pilgrims making towards their final goal.

Quite contrary to the smaller villages along the Camino, where locals would cheer pilgrims and receive them with open arms, in Santiago, it seemed as if they couldn’t care less that you made it so far!   Here, you were just another pilgrim among those thousands visiting the city everyday.   A fellow pilgrim, who was equally hurt by the cold reception by locals in Santiago, found refuge in her own interpretation of their such behaviour.   According to her, “places like Santiago are visited by millions of people every year and each one of these pilgrims takes with him some of the positive energy from the place, leaving the people living around those places with little positive energy!”   I am not sure if there was any truth in that explanation but I personally always believed that a pilgrim, in fact, brings more positive energy to the shrine s/he is visiting.   It is indeed the power of this faith in a pilgrimage that contributes to the divinity of a shrine.  Having said that, I could not deny feeling unwelcome in the city. Continue reading →