If you watch how nature deals with adversity, continually renewing itself, you can't help but learn. DR BERNIE SEIGEL
Walking has saved my life. This may sound like hyperbole, but I happen to believe it to be true.
At a time when I drove the length and breadth of England as a sales executive, walks in Derbyshire's Peak District, or climbs in the Lake District, or strolls along the Grand Union canal were absolutely essential to me - welcome and necessary escapes from the confines of the car and a pressurised job. Walking saved my life.
When my father died I spent months alone at the old, family home, sorting out his things and preparing the house for sale, I was also working six days a week. On the Saturday, the day I had off, I used to roam the fields and woods nearby, and hike the disused railway embankment - all former childhood haunts. Walking saved my life.
My three Caminos in France and Spain were a direct response to mental turmoil and huge, seemingly intractable personal problems. These pilgrimages may not have taken the problems away, but they gave me relief, and insight into a different way of looking at things. Walking saved my life.
I find walking to be one of the best therapies. This is an approximation of a conversation I once had with the Camino ...
Camino: Buenos dias, mi amigo! Welcome to the Path. You know, there are so many pilgrims who walk along me praying I'm going to give them enlightenment and strew epiphanies at their feet like poppy petals. They want to find God instantly, or at least when they reach Santiago. And when they arrive at the end of the trail, and don't realise it's just the beginning of another, different trail, and when they find that great cathedral just alienates them, because it's too crowded, or because they're too tired, or because they're lonely and pining for the pilgrim friend they met in Burgos whom they've never seen again - they return home deflated and disappointed. Now, are you this kind of pilgrim, my serious friend?
Solitary Walker: Well, I don't know. It's too early to say. I've only just reached Hontanas, and I've other things to think about, such as the hole in my sock, the water in my boots, the pain in my knee and whether my stomach will protest about the oily fried eggs and rough, tongue-curling wine I'm about to consume in this albergue. And whether those bloody pilgrims are going to keep me awake for yet another night with their snoring and grunting and being sick from smoking too much weed. However, I did think you might stick around and provide some psychotherapy for me from time to time, my wise Camino guide?
Camino: Oh dear. Big mistake, peregrino! I'm afraid I'm not much of a psychotherapist, though a lot of people seem to think I am. Can't you see, dammit, that I'm simply a track? A little muddy, a little worn round the edges, a bit rocky here and there, it's true. But I'm not the most difficult track in the world, and I'm always well signposted. In fact in some places you'll find a scallop shell or a yellow arrow or a graffitied 'Ultreia!' every few metres. Sometimes all together. You'd have to be blind to get lost. (Though a surprising number of blind pilgrims do walk me. And actually they never get lost.) I think you'll have to look to those American new-age gurus for psychotherapy, mi amigo - you know, the ones you see on Oprah with names like Star and Heartsblessing. As I say, I'm no therapist. I can only trip you up, torture your feet, exhaust your limbs, graze your skin and, occasionally, bring you moments of such enormous joy that you feel radiant with hope, love and well-being. For true therapy look within yourself, my tired pilgrim.
Solitary Walker: Thanks anyway, Camino. I think we're getting used to each other's company, even if your answers do sometimes disappoint. I'm also getting used to your annoying habit of answering my questions with another question. What kind of answer is that? For instance, the other day I asked you how far it was to my destination, and you replied: don't you think your destination is right here and now? And recently, when I asked you how many more kilometres were left to walk along the path, you answered: you think there's a path?
Camino: Well, as I've told you, my questing friend, I'm no sage. Though you'll discover a little sage - and thyme, and rosemary too - growing along my verges. Now, why don't you gather some and add these herbs to your instant packet soup tonight?
Solitary Walker: I've already said - I'm eating the hospitalera's fried eggs soon. Then I'll feel so tired I'll be crawling into my sleeping bag by nine. I'll rejoin you tomorrow, my twisting, winding, enigmatic friend.
Camino: Till tomorrow. Just remember what John Muir once wrote, that In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks. And sleep tight.