A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Wednesday, 2 January 2008

Tabula Rasa

During my 8 and a half weeks on the Camino I deliberately read no newspaper, magazine or book (except my walking guide). I didn't listen to the radio. I avoided TV. I heard little music - except for the tapes played now and then in the French gites by the hospitaliers or in the Spanish albergues by the hospitaleros, and the liturgical chants and odd bursts of organ music occasionally eavesdropped in the churches.

I went into shops only when necessary - to buy food for example. I took some photos but always quickly and on impulse. I did not want to be a slave to the camera and think about photography all the time and look at the landscape as though through a lens. I consider my photos snaps and aides-mémoires. They are not meant to be considered in any seriously aesthetic way. If any turn out to be pleasing - well, fine. I bought some postcards but only a few. I took a notebook and pen with me but wrote down very little. I did not keep a journal.

On the other hand I tried to visit as many churches, chapels, cathedrals, hermitages and monasteries as possible along the Way - when they were open. Sometimes I stayed only a few minutes. Sometimes I sat down and spent a long time there in silence. Perhaps I lit a candle or two. I did not really pray in the conventional sense. But I let the silence sweep over and envelop me. During those moments I did not really think about anything. I just absorbed the silence, the atmosphere, whatever was there. I tried to push aside all intellectual thoughts, and all the petty, inconsequential thoughts that crowd our minds much of the time without our realising it. I am not a Catholic, but I went to mass several times and sometimes was moved by it.

I went out of my way to approach people and talk to them, even if this was difficult because of the language barrier (my French is OK but I speak very little Spanish). I usually slept in the cheapest, dormitory-style accommodation available - because of the cost, yes, but more importantly because this was how most of the pilgrims of old would have lodged and this was the best way of meeting fellow pilgrims and sharing the full, communal experience that is the Camino.

I hoped that all the above deliberate choices would make me more open, more receptive to whatever was to be received. I wanted to escape the "real world", "normal life", call it what you will, as much as I could. But of course this is impossible. I found that the Camino contains the "real world" too, the world of motorways and factories and boredom and capitalism and all the rest. We remain the same people wherever we are. Our acquisitive, ego-based society does not stop at Le Puy. There are bandits as well as angels along the Camino, just as at home and everywhere. But I learnt that this is all good. It's the attitude one brings to it, the way one deals with it that matters...


Lael from BC, Canada said...

Thank you so much for your reflections on the camino, and for your heartfelt ponderings elsewhere on your blog! I am going to walk the French portion of the Way with my 18 year old daughter this coming September. I am looking forward to four or five weeks of "walking meditation" in the company of my beautiful, soulful daughter. Both of us have reached a transition in our lives and this journey will offer a chance to reflect and (hopefully) to just relax into presence for a time.

The Solitary Walker said...

You will love it. I found the French part particularly beautiful - much less road walking than in Spain. The 1st week - through the Auvergne and the Aubrac - is lovely. I think September will be a good month to go too. Bonne Route!