I once had a supervisor who told me I was fickle. That guy lived a very structured life and followed all the rules. He could not believe that my ability to change my mind and flex with situations was a gift and not a burden. He saw it as a weakness; not a strength.
Over three months ago I shared my intention to walk the Camino de Santiago in October 2016 and later revealed that I entered the Facilitator Training Program at Asheville Insight Meditation so my trip wouldn’t begin until that program ended, in November 2016. Since then I have thought about writing a post on why I was walking the Camino but I never got around to it. I joined several Facebook groups including the American Pilgrims of the Camino (APOC). I bought several books written by those who have walked, and began preparation by researching gear. I also began a daily walk regime with a goal of walking 10 miles in one hike by the end of this year.
One of my sisters visited Santiago and when we got together in March, she gave me a beautiful charm she had purchased while there. I was so touched to receive her love and support with this symbol of what I believed would be a successful and exciting exploration that I cried tears of joy and gratitude.
I had dreamed of walking the Camino for many years. I read books on the subject and watched movies – the most famous is probably, “The Way,” with Martin Sheen. I even bought a copy of that movie to send to another sister so she could see exactly what I was talking about. There were many reasons for my wanting to walk, the most important to me was that I wanted to give myself the gift of a pilgrimage:
PILGRIMAGE – pil·grim·age ˈpilɡrəmij/ noun: a pilgrim’s journey. religious journey, religious expedition. verb: go on a pilgrimage.
For me a pilgrimage includes meditation, inner reflection, and most of all silence. It’s about working through the insanity of my mind while managing my way on a challenging journey. I was surprised to be so drawn to the Camino, the Way of St James, and not a Buddhist or Hindu pilgrimage. And I came to realize the draw was because of my deep resentment towards Christianity. Until recently (the past several months) I didn’t realize I held a resentment towards the religion of my family and ancestors. Since I tend to gravitate toward, rather than away from things I find disturbing, it made sense to me that I would want to heal this resentment right in the middle of ancient Christianity. I was also drawn to the Camino for the sheer delight of walking in the footsteps of hundreds of thousands of pilgrims for well over 1000 years. I thought the Camino would be the perfect vessel to take me out of my comfort zone and bring me closer to understanding my self and this life.
The more I engaged in Camino research, the more I discovered that while a Camino pilgrimage could offer me a great deal, it may not necessarily be the best option for me.
I’ve begun daily chanting and lengthened my daily meditation practice to one hour most days. As I continue with facilitator training, I’m learning about myself and life in general on much deeper levels. Because of my practice, I decided I wanted to go on a silent retreat before my Camino began. I had already given myself two months for the Camino and due to timing, it looked like I was going to walk during the late fall/early winter. I knew I wouldn’t want to go on a retreat for less than 7 or 10 days and deep down inside I knew I wanted to go into silent retreat for 30 days. I wanted to go to the Forest Refuge at the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, MA. This would add a lot of time and travel to my journey. I wasn’t sure how to fit it in.
I began noticing that every time I spoke to someone about my Camino, I felt uneasy and heard that inner voice asking, “Why are you making this difficult? Why aren’t you doing what you really want to do…What is really driving your pilgrimage…Why aren’t you honoring yourself and going on a 30 day silent retreat?” And when I read comments in the APOC Facebook group regarding the expectations of others – the Camino is all about community and people should talk with others – people should learn spanish – people should have all the right gear – people should take this route – people should take that route – people should, should, should… I became less and less excited about the Camino itself.
I do believe that a Camino pilgrimage will be whatever one needs it to be and expectations may or may not be met, just as in daily life. And many people do experience the Camino in silence and in any other way they choose. My irritation with all the judgments and expectation was less about what others were saying and more about discovering that my path – as usual – is a different path. And my path – as usual – is an inward, not outward path.
So I have decided to let go of my desire to walk the Camino – at least for now. I might choose to do it some day but for now, it no longer speaks to me. I feel a deeper call that many will never understand – to go sit with myself for 30 days – in silence. The beauty of a retreat rather than a pilgrimage is that I will have teachers to talk to who are highly experienced meditators and who can offer guidance and support as I wander through this thing I refer to as my mind. While I won’t be crossing over the Pyrenees, I will be sitting and walking and without the beauty of the Spanish hillside, I’ll do so without distraction.
I haven’t set a date for my retreat. Since my training is monthly I can easily go before the training ends. Then again, maybe a 30 day silent retreat is the perfect gift to give myself and the perfect experiential dissertation (rather than a written dissertation) to support my transition from student to facilitator.
Earlier I shared that I discovered in myself a deep resentment towards Christianity. And some of you may be curious about that. I do plan to blog about my discovery, journey of reflection, and how I feel now, but for now, suffice it to say that I decided it is a little ridiculous to spend a ton of money and travel a great distance just to resolve a resentment. I continue to build physical strength and stamina through walking and I still maintain a goal to hike 10 miles in one hike. I’m doing everything I planned to do in preparation for the Camino, only now I’m doing it because it’s downright good for me.
I once submitted a paper in college in which I shared my life’s story to that point. The teacher wrote on my paper that my life reminded her of Robert Frost’s, “The Road Not Taken.” Choosing the landscape of mind over the landscape of Spain is clearly the one less traveled by and I do believe that it has and will make all the difference.