the pre-dawn light glows through the usual early morning mists as we walk through blue-tinged streets, exiting berducedo, moving onto the next stop- grandas de salime, a township situated close to a large dam. my walking stick keeps me connected to the earth, but there is a part of me that just wants to let go into the blue of the dawn, like some kind of prehistoric air creature, flying upwards and away, over the mountains, dissolving into the horizon.
honestly, today i don’t feel like walking…. i could probably do with a day off as the distance walked is beginning to weigh on me a little bit physically. there is a tension building in my calf muscles and my feet that wakes me up sometimes in the night. despite this, something tells me to march, and i obey. the ending of this walk is calling, demanding that i continue to move forward. this movement forward is somewhat reticent, also because a part of me does not want this experience to end. i would like to keep walking, never going back…never going back.
today, i walk with jeremiah. falling into a rhythm, we begin to dive deep into a conversation that ranges from god to science to science and religion, paradigm shifts, india, hinduism, children, education. a big conversation. parallel to this word journey, we walk up an interminable slope, and i am grateful for the heavy mist that has appeared all around us, simply because it means that i cannot see the end. i walk and part of me is reflecting that there is no end…. only water particles that hang in the air, needing to be traversed. a dreamy grey curtain, giving us passage, taking us god knows where. right now, this slope feels like it will never end, the same way that the camino will not end at santiago, or even with my own death, when it arrives. the camino is endless, it is only the forms around us that change shape. at this stage, i have completely given up on reading the descriptions of the terrain in the different stages, preferring to just take it as it comes. jeremiah has also come to the same sort of conclusion. so, i/we are walking a little blind, no points of reference, no expectations.
we overtake numerous slugs, black, slimy, and fat. each on their own camino. we zig zag down forest paths and before long, i catch the first glimpse of the man made lake ~a body of silent, still water that has established its’ home in the valley between two mountains. the camino skirts around the edges, moving up and down. at this point, jeremiah and i have parted ways and i am walking alone……i come across people on the way, but nobody sticks. although i am accompanied simply and beautifully by the sounds of the forest and my footsteps through it, there is a sense of loneliness that comes on me. a desire for connection with someone, something. the size of the lake in front of me invites me to share space with another, swim in the depth of silence together. yet the sun, shining from behind a thick veil of clouds, casts a weak light on the water. it is struggling to penetrate the surface, leaving the water with the appearance of being cold and dark ~dangerous. do i really want to go there?
the themes of solitude, and walking in solitude, both literally and metaphorically, have been significant for me on this walk. in fact, it has probably been the monotema (a spanish word for “singular theme”). interestingly, i type the word “monotema” here, and the autocorrect changes the word to “moonbeam”. wouldn’t it be lovely if, in life, our monotemas always did exactly that? change into beams of light in the dark, chaotic space of thought? i started the camino with very clear ideas about what my relationship to solitude should be. now, walking day after day, i am discovering what my relationship actually is, the ways it serves me, the ways it holds me back. i see my ideas transforming into light, becoming more flexible, less defined, easier to carry. they are taking me somewhere towards real connection with the eyes of the other, and myself. a stronger attempt to live in the flow of a world of people inhabiting an infinite number of universes.
when i arrive at the dam wall i pause a few minutes to look, peering over the edge and in doing so, giving myself vertigo. the familiar fear of not being able to stop myself from climbing up onto the wall and jumping off invades my body for a few crazy seconds before i walk away from the edge. instantly, my mind jumps back to the sunset that i watched from the top of that mountain in putre, chile ~it was the last time i worried about flinging myself off the edge of something. time is suddenly marked and i feel the length of the distances that have been covered, the depth of the experiences that have been had, the faces and friendships, so many things…….
how do i process this?
when i think of this word ~process~ and the way that i use it, it expresses some kind of machine-like behaviour: input experience = output learning = transformation. i process to overcome, to move forward from point a to point b, to somehow evolve and reach that zenith of perfect understanding. a perfect understanding that is always beyond reach ~the perpetual dangling carrot. i catch my mind being linear in this way and laugh… speaking at great length with other walkers about their experiences on the camino, i have heard the word “process” countless times, and i question what the term means to the individuals who decide to do something like this. is the pilgrimage simply another example of consumerism, this time related to personal development and the “processing” of experiences in order to achieve the desired personal transformation?
this action of writing is my attempt to “process” understanding. seated on the floor in front of the computer, i mentally walk through a landscape that changes form from instant to instant, as different parts of the totality of my experiences are brought back to life, lights flickering together in the darkness, lit by unseen connections happening somewhere down deep in the subconscious mind. yet, this does not happen in a linear way. nor does it happen only in the realm of the mind. as i walk through, there are also physical sensations, heartbeat slowing up or down, butterflies in my stomach, a prickling sensation on the skin, feeling the blood drain from my face, a slow pulsing in the root, tingling in the soles of my feet…..each connected to thought. pleasant or unpleasant, these sensations also determine the directions that i take in my mental wanderings……the learning outcomes of the “process”.
there is also a part of me that wants to hang on to the a-ha! realisations that come during the day. i tell myself that i never want to forget this, or i never want to stop feeling that…..but to hold onto learning in such a way is like trying to grasp smoke. the infinite possibility of each moment and the resulting endless permutations of the thoughts that come up from the mind means that the only way to control the extent to which learning can stay present, integrated, is by creating rigid structures to keep it prisoner. this is a movement away from the truth, if such a thing exists. truth lives in air and space, where ideas have the freedom to come and go at will…..
so, what do i do with all of this information? the answer: go on travelling in the moment as much as i can and just let things unfold, without allowing expectations to creep in and condition. continue doing things that give me pleasure. simply understand that all that happens now, and all that has happened, will no doubt reappear in another situation, at a future time. a memory traveller sent through time to bring me into the learning of the moment.
the final part of the camino is made up of four kilometres of asphalt, all uphill, which i walk relatively easily with the help of hindu chants. they transport me into that walking space that i love so much. just me and the soft voices coming through my headphones, singing the same words over and over…….. step step step/click….step step step/click……it is just the right kind of slope where i could keep going and going and going……………..
the path goes through a forest, spitting me out in grandas de salime after a couple of kilometres. the albergue is pumping, and there i congregate with patri, the four guys from valencia, jeremiah, cristiana, jack, jose luis, lucia….amongst others. it is the ending of the day before…………………….