Walking as a Spiritual Experience

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     A dream, one which I have had since I saw a news article in 1989 about John Paul II visiting the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, is to walk the Camino de Santiago – The Way of St. James.  The Camino, for those not familiar with it, is actually a series of pilgrimage routes originating in different parts of Europe, all of them ending at the site – the Cathedral of Santiago – where legend has it the bones of St. James are buried. Although I first learned of the Camino in my undergraduate Spanish history and literature classes, until 1989 I did not realize that it was still a viable route and that thousands of people, pilgrims and otherwise, continue to walk it each year. For some, the Way is a long hike that tests their trekking skills. For others, it is an adventure and a chance to see and learn about the cities and small towns along the way. For many, religious or otherwise, walking the Camino is a time for spiritual reflection and renewal. Add to those reasons the opportunity to meet, walk, and converse with people from all over the world, and the Camino offers much to each individual who chooses to endure the hardships and reap its gifts.
In recent years, I have talked with some who have walked the Camino or intend to walk it. My curiosity piqued, I have read books and blogs, studied websites, and imagined what it would be like to walk the most popular of the routes, the Camino Francés, which stretches for close to 500 miles across northern Spain. I find that my interest in all things Camino grows during the spring and summer when I have the opportunity to spend time walking outdoors. It is a pleasure to spend early mornings outdoors walking along our long country road and around the streets of neighborhoods that branch off the road. However, I do not know if it will ever be possible to “do the Camino” in my own elderhood.
A swimmer for most of my life, I feel most at ease and most myself in the water. When I swim laps, I launch a stroke, stroke, stroke, breathe pattern that easily repeats itself. I find it easy, once the pattern is established, to slip into a semi-meditative state. Many of my writing sessions begin in the pool, as I pick up where I left off on a piece, solve the problems that may be preventing me from continuing on in a smooth flow, and compose the next parts in my mind as I stroke, stroke, stroke, breathe.
Walking is more difficult for me, especially as I age and aches and summer heat make it more difficult to enjoy the activity. When I walk, I find that on good days my feet create a rhythm that can easily lull me into a reflective state similar to swimming. In fact, I have experienced moments of awe and awareness of the mystery on past walks. I shared earlier in this blog of times that I was awed with a feeling of the oneness and spirit of universal love during a walk along a different country road. I read recently that others as well have experienced similar, transcendent moments.
Lately, in the step, step, step, of my walking cadence, I engage in a practice of imaginative contemplation that centers on the Camino. There are times that I look over the golden field of winter wheat beside the road and try to transport my mind to a wheat field on the Castilian Meseta. Or climbing a hill in the southern heat that leaves me glistening, I see myself climbing one of the taxing altos along the Way. When I walk through the green-soaked glade at the bottom of a hill, I bring to remembrance pictures of the Camino and the woods of Galicia. No, I am not really doing the Camino. However, I find that through my imaginings I am able to bring to mind those pilgrims who are currently trekking across Spain and perhaps I can, through my thoughts, send them a small amount of energy for the next hill or mountain.
Turning to gifted elders, it is so important that they have the freedom and strength to continue walking as long as possible. I remember my mother-in-law, who had lost so many of her abilities due to Alzheimer’s disease.  Still with the use of a special walking device that protected her from falling, allowed her to hold onto the sides and to sit when fatigued, she walked the halls of the residence from morning to night. As I am with swimming, it is in walking that so many of our elders are most content.

In my next blog, I will share with you some understanding of goal-setting behavior that has grown out of my musings. ¡Buen Camino!

Reference:

Caminoist: Pilgrim Adventures of Sandy Brown. Sprituality – https://caminoist.org/spirituality-of-the-camino/

Photo – Camino de Santiago en Burgos.  by aherrero on Flickr.com (CC BY 2.0).

Photo – Paisaje del Camino de Santigo by compostelavirtual.com on Flickr.com  (CC BY 2.0).

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