(Originally posted on 30 August 2016)
Would you interact with a Romanian mother if you don’t know a word of her language? Would you hug a stranger and listen to the secrets he wants to tell you? Would you continue walking even though your body is telling you have already reached your daily limit?
The general answer is “no”, but general answers don’t work on the Camino.
I often wonder what the magic is about this path. Because it seems to be the same mesmerizing force that has propelled so many of us who have done it once to do it again .
In Chiraqui, I met an Austrian pilgrim who completed the Camino in 2009. Shortly after his retirement, he decided to do it again. This time, he started from his home country, Austria. When I met him, he had already walked 2300 kilometres.
He told me that during the long walk before reaching St. Jean Pied-de-Port, he had felt unsatisfied, undecided, and had been in constant bad mood. He just could not find his rhythm and the reason why he was taking this extraordinary challenge.
However – in his own words - everything changed as soon as he arrived at St. Jean Pied-de-Port and started the French Way. When I met him, he appeared relaxed. He was smiling a lot and sharing his adventures with other travelers.
Maybe it’s the special connection the Camino holds with the Universe, more specifically: the Milky Way. After all, the name of the destination, Compostela, comes from the combination of Latin words Campus Stellae (field of the stars). Some believe the configuration of El Camino Francès (the French Way) resembles the Milky Way. There is another legend behind the name Compostela, according to which the grave of the apostle James (the name Santiago comes from the Galitian translation of Sanctus Jacobus) would be revealed to a hermit with a tempest of stars in the sky.
Maybe it’s the positive energy left by the pilgrims who crossed these roads for hundreds and even thousands of years. Maybe it’s the fact that nobody you know is watching you, so you are not ashamed of being the real you.
Or maybe it’s all of the above and something else..
In the "Western world" (for a lack of better word), we believe that the mind commands the body. The mind dictates the rules. The body executes the rules. Everything is subject to the domain of your brain. Your actions, your thoughts, your experience.
On the Camino, the relationship between mind, body and spirit is different. Here you don’t think, you feel. If your spirit needs to stop under a tree to meditate, you stop. If your body needs a hug but your mind is ashamed of it, you ask for it. If you think that a person could be interesting for your trip, you find a way to communicate with her, whatever the language.
In the movie “Crossfire Hurricane”, one of my favorite documentaries on Rolling Stones, a journalist asks Keith Richards what he thinks about whenever he is on stage. “I don’t think on stage. I feel,” he replied.
This is what happens on the Camino. We don’t think. We feel.