Recently, I was interviewed on local radio about walking the pilgrimage route in Northern Spain. St. James’ Way, we call it in English, or El Camino de Santiago de Compostela in Spanish; often referred to for short as El Camino or The Way. I hope I remembered to mention the privilege of stepping outside daily life with nothing to think of under the wide arching sky and beautiful Spanish countryside except myself, my bag and possibly my blisters.
Those who have walked the ancient pilgrim paths to Santiago recognise its life-enhancing effects. Due in part to the benefits of solitary, soulful walking in beautiful surroundings, with good food and companionship but also, it could be said, after the passage of so many feet the last thousand years or so of its existence, to the benign spirit of the Camino itself.
Life is often referred to as a journey, a metaphor for the A to B process of cradle to grave; really it’s a series of journeys. Episodes of Strictly Come Dancing never fail to mention the ‘Strictly Journey’. The contestants’ lives are enriched by their experiences and they feel they have travelled.
Our language is rich in allusions to walking life’s journey. Think: – best foot forward, one foot in front of the other, sidestepping, keeping pace, walking your own pace, choosing the right path, the longest journey starts with the smallest step, keep on to the end of the road. It’s almost as if walking and life’s journey belong together but we forget to slow the pace, sometimes.
An Australian pilgrim friend, Sanjiva Wijesinha, a doctor and ex-soldier, recently wrote a paper that proposed walking the Camino as a way back for soldiers suffering mental stress after a tour of duty. His symposium won the prestigious Weary Dunlop Award.