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An attempt at a secular Grand Camino Theory of Everything

Time of past OR future Camino
06,CF;13,CP;17,SSal;19,Ingles
I seem to narrowly pass by a lot of opinions, theories and stories lately that somehow relate to the subject matter of this thread. Some more than others, but still. I read a very interesting interview just this morning in a Dutch (sorry guys) newspaper with an expert in Tibetan Buddhism. Both the interview and the article linked by @michael on the Polish artist point me in the same direction. There is a lot of hubbub going on, both internal and external, that judges, undermines, poisons, doubts or frames reality. But if you listen close, it is just noise. Underneath it there is still trust, faith, grace, love and a grandiose absurdity that will leave you with a smile on your face. But you have to pay close attention to see and hear it for yourself. Or embark on a seriously long walk.

But if you listen close, it is just noise. Underneath it there is still trust, faith, grace, love and a grandiose absurdity that will leave you with a smile on your face. But you have to pay close attention to see and hear it for yourself. Or embark on a seriously long walk.
Sir, beautiful! Thank you. I do not know exactly what you mean, but I see hope, and all the other gifts you name, and if you name them, you know what they are! Grandiose absurdity! Perfect! Now, back to mundane matters. Which is where grandiose absurdity must find a place.
 
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Purky

The Dutch guy
Time of past OR future Camino
Reality is frequently inaccurate
Now, back to mundane matters. Which is where grandiose absurdity must find a place.

I tend to find most mundane matters only a little bit absurd. I reserve the label of grandiose absurdity for the more 'noble' and high-minded matters, such as politics and economics, where egos soar. But if you'll excuse me, there are dishes that need to be done. ;)
 

Purky

The Dutch guy
Time of past OR future Camino
Reality is frequently inaccurate
@Purky, could you by any chance post a link to that Dutch article?

It's an interview in todays Volkskrant written by Fokke Obbema with Jan Geurtz. I can only read it on my smartphone (through the Volkskrant-app). On my laptop I get blocked by the paywall, so can't post a link. Hopefully you'll manage with the info above...
 

SabineP

Veteran Member
Time of past OR future Camino
some and then more. see my signature.
It's an interview in todays Volkskrant written by Fokke Obbema with Jan Geurtz. I can only read it on my smartphone (through the Volkskrant-app). On my laptop I get blocked by the paywall, so can't post a link. Hopefully you'll manage with the info above...

Perfect : Got it on my cellphone. Same issues on my laptop.
Will report later with my reading results.;)
 
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Terry Murphy

New Member
Time of past OR future Camino
September 2018
Interesting post Purky. But I think you dwell to much on the pain. When my daughter was walking her first Camino with me, after a week she asked me when it would it stop hurting. I laughed and replied that it wasn't so much that it stopped hurting, it was that you stopped caring.

I don't like to overthink my pilgrimage, preferring to surrender to the way and focus on putting one foot in front of another. I think that makes me more of a fatalist then an existentialist.


If someone who walked 10 days on the Camino Frances has a right to comment here goes. I found the experience disappointing and would not recommend the staged approach. I also found that having to fit with what others want to do frustrated me and exposed my intolerant and often selfish nature. I didn't know what to expect but my overwhelming feeling was one of disappointment. The walking was fine, we sent our bags on each day and the walking was not as challenging as I would have liked. I also found that for many people the pilgrimage was more a waking holiday with hotels and the occasional taxi or bus rides. As I tend to the more purist or extreme end of things all this seems unacceptable. I know, everyone does it their own way but that's how it made me feel. Even sending the bags on annoyed me as it was a betrayal of the true pilgrim. Maybe I'm unrealistic but that was how I felt.
I went to the Camino for a walking challenge and to try to reach some clear conclusion about my beliefs. I prayed and talked and thought and tried to rationalise but kept drifting off the task. The feeling of falling away from what I was brought up to believe left me feeling guilty and confused. Jesus and his teachings remain central to me even though they are not different in may respects from what are the cornerstones of most religions. It is the faith in God that I'm having a hard time with. I'm not confirmed in that and that's the truth. Nor can I find a way of worshipping Jesus that is an acceptable alternative to the mass and confession model. Im 64 and feel I should have worked it out by now. The camino didn't help but I feel it may have done had I been walking for many more days
 

Purky

The Dutch guy
Time of past OR future Camino
Reality is frequently inaccurate
If someone who walked 10 days on the Camino Frances has a right to comment here goes. I found the experience disappointing and would not recommend the staged approach. I also found that having to fit with what others want to do frustrated me and exposed my intolerant and often selfish nature. I didn't know what to expect but my overwhelming feeling was one of disappointment. The walking was fine, we sent our bags on each day and the walking was not as challenging as I would have liked. I also found that for many people the pilgrimage was more a waking holiday with hotels and the occasional taxi or bus rides. As I tend to the more purist or extreme end of things all this seems unacceptable. I know, everyone does it their own way but that's how it made me feel. Even sending the bags on annoyed me as it was a betrayal of the true pilgrim. Maybe I'm unrealistic but that was how I felt.
I went to the Camino for a walking challenge and to try to reach some clear conclusion about my beliefs. I prayed and talked and thought and tried to rationalise but kept drifting off the task. The feeling of falling away from what I was brought up to believe left me feeling guilty and confused. Jesus and his teachings remain central to me even though they are not different in may respects from what are the cornerstones of most religions. It is the faith in God that I'm having a hard time with. I'm not confirmed in that and that's the truth. Nor can I find a way of worshipping Jesus that is an acceptable alternative to the mass and confession model. Im 64 and feel I should have worked it out by now. The camino didn't help but I feel it may have done had I been walking for many more days

Seems you were looking for a chance to really dig in deep and figure some stuff out. A pilgrimage is a perfect way to do so, in my view. But that needs some time and distance to get somewhere. Maybe a solo journey, without the wants and needs of others, is something to be considered. It will at least give you the chance to find your strengths and limitations.

About sending bags ahead being a betrayal of the true pilgrim, I wouldn't know about that. I don't consider being a pilgrim as something that you are. I think it is more about what you do. The same sort of idea applies to you trying to get a clear conclusion about your beliefs. I don't think you'll get there by rationalising. But then again, I'm an atheist, so what do I know?

The only thing I am sure of, however, is that you're never too old to work something out. I wish you good luck with that, and don't be too hard on yourself in the meantime. Buen Camino.
 

Maggie P.

New Member
Time of past OR future Camino
1999, 2001, 2005, 2011, 2015
I don't know about you, but I'm (intermittently) still trying to figure out what exactly got me hooked on walking caminos, being an atheïst and all. Especially shortly after walking part of the St. Olavsleden with my wife, where it became clear that she didn't share my enthusiasm for walking a pilgrim path. While reading a recent thread where someone admitted 'not getting it', I asked myself yet again what 'it' is that makes me a camino addict but doesn't hold the same attraction for my beloved. Still not an easy question. And I'm not looking for anecdotal evidence: I get the appeal of freedom, new vistas or meeting wonderful people. I am looking for a closing argument, and maybe even for a secular Grand Camino Theory of Everything.

Until I get there, I'm not too proud to borrow, steal or copy things that might help me on my way. For instance: I read an online article on tourism (that I unfortunately can't find anymore) where an expert from the field stated that the motivation behind travel these days seems to shift from simply sightseeing or chilling out on a beach, to chasing a transformative experience. You have to come back a little different after a holiday, was the gist of his observation. This would be one explanation for the rising popularity of pilgrimages, I thought immediately.

But still the question remains: why is the camino so attractive for some of us? How come that we find walking through a country so much fun? While getting blisters or other injuries, suffering sleepless nights because of snorers and bag-rustlers, getting lost and forced to walk extra miles, slogging along boring stretches of industrial areas, wearing a (often too heavy) pack and having to wash out our undies by hand on a daily basis? Isn't that just some kind of masochism, that highlights the good things that also happen, or perhaps makes us appreciate our 'normal' life more?

Then I looked at it from another angle. What if the camino is so attractive because of these hardships and challenges, instead of despite of? And that it isn't about a desire to suffer, but a desire to rise above the pain and suffering and to use it as a tool for personal growth? It is after all an amazingly powerful (and empowering) feeling to find out that you can push through the hurt and come out on top. An initiation process or rite of passage usually involves pain of some sort: growth or rebirth hurts, but the rewards are more than worth it.

Secondly, the pain and suffering during a camino are on the whole quite manageable. A sleepless night is not the end of the world, blisters can be treated everywhere and you can get used to a heavy pack, or you can learn to leave unnecessary stuff behind. As pain and suffering go, and with some serious exceptions, most of it can be dealt with by gritting your teeth and getting on with it. A modest investment for a fresh outlook on life or yourself.

And thirdly, elaborating on the above, the camino is a safe environment where you always have an out. You know where the start and endpoint is and everything in between is waymarked. Medical help is a phone call away and almost all pilgrims look out for each other. There is plenty of choice when it comes to accommodation and food. You have access to apps, guides, GPX and KLM files, and the knowledge of fellow pilgrims. And when you don't like it after all, you can hop on a bus or a train and go to the beach or the nearest big city within a day. Until that moment you can stretch yourself to your personal limits, knowing that there is a strong and stable safety net underneath you.

So masochism as a tool, a way to rise above yourself. It makes a certain amount of sense, because I found that the little pains, aches and discomforts on the way got me out of my head and back into my body. I could stop thinking and fretting and worrying because the pain forced me to pay attention to my body. I reconnected with my physique because of soreness. Sometimes you need a shock to the system to recalibrate. But since that adds up to a bit more than (non-sexual) masochism, I needed to add some depth to that. The popular quote "Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional" was a little too easy for my liking. But it opened the door to the Existentialists, because it raises the issues of choice and responsibility.

In a nutshell, and please correct me if I'm wrong, the starting point of the Existentialists goes something like this: each individual is personally responsible for giving meaning to their own existence and living it 'authentically'. Which means that you'll have to be conscious of the choices you make and take full responsibility for them. The catch is that you also have to understand that nothing in your life (apart from death and taxes) is fixed or certain. You, and you alone, are at the helm of your life.

When you look at pain or suffering from an existential viewpoint, and why not call it existential masochism, it can provide clues on which to base a choice. It might be smart to avoid pain, but it might be wiser to look beyond it and find out if (temporary) pain or discomfort is worth suffering when it might make you a better person or puts you in a better place in the long(er) run. Walking with blisters hurts, but it will get you to that albergue where you can rest up and heal. Bringing a rice cooker in your pack might make it a bit too heavy, but if that means your wife will come along, it could be worth it. Pushing your friend in a wheelchair across Spain (or letting yourself be pushed!) will take all your strength and resolve, but it could be the best thing you ever did. You will however only find that out after you've done it. After you've pushed through.

And that is also the existential disclaimer. With some luck and perseverance you will end up happier if you choose to live 'authentic' and learn to suck it up every now and then. But happiness isn't a guarantee. Nothing is fixed or certain, especially in the short run. So we're stuck in the here and now, and have to figure out how to navigate towards the end of our existence every day. Our obstacles and courses may vary, as will our mileage, and the outcome is uncertain. But the greatest lesson I learned on the way to Santiago: if I keep moving along I can learn to stop worrying and love the journey. Even if, or especially when, it is painful sometimes. And nowhere else than on the camino have I felt this so clear and unmistakable. I seem to need the simplicity of the camino to really tune into that frame of mind and that's why I'm hooked.

As for my wife, and I imagine a lot of others: I suspect she learned this lesson long before I did and doesn't need or even want a camino to help remind her every now and then. I can recognise she applies this knowledge every day, whereas I can get easily sidetracked and distracted. She chooses to take advantage of a holiday to take a breather, relax and quietly potter along, where I like a refresher course on life occasionally. At first I was sad I couldn't share my passion for walking a camino with her. Now I find joy in the realization that although we're not walking the same path, our tracks do run parallel most of the time.


(Thanks @SabineP for proofreading!)
"You never dip your toe in the same river twice"... it's always different seasons, different people, different frame of mind you bring with you. For me know it's a way to afford spending weeks at a time in my favourite country of the world! Fresh air and exercise thrown in for good measure ... what's not to love?
 

hel&scott

Veteran Member
Time of past OR future Camino
2004 St Jean - Santiago, 2008 &18 Seville - Finesterre, 2010 Ferrol - Lisbon, 2012 from Cartehenga.
I went to the Camino for a walking challenge and to try to reach some clear conclusion about my beliefs. I prayed and talked and thought and tried to rationalise but kept drifting off the task. The feeling of falling away from what I was brought up to believe left me feeling guilty and confused... Im 64 and feel I should have worked it out by now. The camino didn't help but I feel it may have done had I been walking for many more days
Terry, I believe you expressed your frustration very well, and why for you, your Camino was unsuccessful. When people ask me why I walk in Spain, it is sometimes difficult answer, I am not Catholic and there are many wonderful tramps in NZ that I have gone on that provide both a physical challenge and a chance to contemplate Mother Nature and your place in the world. But I keep coming back to Spain to walk the ancient trails and and spend weeks on the road. And like you, I think you need the time, time to let the noise of your daily life subside and time to let the Camino reach up through your souls.

I am not one for baggage services and booking ahead. I think this defeats the challenge of being able to look after yourself. I can understand that some many need this service to undertake the walk, but the fact it has become mainstream on the CF means that it takes on the "holiday" tone you describe. Which is also why I like to walk the more isolated routes.

I am currently broken down with a torn ankle and trying to work out if I can go on. I like to think of myself as a resilient and capable person, and know from past experience that I can walk to the end of the earth. I find it hard to ask for help. I came on this Camino after a few years of very difficult times, I hoped that I would be able to clear my head of some of the pain of the past years by infilicted some pain on my poor feet. My left foot has decided it has had enough, and so on this Camino I have learnt to ask for help. I have read with great sadness the experience of some of the forum regulars over the lack of respect and hostility they have found on he CF. I am glad that on the VdlP, I have found the gentle and genuine care offered by strangers when I needed it. Many said it was their pleasure to help me, and I saw that they took great pride in helping a broken down pilgrim and got as much from giving as I did from their aid. It has been a humbling experience and one that has restored my faith in human kindness, perhaps that's the lesson I will take from this Camino.

I hope you find what you are looking for Terry, but from your post I see that the Camino has already past on one lesson at least.
 

Kanga

Moderator
Staff member
Time of past OR future Camino
Francés x 5, Le Puy x 2, Arles, Tours, Norte, Madrid, Via de la Plata, Portuguese, Primitivo
@Terry Murphy I agree that the use of vehicle support has changed the Camino.

I make no judgment about those who use those services (I have, from time to time). I simply observe that they do make for different expectations have much in common with other holiday destinations.

Having recognised that, I think that even if you were walking another, tougher, more solitary route (for example the Via de la Plata) it is unrealistic to expect any sudden flashes of enlightenment.

And just a reminder to members - no discussion of religion. Which is not to avoid information about such things as times and availability of church services, or historical information. But no discussion about personal beliefs in such a way that is likely to cause argument or offence or discomfort. See the forum rules!
 
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LTfit

Veteran Member
It's an interview in todays Volkskrant written by Fokke Obbema with Jan Geurtz. I can only read it on my smartphone (through the Volkskrant-app). On my laptop I get blocked by the paywall, so can't post a link. Hopefully you'll manage with the info above...

Definately a worthwhile read. I was also impressed with an article by Obbema which was published in the Volkskrant a few days prior, about his recovery after near death.

I see that I will need to sit down one evening and read through this thread, there are many interesting points which have been addressed (a nice change from what type of shoe should I wear although it itself also a valid question).
 

Purky

The Dutch guy
Time of past OR future Camino
Reality is frequently inaccurate
Definately a worthwhile read. I was also impressed with an article by Obbema which was published in the Volkskrant a few days prior, about his recovery after near death.

Obbema is making a series of articles, following his brush with death. Interviews with people who have different belief systems and/or philosophical systems. In those intervies he always cuts back to his own experience, to examine that in light of the view of the person he talks to. Very interesting.
 

ddraver

Member
Time of past OR future Camino
Newbie (Nov, 18)
So as a scientist I'd like to add some rigour to this discussion . ;)

De Heer Purky. Have you tried a long walk that is not a Camino. A GR route for example? You can follow the GR 5 from Hoek van Holland to Nice! Does that intruige you as much as a pilgrimage? I can reccomend the GR20 across Corsica (the first day though...Yeesh!). One of the major differences walking anywhere in Europe, as opposed to say the Appilaction or Pacific Crest Trails) is that you re never more than a few hours walk from civilisation.

Are your feelings the same or, despite your atheism (and mine), is there something important about the religious significance that separates them?

I mean...do you just like Spain? It's a pretty cool place...
 

Purky

The Dutch guy
Time of past OR future Camino
Reality is frequently inaccurate
So as a scientist I'd like to add some rigour to this discussion . ;)

De Heer Purky. Have you tried a long walk that is not a Camino. A GR route for example? You can follow the GR 5 from Hoek van Holland to Nice! Does that intruige you as much as a pilgrimage? I can reccomend the GR20 across Corsica (the first day though...Yeesh!). One of the major differences walking anywhere in Europe, as opposed to say the Appilaction or Pacific Crest Trails) is that you re never more than a few hours walk from civilisation.

Are your feelings the same or, despite your atheism (and mine), is there something important about the religious significance that separates them?

I mean...do you just like Spain? It's a pretty cool place...

I have indeed walked long non-camino walks, outside of Spain. They are equally intriguing, but what sets a camino (or pilgrim path in other parts of the world) apart for me is the people. First my fellow pilgrims with a common goal, eyes set on the same destination and willing to face the same trials, tribulations and triumphs with me. They taught me the meaning of sharing, of fellowship. They are the difference between loneliness and solitariness.
Then there are the facilitators: volunteers in albergues, strangers who pointed me in the right direction when I strayed, people who offered me food, drinks or shelter just because they cared. They showed me what 'heart' means, helpfulness and empathy. They chiseled away at my cynicism, and helped me to open up to the world around me.
And lastly there are the people that went before me. I hadn't taken them into account when I set off on my camino, but I was surprised to find, on some unconscious level, that they had energised the way. It was somehow important for me to sense that I walked in their footsteps. I put myself through their paces and felt what continuity means, and I clearly felt I was a part of something bigger than myself. Plus I took heart from their achievement.
I can meet all these people on a walk that is not a camino too. But I still feel there is a subtle difference and I think I have found a good comparison. For me it feels like the difference between living together with the girl of my dreams and marrying her. I have done both (we married after a few years of living together) and although 'the sanctity of marriage' has no meaning for me in the religious sense, I have felt a distinction.
I suspect it has something to with literally speaking out my commitment and intent by way of ritual. The fact that I had to stand up and loudly voice my engagement (pun intended). I know it gave the relationship with my wife an extra dimension, something I hadn't expected. And maybe it helped me make my camino less non-committal. I hope I am making sense...
 
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ddraver

Member
Time of past OR future Camino
Newbie (Nov, 18)
So I would argue then, looking at your first post, that actually the hardship aspect is not so important.

Caminos are different from a GR
 
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Deleted member 39850

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I've been reading this thread off and on since it began.

I am an Irish atheist Catholic -- which makes perfect sense culturally, historically, etc. People will either "get it" or not and I'm not going to elaborate.

I will say that my experience of the idea of God, from my earliest memories, was that this entity seems to have a particular hate-on for me from the get-go. As a tiny child, I prayed for the opposite of what I hoped for (things like "I pray I will get pneumonia again" because I hoped God, hating me, would deny me my wish, and I could avoid another traumatic experience).

Walking, for me, was never about finding my way to faith in some bigger thing; and it's not about hoping to find my place in the church that is central to my family's history. I'm not sure why we have no priests but tons of nuns in the family, but we do. Cousins and aunts. A mother superior... but that is not for me, and that's fine. Mass is not for me... I find it deeply alienating.

But what I did find on camino the first time was the affirmation of self-sufficiency and a release from the burden of being mad at a concept of God-the-father. On my second camino came the affirmation of a deep set of earthly bonds and trust.

For me, that is a great gift that is likely uniquely available as a consequence of the camino combination of structure, challenges, gentleness, safety and adventure.
 

Purky

The Dutch guy
Time of past OR future Camino
Reality is frequently inaccurate
So I would argue then, looking at your first post, that actually the hardship aspect is not so important.

Caminos are different from a GR

First off, I didn't start this thread trying to convince people that hardship is the most important thing on a camino. I'm not looking for an argument, I was trying to share an idea. I wrote my OP because I am still discovering new dimensions about my camino, over two years after the fact. One of those dimensions was that the penny dropped on hardship: for me it actually has a purpose, a function. And I only figured that out because hardship didn't seem to have the same function for my wife. So your argument that the hardship aspect is not so important is in this case half right. My wife would agree, I wouldn't.
As for Caminos being different from a GR, I agree. But for me the difference would be in the intent with which you walk it, and not necessarily on the route.
 
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Kanga

Moderator
Staff member
Time of past OR future Camino
Francés x 5, Le Puy x 2, Arles, Tours, Norte, Madrid, Via de la Plata, Portuguese, Primitivo
I have deleted some posts. Usually the moderators do not have a problem with posts that express a person's own belief (religious or atheist or anything in between). But we do have a problem when it tries to persuade or tell other people what "is" or what should be believed. Which was the case in point.

Please remember the forum rules. The link is on most pages of the forum.
 
Time of past OR future Camino
06,CF;13,CP;17,SSal;19,Ingles
I have indeed walked long non-camino walks, outside of Spain. They are equally intriguing, but what sets a camino (or pilgrim path in other parts of the world) apart for me is the people. First my fellow pilgrims with a common goal, eyes set on the same destination and willing to face the same trials, tribulations and triumphs with me. They taught me the meaning of sharing, of fellowship. They are the difference between loneliness and solitariness.
Then there are the facilitators: volunteers in albergues, strangers who pointed me in the right direction when I strayed, people who offered me food, drinks or shelter just because they cared. They showed me what 'heart' means, helpfulness and empathy. They chiseled away at my cynicism, and helped me to open up to the world around me.
And lastly there are the people that went before me. I hadn't taken them into account when I set off on my camino, but I was surprised to find, on some unconscious level, that they had energised the way. It was somehow important for me to sense that I walked in their footsteps. I put myself through their paces and felt what continuity means, and I clearly felt I was a part of something bigger than myself. Plus I took heart from their achievement.
I can meet all these people on a walk that is not a camino too. But I still feel there is a subtle difference and I think I have found a good comparison. For me it feels like the difference between living together with the girl of my dreams and marrying her. I have done both (we married after a few years of living together) and although 'the sanctity of marriage' has no meaning for me in the religious sense, I have felt a distinction.
I suspect it has something to with literally speaking out my commitment and intent by way of ritual. The fact that I had to stand up and loudly voice my engagement (pun intended). I know it gave the relationship with my wife an extra dimension, something I hadn't expected. And maybe it helped me make my camino less non-committal. I hope I am making sense...
Purky, to me, you are making a lot of sense.
 
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ddraver

Member
Time of past OR future Camino
Newbie (Nov, 18)
@Purky

I think we're violently agreeing with each other mate!

Part of a pilgrimage was a certain amount of hardship to "purify the soul" (I'm sure better phrases are available). I think what you show is that there is much more to it than "just" that!
 

dick bird

Veteran Member
Time of past OR future Camino
Plata, Ingles, Madrid, Norte, Primitivo, Invierno, Aragones, Olvidado, Chemin D'Arles
El Camino de Santiago

Un pequeño mundo dentro de un gran mundo
Un pequeño mundo solidario
Vivimos un gran mundo egoista y poco humano
Un pequeño mundo caminando, avanzando con respeto y buen animo
Un gran mundo retrociendo en valores humanos
Cuando se cruzan estos dos mundos, reaccionan como extraños?
Puede el gran mundo cambiar en el cruzado?
Puede el pequeño mundo perderse en el gran mundo ávaro?

Unknown pelegrina, Estella 2018

A little world inside a big world
A little world of solidarity
We live in a big world, egotistical and barely human.
A little world walking, advancing with respect and good will
A big world retreating in human values.
When they meet, these two worlds, will they react like strangers?
Could the big world change in the meeting?
Could the small world be lost in the big greedy world?)

*(While we were working as hospitaleros in Estella, a Spanish pilgrim who stayed one night in the albergue wrote this and gave it to us. She didn’t leave her name.)
 

Antonius Vaessen

Active Member
Time of past OR future Camino
2015-2016 VdlPlata - Sanabres
2016.Primitivo
2017 Salvador
2018 Norte (to Sobrado)
2019 Norte again
To me it is not very clear how In the original post a Camino differs from any other long distance walk. I can understand that a Camino has an extra meaning for religious people, certainly for Catholics. For myself, being an atheist also, the religious component in itself is not important. The fact that people from all over the world are attracted by the pilgrimage aspect leads to interesting meetings. ( Religion is an answer to fundamental questions and although I don't agree with the answer, I am interested in how people come to this conclusion)
For me the reasons for walking Camino's, apart from the joy of walking are:
- the good infrastructure

- the many and easy possibilities to meeting people

- the cultural and historic aspects
 

sewinget

New Member
Time of past OR future Camino
2022-2023
I don't know about you, but I'm (intermittently) still trying to figure out what exactly got me hooked on walking caminos, being an atheïst and all. Especially shortly after walking part of the St. Olavsleden with my wife, where it became clear that she didn't share my enthusiasm for walking a pilgrim path. While reading a recent thread where someone admitted 'not getting it', I asked myself yet again what 'it' is that makes me a camino addict but doesn't hold the same attraction for my beloved. Still not an easy question. And I'm not looking for anecdotal evidence: I get the appeal of freedom, new vistas or meeting wonderful people. I am looking for a closing argument, and maybe even for a secular Grand Camino Theory of Everything.

Until I get there, I'm not too proud to borrow, steal or copy things that might help me on my way. For instance: I read an online article on tourism (that I unfortunately can't find anymore) where an expert from the field stated that the motivation behind travel these days seems to shift from simply sightseeing or chilling out on a beach, to chasing a transformative experience. You have to come back a little different after a holiday, was the gist of his observation. This would be one explanation for the rising popularity of pilgrimages, I thought immediately.

But still the question remains: why is the camino so attractive for some of us? How come that we find walking through a country so much fun? While getting blisters or other injuries, suffering sleepless nights because of snorers and bag-rustlers, getting lost and forced to walk extra miles, slogging along boring stretches of industrial areas, wearing a (often too heavy) pack and having to wash out our undies by hand on a daily basis? Isn't that just some kind of masochism, that highlights the good things that also happen, or perhaps makes us appreciate our 'normal' life more?

Then I looked at it from another angle. What if the camino is so attractive because of these hardships and challenges, instead of despite of? And that it isn't about a desire to suffer, but a desire to rise above the pain and suffering and to use it as a tool for personal growth? It is after all an amazingly powerful (and empowering) feeling to find out that you can push through the hurt and come out on top. An initiation process or rite of passage usually involves pain of some sort: growth or rebirth hurts, but the rewards are more than worth it.

Secondly, the pain and suffering during a camino are on the whole quite manageable. A sleepless night is not the end of the world, blisters can be treated everywhere and you can get used to a heavy pack, or you can learn to leave unnecessary stuff behind. As pain and suffering go, and with some serious exceptions, most of it can be dealt with by gritting your teeth and getting on with it. A modest investment for a fresh outlook on life or yourself.

And thirdly, elaborating on the above, the camino is a safe environment where you always have an out. You know where the start and endpoint is and everything in between is waymarked. Medical help is a phone call away and almost all pilgrims look out for each other. There is plenty of choice when it comes to accommodation and food. You have access to apps, guides, GPX and KLM files, and the knowledge of fellow pilgrims. And when you don't like it after all, you can hop on a bus or a train and go to the beach or the nearest big city within a day. Until that moment you can stretch yourself to your personal limits, knowing that there is a strong and stable safety net underneath you.

So masochism as a tool, a way to rise above yourself. It makes a certain amount of sense, because I found that the little pains, aches and discomforts on the way got me out of my head and back into my body. I could stop thinking and fretting and worrying because the pain forced me to pay attention to my body. I reconnected with my physique because of soreness. Sometimes you need a shock to the system to recalibrate. But since that adds up to a bit more than (non-sexual) masochism, I needed to add some depth to that. The popular quote "Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional" was a little too easy for my liking. But it opened the door to the Existentialists, because it raises the issues of choice and responsibility.

In a nutshell, and please correct me if I'm wrong, the starting point of the Existentialists goes something like this: each individual is personally responsible for giving meaning to their own existence and living it 'authentically'. Which means that you'll have to be conscious of the choices you make and take full responsibility for them. The catch is that you also have to understand that nothing in your life (apart from death and taxes) is fixed or certain. You, and you alone, are at the helm of your life.

When you look at pain or suffering from an existential viewpoint, and why not call it existential masochism, it can provide clues on which to base a choice. It might be smart to avoid pain, but it might be wiser to look beyond it and find out if (temporary) pain or discomfort is worth suffering when it might make you a better person or puts you in a better place in the long(er) run. Walking with blisters hurts, but it will get you to that albergue where you can rest up and heal. Bringing a rice cooker in your pack might make it a bit too heavy, but if that means your wife will come along, it could be worth it. Pushing your friend in a wheelchair across Spain (or letting yourself be pushed!) will take all your strength and resolve, but it could be the best thing you ever did. You will however only find that out after you've done it. After you've pushed through.

And that is also the existential disclaimer. With some luck and perseverance you will end up happier if you choose to live 'authentic' and learn to suck it up every now and then. But happiness isn't a guarantee. Nothing is fixed or certain, especially in the short run. So we're stuck in the here and now, and have to figure out how to navigate towards the end of our existence every day. Our obstacles and courses may vary, as will our mileage, and the outcome is uncertain. But the greatest lesson I learned on the way to Santiago: if I keep moving along I can learn to stop worrying and love the journey. Even if, or especially when, it is painful sometimes. And nowhere else than on the camino have I felt this so clear and unmistakable. I seem to need the simplicity of the camino to really tune into that frame of mind and that's why I'm hooked.

As for my wife, and I imagine a lot of others: I suspect she learned this lesson long before I did and doesn't need or even want a camino to help remind her every now and then. I can recognise she applies this knowledge every day, whereas I can get easily sidetracked and distracted. She chooses to take advantage of a holiday to take a breather, relax and quietly potter along, where I like a refresher course on life occasionally. At first I was sad I couldn't share my passion for walking a camino with her. Now I find joy in the realization that although we're not walking the same path, our tracks do run parallel most of the time.


(Thanks @SabineP for proofreading!)
Very nice, I can relate to this.
 

evanlow

Veteran Member
Time of past OR future Camino
After 11 Caminos, want to Ruta de la Lana next...
Purky,

I've did try to come up with the "Grand Camino Theory of Everything" before. It's a game!!! Just hear me out first.

It starts with a pilgrim I met who said that the Camino is the "microcosm" of life. With that start, I figured that the parameters are exactly like what you said; there is a plan start/end point, and we have enough control to end it anytime. Or to repeat it with our many Caminos. 😁

This sets up an environment for a period of time where all pilgrim engages every time we are on the Camino. Like a simplified life simulation without our work-life and other bad distractions getting involved. A simulation that is very well optimized, and we all know it. The primary activities are only walking, sleeping, eating, and washing.

The walking part is great for self-reflection. Left foot right foot and then we are on walking meditation. I reflect on my life many times while in that state. It applies to all, religious or non-religious reasons.

So basically it's a game, on a much grander scale. I am not a gamer but I do like to play the game of Camino. Some may not like to keep playing this game, like your wife who does not play the game after one round.

But unlike other games (e.g. video games) this Camino is played in real life, not in some virtual environment. I guess that's what makes it so compelling.

This game can be life-changing. While others may not be able to translate their experiences on the Camino to their real life, for me I had become quite a minimalist (for the lack of a better word) because of this.
 
John Brierley 2022 Camino Guide
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