The Camino was the hardest and most amazing thing I have ever done.
Where do I start?
-The history of the place is unbelievable…one night I stayed in a 12th century Refugio. The way even predates Christianity as it was used by The Celts following the Milky Way
-The people, I met people from all round the world, all doing the Camino for their own personal reason. The comradeship and friendships you make on the way are fantastic
What did I get out of it? I took my video camera and have shot a doco. I lugged 18 kg of gear for nearly 800 km over 34 days…I lost 8 kilos
Was it a spiritual experience? Yes, I started from square one with my belief system. I see the Camino as a purification process, a purification of body and of mind. Some say there are 3 stages, the physical, the mental or emotional and the spiritual.
Physical – go thru pain, blisters etc, ends in a euphoric feeling similar to a runners high
Mental or emotional – when you hit the flat lands of the meseta between Burgos and Leon you’ve been walking for about 2 weeks and it is no longer fun, the distances between towns can be as much as 18 kms, Anything that doesn’t allow you to be ‘in the moment’ acts as a distraction, e.g. looking at your watch, wanting a coffee in the next town. All the problem areas of your life well up in you and you are tested, many return to old addictions, for me cigarettes. This staged ends with a feeling of being ‘in the moment’ and appreciating the nature around you, meditating
Spiritual – The Camino becomes a walking meditation, you feel in tune with nature and I myself felt protected (by god) You learn to ‘go with the flow’ and not so much impose your own will on the happenings of the day. you start to realize a lot of your worries are your own making. I also had a miracle happen which informed me there is a god, my whole belief system has changed….I no longer believe in the term sin, but I do believe we make mistakes, have the free will to make mistakes and that even thinking a negative thought takes us away from our relationship with our creator
I then went thru a 4th stage, re-entering the world. I met a group of fantastic Spanish people who I partied hard with for the last 100 km’s . At first I felt that maybe by enjoying myself too much in the bars of the world and I might miss the next stage in the growth of my walking meditation experience….maybe I was to next experience God. But I then thought it was just Irish catholic guilt that made me think this way and I should let the feeling go and realize what was happening was I was being prepared to re enter the world. I can’t sit in a field and meditate all day; I have to go back into the cities, the traffic jams, deal with assholes and make a living
On another note I realized that religion should be simple, open to all and not dependent on being a member of some elite group….it should be as simple as walking the way, appreciating nature, learning tolerance for others (living in the albergues teaches you this…the snoring was unbelievable), learning about yourself and your problem areas and realizing there is a universal flow…a time to reap and a time to sow, and that when you get in touch with this energy…you very much feel protected and connected to God
Want to do the Camino, Mark suggests:
# Start walking – Although I didn’t do any training due to heavy work commitments before the trip, I would suggest people try getting in some up hill, down hill practice with their pack on their back
# Do the Camino alone – throw yourself into a foreign country with no support, learn to look after yourself
# Try to walk some (or most) of the Camino alone – not always easy given the great friendships you will make but essential for processing the experience. I tried to walk alone during the day and use the time at the Albergues to socialize. And yet sometimes ‘The Way’ will bring a messenger to you…be open to these meetings
# Stay in Albergues the whole way – I only stayed in a hotel the night I reached Santiago. By staying in the Albergues the whole way, you learn tolerance for others and really appreciate cultural differences. The friendships and shared meals make up for the cold showers, dirty sheets and snoring. PS – bring some earplugs
# Pack light – There are lists on the internet as to what to take, follow them, washing your dirty laundry in a basin every night is all part of the fun.
# Walk the whole way – I did ‘The French Way’ From St Jean Pied du Port on the French/Spanish border. Some people get a bus or train for part of the journey (such as the meseta). Don’t do this . You need to walk the good with the bad. Don’t be a wimp, if people in their 70’s can do the whole Camino, so can you!
# Learn some Spanish – One of my biggest regrets that I didn’t have a better grasp of Spanish, don’t just be a tourist, immerse yourself in the Spanish culture, meet the locals
# Visit a Church – Whether religious or not the churches along ‘The Way’ are amazing for their history, artwork and meditative environments. The Cathedrals of Leon, Burgos and Santiago are must-sees.