Spiritual Lessons from the Camino de Santiago: You Can Never Go Back the Way You Came
You can dream, but you can never go back the way you came.
Particularly if you are referring to a spiritual pilgrimage like the Camino de Santiago.
We were only about 20 kilometers outside of Santiago de Compostela, our destination, when we began to notice an occasional backpacking pilgrim walking against the flow of traffic on the trails. At first, we said to each other, “Hey, they’re going the wrong way!” We soon discovered that they had already visited the Cathedral and were walking home, though some were simply walking the opposite direction after having made a few more traditional journeys such as ours. It was easy to see why Medieval pilgrims didn’t return home after the long walk and instead chose to stay.
But even though these pilgrims were traveling the same road back as they had come, it was not the same journey. They could never…we could never…I can never….go back the way I came. Even the pilgrim retracing his steps sees them now from a different perspective, and he can never return to the less informed seeker of yesterday. Neither can I.
The Camino has come back to haunt me in so many ways since I left Santiago 4 months ago. I think about it daily, the journey and the lessons it taught me. I’m sure I’ll memorialize the Camino trip more in the next novel I’m working on…Spirit is pressing upon me to do so and I cannot deny Spirit much longer.
My perspective is forever changed.
Just yesterday, I passed a trio of college-age hitchhikers with a crude sign, standing by the intersection of I-10 and Hwy 90 and just waving at cars, while I was running errands. Almost two hours later, they were still standing there, not a single step closer to their destination. I had to fight the urge to pull over and yell at them, “Get walking!” All I could think of was how far I could have walked with a pack on my back…uphill…in the rain, while I was on the Camino in Spain.
Last weekend, when it was 90 degrees, I thought nothing of taking off for a 6-mile, athletic walk. Last week, when it was raining, I walked another 5-miler, soaked. I’ve done far more on the Camino, so I’ve stretched beyond the old boundaries. After walking 8 or 9 hours a day at a very fast clip and over difficult terrain at times, I no longer complain about parking a block away from my office, even when it’s raining.
I can never go back the way I came, never go back to being that person who couldn’t fathom walking across the parking lot to get to work or drove around 15 minutes waiting for a closer parking spot. The journey, completed, has spoiled me to ever being the lesser of what I am now or what I know now. The experience is now part of me, and I cannot go back without having the experience and those new lessons removed from who I am.
The spiritual journey is like that, too. As a former Southern Baptist, a Wiccan High Priestess, and a Spiritual Eclectic, I am always seeking the next path, going broader and deeper into my spirituality, seeking new ways of being, new ways of knowing. Each new path I take becomes part of who I am, and I cannot undo the new experiences I assimilate. They are forever a part of me, as is the journey, whether it is spiritual or a physical pilgrimage. Even if I retrace some of my earlier steps, ones from my past religion or past tradition, it is new territory because I approach it from a different point of view now–a wiser, more experienced point of view.
I can never go back the way I came, but wherever my path leads, it is always forward.