Monday, June 30, 2014

Graceful, Grounded, Moving On

Camino de Santigo Path Marker
    The dust of the Camino de Santiago de Compostela still coats my sandals as I sit here in an airport waiting room, launched into the succession of five flights that will deliver me back to Oregon. Already, leg-one of this journey has carried me farther in 1 hour and 20 minutes than I traveled in 19 days on foot, walking the pilgrims' path in northern Spain.

    It is precisely this speed--the bustle of airports and freeways and over-busy schedules of modern daily life--that propelled many of the pilgrims I met this month to step off the treadmill for a few days, or a few weeks. Once, it was absolution from sins, or healing from illness, that travelers sought as they traveled this legendary pilgrimage path.  Now, it seems that it is absolution from the obsessions of modern life that motivates this journey for most of us. Not absolution of sins, or pains inflicted, but absolution from the addiction to constant contact we all suffer. 

    On the Camino, we traveled at the pace of history--the pace of walkers who have trod this route for 1,300 years!! On foot for five to six hours a day, including stops for rest or water or food, we covered perhaps 15 miles. Nothing to do in those hours but keep walking, focused, aware of the surface beneath my feet--sometimes rocky, sometimes asphalt, sometimes paved with stones that Romans set in place. 

    Yet, even then,  disconnection was challenging. Three hours out on the path with no distraction but my thoughts, I stop for "cafe con leche" at 11 am and immediately ask the server at a village cafe for the "weefee" access code.  I check my mobile phone for updates in email and Facebook.

    On the path, as well, I discover there is no easy "disconnect" from myself and from the restless crescendo of self-talk that echoes through my mind, unnoticed until a rock beneath my foot jousts me into the present. 

   "Graceful, grounded, strong and tall; graceful grounded, strong and tall" I remind myself. Over and over and over. In 19 days of walking, the phrase became a mantra invoked automatically each time my foot stubbed against a stone or teetered unsteadily on the edge of an uneven paver. "Graceful, grounded, strong and tall." It was my prayer, my affirmation, my rebuttal to self-recriminations about losing focus or risking a fall. My antidote to mindlessness and the slouch of inattention.
Compostela Certificate
    I sit here now, at the close of this physical journey, elated at achievement of a physical goal and at attainment of the treasured "Compostela," received at the end of a two-hour wait in line to reach the desk of Pilgrimage officials at the Santiago de Compostela cathedral who review credentials and confer the stamp of completion.

    In truth, the treasured "Compostela" is simply a piece of paper. It's a certificate, elaborately inscribed with my name in Latin, rather like a diploma. For this, I walked 273 miles--a personal distance record for my walking annals. I shared a path with pilgrims from around the world, all of us seeking individual goals, none of us escaping the reverberations of history, commitment, silence, and spirit that permeate the Camino de Compostela.

    Today, I'm pondering the concept of "Compostela" as diploma. It designates a goal completed. But will it, like other diplomas we seek as confirmations of study and effort and learning, confer access to new paths on this larger pilgrimage that is life?  The inner journey continues. I'll let you know where it leads me.  "Buen Camino" to us all.

Read more about the Camino de Santiago de Compostela in The Spirited Walker. Interview with James Carse in Ch 10 inspired my own interest in this legendary pilgrims' path. 


  1. Very, very lovely, Carolyn. I can sense this is just the surface, that this experience touched a place very deep within you, one that you probably can't yet put into words. Thank you for sharing yourself.

  2. It would be lovely to be a bird and fly along with pilgrims here and here and sometimes high over head. So thanks for a little bird's eye view of your journey.


Share your thoughts: