I was in Spain last week celebrating my freedom. Practicing it is harder than being grateful for it. I walked 115K over 23 hours (Day #1 55K, Cay #2 52K and then 8 K to finish!) of the Santiago De Compostela. This is one of the world’s most frequented and spiritual pilgrimage paths in the past 1000 years. It’s history is rich in people longing to be free from their sins, gain clarity, receive riches, leave their villages and dwell in more urban resources, and to connect with fellow travelers. Does freedom rely on merely granting space or it is something much more fine tuned: the intentional witnessing of life and withholding interference? If I want to be free, that does require disconnection?… The belief is that Compostela means Field of Stars (for a good read: A Man and His Ass, or for more informational http://www.csj.org.uk/history.htm <blockedhttp://www.csj.org.uk/history.htm> ) Believe me, The way was not scenic…far from measuring up to the standards of the European Alps, or the mountains of Colorado or the lakes of Croatia and the Mosel River. I never saw a single star. Sure, it was woody and peaceful in some parts, with old buildings and 500 year old churches scattered along the path. I don’t remember the physical details, really, as the way is not external. Walking the way , and walking it, well the process was much more internal.
“We may not have known why we were there, but we were there for a reason; and we may not have known where we were, but we were somewhere; and it was important, and it was all right.” A quote from a fellow pilgrim.
Questions came one after another, and many of them did not have clear, definitive “answers.” Why am I walking? Where do I want to go in my life? What sins do I need to be forgiven of? What burdens do I need to lay down?. My spanish so-so, I felt both unhinged from my normal me-ness, distanced from a sense of security and also, strangely, connected to the me that is being made, er…re-made..again. In those churches, or in the small huts that offered nightly respite, I could converse “just enough” and my legs could carry me “far enough” but I felt like my life was opening up so much “more enough” than I could have planned for.
I suppose that may seem a little more spiritual than some people can permit. But I longed, prayed really, and walked far for “clarity.” and my life seems pretty fulfilling in its complicated productions and investments. However, I must admit that arriving at that large church and attending the rather traditional mass was a bit overwhelming. I was tired. And hungry. And not in a “spiritual mood”. But I did pick up on some of the sermon’s point…”is your path, the right path? do you know that his way, your brother’s way, is also YOUR way?”…once I picked this up, I again began thinking of a clear notion of being free. He said that forgiveness was the most potent general remedy for the bulk of human’s afflictions, and that the walk was about forgiveness of your sins and those of others.
This struck me ,as it always does, each time I hear it…: that what I really want is not to feel so guilty for my own desires. That my yearnings “are a map” (Martha Beck, The Joy Diet) and that I need to battle my lack of faith in my course rather than my desires. At the very end of the service, when the spectacle of hurling a huge incense burner through the wings of the church was completed, I felt honored to be there, and to have participated in the “path.” Since the walk, I have been keenly more clear on what I want for myself (the Vegan challenge helps)…and it resonates with me, that perhaps, I always want these opportunities to become spiritually more “free.”
The Santiago Prayer: “Oh, Santiago: Be for us, a companion on the journey, direction at our crossroads, strength in our fatigue, a shelter in danger, resource on our travels, shadow in the heat, light in the dark, consolation in our dejection, and the power of our intention; so that with your guidance, safely and unhurt, we may reach the end of our journey and, strengthened with gratitude and power, secure and happy, may return to our homes….”