My Quest For Zest...
The French Way: St. Jean Pied De Port to Finistere, Spain (5 week pilgrimage)
MY QUEST FOR ZEST...
A five week, 780km (485mile) physical, mental and spiritual pilgrimage...In the summer of 2018 I began the French Way on the Camino de Santiago after a week of sightseeing and vacationing in Barcelona with my family! I began the pilgrimage with an attitude of "I can do this on my own." I was there for my inner work and didn't want any "distractions"...By day three, the way had cracked my hard-shell exterior wide open and into a million little pieces; I was longing for social connections, I was desperate to share this journey with the fellow pilgrims around me, I was physically beat, mentally drained and questioning my faith..."what have I gotten myself into?" I contemplated for hours a day in my silent walk...
In my inner storm and darkness, the universe responded in love and light, getting me out of my own way. That third day I decided I couldn't push further to my intended days destination, blisters were forming on both feet making each step a painful struggle and my backpack was weighing heavier than ever on my shoulders. I was forced to stop, and in that afternoon at the albergue (pilgrim accommodation) I met two girls that would end up being an essential part of my journey. We instantly became friends, as one does on the Camino. In one conversation you'll know a persons life story, their innermost fears and desires, their purpose for embarking on the long and trying journey, where they've been and where they "think" they're headed... Connections are fast and go deep in a short amount of time. I don't know whether this is due to the spirit of the Camino or to the fact that despite what I, and many others, come into The Way thinking about completing it in solitude, friendships and connections are a crucial part of the journey.
Day by day, step by step, mile by mile, I made my way across the north of Spain to reach the village of Santiago de Compostela (and after the "End of the Earth" in the village of Finisterre). My daily routine typically stayed about the same: wake up early, walk, stop for breakfast, walk some more, arrive by mid afternoon to intended destination, shower, wash clothes, have lunch, rest, have dinner, sleep early. Routine became familiar but the scenery was constantly changing, my mind shifting, my spirituality sharpening.
For the most part, I still walked on my own at my pace, within myself and with my thoughts. However, there as well were meaningful conversations and belly-hurting laughs with my friends. There were small conversations with pilgrims passing. There were familiar faces that I'd see day to day, or every couple of days, and these moments were reminders that we're all together, on the same path, but different journeys.
My body was physically exhausted each day from the many miles in the heat carrying my way-to-heavy pack and from a change in diet that wasn't so suiting for me. I've traveled in Spain before and already knew the vegetarian options are limited. However, changing location day after day made the time even more trying to find my version of "health" food. I feel as if I was living on Spanish tortilla (egg and potato), croissants, overpriced basic salads, olives, avocado and baguette sandwiches, hard boiled eggs, and vegetable paella for a month straight. My body felt sluggish and unhappy with this diet, but I was making due as best I could in the circumstances. I would quickly liven up when I found seared Padron peppers or when supermarkets were accessible and kitchen supplies were offered at the albergue to make big, delicious, hearty salad with my friends. (Sometimes, we made them even if the albergue wasn't so accommodating with a kitchen...one time we took our ingredients to a restaurant and asked for plates and forks to fix our feast haha.)
I had blisters on both feet that took a week+ to heal. Mid-way through as the path turned to pavement, I began to get shin-splints. My left ankle became strained and each step was a reminder of the physical pain. Looking around, I wasn't the only one suffering. Close to everyone had some part of their body decorated with KT tape, had sent their pack via taxi to their destination, or was enjoying a rest day. I was no different, I strapped my ankle and shins, I shipped my pack for 6 days to take the extra weight off my foot and it was in this time of desperation another universal sign of light and love at the most perfectly, precise moment gave me a day of rest.
This time of rest is one of my many favorite memories from the Camino because of how it occurred, so unexpectedly and magically. In the countryside along the dirt path, >5k from the intended destination where I had shipped my backpack for the day, stood a cart full of (health) food that I'd been craving for weeks and all the fruit imaginable laid out in abundant piles. Glory to my eyes, and all for what ever donation you wanted to make. Thank you universe. My friend and I stopped and stayed a while: eating, indulging, enjoying. Pilgrims came and went, stoping for 1 minute or 10 minutes then continuing on to the nights destination. Letting go of our intended plans, and despite me not even having my pack or any belongings with me, we decided to stay the night at this donativo fruit stand with the company of two Italian women (pilgrims) and the caretaker and creator of the site, David. There were mattresses around back that were open to pilgrims, a place to sleep outside among the stars in the open air. He generously made us food and kept us entertained. During the late afternoon, there was an amazing rainbow that cast across the sky and over the fields. Everything was adventurous, beautiful, fun, delicious, unexpected, magical...The next morning we woke up refreshed and renewed, had breakfast, said our goodbyes and continued forward for just a short walk to where we had initially planned. I collected my pack and instead of continuing to walk on, we decided to take the rest of the day "off". This gave my body, mind and spirit a time to rest and restore.
One of the many lessons I learned on the Camino was the importance of balancing doing and non-doing, action and non-action, going and resting. That the later is just as important for success.
Another great teaching of the Camino came not on the path while walking, but in the weeks after completion. This was the realization of the importance of enjoying the journey every step of the way. A reminder in life that the end destination or goal isn't the true objective. There will always be more...more steps to take, more miles to walk, more money to make, higher positions to attain...the secret lies in being internally content in the present moment. So, during the early days of the pilgrimage, when I would be asking myself, "What's it going to feel like when I'm 50 miles, 25 miles, 10 miles, 2 miles, from the cathedral in Santiago?..." I look back and would tell myself, "Stop and breathe in the present moment, feel what you're feeling in the now, enjoy where you are each moment and each day. There is no rush, no hurry. Slow down. Be here, it's the only place you can be. This is the true journey."
Indeed, it was an indescribable feeling arriving at the cathedral in Santiago. A friend was there to greet us and other pilgrims I'd journeyed with along the way were also arriving. The energy was high and intense, embedded in the city square, where millions have previously stood in the same feelings. The infamous incense swung across the church, filling the air with spiritual essence. I couldn't believe how far I'd come...and the person that sat in the church wasn't the same as the one who started the journey.
The physical journey has long been over, but the imprints on my heart and soul are there for a lifetime and beyond.