This week's Moment of Travel Zen comes to us from David Freifeld of the ancient Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route in Spain.
"Every year, millions of people from all over the world travel to the ancient Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela. Of these millions, over 100,000 individuals arrive on foot upon a centuries-old pilgrimage known as the Camino de Santiago. A 500-mile footpath, the Camino traditionally begins in the Pyrenees and winds its way across northern Spain to the final region of Galicia. After walking for seven consecutive weeks, carrying only a backpack and a walking stick, I arrived in Santiago on June 24, 2012—joining the countless number of pilgrims before me to have completed the trek.
Nowadays, the notion of walking 500 miles seems archaic and impractical (I should mention that the entire trip can be completed by car in all of eight hours), yet I guarantee that even as you read this sentence, hundreds of people are making their way towards Galicia. Most, if not all of them, are walking for two reasons: 1) the “surface”: well I have always been intrigued by the trip… and 2) the “honest”: I’m seeking direction for some new challenge in my life…”
The impetus for my Camino was a diagnosis: Multiple System Atrophy. Most likened to Lou Gehrig’s, MSA is a swift and terminal neurodegenerative disease. So when it befell my father, it hit with a vicious blend of shock, injustice, grief, and uncertainty. And though I could not change the prognosis, I decided to dedicate my Camino to my beloved dad—fully aware that he would soon lose his ability to walk entirely.
Upon arrival to the Pyrenees, I immediately found myself surrounded by other pilgrims. I walked with widows, the unemployed, families, broken hearts, the young and old. Each one clouded by his or her circumstances, but all seeking balance. Unlike other hikes, this walk is not about self-sufficiency or survival; rather, it’s humility and the joy of learning from whomever you’re with.
At its essence, a pilgrimage is a journey marked by horizons, both geographical and personal. Whether facing the peak of a mountain or seemingly endless plains, the Camino does not offer shortcuts or detours. Instead, it decelerates life down from 60 miles per hour to one step at a time. Each obstacle must be taken in stride with a welcome awareness for whatever comes next. As the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke once said, “Let everything happen to you. Beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final."
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