For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move. ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Reasons To Walk The Camino: (1) The Slough Of Despond

This is the first piece in an occasional series I'm calling Reasons To Walk The Camino.


The name of the slough was Despond. JOHN BUNYAN The Pilgrim's Progress

It was another time and another place, and she was younger, but not that much younger. She was old enough to have suffered a little, and to have experienced melancholy, and to have survived this suffering and melancholy. She carried some scars, and some hurt, and some confusion, but she still had faith in the future, still saw the glass half full rather than half empty. Until one day, one quite ordinary and uneventful day, a pit opened up before her feet, and she fell right in.

She stayed there in the darkness for a week or two — or was it longer? Her thoughts were grim, and she tried to push away these negative thoughts. She was almost completely immobile during this dark time. Movement was an effort bordering on torment. Better to remain still, to breathe slowly and regularly, to breathe deeply and determinedly, in and out, in and out. She prayed the walls of the pit would keep straight, as they appeared to bulge, then deflate, and rock from side to side.

She must have eaten and drunk throughout this period, but she cannot remember what she ate or drank. In fact, she cannot remember eating or drinking at all. She did not seem to want to read, or even to be able to read. Noises reached her consciousness only intermittently: snatches of music, mainly Bach, Mozart and Brahms, and some pop songs from her past, Johnny Halliday, Françoise Hardy. There was no world outside the pit, outside her mind, outside her body (which was curled up in the foetal position for most of the time).

Then one day the fog cleared, and she tried to walk, which she did shakily, and she realised she was not in a real pit, but actually in the bedroom of her house, and it was a morning in early spring, and the sun was dripping like honey through the curtains, and the blackbirds were scolding each other and making alarm calls in the garden.

And she gave thanks to the bedroom, to the house, to the garden, to the sun, to the blackbirds — and probably to God and to the Infinite Spirit and to the whole universe too. She gave thanks that life was change and flux and a process of becoming, and that nothing lasted forever, even dark pits into which we might fall. She resolved to avoid these pits in future if she could, and if she could not, then at least she now knew they would eventually dissolve and disappear and change into something else: perhaps a warm room with a bed and a blanket and the sun filtering through the curtains, or even a wood or a forest or a green valley or a high hill or a rocky mountain. Or a path which wound through the wood or the forest or the valley, and up the hill, and over the mountain.

It was at that moment she decided to walk the Camino. And she has been walking the Camino ever since.    


21 comments:

Dominic Rivron said...

Camino? I always thought the quickest way out of the slough of despond was the M4. :)

The Solitary Walker said...

:)

Carolyn said...

A wonderful piece to identify with, thanks for sharing

The Weaver of Grass said...

Brilliant stuff Robert. I have just finished Roads to Santiago and enjoyed every minute of it. Can't help thinking of R when I read this post - I hear she is on the mend.

George said...

I don't think there is a more important lesson in life than the one you mention, specifically, that life is "change and flux and a process of becoming," and that nothing last forever, "even the dark pits into which we might fall." Perhaps that's the real draw of the Camino and the reason why so many want to keep walking it.

I've long wanted to walk the Camino, but, with every passing month during the past year or so, I've felt that I must walk it.

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks for reading, Carolyn... and Weaver, that book by Nooteboom is tremendous, I think. And George — the time will come...

dritanje said...

Tremendous, solitary walker! These are real places in the psyche as Bunyan wrote about. One lifetime may not be long enough to learn how to avoid such places as the Slough, but at least we get some experience of doing so. So that next time, or in some parallel time, we might never need to go there. The camino/chemin has power, no doubt about that. Inteestingly, Noteboom's Roads to Santiago was HANDED to me recently, didn't even have to go searching!

am said...

Thank you for this today. I've been reading Red Pine's translation of the Taoteching and thinking about the Tao -- the Great Road -- The Camino.

The Solitary Walker said...

Dritanje — like many of us from time to time, I have visited the Slough, and it's not a pleasant place. Re. the Nooteboom — fantastic! Sometimes things are given to one unsought, and often these are the best things..

Thanks for visiting, Am! Must have a look at that translation. I remember you mentioning it once before, and it sounds interesting.

Ruth said...

She gave thanks, and opened her spirit to Spirit. A good reason to walk the Camino, to keep after that openness with every step. Some of us who wait to walk the physical Camino walk the spiritual one at the very least. I enjoyed this imagery very much.

The Solitary Walker said...

Physical, spiritual, mental Caminos all living in one another...

Hilary said...

I absolutely loved this.
Thank you.

The Solitary Walker said...

I'm glad it worked for you, Hilary!

Goat said...

Yup, I always tell myself the pit will eventually dissolve and disappear.I had a medium-sized one opening at my feet until quite recently, and today I made the first steps towards detouring around it. Never placed much stock in the cliche that you can't run away from your troubles -- maybe not, but you can walk away from them at approx 3.5 miles per hour and leave the pit sucking in your dust.

The Solitary Walker said...

Happy walking, Goat, and try to stay away from those crevasses, mental or otherwise...

Grace said...

Did you write this? Well done. She is a character many of us can relate, too.

The Solitary Walker said...

Yes, I wrote this, Grace. I think many of us can relate – male or female.

Vagabonde said...

I read your post. So, this lady must have had a mental breakdown? Now she walks the Camino because she lives close to it – so she is French. That is good – to go out in nature, it heals you. I think that if this happened here, it would be too far to walk the Camino, but one could pick up the Appalachian Trail which comes into North Georgia. I, on the other hand, would love to cross the Sahara Desert on a camel.

The Solitary Walker said...

Oooh, the Appalachian Trail, I'd love to walk that, Vagabonde. Though your desert trek sounds more adventurous.

Cris M said...

I can relate so much to this yours writing... The Camino is such a healing experience!
Many hugs!

The Solitary Walker said...

Hi Chris! I appreciate your visit. Love it that you can relate to this.