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

Monday, 12 May 2014

The Pilgrim's Way (9): Somewhere And Nowhere

The real traveller finds sustenance in equivocation, he is torn between embracing and letting go, and the wrench of disengagement is the essence of his existence, he belongs nowhere.

CEES NOOTEBOOM Roads to Santiago

Santiago Cathedral.

The emotions experienced on arrival may be unexpected and confusing. What am I supposed to feel? Why, after climbing the cathedral steps and looking out over the Praza do Obradoiro, do I feel a strange, paradoxical mixture of excitement and disappointment, climax and anti-climax? Why don't I feel as ecstatic as that pilgrim over there, lying prostrate before the altar? What do I do, where do I go next? Is this the end or another beginning, an arrival or another departure, the destination or just another stop along the Way?

Feelings come and feelings go — there's no point in trying to pin them down or analyse them too deeply. Expectations are merely that — expectations. Illusory and imaginary, desires belong to the past and hardly ever correspond with a present reality. Accept the feelings, look at them as if you're standing on a riverbank and watching them float by like driftwood, be curious about them, perhaps amused by them, but don't take them too seriously, don't be disturbed or overwhelmed by them. Feelings come , feelings go — just that. Accept them, whatever they are. Then you may feel a kind of calm, an inner peace.

The Solitary Walker arrives at Monte do Gozo.

I wrote this about my final few days on the Camino in December 2007:

Finally I reached Monte do Gozo which overlooks the outskirts of Santiago. (In Galego, the Galician language, this is Mon Xoi, and means Mount Joy.) I was greeted there by Jan, a retired schoolteacher from Australia. She asked how far I'd walked. I replied: 1000 miles. She congratulated me on my achievement. We took photos of each other. It was an emotional moment.

You can't see Santiago's cathedral, the tangible goal of my 1000-mile journey, until you're almost upon it. I walked downhill from the modern statue on Monte do Gozo, over motorway and railway, and through the suburb of San Lázaro, where there used to be a leprosy hospital in the 12th century. I scurried over the ring road and into the Rúa dos Concheiros — this name being a reference to pilgrims wearing the concha, the scallop shell symbol of Saint James. It was late in the afternoon and getting dark quickly. Minimal, tasteful Christmas decorations swung over the path. People thronged the streets. It was a Saturday. The shops and bars would be open till very late. I hurried across the tiny Praza San Pedro, Saint Peter's Square, and through the famous Porta do Camino into the old medieval city. And finally into the Praza do Obradoiro, the Golden Square, which lies at the foot of Santiago Cathedral's glorious western façade. I climbed the steps up to the west door. I had arrived. I was exhausted but elated. I made some phone calls. I sent some texts. But mostly I just looked and wondered. And almost cried at the beauty of it all.

As I've written before, this final stage of the Camino, the stage between León and Santiago, is traditionally and mystically known as The Way Of Glory. And everything really did seem like glory to me that evening.

I wanted to place my hand on the Tree of Jesse, the central marble column of the cathedral's Portico de Gloria, the Entrance of Glory. Unfortunately it was barricaded off — presumably for renovation or repair. However I didn't really mind. It's not the time-honoured routine of pilgrim ritual that matters in the end. It's what you feel inside.

The next day, a Sunday, just before the 12-noon pilgrim mass, the west face of the cathedral looked wonderful in the sunlight. During mass the Botafumeiro, the celebrated giant incense burner, wasn't swung from its ropes and pulleys. Apparently they do that much less nowadays. I wasn't really disappointed. I met up with some of my pilgrim friends afterwards — Ezequiel, Kristin, Daniel, Hiroshi, Marlis, Sebastiane, Marco, Philippe. We all hugged. We were visibly moved. And glad to have arrived at our spiritual destination.

They were all going to eat in the bar at the Hostal Suso. But somehow I didn't feel like going with them — not at that particular moment. I wanted to be alone, to take in the particular atmosphere, to untangle the complicated thoughts and emotions which had suddenly woven themselves around my mind and heart. I stepped outside the cathedral into the cold and wintry air.

Santiago Cathedral.

What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from . . .

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

TS ELIOT From Little Gidding in Four Quartets

All by Myself

I've leaned so much
On conchas and flechas amarillas,
I fear I may be lost
Without them.

So now
(Guided by no maps or marker stones,
Pricking no shelled and arrowed way,
No trail angel appearing mysteriously
At a crossroads in the middle of a prairie
To point the right path)
I'll try contact
Some benign spirit deep within
For comfort and counsel;

Though along the Way I learned,
All by myself, with sweat and tears,
That the more I'm lost, the more I'm found,

And that all roads lead to somewhere and to nowhere.

THE SOLITARY WALKER From Raining Quinces

To be continued . . .


Ruth Mowry said...

1000 miles. Not sure I can really comprehend that. What an incredible accomplishment.

Observing all this range of feelings, accepting not judging them, it's quite beautiful and freeing.

Amanda said...

As Ruth said, 1000 miles is an amazing accomplishment. But in the end, the journey is all within, isn't it? Perhaps that is why the emotions elude us when we most think they should be present. So much of why we travel is actually to learn about ourselves...and the world is the penultimate teacher.

Susan Scheid said...

Words to live by.

Laura said...

Accepting feelings....a good way to live each day. I hope to hold things lightly; feelings, people, worries...part of what I seek in walking the Camino is to let go of expectations - thanks for this post.

George said...

This is all quite moving, Robert. Thanks for sharing the questions and the ambivalences. Funny that we tend to bracket events with "beginnings" and "endings." Perhaps this is just another illusion. Perhaps everything is fluid and boundless, insuring that our tiny brains will never understand the mysterious concoction of energy that we call "life." The only thing that ever makes sense to me, both metaphorically and literally, is to WALK ON!

Bonnie said...

I can only marvel at the physical feat - and the psychological and spiritual hurdles conquered.

am said...

"... Some benign spirit deep within..."

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks, as ever, for all your comments. I do appreciate them.

Cris M said...

Dear Solitary Walker,

Beautiful and I totally relate to what you said... this is what I wrote about my arrival... I am always surprised how even with different reasons to walk, the result in the depth is the same...
Many hugs,
Cris M

"The moment I arrived to Santiago I was healed. For a long time in my life I had not had that feeling of health and peace in my spirit. May be the first moment it was the consequence of being flooded with endorfins or whatsoever, but the second day, I was in the Cathedral, touring it with one of the most amazing persons I met in the Camino, and tears and tears and tears well up from my eyes and only stopped after several minutes (or may be like half an hour).

I was healed..."

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks, Cris M. Your comment is valuable to me.