I have been back in San Diego from walking The Camino de Santiago for a week now. It feels like I'm home, and then it doesn't. It seems like I was gone for a very long time, and no time at all. It's as if nothing happened, only I know that a lot happened, both internally and externally. I'm the same, but I'm changed. I miss it, and I'm glad it's finished. I'm all over the map in terms of what I'm feeling.
My feet have recovered for the most part. They're not swollen anymore. I still might lose a toenail, and some skin on my feet and toes is still renewing itself, but my arches are okay and didn't collapse as I thought they might have. I can fit in my regular shoes, which I was afraid might no longer be possible.
The Camino is a universe unto itself. It doesn't matter which route of The Camino one walks. All of them are going to Santiago de Compostela. And, it doesn't matter whether the person walking thinks they're doing it for spiritual, religious or recreational reasons. Whatever one's reason for being on The Camino, it has its way with each of us. It works us and transforms us, even if we're unaware of it doing so.
The Camino is a sacred pilgrimage, a very old one. Hundreds of thousands of people have walked it for over 1,200 years. No matter one's religious background or beliefs, when one walks The Camino, one walks it under the guidance and auspices of St. James, the apostle, and one walks it to the Cathedral which houses his remains in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. One walks it in communion with the energy of St. James and of every soul who's ever ever set foot upon it. Why one walks it is as varied as the people who walk it, but for myself, and for most of those I talked with while walking it, we feel "called" to it. It exerts a pull on us that is impossible to ignore.
I knew about The Camino for a while before walking it and it never called me until this year. It was a sudden and clear awareness for me that walking The Camino was the next step on my journey. I didn't know why in any logical sense, I just knew that Life was calling me to it, and when Life calls me to anything, I show up. Once I made the decision to respond to the call, everything in my life shaped itself around making it possible and getting me there.
I am not an athletic person. I don't go to the gym or have any type of exercise program that I follow. And, The Camino requires one to walk farther than most of us ever think of walking. The route I walked, which is known as the Camino Frances, starts in St. Jean Pied-de-Port in France and goes for about 780 kilometers (approximately 500 miles) to Santiago de Compostela. Nothing prepared me for the difficulty of the walk. Nothing I read prior to walking The Camino--and, I read a lot of books--gave me any real understanding of what would be required of me. I was pushed so far past my comfort zone that I went into shock--both mentally and physically--the first few days. My body was beyond stressed by what I was asking it to do. I was nauseous and had diarrhea for the first three days. I couldn't eat or keep food down. It was extreme. But, the body is an amazing vehicle, and mine rose to the challenge.
I walked too far on most days, even after I adjusted to what I was doing. I had given myself a period of time in which to walk, and thought that I had planned it reasonably, but I was mistaken. I should have given myself more time and walked less every day. But, it was what it was. I understand how far a kilometer is and how long it takes me to walk that far. I know it in my bones. My feet know it. My body found its own walking rhythm. I knew by how I felt how far I'd walked each day. I found out how far my body wanted to walk and how far was too far. I connected to my body in ways that I never had previously. I listened to it. I talked to it. I paid attention to it. I honored it. I thanked it. I apologized to it. I encouraged it. I loved it. I developed a relationship with my body, which is something that's new for me. And, is something for which I'm very grateful.
I walked alone most of the time. I'm comfortable with myself. I like being alone. The Camino winds through an ever beautiful and changing landscape that I never found boring. The beauty was often awe inspiring, even though the path was often difficult and mostly rocky. I mean literally rocky, as in covered with rocks. Walking for hour after hour and day after day over very rocky terrain is torture on the feet. My experience was very multidimensional in that I could be aware of the amazing beauty that surrounded me while at the same time feeling a lot of pain and discomfort from the walking that got me there. I could enjoy what I was doing on one level while feeling exhausted and pushed to my limit on another level. I had days of intense communion with Life and deep awareness, and I had days of just putting one foot in front of the other. I wanted it to go on and on, and I wanted it to be over...all at the same time.
The Camino is life-transforming, in ways both large and small. It is a way of being, a particular perspective. I think The Camino starts walking us as soon as we decide to walk it. And, I think it continues to walk us, even after we've finished walking it. I think walking The Camino is a much deeper and longer commitment than we might realize when we first decide to do it. It is in me now. The Camino is part of me and always will be. I am a pilgrim. I will always be a pilgrim.
Someone said to me that I should be proud of myself for having walked The Camino, that it is a real accomplishment. But, I don't think of it that way. I'm humbled by The Camino. I feel honored to have walked it. I feel blessed by it. I'm in awe of it. I'm deeply grateful for the experience of having walked it. It is one of my life's gifts. There are other pilgrimages, other walks, but there is only one Camino, even though it has many routes. It is unique and special in terms of what it gives and what it takes. It expands and enriches the lives of all who walk it, and lives on in the hearts of each of us who've given ourselves to it. It is an ongoing experience. The walking never really ends, nor would any of us want it to. The walk continues.