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Day 22: Crow-feet Wrinkles and Taoist Happiness

(Originally posted on 13 September 2016)

Santa Irene, O Pino/Santiago de Compostela

So here we are, finally. I arrived at Santiago de Compostela.

This is the end of the French Way. It is the dream, the goal, and the Holy Grail of all the pilgrims on El Camino. When I reached the Cathedral, I was completely soaked, after walking for an entire morning in the torrential rain - typical weather in the Galitian region. There is a reason why they call this place the Ireland of Spain.

Even though I arrived considerably early, I only had the time to do the ordinary stuff. A mass under the swinging Botafumeiro (the giant incense that travels from one side to the other at the Cathedral), a visit to the cradle of the apostle James with the ritual hug, some pictures, a little bit of souvenirs for my family.

Now it is 10pm, and I am writing this post from a taperia near the cathedral, with mussels in one hand and a laptop in the other. Just like every other day, I apologized to the waiters for taking up so much space at the table with my computer. As usual, I would be late returning to the hostel. Late, by the Camino standards, but I hope that the other travelers will forgive me, or that will spend some time outside of their hostels to celebrate their achievement.


The kinesics, the science that studies microexpressions and body language, considers the crow-feet wrinkles around the eyes as a universal statement of joy. For me, I have always looked for that sign around a person’s eyes to see if a smile was genuine. It could be when a girl I was offering a drink to was laughing at my joke, or when a client commented on a new proposal from his counterpart. I also look for it in my own photos or in the mirror, when I try to gauge if I was truly happy at that moment.

With that I thought I had cracked the code of happiness, until I started deepening my knowledge of traditional Chinese medicine. Indeed, this marvelous discipline distinguishes between empty and full joy. The crow-feet wrinkles are the empty, external happiness, which benefits the body only on the surface. The pleasure in your heart, instead, is the real joy and does not have external indications. You know that a person is truly happy when you can feel the aura around him/her when he/she enters the room.

It is very difficult to make the latter form of happiness last, because it would require a state of sustained peace with yourself, but once in a while, everybody can feel its existence. It is when your favorite group sings your favorite song, when you really fall in love with your partner, when you enjoy a sunset on a wonderful tropical beach with a cocktail in your hand, or when the child calls you for the first time “dad”.


So here I am at Santiago, in front of the Cathedral, and it feels like heaven. I don’t know if my joy is empty or full – maybe both? Because my eyes have crow-feet wrinkles, and my heart is filled with joy, the rare kind of joy that I’ve only experienced so very few times in my life.

After 800 kilometers, as I was hugging the statue of the St. James, I only had one thought in my mind -

The Camino, for all of us, is not a matter of emptiness or fullness. The Camino, indeed, is everything…

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