It’s Camino season again, and it’s also long past time for me to write about my own experience along the Chemin de St. Jacques last year.
In 2016 (much like other pilgrims) I discovered how living a slower and pared-down life, savored at walking pace, can be a tranformative experience. It was such a powerful experience that it’s taken months to blog about it.
Last September I accompanied a friend on a 3‑week trek along old pilgrimage routes in southwestern France. We hiked a 150-mile segment of the Via Podiensis, a little-known set of trails in rural France (GR 65 and 651.)
We walked 10–15 miles a day, carrying just hiking poles, daypacks and the day’s supply of water. We opted not to carry camping gear or backpacks; instead we luxuriated in a baggage service that shuttled our duffels from one guest house to the next.
Was this pilgrimage a truly life-changing experience?
In many ways, yes…
Six months later I’m still thinking through what I learned from this pilgrimage, what the journey’s teachings suggest for the next phase of my life… Despite my joy in telling stories or talking about it, I’ve been unusually challenged in writing down my reactions to this profound experience.
So what have I learned so far? Here are a few of my take-aways, listed in no particular order:
- Spending lots of time and energy on a professional career has lost its attraction.
- Talking with people, sharing experiences — in person and face to face — is powerfully compelling. Why have I allowed social media alternatives to distract me from those basic truths?
- Long walks, in rain or shine, need to remain a regular feature of my life — if not daily, at least many miles walked throughout the week.
- Suffering and discomfort are unavoidable, but can be accepted and transcended. They do not need to be all-consuming.
- I do not need so many things to be happy.
Walking offers a lifelong path to happiness and wellbeing — and as my sister says, may help me stay “younger each year.”
Walking 35 miles or more each week has become a wonderful complement to my on-going yoga practice. Walking offers many meditative qualities, but it’s also easier to share with my husband and friends than a yoga practice.