I’ve never done anything but dream. This, and this alone, has been the meaning of my life. My only real concern has been my inner life. FERNANDO PESSOA

Saturday, 3 May 2014

The Pilgrim's Way (7): Silence And Tears


I remember that first day on the Chemin very clearly. 17th October 2007. Blue skies. Warm and sunny. The hills and valleys of the Auvergne. Wooded slopes and the golden leaves of autumn. Peaceful deserted villages basking in the noonday sun. Romanesque churches with rounded stone vaulting. I kept bumping into pilgrims all day. Some shared their lunch with me as we picnicked on the grass in front of the Chapelle Saint-Roch (see photo).

By late afternoon I'd reached the village of Saint-Privat-d'Allier. It's stunningly situated on a volcanic cliff above a gorge of the Allier river. A Christian family took me in free for the night. 'While you are here treat this house as your home,' they said.

At twilight I climbed up to the 14th century church and went inside. The silence was profound. You could hear absolutely nothing at all. Except for the slight whirring in my head of my own automatic, pointless thoughts. And with an effort of will even these were stilled. As the darkness closed in, shapes lost their solidity, and my sense of time and place became blurred. My mind emptied itself.

Later at dinner my hosts, Jean-Marc and Marie, told me how they had met on the Camino, fallen in love, married, and then decided to open their house to pilgrims. Another pilgrim arrived. Food kept appearing. The wine flowed. Their young son chased an enormous dog round and round the room. The conversation was animated and far-ranging. I couldn't understand the half of it. I realised how rusty my French had become.

Then a strange thing happened. I don't know if it was the effect of the wine after two nights' lack of sleep, or whether I was touched by the kindness of strangers, or whether I was charged by the many emotions I'd felt on this, my first day of pilgrimage. But tears welled up inside me and I wept like a child. Jean-Marc patted me on the arm reassuringly, a wise and benign expression on his face. 'Don't worry. It's quite normal,' he said. 'We experience this time and time again. It's necessary...'

That night I rolled out my sleeping bag in their attic-dormitory and slept long and deeply for the first time since leaving home.

THE SOLITARY WALKER 24 Dec 2007

To be continued . . .

15 comments:

Bonnie said...

So many spaces and gestures, from both within and without, that graced you with an invitation (and the safety) to release long-held emotion. How healing - as a pilgrimage should be.

Thank you for sharing this, Robert.

Rubye Jack said...

The kindness of strangers would be enough to make me cry. As I was reading I started to think of how one seldom finds such kindness in today's world and how special it is that this couple takes in their fellows. How special!

am said...

It is good to revisit this post from 2007. It touched me then and touches me now.

George said...

Moving to read this again, Robert, and I agree entirely with the comments of Bonnie, Rubye Jack, and AM. I'm especially moved by your experience in the church where "the darkness closed in, shapes lost their solidity, and [your] sense of place became blurred," allowing the mind the empty itself. This connects serendipitously with some reading I did yesterday of work by one of our country's most prominent progressive theologians, Barbara Brown Taylor. In her most recent book, "Learning to Walk in the Dark," and a related cover story that appeared in Time magazine a couple of weeks ago, Taylor traces the history of darkness in transformational journeys, and reminds us of its indispensable value in our own spiritual growth. For many of the reasons you point out — the breaking down of shapes and forms, the inability to see where we are or where we are going — darkness empties us, crushes our preconceptions, and creates a thin place in which transformation is always possible. "Endarkenment," she would argue, should never be feared, as we have been conditioned to believe, but should be embraced, paradoxically, as a path to the enlightenment we hope to attain.

Friko said...

How deeply felt this is.

dritanje said...

Ah once again, the expression of feelings through tears, touched by the magic of the place and the kindness of these people, who saw it as quite normal to cry.

Life is a responsibility as well as its joys and successes etc. Sometimes if we can surrender that sense of weight we can recover a lightness of being and the 'new eyes'. And for sharing these feelings with us, thank you solitary walker.

The Solitary Walker said...

Re. your previous comment and this one, Dritanje: I have held back tears myself for different reasons. I suppose circumstances dictate. On this occasion I absolutely could not help weeping — actually a strange, wonderful and liberating feeling — and how beneficial it was. They weren't the kind of tears that come in a weepy film, or even at a funeral... quite different.

The Solitary Walker said...

And thanks Bonnie, Rubye, Am, George and Friko for your wonderful comments! Very much appreciated.

I'm glad to share on this blog some of those personally-intimate yet universally-experienced moments of truth and emotion which make us human.

Ruth Mowry said...

It seems you were in a thin place. The roof opened and stars shown in. So lovely, Robert.

Amanda said...

I believe there are places on this earth that are sacred and can affect us directly. Combined with the kindness of strangers, there is holiness and mystery there.

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks, Ruth and Amanda, for your welcome comments.

Laura said...

Lovely reflection. This is the emotional space I long for. Space where tears or laughter will come unguarded.

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks, Laura. Have emailed you re. your Camino enquiry.

Cris M said...

Hi Robert,
Thank you for posting my post in your blog, I am embarrased right now!
As Amanda said, the Camino is a special place, quite sacred indeed and we could discuss long on the reasons for this. I could not say why I cried each morning for the first maybe 10 mornings,I just can say that my soul was incredible sensitive and I was moved to tears all the time, and my mind was emptied too.
When this man passed by me and told me, what touched me was the "Keep on crying" message, instead the "please don´t cry" that I had heard most of my life. It felt so good to have a place where crying, deeply weeping indeed, was welcome.
I cannot say my tears were all for sadness, I think they were more like a soul cleansing ritual my soul and heart did every dawn, when what was going on in them was brought out to the exterior thru the tears.

From these words, I love the wisdom in the "you will always have tears, don´t save them for later"... for me this means that I will always have a way to express and bring to the light what is in my heart and soul, I don´t need to wait for the perfect moment to do so. There is a lot of kindness in them too, accepting that our feelings are human, and at the same time, allowing others to express them, even with tears (that normally are not easy for us to bear with... "please don´t cry"...)

Thank you for bringing this to your blog.

Hugs
Cris M

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks so much for sharing this, Cris M. It's a quite special and wonderful comment. I'm sure my other readers enjoyed it too.

Please don't be embarrassed! (I don't think you are really!) Everyone can share such things on this blog, if they feel inclined, in safety and openness.

'I cannot say my tears were all for sadness, I think they were more like a soul cleansing ritual my soul and heart did every dawn...'

Yes! Right to the heart of it...