For those of you who know me well, you’ll know that I have a slight obsession with the El Camino de Santiago and walking in general.  So it will come as no surprise that I jumped for joy when I received an email from a fellow peregrino that I met on my recent Camino today.  He also sent me an online newspaper interview that his friend had done for the local paper (you can read the article here.)

Two things struck me about the article immediately.  First of all, his comment “I found it interesting to meet the people participating in the walk – and their reasons for being a part of it, whether spiritual or otherwise.”   When asked by a peregrino on my last day there what the highlight of the trip was, I answered the people (which is also my highlight when performing – you, the people).  So many people from all over the world from all different walks of life on the Camino for all sorts of reasons – to raise awareness for a certain illness or disease, to come to some sort of decision as to which direction to take in life, to meet new people, to have new experiences or just for a long walk…

Which brings me to the second thing that struck me about the article: the title itself – The Way of St. James parallels life.  And it does.  Not only, as in life, are there many hills and valleys to go through, there are blisters, there are bed bugs, there are sore feet and joints, there are other people’s snoring in the albergues that you have to put up with.  But there are also magnificent vistas that take your breath away once you reach a summit, there is that “something” that despite all the hardships drives you on, there is the sense of purpose…

Most important of all though, we are all here on this journey, this path, this way going to a common destination each with a different purpose.  And each day we take it step by step, metre by metre, kilometre by kilometre. But it isn’t really the destination that’s important (I’ve been on the Camino three times and still haven’t reached Santiago and have no idea when I will!), it’s not important whether you reach it or not.  It is quite simply the journey – waking up each morning, having breakfast, brushing your teeth, washing your face, picking up your walking sticks and backpack, putting on your hiking boots and then walking.  Or as Alan Watts put it in his speech about learning the human game:

In music, though, one doesn’t make the end of the composition the point of the composition. If that were so, the best conductors would be those who played fastest; and there would be composers who only wrote finales. People go to concerts only to hear one crashing chord – because that’s the end. Same way in dancing—you don’t aim at a particular spot in the room; that’s where you should arrive. The whole point of the dancing is the dance.

Now, but we don’t see that as something brought by our education into our everyday conduct. We’ve got a system of schooling which gives a completely different impression. It’s all graded—and what we do is we put the child into the corridor of this grade system, with a kind of “c’mon kitty kitty kitty…”. And yeah, you go to kindergarten, and that’s a great thing, because when you finish that, you’ll get into first grade. And then c’mon, first grade leads to second grade, and so on… And then you get out of grade school you go to high school—and it’s revving up, the thing is coming… Then you’re going to go to college, and by jove then you get into graduate school, and when you’re through with graduate school, you’ll go out to join the world. And then you get into some racket where you’re selling insurance. And they’ve got that quota to make. And you’re going to make that. And all the time, this thing is coming, it’s coming, it’s coming—that great thing, the success you’re working for.

Then when you wake up one day about forty years old, you say “My God! I’ve arrived! I’m there!” And you don’t feel very different from what you always felt. And there’s a slight letdown, because you feel there’s a hoax. And there was a hoax. A dreadful hoax. They made you miss everything. By expectation. Look at the people who live to retire, and put those savings away. And then when they’re sixty-five, and they don’t have any energy left, they’re more or less impotent, they go and rot in an old people’s “senior citizens” community. Because we’ve simply cheated ourselves, the whole way down the line.

We thought of life by analogy was a journey, was a pilgrimage, which had a serious purpose at the end. And the thing was to get to that end. Success, or whatever it is, or maybe heaven after you’re dead. But we missed the point the whole way along. It was a musical thing, and you were supposed to sing, or to dance, while the music was being played.