Last month I attended the Wake Up Festival, a nourishing buffet of poets, gurus, meditation instructors, scientists, musicians, writers and yogis who shared their experiences on the process of enlightenment and practices to stave off “endarkenment”. David Whyte read from his new poetry book, Pilgrim, based on the Camino de Santiago, an ancient pilgrimage path in Spain. Something about his words and delivery lodged in my cells.
“I want to do that,” arose a thought.
“You’re not Catholic,” interjected the guardian of Jewish heritage and memory. Its job is to make sure I never forget the Spanish Inquisition and the Holocaust, in which several of my relatives died. “Do you really want to walk in the footsteps of persecutors?”
It’s a question designed to end further discussion and stop me in my tracks. Years before, a friend trekked part of this path in France (there, it’s called the chemin). I envied her contemplative walk through European countryside but told myself it wasn’t meant for me. This time, I couldn’t deny my visceral reaction and the deep need to shake up my life.
“I probably have more in common with spiritual seekers of any faith than with many Jews.”
The argument continued until I grew weary and decided not to think about it. Maybe the urge was fleeting, maybe another presenter would spark a different inspiration. At the final lunch I sat with a Canadian couple who had driven to Colorado in a camper. They had been indecisive about the festival until the woman’s landlord told her he was selling the building. That deadline accelerated their plans to purge belongings and travel, following their muse.
“I want to do the Camino,” I told them, shocked that these words escaped my lips. Normally, I’m like a hen huddled over her eggs, wary of letting anyone near until my plans are already hatched.
“You can think about it,” they said.
I went home, powered up Google, and found a forum about the Camino. Many Pilgrims are neither Catholic nor religious; they are seekers, or consider the experience a rite of passage or transition between life phases. For some, it’s simply more feasible than backpacking a wilderness trail. The more I learned, the more I wanted to do it. Not in two years, or one year, or six months, but soon, on the heels of the High Holidays, when the weather is cooler and the trail and hostels less crowded. It’s a long pilgrimage — 800km — arduous enough to wear down the ego and the body so the still, small voice within has a chance of being heard. It’s long enough to facilitate transformation, whether one is seeking it or not.
In my mind, I was already on the trail, but I hadn’t made any plans. Wishful thinking won’t get a plane ticket, suitable gear, travel insurance. Fantasies will not solve logistical problems. More than a week later, I hadn’t looked at air fares, afraid of what I’d find. Was there a dollar amount that would put the kibosh on this idea? Luckily, I had enough frequent flyer miles. I reserved a ticket but still hadn’t announced my intentions, probably because I worried people would think me insane to pick up and go. That I’m able to do it is equally a commentary on my adventurousness as on my rootlessness. Had I planted myself more firmly in Colorado, perhaps I’d need more time to extricate myself and coordinate such a trip. Maybe I wouldn’t even have the urge. It’s hard to be sure. All I know is that I’ve arrived at a moment where it feels like the right next step, or hundreds of thousands of steps.
Another presenter, Caroline Myss, mentioned that intuition operates at the speed of light, yet humans react more slowly. Her example: a person discovers their spouse is having an affair and knows instinctively that the relationship is over; yet, it’s unlikely that the jilted party will call their lawyer that afternoon, set a court date and be done with it. While there might be good reasons to not divorce instantaneously, in other situations delay can be deadly to the spirit. Many times I’ve failed to act on intuitive hits, either in a timely manner or at all, partly out of a lack of self-trust, partly out of a desire to not come across as rash or foolish. I was invested in being seen as reasonable and logical, someone with a “good head” on her shoulders and plans that would earn others’ respect. But as Ms. Myss said, “waiting creates weight.” And that’s been true for me; postponing action always feels like a drag on my soul, a choke on my spirit. Frequently, I’ve backed off in the face of fear and doubt. Maybe it’s time to run like hell towards them.
They say the Camino begins the moment you decide to go. Some spend months reading, researching, planning, buying and testing lots of gear, preparing logistically, physically and spiritually. By contrast, my own preparations feel casual or haphazard. To outwit my obsessive perfectionist, I’m assembling the basic kit out of the corner of my eye and tuning out the critic that says I could have found lower prices or lighter weight items had I given myself more time.
A certain amount of groundwork is necessary, but it’s possible to muddy matters with additional information or the agonizing that more time might bring. As one Pilgrim shared in the forum, he still didn’t feel ready on the eve of his departure even though he had been planning for ages. David Whyte writes in The Heart Aroused about the “..personality’s wish to have power over experience, to control all events and consequences, and the soul’s wish to have power through experience, no matter what that may be.”
My soul, while it wants a warm sleeping bag and comfortable boots, doesn’t wish to absorb too much information, nail down a day-by-day itinerary or try to “do it right”. It just wants to get there and start walking, however crazy that might seem, and see what happens.