(Originally posted on 11 September 2016)
Sarria/Palas del Rei
I remember the day of my first Tai Chi lesson. I was quite disappointed. The master taught only three movements for the entire 75 minutes with no breaks or chatting with students. Because it was a trial lesson, and that I had the option of continuing or quitting, I tried to understand his methodology before making my final decisions.
I told him that I was expecting combative moves, belts, sparring, kicks and punches. At the end of the day, Tai Chi can be a powerful martial art, especially in this Chen’s style. He told me that martial art is a consequence of practice, and that the essence of practice is appreciating the differences in each reiteration of the same single movement. They are all different – he said - like the waves in the sea.
Out of respect for his honesty and his wisdom that – paraphrasing Bruce Lee – it is way harder to do one kick 10,000 times than to do 10,000 different kicks, I stayed in the course.
Years later, I am still keeping up with Tai Chi, even though my progress is slower than I would have wished.
Doing the Camino for a second time, it is unavoidable to confront bits and pieces of my experience from the first time. I thought I left most of the records of the first path home, but unfortunately (or fortunately) I am blessed with a strong memory. I mean, really strong. One year later, I still remember, every day, the time I woke up, the road I did, the place I went, the food I ate, the time of my arrival, the monuments I visited, etc. And as a consequence, I have found myself racing against my record from last year, and the fact that this time I am slower only aggravates the situation.
Every time when I reach a new place, my thought process goes something like this: first, I have to clarify with myself that I am slower because of extra efforts on the blog, then because of the additional laptop weight in my backpack, then because that I have taken different roads, then because of destiny and then, and only then, I remind myself once again that – like some of the hostels write on their walls – cada Camino es diferente. Each Camino is different. Like the waves in the sea.
When I am visiting some of the places I went to last year, I know that a part of me is facing my ghost. And yes, I went back to some bars or albergues because I had very good experience there before, or because of the fact that my rhythm of walk is similar, or merely out of superstition (it led to me to a successful conclusion on the first round, why should I change?) But a much bigger reason to revisit the same places was to confront my old self and to race with that older version of me.
Truth is, appreciating how different each moment is and enjoying the present for its uniqueness, are skills that would take most people a lifetime to truly master. And for achievers-type personality like me, it can take even longer.
I concluded my first Camino in 20 days with a daily average of 40km. And if all goes well, this time I will probably take 23 to 24 days altogether. For me, that is not enough. Yes, I could find various excuses, most of which are definitely legit; but the fact that I’m slower this time would still leave the iron man inside me frustrated.
The funny thing is that everyone around me – friends, family, pilgrims – says to me that I should just enjoy the ride. I mean, they are right. I am blessed to have the possibility of walking, interacting with people from different parts of the world, visiting fabulous places and strengthening the knowledge of myself. But it is very hard to enjoy the ride when you are the first one to leave the hostel and the last one to arrive, when you see your mates sleeping while you are taking the shower or doing the laundry, when everyday you gotta have a new idea to write about and the necessity to develop it later, even though you are exhausted. Of the 20 community dinners (the dinner with all the other pilgrims, a tradition in many hostels), I could make it to only 4. In the other 16 days I was eating dinner in some place with wifi, with one hand moving the fork, and the other on the laptop.
But that is still not enough. Not for me.
The instinct that compelled me to take on this path in the first place is now telling me to wake up at hours when I don’t want to, to cut short the breaks when I should be resting, to share one more thought in my blog when this means chatting less with my girlfriend, etc. The constant dissatisfaction and the continuous raise of my standards are difficult to cure, even with powerful rituals such as the Iron Cross. Because peace with myself will eventually lead me to demand greater peace, not just within me.
The epitath of Immanuel Kant reads,
‘Two things fill the mind with ever new and -increasing admiration and awe – the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.’
I was looking at the sky this morning before the dawn. It was full of stars, mostly because of the lack of clouds and pollution. I said these words to myself: “the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me”.
Life can be hard sometimes, especially if you intended for it to be this way in the first place.