I wanted to share with you these article from Ottawacitizen about some Camino literature.
Eight hundred kilometers is a long way to travel by foot. Most people need a pretty powerful reason to begin the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, a six-to-eight week trek over the Pyrenees Mountains and across the north of Spain. The path follows the route of St. James, according to Catholic tradition, and ends at the church where the saint’s relics are believed to be interred. For the faithful, the journey is a pilgrimage, a penance, or promise to God fulfilled.
Author (and award-winning Citizen senior writer) Robert Sibley admits he’s not quite sure why he put his feet to this formidable task. He’s stumped for a minute when filling out a form near the start of trail that requires checking a box for a motive: Religious? Spiritual? Tourist? He doesn’t like to think of himself as a tourist, but he’s not a believer either … so what is he?
It’s this quandary that makes Sibley into a modern Everyman. He’s not searching for God. That deity feels as medieval to him as the historical path he is about to tread. And yet there is something about a pilgrimage that draws him.
Sibley quotes a Zen sage: “Just walk,” and thinks this might be the way for him to make the journey meaningful. Yet very soon he finds the walking difficult. His feet blister and bleed as he attempts to cover 20-25 kilometres each day. He has to confront the possibility that he might have to quit. For me it was his vulnerability as a middle-age male facing his waning physical powers that made me want to stick with him on the road.
His feet finally heal, but his legs continue to ache when he walks and cramp when he stops. Days blend together and the scenery, so sharply described at first, now starts to blur. We get quick sketches of others he walks with for an hour or a day: Henrick the Dane and Andrea the Brazilian Bombshell, but we don’t really know them. Similarly, Sibley does his duty by the trail’s long history, describing important landmarks and event, including a fascinating discourse on how the Camino trail helped to unite medieval Europe. But these passages are not the heart of the book.
To me, the story comes alive when, after weeks of walking, everything else in his life seems to drop away. Sibley has flashes of complete, blissful presence, which he describes with poetic clarity. For example, in one of the funniest scenes in the book, Sibley tires to rescue a lizard that is drowning in a fountain. Attempting to scoop it up with his hat, he slips and lands on his butt in the murky water. He perseveres in his good deed, and as the lizard scuttles off and he’s sitting panting and dripping on the grass, Sibley drops into a state a Buddhist would recognize as satori – a moment of pure enlightened bliss.
Another such moment comes at about the halfway mark on the trail, when suddenly his legs stop hurting. He can’t believe it at first. The pain has simply ended.
“Ah, you’ve learned how to walk,” Henrick the Dane tells him.
And that is perhaps the greatest insight of the journey: Not a revelation of the divine, just moments of extraordinary beauty, and discovering how to walk the path without much pain.
See original article at Ottawacitizen website