“To undertake a pilgrimage is to place yourself at risk…the risk that you might not return as the same person who set out. The risk that all that you had thought that you knew, understood, had perhaps carefully constructed in your mind, might be blown apart.” —Martin Palmer in a forward to Sacred Journeys
In 29 days I’ll depart California for my second pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago in Spain. The feelings I’m experiencing around this Camino are much different than those I had exactly a year ago, when I was preparing to walk my first Camino. Then, I was excited and anxious. This time around, there is more of a calm anticipation. While I will be walking different routes and seeing new scenery, meeting new people, I know what it is that I am getting myself into, whereas last year, I had absolutely no idea.
Last year at this time, I was spending every spare moment on the trails, preparing myself physically for my journey. For some reason, this year I have lacked the motivation to the same, which is rather concerning as my planned routes, the Camino del Norte, Camino del Salvador, and Camino Primitivo are all considered to be much more physically challenging than last year’s Camino Francés. While I could get all worked up about this, I am choosing to go with Steven Wright’s line of thinking, that, “Everywhere is within walking distance if you have the time.” I will have plenty of time; 55 days. I’ve also been fortunate enough to have had the figurative experience of just putting “one foot in front of the other” to accomplish seemingly unachievable goals many times over in my lifetime. So my plan is to take it slow and easy. And to be flexible. I can change my plans at any moment, accept a hospitalera position for a week or two, spend a few days in a charming village, take a couple of weeks of language classes.
Another difference between then and now is that last year I was consumed with planning and gear. I spent hours reading Camino blogs and threads in online forums trying to find opinions and information on backpacks, shoes, a sleep system, accommodations. I agonized over questions like, “headlamp or no headlamp?” and made detailed and complicated spreadsheets with the weights of every little item I planned to take. It was all very fun. This year I already have pretty much everything I need, I know what works for me and what doesn’t, and I also have the confidence that whatever I take that doesn’t work can be gotten rid of, whether by posting it ahead or dumping it in a “free” box, and the experience that whatever I don’t have can be purchased over there. It takes the pressure off. So, while I will probably make a few minor modifications, for the most part I am set.
A final difference between last year’s preparation and this year’s is regarding spirituality. I’m not even sure how to begin writing about this subject as it is not one that I have broached before on my blog. Last year, I did not do much to prepare myself spiritually. I figured that it was simply going to be a spiritual journey. Everybody said so. There would be time for introspection, spiritual communion with higher power, reflection on my life’s path. Which is definitely true. There were all those things. But, as with everything, you get out what you put in. So I am not sure I could say that my spiritual connection deepened significantly. Rather, to my surprise and delight, last year’s walk ended up being more about connecting with other humans, something I sorely needed, and which, is spiritual in its own way.
Pilgrimage calls us to be attentive to the divine at work in our lives through deep listening, patience, opening ourselves to the gifts that arise in the midst of discomfort, and going out to our own inner wild edges to explore new frontiers. –Christine Valtners Paintner, The Soul of a Pilgrim
I have been quite lax regarding spiritual connection during the past three-or-so years. There have been periods of time in my life when I have prayed every day, not only in the morning and evening, but throughout the course of the day. There have also been extended periods when I’ve written daily gratitude lists, when I’ve been of service to others, when I’ve meditated. Basically, when I had some sort of daily spiritual practice. This has long since fallen by the wayside and I see and feel the ramifications. I see it reflected in unhealthy food choices, in my tendency to isolate more than to connect, and in a sort of underlying feeling of blah.
So, my goal during the next 29 days is to establish spiritual goals around this next journey and to re-establish a daily spiritual practice. I’d love to read about your daily spiritual practice in the comments!
I will be doing my 2nd camino next year. Last year I walked 350 km of the Camino Francis with my sister, Lezlie. Next year I’ll do the Camino Francis again but the whole route by myself.
Like you I had expectations from that first camino that had little to do with the reality I found.
I had little to no expectation regarding spirituality. I was raised as a catholic but it didn’t take. My plan was to take photographs of the cathedrals of Camino Francis and I did that. I was not aware of any kind of spiritual wakening’s while walking – until the pilgrims mass the day we reached Santiago. I was choked with emotion and I have no idea where it came from. This next time, walking alone, I hope to be more aware of me and the journey. Like you I will be taking more time, six weeks, to walk. Like you, while I still walk at least once or twice a week 5 to 10 kilometers at a time, I do not plan on concentrating as much on walking prep as I did the first time. I will walk each day until I want to stop, be it 5 km or 25 km. Like you, I know now what needs to be taken with me and what I can get along the way should I need it, I’ll not take what I don’t need.
I’m looking forward to ‘walking’ with you through your blog.
Thank you for sharing your experience. We are so lucky that we can experience it a second time, from a new perspective. Thanks for following.
I really had to laugh while reading this post: regarding prep and motivation to do some training it is the same for me. For my first camino I did 20km walks with my bagpack filled with the collected works of Shakespeare (more or less 10kg) and have walked every free minute, read all blogs and forums I could find. This years I did some walks but not as intense as it should be, as I did 5 years before and as my mom wants me to do it to be perfectly prepared. But: I am very relaxed, not anxious or afraid – I am just happy to be back on the camino in 24 days and I am absolutely sure everything will be really, really, really fine!
I’m so glad I’m not the only one, Denise AND that I could make you laugh. I look forward to following in your footsteps this summer!
Elissa, I could have written this post. Seriously, almost everything you’ve touched on here has been just about exactly my experience as well: last year’s nervousness and excitement vs this year’s calm anticipation. Not as much training. No need to research and buy a ton of gear.
And in a way, I’ve been thinking about the ‘spiritual’ part of this journey as well, how to make this Camino a pilgrimage for me in a different way than it was last year. Like you, last year I found so much connection on the Camino, and it was what I needed. I’m hoping for more of that this year… but I also hope that I can sort of pick up where I left off last year, in terms of what I was working through personally. I want to try to be more intentional with examining the opportunities the Camino will give me to work on aspects of myself, to grow and to challenge myself, etc. We’ll see… or maybe I’ll just walk. 😉
I still love that we’re on almost the exact same timeline… just under a month for me, as well! Even though this year’s planning/prep stage is so different than last year, I hope you enjoy it and that it becomes fully part of your 2nd Camino experience.
I love that we’re on the same timeline too and I won’t be at all surprised if we end up bumping into one another. It will be fun tracking each other’s journeys and comparing notes as we go.
Well written! My wife and I are embarking on our second Camino next year (this time via Le Puy), and we can both relate to your peaceful planning. Gone is the unknown, and more importantly, gone is the need to obsessively plan for and control every variable. But, why it’s gone – I don’t know. Is it from experience or from a life-approach we gleaned from the Camino? Or simply a combination of the two? And, if so, at what respective percentages? What do you think?
I reflected on this during our first Camino, and below is an excerpt from a journal entry:
“My wife just asked me if Yosh, a Belgium pilgrim we have gotten to know over the last two days, was planning on stopping in Zubiri or if he was “whatever”. This “whatever” is our newly shared one-word description of this European, and more specifically, pilgrim, way of walking the Camino. It’s an outlook and an approach that lends itself to the moment – we go when we go, we stop when we stop, we [insert verb here] when we [previous verb repeated here]. For Yosh, and for most other pilgrims out here, it is “whatever”.”
I really enjoy your writing, Sometimes She Travels. Best of luck with your peaceful planning and preparation for your upcoming Camino.
Great question Anthony. I’m going to hypothesize that in my case, my “peaceful planning” this year is more about experience. Interestingly enough, as much time as I spent planning last year, I didn’t take a guide book; the only place I knew for certain I wanted to stay was in the town of O Cebreiro but other than that, I tended to go along with whatever my Camino Family suggested. I love your reflection about the “Whatever way” of the Way; thank you for sharing that.
My walk on the Assisi trail, last year, was just that — a walking meditation. I didn’t meet a single other walker until the last (7th) day on the trail. Each day, I felt more alive and alert, within. It was wonderful and prepared me to confront the unexpected travails which were “just around the corner” with a sense of tranquility self-assurance. These days, I’m meditating every morning for 20 minutes at the beginning of the day, and I find that I’m flooded with a peaceful feeling that lasts all day long!
Mom, thank you for reminding me about your pilgrim experience, which was so different than mine. I love that you are meditating daily; it’s inspiring! xoxo
A practice of mindful or meditative actions is nice.
I, for me, would not make goals for my spiritual camino.
As being away, the experience will perhaps offer you opportunity to become more connected to the self, including perhaps transformative happenings.
Let your intention to be (fully) you on the way be the guide and see what happens! And if it doesn’t, it doesn’t!
It sounds like your practice was to trust things as they came. Thanks for sharing, Paul.