It’s a funny thing. Because, in general, it is difficult to precisely explain and name, the reasons that push people along this path. And yet, in the 21st century, hundreds of thousands of people, completely individually, independently, against adversities, limitations and in the absence of significant media promotion, a multi-week – often lonely – journey to Santiago de Compostela.
Why do they do that? What drives them? Or else – what’s more important – what they find on it and why they want to come back so much? How is it that the constant effort, the lack of guaranteed accommodation, two weeks, three weeks, a month, and sometimes a long march, attracts people? What does it give them? What do people find on the Camino de Santiago? This text is dedicated to this question.
To find the answer, I simply asked the pilgrims a question. Polish and American. Because of a bit different cultures and societies. “If you could take one thing from Camino to everyday life. What would it be?” I asked. I got far more than a hundred answers. Spontaneous. Real. They can be arranged in a colorful mosaic, which makes its own sense and meaning, which somehow describes all of us – pilgrims. So what did the pilgrims experience and what they would like to take from Camino into an everyday, ordinary life? Here are the 11 most frequently mentioned answers:
1. Set off without expectations.
What’s striking is the fact that pilgrims emphasize that they would gladly take home the feeling of starting a new day (or a journey) without expectations. To react on things, conditions or problems just as they appear. Experiences, impressions and events come. But we do not expect them all. When they appear, we do not say – “That’s what it was waited for, what I wanted to get, achieve, have, – that was my wish.”
The opposite is true. People are setting off, being driven by kind of feeling, vague premonition instead of knowledge or clear concept of what they expect. This lack of expectations, this acceptance on what their journey will bring to them, is perhaps the first interesting aspect of Camino.
2. Here and now.
Pilgrims emphasize how good and important is to be “here and now“. “Living in the moment” – Americans write. And it probably is. Pilgrim, going through “here and now”, experiences everything much more vividly and in a deeper way. At the same time, we lose something. What are we losing? All the baggage of thoughts and references to the uncertain future or bitter past we carry with ourselves on daily basis.
Pilgrim does not expect anything, he comes face to face with what comes along on the way. And these are not psychological and philosophical discussions, but simple experience of the vast majority of those walked Camino. Perhaps for this reason, because of being “here and now”, the experiences of pilgrims are so intense, so “colorful”, so moving.
“My peace I give unto you.” Jesus said to the Apostles, probably also to Saint. Jacob. But do we really find peace in our lives? Do we experience peace or do we try very hard hard, believe strongly and yet… are left with just a constant more or less stress.
The truth is that this path brings a profound experience of peace into consciousness. Experience which comes not from religious practices and rites, but from practice of simple life and conduct, practice of the walking the road to Santiago. One who walks Camino experiences peace. It’s common and undeniable feeling. One of these we lack so bad in everyday reality.
There’s some trouble with “trust”, but it has also been mentioned many times. Well, what does it mean – trust? When I asked, answers has been given. So trust means that one feels to be a “part of the way”, feels that everything is okay, that one will find what he needs, that he will reach the goal, that pilgrim is in some kind of area of care of other people, God circumstances. That whatever “it will be”, “it will be good” at the end. This is trust.
5. The Goal.
The experience of having a goal takes us from existential or mystical issues to those very practical ones. “Goal” – combines both categories.“This is extremely important” – emphasize pilgrims – “that you get up and … you have a goal. That you have it at any moment. You have a goal in the morning, you have it when you fall asleep, you have it in a cafe, when you drink coffee or wine, you have it – always.” On the Camino the goal is constantly present to a pilgrim. There is no a single moment in time of pilgrimage, lacking of that Goal.
The goal then becomes the “substance” of the road, it’s “essence”. Without it, there would be completely different journey. This Goal creates The Way, organizes our effort, straightens our thoughts.
There are arrows near the road aimed towards Goal. These little yellow signs on trees, electric poles, walls, asphalt, buildings, sometimes even on rubbish bins become pilgrims’ companions. When he comes back home, the eyes are involuntarily looking for these arrows. “There it is!” one would like to say with joy.
These arrows are the connection between the road and the Goal. They are it’s clues that we’re walking the right direction. That we don’t wander, we don’t go astray, we don’t move in the opposite direction – it would be stressfull. So we need these tips, these reassurances and they become – we can say – our cheerful companions in the pursuit of the Goal.
It’s strange, in fact, that pilgrims have the experience of immense freedom walking Camino de Santiago. Strange, because for a month (sometimes more, sometimes less) they follow a specific route, leading to specific goal. So where it is, that freedom? If you could go west today and tomorrow to the east. If you could change your mind any time, and start pursuing different goal, walking towards different city, and tomorrow just stop and start to come back. That would be a freedom.
Meanwhile, Camino means a lot of a discipline. There’s one goal. Path is set out. We are just forced to make some repeated things every day, day by day. We have to go, we have to organize food, we have to wash our clothes, we have to do a lot to move forward. And yet it is accompanied by an authentic and profound experience of freedom.
Perhaps this experience comes out of absence. Absence of all these references to the past and the future we usually keep in our heart. Maybe it’s – partially at last – because of lack of knowledge what the day will bring to us? Because of living “here and now”, because of the freedom to choose how fast we will go, where we’ll stay, where we’ll rest. It’s an experience of the present moment, combined with the lack of expectations and the freedom to choose our “small steps” (which we always have), what evokes this profound feeling of freedom to pilgrims on Camino.
They are free because they go where they want. Because they chose the goal and the way. Because they decide on a current basis what to do. Because they are not worried about the past, have no expectations about the future. They are free because they go where they want in a way they want. They are free because of the journey they started.
7. Coffee, getting up early and going to bed early.
A funny thing, but many people would like to take home the taste of coffee. At Camino, everything seems to taste differently, so not only coffee is mentioned among these “flavors”. Maybe it’s because the the mornings on Camino. Because the fresh air. Because coffee in Spain is usually really good. Because everything is experienced more vivid than in everyday life.
Early wake up is another “funny” element that repeats itself as something that pilgrims find valuable and what would be worth taking home. Pilgrim starts new day at early dawn. Anyway, it’s sometimes a necessity, because public albergues can fill up really early. Additionally at the end of the day a number of duties needs to be done and the dinner with fellow pilgrims awaits. So pilgrim is sometimes “forced” (and feels freedom!) to get up early, sometimes before sunrise. And then the sun rises above the road. Unforgettable impressions.
When one feel peace and experiences freedom, joy and gratitude appear naturally. Both were mentioned almost equally often. It would not be easy to precisely indicate: what is this joy for and for what exactly pilgrims are grateful. At first one can mentioned a weather or anything else, but ultimately one will come to conclusion, that it is because of everything, because of all one experience on this Way, including even pain, problems and difficult moments.
In many responses, pilgrims emphasize the experience of simplicity and the role of minimalism. It is a common feeling for those who went this way. They write about amazing discovery of how little it takes to be happy. Maybe it’s just that “much” doesn’t bring happiness, against promises of the world and desires to have more, more experience, nice feelings, more control, guarantees, etc. Many people mentioned how good it feels to have so little to live simple life. What a fantastic feeling. Interesting.
This tenth point is perhaps the most important one. Many people answered that they would like to take home some friends they met at Camino. They would like to experience such meetings and relationships with people that are happening during pilgrimage. Americans and Poles describe it in almost identical words: “There is some connection between people.” We can count on others. We discover that we share the same dreams, values, desires. Openness. “You can honestly talk to a stranger like never before” – wrote pilgrims.
I think that the essence of Camino is the experience of community and kind of oneness with other people we previously never met. I was astonished myself when in Sain Jean Pied de Port my jokes were welcomed with laughing by the the Brazilian and Italian, Dutch and Spanish people. Than I talked to the Germans and … wow- there was really something between us. We are very similar people after all, so Americans understood my motivations and I understood their how they feel.
Maybe at Camino, we can experience Christianity, that is – the community of people. Something that unites us. We sometimes call it “bond.” And maybe this is what humanity is all about: good, positive, supportive relationships between people. And maybe we dream somehow about life like that, not about a rat race, in which the owners of the rats release them from cages of artificial reality to another internecine race.
References to God were not so frequent. Maybe it is that Camino is kind of form of religiousness, only but different from that proposed by “specialists”. Maybe this approach become forgotten and yet found again, and is the real one.”Bear ye one another’s burdens” “By this shall all [men] know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” “My peace I give unto you.” This peace, it’s mutual bearing (mutual help), this mutual love (openness, warmth, bond, friendship) seem to be intrinsic parts of Camino Way.
We’ve been taught that religious celebrations attendance will be the sign that we’re good Christians. And this may be too little or not what it originally meant to be. Regardless, Camino is the way to the tomb of Saint. James the Apostle. The elder brother John. Those two were so hot-headed that Jesus himself said about them “Sons of thunder”. Maybe with a smile – who knows 🙂
Camino is for everyone.
Camino is for everyone. One American woman wrote that, she didn’t meet anyone who would reach the destination and would regret walking too long. So thousands of people from all over the world spend their free time and resources to go on. To get blisters and stamps, to walk while the dust of the road settles on their bodies and clothes. And … yes, yes … “blisters” and “dust” were also mentioned as what people would like to take home from that journey. And maybe because through these strange wishes one can see, what that Road means to pilgrims.
It leads them out of the reality prepared by the state, the media manufactured culture, to the reality of the way and people. To the reality of no expectation, no need to pretend anybody, where everyone can find joy, peace and human relationships like nowhere else. It brings the experience of humanity, shows what it can be and this is why, we all can be grateful to Camino, to Saint Jacob, to God himself, who probably looks from above (or from any other direction:) at the small profiles of pilgrims walking towards Santiago and cherishes everyone, because everyone is the most valuable to Him, for everyone He wants the same: peace, freedom, life and joy.
Annex – actual answers of pilgrims.
I quote (not all, but most) the pilgrims’ answers to my question. The reading is amazing in my opinion. I think it is worth sharing. Conclusions and opinions are welcomed 🙂
If you could take one “thing” with Camino into everyday life.
What would it be?
Answers of polish pilgrims:
- Clear direction and camino marks (arrows)
- experience how little man need to feel happy
- liberty, equality, fraternity
- Aura „
- experience how little is needed to feel happy and fulfilled regardless troubles on the road
- Ability to not own so many things.
- Little I have more I get
- Delicious CAFÉ CON LECH
- Kindness all around
- I trusted Jesus through Marry
- Freedom. I was free in every possible aspect on Camino.
- Moderation and humility
- From practical point of view: getting up early and going to sleep not too late
- Openness for anything what day and the road will bring on
- The goal, specific and clear.
- Blisters on feet
- People I met
- Eucalitpus smell and kind people
- Freedom, minimalism in the rucksack, joy because of beautiful nature
- Ability to differentiate things that are important and those that are not,
- Detachment to problems left in home.
- Discovery how little we need for life
- Taking everything with trust, that this is how it’s supposed to be
- Simplicity of every day:)
- Getting to know new people
- JOY! I didn’t understand why ppl complaining around while everything is so wonderful!
- This feeling how little is needed to walk forward and live on.
- Awareness what day brings on. Here and now.
- Experience how little we need to be happy.
- TIME FOR MYSELF
- Inner quiet.
- Experience of God presence
- Smiling ppl all around us.
- Joy from little things
- These little faucets in villiges. They’re amazing!
- Time. I’ve never had time to be with myself. The best holiday ever!
- Peace, joy, quiet
- Kindness, goodness and smile all around us
- Inner calm
- To be a pilgrim in communion with God, means perceiving the whole way as life, as events of future are effects of present and past.
- Ability to differentiate greediness from need
- ability to be with oneself
- Room for reflexion which I lack in daily life
- Freedom of daily choices
- High Spirits
- Human smile
- simplicity and kindness
- „”perceptivity”, ability to note signs,
- Absolute faith in success. Lack of doubts
- believe that I can reach every goal:)
- Yellow Arrow
- Little needs
- That conviction that Heaven knows what we need and when
- Experience of life simple but very full
- The truth how little we need for happiness
- That you can come and talk to anyone. And this is not odd.
- Getting early boost all day!
- Beauty of simple day
- Trust, inner peace and conviction that everything is as it should be
- „open eyes”
- Revealing the truth about ourselves and others.
- Feeling of gratitude for simplest and smallest things
- Joy of beeing alive. Of being a part of nature and history.
- Trust and simplicity
- Trust. Owe. Simplicity.
- Amaaaazing experience of happiness
- Freedom and feeling that only “here and now” counts. Absolute freedom.
- Inner peace, trust to the future and conviction that „everything is written down”….
- Peace of mind
- Joy, tranquility, feeling that the earth I enjoy belongs to me…
- Clarity of the goal and the way that lead to it
- Selflessness in relationships
- Feeling of tranquility and freedom
- Openness to other pilgrim and no worries about material things
- KINDNESS OF ANOTHER HUMAN
- Inner joy and feeling community
- Communion (touch) with God.
- Feeling I must nothing and I can everything. I slow life, not hurry anymore.
- Belife that I can do anything
- The one thing? In that case – minimalism, which brings us feeling of freedom.
- Dinner in albergue with other pilgrims
- Money don’t matter. What matters are relationships with other ppl.
- feeling of being on a journey
- Closeness of nature
- quiet and peace of mind
- Joy on Obradoiro after arriving
- Simplicity of Camino life
- I say this, I wish life would be like Camino.
- Gratitude what I experience and saw.
- gratitude for ability to look at life in a different way
- feeling of freedom, sunsets and sundowns
- acceptance of reality and feeling that anything happens will ends well cause God cares
- Meetings on Camino. Cafe con leche in Los Arcos
- Peace of mind. Feeling close to God.
- I would take peace of mind.
Now there are answers of English speaker respondents:
- Whatever you need will be provided
- That you can do anything.
- Just put one foot in front of the other….and keep going
- Keep life simple…..be in the moment….x
- The laughters I shared
- Remembering that there is nothing I can’t do if I break it down to a single step at a time.
- Be kind. We may walk together but we all take a different path.
- Never ever stop walking…
- A much better version of me…
- The willingness is people to help you
- you don’t need as much stuff as you think you do and you are stronger than you think
- Early to rise
- The quietness of the forest in the early morning.
- your pace is your pace (it’s not a race)
- Definetly THE FRESH AIR !!!
- Live in the present.
- Keep putting one foot in front of the other
- That sense of „inner peace” I found when walking alone.
- Is it wrong that the first thing I thought was Cola Cao, Danone lemon yogurt, Roncesvalles chocolate, and tortilla con patatas?
- Your own way is the best way.
- Nobody reaches the end and wishes they’d gone faster
- Being able to get up each day with nothing on my schedule other than walking long distances and socializing
- Letting each day unfold without expectations.
- Taking one day at a time, being present in the moment and not fretting about how far the journey is to reach that goal.
- Not being concerned about things that don’t matter: What will I wear today? How’s my hair look? Makeup? What will I eat today?
Where will I spend the night? Cares disappeared. That and the joy of being part of a group of folks so interested in the journey.
- God is with you every step of the way. Have no fear!
- For me it was about letting go – valuing relationships but not mourning when we parted, of expectations and just letting things
- Letting myself belong.
- Feeling that I am a part of this beautiful world without fear …only tranquility …nice company and nature
- To be more open on a daily basis . . .
- That you don’t always need a plan. Just go with it!
- Let it go!
- the feeling of spirit, of awe something so much bigger then me, the oneness with God
- Allowing and flow.
- Positivity. Quiet
- Forgetting about days, weeks, and time in general. My daily life is packed from dawn to dusk.
- Trust that everything you will NEED will be provided. Life will work out providing you give thanks and gratitude
- The pace
- Quiet and being self paced
- The understanding and respect between people.
- My experience with the Camino is that it’s not what you find on your journey, it’s what your journey finds in you.
- The routine of getting up and walking every morning.
- I learned the God is always there for us.
- Talk less, listen more..
- Simplicity of it all.
- Everything in life happens just as it needs to-for you to follow your true path & find your purpose!
- Doing things slowly without time pressure – quite difficult in our fast time
- Connections, connections with people, with nature, with myself, and especially with God.
- Self confidence!
- Get out, walk, explore enjoy life!
- Stay in the moment
- Being completely in tune with every signal from my body and soul.
- The freedom of focusing on just the very next thing…
- We all have our way to find
- No judgment
- Taking in the bird songs, the smells and the feeling of walking through a cathedral of trees when walking alone. Just being there
taking it all in.
- doing without overthinking
- The peace
- the simplicity
- To be more in the moment, the feeling of freedom and the overall wellbeing. Never felt so good physically and mentally than when I was walking the Camino, pure happiness and joy.
- I have. I adopted the saying, „Well, let’s see what happens,” about the ability to walk another bunch of kms when I was tired, or what the next village would hold in terms of lodging, or what the weather would be like in the morning, etc.
- The coffee. Canada does not appreciate good simple coffee
- That when you let go, new people and things will come.
- The friends you meet
- That every day is a gift and to be taken with gratitude no matter what lies ahead – we have only one thing to do walk and be open
to life lessons along the way or just enjoy the solitude of being alive.
- No encounter is by chance
- The lifestyle
- How little we need when we uncomplicate our lives.
- more walking every day
- Random acts of kindness!
- Definitely the fellowship of the pilgrims
- The feeling of freedom. I don’t think I can quite express it in any other words but I just had most amazing feeling of being free from so many of the issues that bind us in every day life
- Gratitude !
- Realizing I don’t need so much “stuff”..
- The feeling of being truly unencumbered.. by things, people, timelines etc..
- Carpe diem
- Yes! All the stuff we have. To much. Houses, cars, buildings, cupboards full of stuff, to much of everything. All we require can be
packed into one backpack.
- Living life at 5km hour…gives one the ability to appreciate all that the way has to offer
- Feeling of peace
- Gratitude: to the people of France and Spain, who helped me on my Way
- The way my heart feels so full that I melt
- Inner peace.
- Self reflection time.
- Knowing that we are all more alike than different!
- The openness to each other and the moment at hand, and the gratitude to embrace it all: the magic is always there to those who are open to it
- Joy, the sense of being fully alive!