Relative Miracles 2June 1, 2019 in Spain ⋅ ☀️ 8 °C
One week in and we are spending our 'rest day' on the train between Legrono to Burgos. From Burgos we will walk a couple of days over the miseta plateaus to experience walking in the heat and flat terrain. Then on to walk the last 100km to Compostela to get our completion certificate and a pat on our backs and a tick in that box.
I was talking with Katrina about the interactions on the Camino. Although we are meeting some really lovely people and when you are walking miles you are somewhat forced to talk to people you wouldn't normally, however I've found very few people on camino are 'my people'. People that can banter and talk politics and are more rational than spiritual. Katrina said she tells people she's a biologist and drops the 'evolutionary' from her title as she doesn't know how they will respond. I haven't had anyone want to know anything more about the fact I work in a union. We chatted about how we are comfortable with our selves and our professions, even if they are 'against god' in some odd way.
After a first week of inspiration, I'm stagnating and becoming synical. It's a culmination of irksome feelings. On day two or three of our walk we chatted with an American family from Oregon. They asked if we were religious and we stated we are not, but they are. They asked us what we would say to God if we met him on the Way. Katrina responded somewhat jokingly that we would have some firm words to say to him, but the question bugged me so I fell silent and fell back on the path. I couldn't picture meeting God. Two days after this conversation I've reconsidered - I wouldn't know what to say to Him, because I'm Athiest. Not Agnostic, but Athiest. I would never sit with God. I could be knocking on the pearly gates of heaven but there would still be no God for me.
I fundamentally disagree with the idea of a missionary. Suddenly the idea of doing a pilgrimage walk to visit the body of an apostle who spread Christianity through an otherwise Muslim country feels so wrong. But the Camino doesn't have to be about God, as they say, however it is exceedingly rare to find anyone on the Camino who does not have a Christian background. The majority of pilgrims are American, Irish and South Korean. Many of these people would not do the walk to Mecca, or the walk from Egypt with Estha and the Jews, or the walk across India to follow Ashoka's spread of Buddhism. Or maybe they would do these walks, maybe I'm writing them off too quickly and am being too cynical. To be honest, I probably wouldn't do these walks either. Despite being 3rd generation athiest, I come from a Christian background so subconsciously relate to the camino more than these other walks. This also buggs me.
After my incomplete PhD thesis, I've been toying with ideas for a better research topic. Working as a travel wholesaler, I learnt that a foreign culture and holiday itineries for travellers are pitched according to your culture. If an Australian wants to travel to Japan for a ski holiday, they are happy with bunk beds close to the slopes, with a bar nearby. We are usually put with the Americans. The Europeans want comfort - perhaps a cook or a chalet style hotel. The Chinese want all-you-can-eat crab for dinner, apparently. Hotels will be built with separate wings, to segregate the cultures of people so everyone can have their ideal holiday and sample the parts of the foreign culture they hope to see. Everything is a snapshot that works within the ingrained stereotypes of our culture. We all go home having had a good time but ultimately seeing only what we and they want us to see. Cultures are fascinating. People are fascinating.
This holiday is pitched as a way to find yourself on a difficult physical journey. It's an ancient route that has split into multiple Ways, following a man who brought Christianity to Europe then following his followers back to him. Its symbolic. I'm finding it a somewhat sad metaphor for the feeling the West has for more. For a feeling of incompleteness.
The other night we went out for dinner, hoping to find a restaurant that would serve us authentic Spanish food. One look at our camino shell necklace and our 2 words of Spanish, and we are handed the 'pilgrim menu'. Generally a cheap and delicious 3 course set menu, but we are pigeonholed. We resigned ourselves to this, and sat with the other pilgrims, eavesdropping on their conversation. The spiritual Japanese man (the one non-Christian Culture I've met on the camino) was speaking to an American woman, and she was saying her friends wished her goodbye before she left, with a 'I hope you do find yourself on the Camino, so you can finally stop searching'. She seemed disappointed with this response. I also hope she finds whatever it is she is looking for to make her more comfortable with herself. I don't know if this kind of epiphany it is something that you can plan for, and this holiday seems very planned. Perhaps it's something that might be found under the couch at home, who knows.
Troops of people, having a break from their lives to meet others in the same state and to hope to find more about themselves. Its beautiful and horribly sad. The Spanish culture isn't the main drive as I'd hoped. It's a capitalist sense of something missing and of a lack of integrity in our lives and our work.
If I'm not going to 'find myself' on this walk, or suddenly wake up with my anxieties gone, and am not going to suddenly become spiritual, then what times have I felt the most enlightened?
Listening to the stories of Hibakusha in Japan singing about their home towns that were bombed in the war. That made me feel an intense connection with others. Seeing the statue on the banks of the Hiroshima River of children holding up the equation 'E=mc2' made me shudder at the thought of the godlike power of humans, and our responsibility to use this for good. Reading Sarte in highschool where he states that everything that occurs in the world is a result of my actions in some small or large way. The WFYS conference in Russia where I ate with people from across the globe, but instead of discussing our hopes for enlightenment we discussed our welfare systems, and our methods of democracy, and could ask questions about the differences between Shia and Sunni with a Malay and a Pakistani over a shared meal. These were moments I felt so humbled. I felt so incredibly powerful, and so powerless. Being a white person from a first world Christian nation has so much weight and responsibility, and I don't know this is realised by others on this pilgrimage.
It feels like us pilgrims are of one mindframe of an oddly individualistic nature, hiking incredible miles through the glorious Spanish countryside. Arriving into ghost towns during siesta, but when we sleep, the locals come out to play. Too busy looking at our own trudging feet that we can't see the pain or the happiness we create, or our responsibilities to others. If we focus on this, we will ultimately clear our own souls and find our ingegrity.
There is a long walk from the top of Japan to the south - the peace march. Every year they start walking in May and arrive in Hiroshima and Nagasaki for the dates of the bombings in early August. They often are joined by locals and school children who walk with them in solidarity. They bang drums and sing and smile with bright banners. Some sleep in the houses of locals who offer them a place to stay, or a meal to help them on their way. St James did this Camino walk because - for better or worse - he believed in something beyond himself. Now this walk is purely for the individual. It's a sense of community that we are desperate for in Western capitalism. If we lived recognising that we are one of many and nurture this rather than run from it, perhaps we wouldn't need to get as many blisters while finding confort in this single life God or mother nature provided us.Read more