It's now more than 3 months since I returned from Santiago, Spain, at the end of my Camino. But in many ways I feel I'm just at the beginning of my journey. Its significance hasn't revealed itself in a blinding flash. Its true meaning will perhaps only come to me slowly over the next months or even years. All I know is that I think about the pilgrimage I made every night before I go to sleep, I dream about it, and it's never far from my thoughts during the day.
Many have written about the Camino - it's spiritual connotations, its promise of companionship, the intimate conversations with fellow pilgrims, the gaining of an intense self-awareness. The Internet is full of such stuff. There are books by Paulo Coelho and Shirley MacLaine, and other writers famous and not so famous. Fables, stories, histories abound, some of them bordering on the mystical, the transcendental and the just plain crazy. How to find a still centre, a personal meaning which makes sense to you amidst all this madness?
When I started the walk I just lived from day to day. I wasn't even sure I would finish it until I was half-way across northern Spain. Sometimes I was lonely, sometimes I was in company (certainly most evenings), often I was alone but not lonely. I adjusted quickly into a simple routine of sleeping in a strange bed, getting up, walking 25 - 30 km through often beautiful and remote landscapes, having a picnic lunch in the early or mid- afternoon, finding a simple hostel or refuge to stay in overnight, eating a cheap, hot evening meal either prepared by myself or the warden of the hostel, wriggling into my sleeping bag at an early hour. Doing this all over for 60 days. For me there was a perfect, mindless balance of freedom and discipline in this lifestyle I found immensely appealing. But I'm still struggling with such questions as: Was this a selfish thing to do? Was I just trying to escape the 'real world'? Was the whole experience nothing more than a glorified, extended holiday which I had the good fortune to enjoy because I had some free time? My heart keeps insisting on the answer 'no' to these questions.
What I've found is this. I scratched a spiritual, wanderlust itch. But now the itch is even more insistent. The thirst I had, far from being assuaged, is even greater. This is why pilgrims return again and again to the Camino, or variations of it - twice, three times. a dozen times. To top up their spiritual reservoir. To scratch again at that everlasting itch. An itch that will not go away.
The photo shows a polychrome wooden sculpture in the abbey church at Moissac.