I cannot convey to you the myriad of shifting thoughts and feelings that I have experienced while walking so many hundreds of miles on the Camino. They have invariably reflected my past and my immediate state of being – often good, but sometimes not so good. Suffice to say, they have ranged from trivial and self-pitying to illuminating and joyous. But they are of no great import in the grand scheme of things and now I cannot even recall in detail what they were.
I have no obvious religious motivation for pilgrimage but when I embark I have an expectation that it will be right for me and somehow transforming. You. with your particular world-view, may express it differently but will no doubt experience something similar as conditions change, the sun shines, the rain falls, the hills become steeper, the body grows weary, and hunger ebbs and flows.
When I walk the Camino I cast off the excesses of contemporary life. I carry my possessions on my back. Nothing is superfluous. Nothing is a luxury. The transitory irritations and clutter of life in the 21st century melt away as I become atuned to the simple, timeless rhythms of the Camino. I share in and contribute to the spirit of the Camino with all those unknown predecessors who have walked this way for a thousand years, through a common aim to progress to Compostela and through the unfolding experience of the trail beneath my feet and the world around me.
In an age that, not unreasonably, focuses so much on diversity, it seems to me that walking on the Camino by contrast, reveals a common core of human experience that transcends religion and nationality and all those barriers that surround us. The Camino leaves me with an awareness of communion – a sharing of experience that links me to humanity past and present. I find this remarkably uplifting. No man is an island and especially not on the Camino. In my simplicity I rely on many others – fellow pilgrims, those who willingly provide me with food and shelter, those who have created and maintain the route, those who assist when I run into difficulties and those who simply wish me “Buen Camino.”
And after the journey’s end? For me it has not been the arrival at the destination that has been important – that may be something of an anti-climax – it is the journey itself. I am left with the sense that I have shared in an uplifting world however briefly, that still remains accessible in parallel with the world of my everyday life. This sense is not unique to the Camino of course. After all, what is the Camino? Is it that well trodden path from St Jean to Compostela, one of those other lesser ways that leads in the same direction, or any route we follow towards a special destination?
Every person chooses their own route or no route at all. I can only say I chose the Camino and that it has left a legacy that provides me with the motivation to write this letter to you.