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Camino Primitivo

A vista from the Camino Primitivo, the oldest of the Camino Santiago routes in the North of Spain. It is less well known than the more famous route, the Camino Frances, and doesn’t lead across the Pyrenees from France but starts on the Northern coast of Spain. It’s a rocky affair, this route to Santiago di Compostela, across the mountainous region of Asturias at first. Having walked on it three years ago, I look back these days more often to this momentous pilgrimage. You walk with very little in your backpack. You have to carry everything. It sharpens the mind as to what you really need. Every day on 20-30 km long rocky routes full of obstacles, always up and down. I always thought that walking such distances is not really such a big issue. In a way that’s still true but to walk it every day, day after day, that is different. It can’t be explained. You have to do it, felt it, and you know.

A lot of what is wrong in terms of thoughts will be left across the wayside. The mask drops off and the real core comes to light without veil and falsehoods. What’s left is the real self and nothing else. There can be tears flowing when the rain starts and hours of challenging terrain has yet to be crossed, distances braved before the next hostel, without there being shelter along the way, exposed to the forces of nature, alone with yourself on long, difficult paths. To walk across Asturias is not for the faint hearted and you need to have stamina. There’s hardly ever a straight stretch of way. Up and down, as I said, often steep and dangerous, above all when it rains, or, as happened to me, when it snows in April. The weather in the North of Spain can be tricky.

During these uncertain times, with many great worries to carry, for so many and for me too, I can’t help looking back at this trek through Asturias. Existential questions are on the table, about job, livelihood, security, health and more. To live with it all is not easy. And yet I recall this pilgrimage during which I got into serious trouble. That too is part of the Camino, the way. The danger, the accidents, crisis.

How light, or heavy, the load really is we need to carry isn’t always for us to determine as it is on a long walk. And yet you have to let go from bad thoughts, grief and hate, from anything that isn’t really authentically you. In a sense there’s no choice on the matter. No, we can’t always decide how much there is to carry but we can decide very much how to carry it, how fast we go forward, how many breaks we take, we need to take, to carry on. I have to remind myself more often of that these days, even without Coronavirus.

At the end – and there always is an end – a warm stove may be waiting, or the generous heart of a stranger with whom you can share your burdens and he can share his. Or an unexpected change in the weather occurs and the glimmer of hope lifts your spirit when the sun breaks through the clouds, the sudden certainty appears inside that all will turn out ok in the end. I hold on to such thoughts presently as I find them helpful even in the darkest of times. As St Julian of Norwich once said: ”All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”

Take care and good luck.

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