Thursday, June 17, 2010

Intensity of the Camino experience

It is three weeks since my arrival in Santiago de Compostela and I am still finding moments when I look back at my experience of El Camino with moments of great disbelief. Even at the time, I felt that aspects of the journey were surreal. It seems like such a contrast with my present reality and the sensory overload of living in a major metropolis, such as Toronto. Why is that? Trying to make sense of it will probably be an on going process for some time to come.

When I was walking the Camino Frances, the walk was the central activity. That was all that I had to do. From this perspective there existed no Toronto and no outside world. Even better, there was no news, good or bad, unless one happened to glance at a television monitor in a restaurant. So the 'world' had become smaller and more intimate. There was the walk, there was nature, human interaction with whoever you might encounter on the path and there was mealtimes. These experiences took on a greater intensity. One could emotionally be moved by a story in someone's life that in the 'normal' world would have no impact.

Mealtimes would take on a greater importance. This was partly due to the appetite that one would build up after a long day's walk. However, there was the added importance of breaking bread with fellow story tellers. Can I believe that the white wine that I downed with such relish along with three plates of boiled octopus, seasoned with cayenne, sea salt and olive oil was the most delicious culinary experience in my life? It was certainly good, but in the context of the Camino it was excellent.

For me an encounter with a group of school children in Ponferrada took on greater emotional charge. With their natural curiosity for all things, they explored the cathedral, tried desperately hard to behave within the parameters laid down by their teachers, and were fascinated by their meeting with this strange, possibly mad, pilgrim on an eight hundred kilometer walk. Would I have been equally affected by an encounter of a group of school kids visiting a significant monument in my own own home town?

I believe others were affected equally deeply by their experiences of the Camino. In the same city of Ponferrada, I met a pilgrim to whom I described my experiences at the Cruz de Ferro. He was visibly moved by my description of this visit.

El Camino works in a special way to sensitize us in a world that lacks sensitivity and connection.

Saturday, June 12, 2010


Thinking back over the last four months ever since I committed to walking the Camino, I am astounded by my resolve, which flew in the face of what in retrospect might seem reasonable.

Two days after buying my transatlantic air ticket, I started having bad left knee pain. The cause is unknown. Perhaps it was a repetitive strain injury from practicing seventeen years of shiatsu therapy on a mat. I was more inclined to think that this ailment was sent to test me. Walking was painful and, after one disastrous trial 15 kilometer walk along Toronto's lake front, not something which I wished to repeat. My back and other leg went into protective spasm. I was advised that for now I should limit physical activity to strengthening my quads and developing cardio vascular capability.

Friends advised me to postpone my walk for a year or, at least, to wait until I had some degree of comfort and could walk without a pronounced limp. By the time I reached London, just six days prior to the start of my camino, I could still barely walk for more than a mile without pronounced discomfort. My brother suggested that for my first day I, at least, choose an alternative to the more arduous Napoleonic route over the Pyrenees.

During all this time, never did I doubt my ability to undertake this journey. Never did I consider a more gentle route over the first mountain range. This was to be my camino and I would succeed.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

What happened on the Camino?

Now comes the hard part: making sense of El Camino. That may take a lifetime. I suspect it may take a lifetime because it is actually quite simple. What may be a better exercise for me is to examine my own reactions to what happened on my journey. After all the camino is a personal voyage of discovery.

It is twelve days since my arrival in Santiago de Compostela. So much has happened since that time. I spent two days in that city, flew to London for four days before returning to Canada. I have been exposed once more to the stresses and strains of "normal" daily life, along with murder and mayhem, an oil spill of disastrously spectacular proportions, a pending G20 summit in my home town that threatens to bring the City to a standstill, and Justin Bieber is still the heartthrob for countless young teenage girls.

Enroute to the airport on my way for the two hour flight to London, I passed other pilgrims making their entry into the City. Is there a look of joy or achievement as they wend their way towards the cathedral? Actually, they take on more the demeanor of automated Fritz Lang characters as in the movie Metropolis. They have a job to do, and that is walk. At this point there is no awkward news to detract from their path. Emotion will come later. Life lacks complication. At the same time, what we describe in the "real world" as ordinary takes on a almost surreal intensity.

More on this later,