Six months ago, I flew home from Madrid to San Francisco after finishing the second half of my Camino. It feels like time to share some of my thoughts about what I learned from walking the Camino.
Lesson #1: “I live in a Body.”
On the Camino you walk places. And keep walking to the next place, and the next. I covered about 10-15 miles a day at about 3 miles per hour.
During my years as a commuter, I covered 70 miles a day, often in bumper to bumper traffic, or at 70 mph., but my body was sitting in a padded driver’s seat. Walking the Camino made me see how much I drove and how bad it was for my body.
During my first Camino in June my body struggled to move from being a commuter into being a pilgrim. I was not used to that level of movement, and I expected too much out of my body, hence the ankle injury. When I returned in October, my body was more prepared, I took my time, and I began to experience being in my body in a new way.
There was unique physical pleasure in walking the Camino. It went beyond the usual pleasures of day hiking, even in the Sierra, the Rockies, or other scenic places where I’d recently hiked. It was pleasurable to realize I was moving myself across the landscape under my own power. It’s a primal thing that we in the 21st Century never experience. I felt a bond with people of earlier centuries for whom walking was the only way to travel.
It was pleasurable to feel my body grow stronger day by day. It was pleasurable to start walking slowly in the morning, and then move into a comfortable pace. The walking became meditative. My body was working, and my mind was relaxed. It was pleasurable to feel my physical self, my emotional self, and my intellectual self move into alignment.
I learned that my intellectual self is usually in charge, often wrestles with my emotional self, and my physical self usually comes along for the ride. It was a surprise to see what it felt like to do it differently.
At the end of the day it was pleasurable to feel the sensations of being truly hungry and thirsty. My body was happily challenged, and used. I felt alive in a physical way I’d never experienced before. Walking 3-5 hours a day felt like what my body was built to do.
On the Camino, I made friends with my body, instead of using it primarily as my “vehicle” for propelling my “head” around. I lived more in the moment. God never felt closer than in those days on the Camino.
When I returned home, I was in the best shape I’d ever been in, and I wanted to stay that fit. But it’s not my natural inclination to work-out for the sake of working-out. On the Camino, working-out was integrated into the whole journey of discovery. Most of all, I wanted to preserve the feeling of well-being and spirituality that came with it.
Now I see that walking the Camino was good practice for the rest of my life. When I take a hike, or do yoga, or swim, I feel that now familiar sense of alignment between my physical self, my emotional self, and my intellectual self. It’s more than working out, or building muscle, it’s become a spiritual discipline. In those moments of joy, I feel God is close.
I live in a body, and it is good.