Time – 7 a.m. Location – St. Jean Pied-de-Port, French side of Pyrenees Mountains.
Sweat trickles down my forehead as I turn the corner only to be faced with yet another staggering incline. I tighten the straps on my backpack and take another ascend further up the mountainside. I’ve only been walking for an hour, a little less than 4km. That means I have more than 765km to go. After this realization, I decide it’s better not to pay attention to the distance.
Right here, right now, I remind myself.
And right here is so extremely beautiful that it takes my breath away. The views are absolutely stunning. To my right I see dozens of shades of green mountain peaks, some hidden by the morning fog, and to my left the morning sun ignites the trees with a soft, amber glow. There are flocks of sheep casually grazing along the rolling hills.
As beautiful as the views are, my muscles are doing their best to win over my attention. Each inclining step causes me to grip onto my walking stick with a grimace. But then I think about the millions of pilgrims who have walked this fascinating pilgrimage before me, and that makes me feel very connected to a journey that is much, much bigger than me.
El Camino de Santiago, or the Way of St. James, started as early as the 9th century as a pilgrimage to the remains of Saint James (Santiago) in northwestern Spain. In Medieval times, the pilgrims’ journeys began as they stepped out of their doorsteps, whether it was Germany, Switzerland, Northern France, or throughout Spain. A million pilgrims annually would trek across the Pyrenees and through northern Spain, often times falling short of their end goal due to illnesses and injuries. The Medieval pilgrims walked the Camino for closeness to God or a pardon from their sins. Pilgrims today have varying reasons why they decided to walk the Camino: desire for a major life change, mourning the death of a loved one, to discover their purpose, to understand themselves better, to challenge themselves…the list goes on.
But what exactly is a pilgrimage?
In it’s most basic definition, a pilgrimage is a meaningful journey to a sacred place, but it’s so also much more than that. Millions of people travel to different corners of the world searching for some kind of wisdom or a closeness to their God. Regardless of religion, though, a pilgrimage can be a profound spiritual journey for the pilgrim. Every effort and struggle faced to reach the outer destination can be seen as metaphor for the inner journey – full of heartache, sacrifice and a deep and mysterious desire to continue onward, despite the incredibly demanding physical and psychological circumstances.
Personally, I walked the Camino for many reasons. The main one being discovery. I would say self discovery, but that wouldn’t cover it. I wanted to learn about my purpose and more importantly, our purpose. We go through our lives, working, building relationships, invested in our life’s drama, and generally living in a state of constant busy-ness. I wanted to find out what happens when you slow down, stop rushing and start listening to what the world has to say.
I learned this and so much more on the ancient pilgrimage to Santiago.
And I’ll close with a video of my reaction every time I saw cattle grazing along the Camino because the extreme fatigue completely destroyed my level of maturity, obviously. Check out the gorgeous views! Have you ever walked the Camino? Or are you interested in walking it? Contact me on Facebook. I’d love to hear what you have to say!