One of the many lessons learned walking the Camino in Spain is that you have to go slow to get far. I must admit that I too get infected at times by the “bug” that bites many hikers on the Camino: Getting up in the early hours of the morning and racing ahead to the next town to avoid the hassle of finding no accommodation.
In some of the remote towns albergues or hostels for pilgrims are rare. But on all my ten walks on the Camino, I have always found a place to stay for the night. The Spanish people are incredibly hospitable and friendly toward pilgrims walking the Camino. If worse comes to worse a sports hall or school classrooms is opened with mattresses on the floor. Villagers in the towns have even been seen offering their private bedrooms to tired pilgrims.
But the Camino is in many ways an analogy of life and you inevitably take yourself with you on a journey. Many pilgrims take a time out from their stressed-out lives at home, and have difficulty switching to a calm, slowed-down rhythm.
And, under stress or in a hurry, you make mistakes. You go into tunnel vision and start missing way markers, making your walk that much longer than planned. You miss out seeing many of the small miracles or the messages sent by the universe on your way. You fail to pace your energy, ending up with blisters on your feet, hurt knees and back problems.
Sometimes a small talk with a villager or a word from a fellow pilgrim along the way can be an immense eye opener and blessing. I have walked several of the Camino routes more than twice and have been amazed at how much I didn’t see the first time around, and how different each Camino walk was.
Staying in the moment is one of the most difficult exercises in the hurried life of the Western mind which is preoccupied with all the fears of tomorrow and the events of the past. Will I have to sleep under the bridge? Will I be safe? I have seen pilgrims literally fall into panic upon hearing that there was no accommodation left in the town. It is an innate fear to be in a foreign place and having no place to stay. Others stay completely calm, trusting in the universe that a solution will always be found, laughing it off as part of the Camino experience.
I have taken this Camino experience to heart. A day can be ruined by a stressed-out, hurried mindset where one little catastrophe follows the next. Or, you can just take one step back, concentrating on the breathing, deliberately slowing your walk by a pace or two, and then just taking it as it comes.
Reino Gevers – Author, Mentor and Consultant