Thursday, May 21, 2009

A journey can become a sacred thing

"Of one thing I am certain, the transformation I yearn for is incomplete. I do not know whether I am any closer to enlightenment - I do not really expect to achieve it - but I know that the attempt is worth the effort."
Oliver Statler (a Shikokupilgrim who wrote 'Japanese Pilgrimage')

A journey can become a sacred thing,
Make sure, before you go,
To take the time
To bless your going forth,
To free your heart of ballast
So that the compass of your soul
Might direct you toward
The territories of spirit
Where you will discover
More of your hidden life,
And the urgencies
That deserve to claim you.
May you travel in an awakened way,
Gathered wisely into your inner ground;
That you may not waste the invitations
Which wait along the way to transform you.
John O’Donohue, from - To Bless the Space Between Us- A Book of Blessings:

There was quite a long thread on one of the camino forums about preparing spiritually for the camino. The subject raised the hackles of some pilgrims and caused confusion amongst others who interpreted 'spiritual' as 'religious' preparation.

I can understand those who prepare for a religious experience on the camino (after all, it has always been a Christian pilgrimage) but I don't know much about spiritual preparation.
What I do know is that with only two weeks to go (I'll be flying out of Johannesburg two weeks from today) I feel that my 'spirit' has already gone before me! It's a strange phenomenon, this feeling of withdrawing from your everyday life, from those around you - nothing is important because soon, very soon, "I will be on the camino". I am starting to feel like a pilgrim. I feel as though my psyche is preparing for the hardship, the cold, heat, hunger, camaraderie, leaving places behind, always moving forward of a pilgrim's life. Perhaps it is this letting go, opening up, inviting the pilgrim way to take over that is a spiritual preparation?

I have prepared all the practical details - travel arrangements, flights, train times, getting from A to B to walk to X, W, Z.
I have prepared rough itineraries for the 4 different routes we will walk and have booked a few hotels in places where we will start those walks.
I have prepared my body by training hard, walking in the new boots, having a medical check-up, collecting the medication I need to take while I'm away (asthma pump, nasal spray, bone pills and calcium tablets.)

My backpack is ready. I think I've packed and weighed and repacked and weighed everything at least a zillion times! It is standing in the corner of my spare room, patiently waiting to be hoisted onto my back and carried off on its long trek. It weighs just under 5kg.

I have deleted about 15 Google Alerts so that my Gmail inbox isn't overloaded when I clear it on the camino. I have unsubscribed from daily email digests, from e-newsletters, and from the thrice daily NEWS alerts that no longer seem important.
I have been telling friends that I am leaving on the 4th June and have already been left out of arrangements being made for while I am away.
This 'clearing out' daily details is like '...freeing the heart of ballast so that the compass of your soul might direct you toward the territories of spirit..'

In the middle ages pilgrimage was often penitential and was undertaken as a journey of expiation. It was a journey of the soul - literally to save the soul. For me, walking the camino is food for the soul. Leading a minimalist life, walking in the country day after day in the footsteps of millions that have gone before, communing with nature and strangers is soul restoring.

Last weekend we went to the mountains to do some hiking and the mountain scenery, gravel paths, rocky river beds and undulating terrain had me transported to the Irago Mountains. "This is just like the camino" said Marion. I smiled, knowing that she was also transported back to the camino.

The planning and anticipation of walking a camino is almost as special and exciting as the actual walking. I know that others feel the same. Every time I walk a camino I learn more about myself, about people, about the world we live in. I have reached the stage now where I am dreaming the camino.
I can't wait!!


  1. You are lucky to get joy from the planning. I find it a necessary drudgery, and the relaxation and joy come when I first start walking out of that destination town or village. Bon Voyage

  2. I love looking at the maps and deciding where and when to start walking. One long trek? Two or three (or four) shorter distances? So many wonderful places - such a deep bucket for the lists!

  3. Hi

    Just love the work of the late John O'Donaghue. Have included one of his poems 'To the Pilgrim' on my blog

    I followed the spiritual comments too..very interesting because the comments themselves whether for/against really have a spiritual context anyway..
    and no haven't walked the CAMINO but setting out in September from Australia in September so will read up on your blog


    happy trails

  4. Love your blog Jimbo - I'd like to follow you on your camino in September.
    It seems your soul is already on its way!
    Buen viaje!

  5. I agree very much with what you wrote.

    We went walking this morning and I felt in a pre-pilgrim stage. Lovely.

    Like you, I find every Camino a time when I get to know myself better.

    Spiritually, each Camino becomes more of a 'walking retreat.'

    Thanks for your blog!

  6. Walk in peace. My heart will be with you. Teri