Living a Peregrino Life
In September and October of 2023, over a period of 40 days, I walked 778 kilometers (about 483 miles), from St. Jean, France to Santiago de Compostela, Spain, otherwise known as the Camino de Santiago (francés camino). Those who walk the Camino are often referred to as peregrinos, which is the Spanish word for “pilgrim.” The Camino de Santiago is an ancient pilgrimage that pilgrims have been walking for hundreds and hundreds of years. But it took me awhile to come to terms with my own status as a peregrino. Originally I felt uncomfortable with the idea of being a pilgrim, because it didn’t seem as if my motivations and intentions fit the “typical” or “traditional” understanding of what it meant to be on a pilgrimage, so at first I called it an adventure, then shifted to journey. But after more than two weeks into my walk I came to embrace the notion that I was, indeed, a peregrino. This is how Wikipedia put it. “A pilgrimage is a journey, often into an unknown or foreign place, where a person goes in search of new or expanded meaning about their self, others, nature, or a higher good through the experience. It can lead to a personal transformation, after which the pilgrim returns to their daily life.” That seems to be a pretty good description of what I was up to. As the days and the kilometers rolled by I found myself walking into a fuller, deeper, richer awareness of who I am and what it means for me to be in the world. And with each step it felt as if I was becoming more comfortable in my own skin and more confident in who I am and what I have to share. And then, after reaching Santiago, I have returned to my daily life. But almost three weeks after being home, I continue to have a deep sense that I need to find ways to reshape and redefine what “daily life” looks like. I want to learn to live all of life in every moment as a peregrino. I am no longer heading for Santiago. The destination is now much broader than that. But the quality of life I experienced on the Camino continues to intrigue me. What might it mean to live a Peregrino Life? What are the characteristics which would define such a life? Here is some of what I am pondering…
- Keep putting one foot in front of the other. Such a life unfolds one step at a time.
- Slow down. Carrie Newcomer has a new song entitled “Take More Time. Cover Less Ground.” That could be the theme song for walking the Camino. There is so much to see, both in the world beyond myself, and the world inside myself, when I slow down enough to notice.
- When I walk my pace I find my place. This phrase showed up in my brain one day when I was feeling crabby because the Way had become crowded with newcomers who were disturbing my peaceful Camino experience (at least that’s what my crabby brain was trying to convince me was true). Fortunately for me, the Camino helped me to remember that my peaceful experience is not dependent on what other people are doing, but rather depends on me finding a way to be as deeply and fully myself as I can manage in any given moment. As I engage in that practice I will discover my place in the world.
- Expect surprises – everyday. I began each day asking the question, “What surprise does the Camino have in store for me today?” And simply asking the question helped to keep me open to the possibility that surprises would, indeed, occur. And, lo and behold, they did.
- Be open to awe and wonder and beauty. There were parts of the Camino that absolutely took my breath away. And there were parts that were less so. But everyday there was the opportunity to be awe-struck. In addition to asking the above question about surprises, I also began each day invoking a pair of Arabic phrases that a friend of mine passed on as a gift for my Camino experience. “Ya Basir. Ya Sami.” Loosely translated they mean, “God, give me eyes to see in a new way, and ears to hear in a new way.” It worked. Every day I was able to watch myself experiencing the world in new and transformed ways. I asked for new eyes and ears, and that is what I received.
- Learn to listen to my body and my heart. Near the end of the journey I realized that I was tired. Not so much physically but emotionally. It was an amazing and transformative experience, and it’s a lot to walk 10 to 15 miles every day, sleep in a new bed every night, and navigate all of it trying to use a language with which I am less than fluent. And the gift in that moment was that I didn’t dismiss the feeling. I allowed myself to really feel it, and then did my best to honor it.
- Be flexible. Plans are guidelines, and work best when not etched in stone and set in concrete. When I had listened to my body and my heart it became apparent that plans I had made, in terms of the timeline for my time in Spain, needed to be modified. So I did just that. And I do not regret that decision. It was the right thing to do.
- Spend time everyday walking. Just the act of moving my body, as well as the reality of moving through the world at a slow and relaxed pace, enlivened me and opened me to a fuller and deeper appreciation for the world around me and my place in it.
- Explore the world inside myself and the world beyond myself. Moving at that slower pace offered me time and space to ponder. There were occasions when deep and seemingly profound thoughts and ideas were running around in my brain. At other times I was simply in awe at the amazing beauty of the world. And sometimes my awareness went no further than the rhythm of my feet as I walked. All of it was a part of the experience, and it was made possible by giving myself the gift of an unhurried life.
- Expand my horizons. Step outside my comfort zone and try new things – new food, new ways of thinking about things, new ways of interacting. There is always room to grow beyond where I have been.
- Dream big. Look what happens when I decide that it might be possible to walk across a country. What else might I decide is possible?
- Believe in myself. I have a very old and very entrenched habit of doubting myself. It’s time (and way past time) to start believing that I am capable, lovable, and have contributions to make in the world.
- Share myself freely. While I was walking the Camino I talked with people, shared my story, and listened to theirs. I also shared myself with the wider world through my blog posts and my photos. And the result was that people responded and I gained confidence.
- Remember that feelings are real, and they are fleeting. Feel them while they are present, and then let them go.
- The journey is the destination. Embrace the journey. For me it was never about arriving in Santiago. It was about the journey to get there. Life is always happening in every moment. On the Camino I gave myself to the journey, and that meant paying attention all along the way.
- It is my journey. The ways that I walk it will be uniquely mine. How someone else walks their journey is none of my business. And what they think about the way I walk my journey is also none of my business.
- Learn to look for the markers. They will not lead me astray. On the Camino the markers were readily recognizable and usually easy to find. A scallop shell here, a yellow arrow there, embedded in the sidewalk, painted on a wall, posted on a sign or a roadside pillar. It became second nature to look for them, and to trust that they would be there. In the Peregrino Life away from the Camino the markers may not always be as easy to recognize, but I continue to trust that they are present. I can learn to watch for them, recognize them, and follow them. They might be found in an unexpected comment from a friend, in a seemingly random thought, in a glimpse of stunning beauty, or a surprising tear. And sometimes I will be the one leaving markers for others to find. Trust that as well.
- It is possible to live a simple and peaceful life. It begins by slowing down. And it helps when I can learn to let go of that which is not necessary.
- Remember that I am made for joy.
And then, distilling all of that down to something slightly easier to hang on to, it just might be that living life as a perpetual peregrino means showing up, slowing down, and always being open to the gifts which are waiting to be discovered.