Have you ever went on a pilgrimage? A single thought about it can make you laugh as most of our contemporary conceptions of religion and faith are far from what made people to pilgrimage few hundreds years ago. However, the statistics do not lie: since 10 years a number of pilgrims walking the Way of St. James in Spain (Camino de Santiago or simply camino) steadily increases. And you probably wonder why.
Do you find overwhelmed with technology? Are you constantly online? And even if you decided to go offline you can’t resist the temptation to switch your phone on? I have this too.
Most people, especially in travel industry, tell you that a travel to an exotic place will cheer you up. A holiday package ‘all inclusive’ usually follows this advice. While changing a place of stay in helpful in a short term perspective it will never resolve your serious problems with relationships, work or health.
Or let me put it this way: If any sort of travel can help you to deal with problems you experience everyday it would be a pilgrimage. And there are reasons why people have decided to join a pilgrimage for hundreds of years.
I am not saying that one pilgrimage will resolve all your problems. In fact, it probably won’t. Pilgrimage will definitely not deal with serious illness or a nervous breakdown (i.e. depression, anxiety, unresolved conflicts, etc.) but what I know is that pilgrimage is a chance to create space for your spirit to stretch. And you really need it from time to time. This will not resolve any of your problems but it might create time and space you need to figure out where to find help or what to do next.
There is a chance that a pilgrimage will change your life. After all, grace is given in a most mysterious ways. If you never try, you will never know.
Most people don’t know about it but the spirit of pilgrimage is still very much alive nowadays. And I am not talking about buses full of tourists left in front of the chief attractions of the European pilgrimage centers. I am talking about an authentic experience of a long walk with your backpack. About everyday fight with your own weaknesses. About The Way focused on improving yourself, and most of all giving space to your own spirit to grow.
You might have never thought about pilgrimage but here is the thing: I would like to share my own reasons why I walk camino this year.
Getting Back to Our Roots
Pilgrimage is appreciated in every major religion. Then it must be something really important in it! UNESCO proclaimed Camino to be a World Heritage Site. And for some this is enough reason to walk it. But there are many other reasons too.
Thanksgiving or penance, demonstration of devotion or gaining a divine aid – there are as many motivations as people who walk it. But there is one common ground for all motivations: a pilgrim KNOWS that he or she has spiritual needs.
This sounds trivial but the whole contemporary world tries to convince us that we don’t. That a human can be limited to their needs created by marketing and PR industry. Well, here is the news: EVERYONE has spiritual needs and it is up to you how you deal with them.
Camino: On My Way To St. James
The feeling you realize that the very path you are currently walking has been walked for over six centuries is pretty awesome. It brings you closer to your roots, if you are a European or you are connected to the western civilization somehow. It also makes you feel a piece of the gigantic puzzle of the universe being in the right place at the right time. Time flies, reality changes, people are growing old but The Way has been there for centuries. It makes me feel I belong to my cultural and religious circle and that I continue a longstanding tradition.
Most of all, a pilgrimage, which in my case means a total offline status for more than 2 weeks, is an effort to create a space. Space for my spiritual grow, for prayer, for getting back to the basic things. And it shows me every day that there is SO little that I need. To be happy and fulfilled and in harmony with the world.
I am christian catholic which makes this pilgrimage a religious experience to me. But I would like to encourage you to think about it too, even though you do not consider yourself christian.
Too often we get overwhelmed with our everyday lives. Too often we find ourselves in difficulties to cope with it. And sometimes it is good to take care of yourself. With true care and compassion. Instead of buying yourself a new gadget take yourself SERIOUSLY this time. Go offline. Leave your phone switched off. Talk to people. Enjoy every day and every place you visit.
Don’t get deceived that time spent offline is a luxury you can’t afford. That’s a lie.
You deserve to stop running. If only for two weeks.
There is no way that undertaken effort will leave you untouched. The result depends on you how you will treat yourself, your faith and people you meet along the way. This is not my first pilgrimage so I know that of many benefits I’ll gain peace in my heart. Challenging little things like pain of tired feet or heavy backpack will set me free.
Because above all a pilgrimage is a liberating experience. It sets you free from misconceptions on you poor condition, on your needs and your fear. It puts everything back in the right perspective. Brings back proper proportions to your life. And it allows you to distinguish things that you consider necessary from those that really are.
So, I’m leaving tonight to Madrid, I go by bus to Leon in the north of Spain and continue The Way on foot. Walking little over 300 km to arrive to Santiago is my target.
See you in two weeks when I get back home and will tell you everything about it.
Psst! In case you haven’t heard the story of my friend who went to Spain last year, read it here.