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

Friday, 12 February 2010

Salamanca Blues

I'd spent the weekend in the fine old city of Salamanca. I'd been there once before, when I was 18, on an Inter-Rail ticket round Europe. I found the stone bench next to the New Cathedral - where I'd slept early one morning 37 years ago - was still there.

On this visit, however, I was very down. Some personal reasons aside, I think my depressed mood had something to do with being in a big city for a few days. It felt odd after the isolation, and the peace and quiet, of the countryside. I felt like a stranger on the outside looking in. Which, of course, is what I was. A pilgrim feels much more at home in the smaller towns and villages, I believe. I'd persuaded myself my pilgrimage had ended there and then. That it was perfectly OK to finish half-way. After all, if I hadn't been lucky enough to have such a long period of free time at my disposal, I'd have had to have ended it short of Santiago anyway. Wouldn't I?

I lingered in Salamanca until the Monday. I'd been blogging on and off all that day - making the most of easy Internet access - and decided to check my blog one last time before I turned in for the night. There I found an encouraging comment from Andy (Pilgrimpace), which quoted part of my poem Camino Fever: How dark the soul in the dead of night! But how bright the morning sun! Incredibly, and in an instant, my depression lifted, and my whole mood and attitude changed. I'd bought a train ticket to Hendaya (on the Spanish/French border) in the morning, intending a slow train ride home via Bordeaux and Paris. I tore up the ticket on the spot. I would continue the pilgrimage. Of course I would. What on earth were my minor discomforts - the cold, the wet, the odd pang of loneliness - compared, say, with Winter Pilgrim's challenges as she trekked through the Ukraine winter from Kyiv to Patras in Greece? The way she coped with any difficulties - with good humour and light-heartedness - was a shining example when faced with my own wimpish behaviour.

The next day, light of heart, I pressed on northwards towards Zamora.

(Posted from Zamora, on the Vía de la Plata, Spain.)


Anonymous said...

Keep on walking
The sun arises every day

JIM said...

For the Traveler

Every time you leave home,

Another road takes you

Into a world you were never in.

New strangers on other paths await.

New places that have never seen you

Will startle a little at your entry.

Old places that know you well

Will pretend nothing

Changed since your last visit.


When you travel, you find yourself

Alone in a different way,

More attentive now

To the self you bring along,

Your more subtle eye watching

You abroad and how what meets you

Touches that part of the heart

That lies low at home:


How you unexpectedly attune

To the timbre in some voice,

Opening in conversation

You want to take in

To where your longing

Has pressed hard enough

Inward, on some unsaid dark,

To create a crystal of insight

You could not have knownYou needed

To illuminate

Your way.


When you travel,

A new silence Goes with you,

And if you listen,

You will hear

What your heart would

Love to say.


A journey can become a sacred thing:

Make sure, before you go,

To take the time

To bless your going forth,

To free your heart of ballast

So that the compass of your soul

Might direct you toward

The territories of spirit

Where you will discover

More of your hidden life,

And the urgencies

That deserve to claim you.


May you travel in an awakened way,

Gathered wisely into your inner ground;

That you may not waste the invitations

Which wait along the way to transform you.

May you travel safely, arrive refreshed,

And live your time away to its fullest;

Return home more enriched, and free

To balance the gift of days which call you. ~

John O'Donohue ~

Anonymous said...

So happy to see your on your way again. Thank you too for your complete honesty. It helps to know that others hit those low dark points when doing something as big and outside the "norm", as the Camino. Pilgrimpace...thank you for being the small quiet voice of ? God??? perhaps? Thinking of you, and praying the snow storms we've just experienced do NOT come your way! Pax, Karin

The Solitary Walker said...

Snow yesterday morning for the 1st time, Karin! Not deep, but they've had some big snowfalls just north-east of here...

Tramp said...

Speaking of my own experience, it may not work for everyone, when I feel depressed I have a cold shower or wash down with cold water in a shallow bath. I count to a hundred. It’s just the kind of jolt I need to snap out of it. People telling me to cheer up has the opposite effect, it simply deepens my resolve to see things as black.
I need a shock to show me that life isn't always easy and to show me that when things don't go my way it is not a tragedy and I can cope. It concentrates my thinking and I feel like facing things that seemed beyond me. I think one of the reasons it works for me is that it makes me feel I’ve taken the action myself and not reacted to someone else’s coercing. It may sound corny and public school but it overcomes my stubbornness to action and I’ve learned to count quickly.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

I missed this post until now…sorry. But I'm glad that you hit a low point and eventually realized the trail led onward and upward, and all you had to do was take it one more step at a time. Good for you. That took courage.

After all, wasn't it the prospects of the trail's ups and downs and the facing of some personal issues that sent you on your pilgrimage in the first place? Your "down" time is exactly why you're there—to consider life matters amid a linear adventure. Don't give up…keep walking—there's perspective, insight, and resolution still to be found along the trail.

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks for these... That comes just at the right time, Jim.

For me, the very thought of a cold shower would help stave of any fits of depression, Tramp!

Rachel Fox said...

You were always going to carry on. Of course you were!

The Solitary Walker said...

Rachel, believe me, it was a close call...