By the time you read this I should be—God willing—over the Pyrenees and in Roncevalles, Spain. I am walking the Camino Francés, the 500 mile route from St. Jean-Pied-de-Port in France to Santiago de Compostela in Spain.
For the past couple years I have had no clarity on exactly what I should be doing with my life. Lately I’ve found myself paralyzed by choice. Moving my 89 year-old mother from California to Seattle made one thing really clear to me: I do not want to amass more stuff.
Statistically speaking I figure I’ve got 25 good years left. How do I want to spend them? How can I best serve? I felt like a good long walk would help me answer those questions.
“So what’s wrong with the Burke-Gilman trail?” you may be wondering.
The Camino Francés is not just a long walk—it’s a pilgrimage. I’m walking about 15 miles/day and staying in pilgrim albergues and eating the pilgrim menu at restaurants. The prices are very cheap. It is not for tourists and you have to show your pilgrim passport or you’re not allowed. I’m sleeping next to strangers. I’m carrying a 15 pound backpack. I’m going solo.
Nothing to do but walk, eat, wash out my clothes, sleep, repeat. The sheer simplicity of it attracts me. Right now I can’t even walk through a single room in my house without seeing a thousand things I could be doing. And then I start doing one—or two—or more.
Being a pilgrim is not the same as being a tourist. A pilgrimage is really an inner journey where you may go places you didn’t expect. I already know I will be visiting some historic sites: 1) the family room where I fell and broke out my front teeth, 2) the front seat of the car where my boyfriend said, “You know I like you thinner,” 3) the cafeteria where my former boss told me he wouldn’t rehire me because, “You are too unorthodox for me and this organization and you’re interested in too many things.”
I visit these places occasionally except for #3, which even after years I seem to visit almost daily. I shake my fist and rage here but don’t really have time to do serious exploring. But walking six hours/day should give me plenty! I can visit those sites and see what needs healing, understanding, compassion or gratitude. Maybe I’ll discover things I hadn’t seen before. Perhaps I’ll find that I don’t ever have to go back there again.
People have been very forthcoming about advice. “Take a sleeping bag!” “Get a water bladder!” “Skip the hiking boots!” “Don’t take a sleeping bag!” They warned me about all kinds of things. “Bed bugs!” “Sunburn!” “Blisters!”
Lots of people are intensely interested in the number of miles I plan to walk. A very fit and athletic acquaintance grilled me.
“What are you using to track your mileage?” she asked
“My feet, “ I said hoping I didn’t sound flip.
“But how will you know when to stop?”
“My feet,” I said again.
She was exasperated. “But aren’t you following an itinerary? Don’t you have a plan?”
“Here’s my plan: I stop walking when it feels like the place to stop. It may be that my feet are tired. Or my knees will speak up. Or something in this town is calling to me.”
She shook her head. “Well, you should get a Garmin*.”
I am embarrassed to say that I did not know what this was. It sounded like some kind of garlic-eating vermin: garmin, as in, “Let’s get rid of them garmin before they eat the whole crop
She thrust out her arm. My eyes popped out. Around her slender wrist was a monstrous watch; a watch who had been lifting weights, drinking protein shakes and injecting steroids. A watch who could take over the world—if it had the time.
“I like to keep track,” she explained.
I like to keep track too. I like to keep track of when and where I’ve remembered to be grateful. How far did someone push me before I lost my temper? How many times was I petty and judgmental? When did I reach deep inside and find a well of kindness?
That’s the only kind of “keeping track” in which I’m interested. It feels like we are constantly measuring, timing, evaluating, computing. How many miles-to-the-gallon, clients obtained, Facebook friends, books read, papers published, verses memorized, marathons run? There are hundreds more. It’s not that any of it is bad. It’s just that it’s like a program running continuously in the background of our lives. Quantify, quantify, quantify.
No one had any spiritual advice for me so I consulted Jesus. I mean talk about a walker! Fifteen miles a day was nothing for him and the disciples. And you can be sure he wasn’t wearing orthotics or donning a Goretex jacket. Anyway, I said, “So, Jesus, advice?”
“Just walk,” he said.
“Yes.” I was quiet for a while because I’ve found Jesus gets more talkative if you don’t pepper him with questions. After what seemed like eternity (see what I did there? Made a little theological joke?) he finally spoke.
“Just walk—and listen. Listen for my voice in the trees, in the wind, in other people, in the birds and the animals, in the pain and discomfort, in the laughter—in the silence. Especially the silence.”
Well, that all sounds pretty biblical to me. But you can never go wrong with advice from Jesus. I’ll report back.
*A Garmin is a Global Positioning System (GPS) watch.