Pilgrims and Pilgrimages

I just got a notice on Facebook that I’ve been approved for a group called “American Pilgrims on the Camino,” though I’d never requested to join, never even knew there was such a group. I do know that El Camino de Santiago is the name of the pilgrimage route(s) to the shrine of the apostle St. James the Great in northwestern Spain, where tradition has it that the remains of the saint are buried. Many people make the pilgrimage for religious or spiritual reasons, but others have a more secular agenda, such as an adventure or challenge.

desertThe first I’d heard of The Camino came from a women I walk with who mentioned that she wanted to do it. It seemed quite romantic, this pilgrimage, even for a non-believer, but the truth is, any hike I do is by way of a pilgrimage. Walking for me is not a sport, not an endurance test. It’s a way of connecting to the outer world as well as a way of exploring my inner world.

Christine Valters Paintner wrote: “I am captivated by the image of pilgrimage as a metaphor for our human journeying. Not just the physical journeys we make to outward places, but to the interior places of the heart, the new landscapes we are called to explore. Can we allow our own trajectories to be oriented in a new direction? Often the call arrives to our own lives unbidden. Something happens which we did not expect and we need to shift our perspective to open our eyes to this new possibility.”

I feel the call, but I don’t know what is calling me or what I’m being called to do. It certainly has come unbidden, this pull toward adventure, but I am opening my eyes to new possibilities. It seems as if the whole world is out there for the taking if I only have the courage to grab it.

I doubt the Camino is in my future. Although travelers rhapsodize about crossing a lower ridge of the Pyrenees, walking on farm roads through areas of rolling vineyards and crossing several mountain passes, and tramping through the forested river valleys of Galicia, the truth is that much of the Camino is paved, and is better suited to bicycling. In some ways, such a pilgrimage would agree me because stores and inns line much of the road enabling me to carry a light pack, but it seems silly to travel all the way to Spain for a pilgrimage when I can do something even more spiritually rewarding here in the USA.

Still, for now, I’ll keep my membership in The Camino group. I could end up doing almost anything, including making such a trip. Or I could end up just making small pilgrimages. After all, there are dance classes to consider, and dance is a pilgrimage in itself.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

I Hear Adventure Calling

I went to a backpacking store today. That’s not what the store is called, of course, but I don’t want to give them any publicity since I was underwhelmed by the experience. These people have always been touted as fantastic help, but not so in my case.

I’ve been having problems with slippage on the trails when I go hiking, and I wanted real hiking shoes. I tried on several pairs, but in all cases, the arch support on the right foot ended up beneath my heel. In cheap shoes, I have no objection to ripping out the support, but not if I’m going to pay a small fortune for something that will wear out in a few months anyway. When the salesclerk shrugged off my problem, and didn’t bother to offer any alternatives, I wandered over to look at backpacks.

I have a hard time with backpacks. My core balance is below my waist, so anything high on my back causes an imbalance. I’m also short waisted, which adds to the difficulties of fitting and carrying packs. I found one that fit today — in a gorgeous purple color! It had so many wonderful and mysterious pouches and packs, straps and buckles and zippers, that it seemed as if it would be fun to carry, but the salesclerk told me I couldn’t use it on an extended backpacking trip, that it was for day use only. I put the pack back on the rack. What the heck would I need to carry on a short day hike that would need all that space? Two or three bottles of water, an extra pair of socks, a bit of food, a camera. That’s all I take with me. I certainly don’t need to spend almost $200 to carry so little. I can continue using the kiddie pack that I bought years ago for less than twenty dollars.

trailsThe guy kept asking me what my plans were. He said that I needed to buy a pack that fit with my trip requirements. He didn’t seem to understand that for me, the reverse was true. Once I find a pack that fits, then I will see what the pack can hold, what I can carry, and then decide what my trip requirements will be. Obviously, if I can’t carry enough food and water to last several several days, I will have to make plans accordingly. Makes perfectly good sense to me, but he seemed to think I was being obtuse and contrary and suggested I take a backpacking class.

Someone recently accused me of being contrary when I said I wanted to do things my way, and perhaps I am contrary, but just because everyone does things a particular way does not make them right. Everyone can be wrong. Not that I think I’m always right, it’s just that I believe I have the right to explore alternate ways of doing things based on my needs, not what someone else thinks I need.

That store I visited today was filled with products I don’t need and wouldn’t buy even if my life depended on it. Freeze-dried food that costs more than a restaurant meal. Elaborate tents. Expensive clothes. So not my style! (If I had to define my style, I’d call myself mystical in a down to earth sort of way, as contradictory and contrary as that might sound.)

I do admit I go overboard with a do-it-myself attitude, but what difference does it make? Well, it does make a difference to those who think I disagree for the sake of being contrary, and perhaps it makes a difference to me in that sometimes it takes me a long time to learn on my own what I could pick up in a few minutes from a teacher.

And yet, Taoism 101 says: we are always our own best teacher. Give yourself credit and patience to be such a teacher to your own life.

Little by little, I will teach myself what I need to know for my great adventure. I don’t want to be foolish and do things that would be more dangerous than spiritual, more grueling than fun. If it turns out that a hike would be too much for me, I’ll walk. If a walk would be too much, I’ll drive. If a drive would be too much . . . I’ll think of something.

I hear adventure calling, and someday I will answer that call. I might even get that lovely purple backpack and let its advantages and drawbacks help decide where I will go.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.