Ad hoc reflections

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October 29th 2012
Published: January 24th 2013
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Given by the Pilgrims' office
I have been home now for a couple of weeks. It is great to be back home.

A number of people have asked me what I got out of my Camino and if it was what I had hoped for or anticipated.

Very difficult questions to answer. First of all, I am not certain that I knew what to expect or what answers to get. My Camino marked a milestone between two parts of my life: i.e. my professional life and my life thereafter, that is just to begin. I did not have fixed formulated questions in my mind before I set out on my walk, as far as there were questions, they probably came to mind and were refined during the many hours that I walked on my own. Did I get answers, I do not know. I would guess probably yes, at least parcially, because I had a very long time to think about them.

I felt it great to let my mind wander through different stages of my life. No chonological order in the events, just things that have happened to me. I thought of my parents a lot. Thought about all those experiences that I have not been able to share with them. Thought about how they would have reacted to them. I hope I would have made them proud.

Many small and bigger events passed through my mind. In Dutch you would say "losse flodders" (loose ends). The interesting thing was that a number of these thought were recurrent over the weeks and everytime they would lead me to other thoughts and memories. Separately, I will try to write some of these thoughts down.

I have heard and read the expression that "the Camino changes you". Did it change me? I may have changed, not in a big way though. I fmay have changed on a spiritual level. I feel more peaceful and at ease with my retirement from active life.

The, what I call, "mindless walking" permits you to let your mind wander; go back and forth, stop in the middle and go in whatever direction it takes thereafter. Roamimg is probably the best word to use to express my state of mind during the walk. Many things on the Camino, either people you meet or see triggered memories and stories. I think that these are the things I enjoyed most. This together with meeting people of a similar mindset and the sharing of experiences of the Camino as well as experiences in life.

I would greatly recommend everybody to make the same journey. Do not see it solely as a physical excercise, but an experience to take your mind of daily things and think about what is really important. You do not have to walk the French Camino (or any other Camino - there are many) from A to Z. As many other people, you can do from a minimum walk of 115 km to whatever number of kms you want in whatever timeframe.

A question to answer before you leave for your walk is what the real purpose of your Camino is. When I started out in St Jean, at the pilgrims office I was asked that question. The (multiple choice) possible answers were: religious, spiritual, physical excercise and other. I am sure these are not the only answers, although "Other" obviously covers anything else. The phrase by Pope John Paul II contained in the pilgrims' passport may have some further guidance in this respect: "I launch you after Saint Jacques, old Europa, a cry full of love, find yourself, be yourself, discover your origin, revive your roots, saw her in those authentic values ​​which made your history glorious and the presence in the other continents beneficial. Rebuild your spiritual unity in a climate of total respect for other religions and true freedom."

If you have life changing questions, as many have that go on the journey, the Camino is a great venue to try to get to answers, nevertheless, do not think that the Camino itself or the people you meet will provide you the solutions or the answers that you are looking for. It is not a miracle way. By meditating about the issues and rethinking them over and over again you come to understand the question and evaluate all possible soluctions and answers. My experience has been that overthinking issues is not the solution. Thinking about them today a bit, dropping them and retaking the thoughts tomorrow or the days thereafter will give you the opportunity to focus on them without pressure and see your issues from from all possible angles. If it does not give you an outright answer, you at least have meditated all possible alternatives.

The Camino gives you time to meditate and think and not just the 6 to 8 hours walking daily. The hours after the walk are useful to abstract you from issues that may be bothering you. Sharing a beer and laughter with other people thoughts are a great remedy to put things in the right perspective.

The great thing about the Camino is that you meet people that you most likely would not have encountered in other instances of your life. Social status, education, race, nationality is of little or no relevance. What matters is the fact that you all are sharing the same experience and you are able to draw benefits from all encounters and conversations.

I have abstained from seeking longer term relations with the people I have met on the Camino. With one exception, I have not exchanged e-mail addresses with anybody. This may sound strange, but my sentiment is that the only one real thing you have in common with your co-pilgrims is the Camino. Again with one exception, nobody has asked me my e-mail address either, so sentiments must be similar. The fact that we all live in different places of the world obviously has something to do with this feeling as well.

Something to think about: my guess is that more than 70%!o(MISSING)f all people you see on the Camino are and walk alone, hooking up with others freely and frequently. I felt that being alone permitted me to develop my train of thoughts without any interference from third parties. I had to deal with myself in all aspects and with nobody else, unless I wanted to. My only "obligation" was getting up in the morning and cover the distance that I had proposed for myself. No defined agenda nor obligations.

What I have left of the Camino are my photos, my experiences, my pilgrim's passport, my shell, my "Compostela" diploma, and some other memorabilia. Attached some photos of these items. What I value most of all is the passport. Each stamp of an albergue, "casa rural", hostal or hotel brings back memories of places, people and experiences. I will value the passport for a long time as THE memory of my adventure.

A final note: during the initial days of my Camino, I met people that would go kilometers out of the charted route do visit a church, monastery or any other sight. I have abstained from doing so and feel that the great majority of my co-pilgrims have done the same. After the initial days, I stopped hearing the discussion of leaving the charted trail entirely. We all became people walking from A to B and nothing else. My expression on this topic to others on the Camino has been, for tourism I come back another year, but by car. A great opportunity to show Margarita the Camino and revive some of the experiences and visit places a passed through with me.


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