I watch my grandson approach some other little boys in the park. Being Noah he soon has befriended them and organised a little expedition, in which they move from slide to swings to see-saw and back again. They are all concentrating on enjoying the playground equipment, but are learning a good number of things incidentally: for example negotiating skills; how to establish and maintain a relationship; co-operation; how to strike a deal; how to insist on rights. All of these incidental learnings are far more important for the lifelong development of all these little guys than improving their skills at sliding down steep metal slopes on their backsides.

I thought about this yesterday when Father Ron Smith asked me
"Do you think your recent pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella, via el Camino, have any constructive part in this new facility for 'taking time' in meditation and prayer?"
While the short answer is "yes" the longer answer is about the incidental lessons of the Camino. On the Camino I learned a lot about Spain, and the ancient pilgrimage and its infrastructure. Incidentally, I also learned to make a journey.

There is a world of difference between journeying and traveling.

Traveling is about getting from where I am now to some other place, and it is done in as fast, as comfortable, as economical and as convenient a way as possible. When traveling, if you don't reach your destination it has all been a colossal waste of time and energy. On a journey on the other hand, although the destination is important, it is the time spent in moving towards  the destination that matters most. A journey engages me and requires me to exercise skill and judgement. It requires me to make choices and take risks. If I journey somewhere and don't reach my destination, nothing much is lost as the journey itself carries its own reward.

Universally, human beings speak of the inner life in terms of journey. One of the earliest names for the Christian Gospel, for example is The Way.  The Camino, in teaching me to make a physical, outer journey, taught me skills that are directly transferable to the inner journey, that of my of my very being towards God. What the Camino taught me is:

  • To travel light. To learn what is absolutely essential, to care for those things and to abandon everything else. To live as simply as possible and make as little impact as possible on the world around me.
  • To be present in the moment. To be aware of what is happening around me but not to concern myself overly with the destination, until it actually arrives when it too will be part of my present.
  • To overcome pain and difficulties. Blisters, shin splints, tendinitis,  inclement weather or  the loss of equipment, are setbacks to be overcome or worked around, not excuses to stop.
  • To walk with the given community of those moving in the same direction and at the same pace. To share with these members of my new family whatever I can, and accept gladly what they have to offer.
  • To persevere. To realise that if I take just one step after another I can make it through a long day, and I can progress steadily over this relentless landscape.
  • To be grateful for the many blessings encountered on the way.
  • To trust those who have gone before and those who have marked the trail.
  • Not to take short cuts. Whenever I try to make the journey easier: by catching a bus rather than walking;  by eating in a restaurant rather than shopping and cooking; by booking ahead at a hotel rather than risking an albergue I also, in some small way, lessen its worth and subvert its teachings.  
Perhaps as well as these lessons in journeying the Camino taught me that I CAN make a journey. I learned that even I can set out to walk 800 km across a landscape I have never been in before, and where I have only the barest grasp of the language, and complete the journey.

So when I finally stop my own inner chatter enough to hear the call which has always been there: to follow on this longer but more present, arduous but  more restful, demanding but more rewarding journey, I do so knowing that the small inner steps I make daily are carrying me towards the great goal set for me. And I know that regardless of how far I get, the journey has its own rewards.


Alden Smith said…
Your thoughts on all of this point to a duality in the way we approach and experience our existence. The outward experience of a journey through pilgrimage is a metaphor for the inward spiritual journey we take in our minds... and vice versa. There is an old Zen Buddhist saying that states, ' Whatever is on your doorstep at this moment, is what God would have you deal with'. To deal with what's on our doorstep every day in a Mindful Way is to merge the outer and the inner journey into a non - dual approach as to how we live and experience our lives. When we do this the journey of pilgrimage begins as soon as we open our eyes every morning. Of course this is easier said than done, but knowing we don't actually have to travel anywhere is a step in the right direction along the path.
Kelvin Wright said…
If that was my point then I'm not sure I explained myself very well. All aspects of our being are connected. There is no difference between body and mind, they are two dimensions of a multidimensional reality, so that whatever we do in one of those dimensions must necessarily involve all the others. So that the outer journey of a pilgrimage also involves a simultaneous inner journey, it's not about having a take home lesson which you store and apply later. But I guess it's all a matter of where our attention is. The spiritual path is a journey and to take it we must learn how to make a journey .... As opposed say to attaining a state or going on a trip. So that the lessons learned about journeying in walking across Spain happen in a way where it is easy for me to read learn mark and inwardly digest them.

It's also about spiritual practice. Just as the act of meditation is practice in mindfulness that has an application to my life even when I am not sitting on the floor in the dark, so the act of pilgrimage is practice for those parts of my life when I am not trudging across the senda.

For me, I think I did have to go somewhere to learn this. Just as I have to sit on the floor and stay still to learn some other pretty important lessons.