Walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain episode #4
Here I have to begin to look at the conflict/scratchy parts of myself to understand my Camino…
Packed in with my 500 fellow pilgrims in Pamplona’s great seminary sharing a handful of showers and toilets made things a once intimate and strangely lonely. I encountered the one and only other American I had met do far, a young man who was oddly guarded and competitive, as if meeting me another American, made his journey less unique. No warmth there! Being unique is not really part of the pilgrim’s path I think, more likely the opposite. A feeling of ordinariness and humility was washing over me.
What was this shadow side of me – the “wherever you go, there you are” aspect of myself that was coming up? Did I have to not fit in again, always on the wrong rhythm from the culture around me? Speaking too fast on another wave length has always been a challenge in a mono-speed language like English. Spanish seemed to go faster – I like that! But the whole thing: people all walking too fast across the country, rushing it seems, vaguely completive, driven… I was going to have to step off the conveyor belt. So what you might say, but then I would lose all the familiar faces and start over, as if finding a new village or a new life. Some people walked to together, perhaps with a few companions, but now so many of us walk alone in faceless newness at each turn.
I was going to follow the advice of the man who walked me over the Pyrenees “Take care of yourself or you won’t make it to the end, walk at your rhythm, don’t follow the crowd”. I needed time and I needed rain pants! Little did I know that the stores in this part of Spain close at noon on Saturday and reopen around 5 pm on Monday? Pilgrims are only welcome one night in the Alberges so I would need to use my credit card and find a small hotel. There I found a different group of pilgrims walking in a bit more luxury. I would afford to join them again, but two nights was decidedly fun. Extra time in Pamplona also meant getting to know why Hemingway was in love with this city.
How many times on the path would people ask me how fast I walked, how many days it took… I would mention my time in Pamplona and nearly everyone looked at me with mild embarrassment as if I was confessing to playing hooky from school. Only one woman said”Oh I wish I had too”. My mind content with walking at my own rhythm was repeatedly impacted by some comment in perhaps the one conversation a day with someone asking for a competitive measure of their own worth mirrored in my perceived adequacy or inadequacy. Enough to make the mind rebel! Much the way I feel constantly floored by so many competitive cultural norms of the west. Luckily I had lived in cultures where competition was not the ground of most conversations…but here I was trying to deal with my European heritage. Was I going to be beating up on myself and my cultural context all the way along this path?
Walking out of Pamplona on a Tuesday early in the morning was a revelation. I was walking out of the city surrounded by all new faces in the vast river of pilgrims. How much more wonderful to have my feet and heart know that the city ends, the land never. Rain pants happily added to my bag I was elated to be healing some part of my dislike of cities, gleefully looking back repeatedly over my shoulder as the city faded into the distance. Up over the mountains covered with windmills, engaging at very turn some kind of wordless willpower to carry on.