The pilgrim named Annie speaks of her fear of death as she walks the Camino. I couldn’t help but reflect on the entire theme of death while walking. If you stop to think about it, we are dying in every instant. Our very cells are in a continual process of dying and regenerating. It’s curious to note that the Camino itself is a path connected with death. We pilgrims walk in footsteps of those long gone, through fields and forests that have tasted blood, towards a place – a tomb – where the remains of an apostle lie.
So, when we take our first step on this Camino, we are inextricably moving closer towards death; but to me, what is truly dying is not in the physical. With every step, with every encounter, with every challenge, our concepts of ourselves, our ideas of how things should be, our thoughts of the world in which we live slowly begin to die. The emotions that debilitate us or that keep us small and living in fear, also begin to die off. This death of all that no longer serves us is a grand gift that the Camino offers.
With death also comes the opportunity for transformation. As we die in the physical, the spiritual within us awakens and is heightened. Our gaze turns progressively inwards, and so we begin to see the world through different eyes, perhaps ones more gentle. We begin to shut out the noise of the outer world, and to seek a higher voice; and so begin to hear our own unique voice, that voice through which Spirit can now express. We awaken to intuition, and allow ourselves to be led by the greatest master, teacher and healer: the heart.
The final destination of pilgrims of old was not Santiago de Compostela, but rather Finisterre. It was after paying homage to the apostle (perhaps where they embraced death) that they continued onwards to the end of the world. There, pilgrims burned their clothes and cast into the ocean all that had weighed them down along the Camino. They then bathed in the waters of the Atlantic in a symbolic ritual of purification and cleansing (a baptism of sorts). Emerging from the waters, they stood more firmly in their new selves – selves that were tested, that died and that were finally reborn.
When I finished my first Camino in 2001, I didn’t bathe in the waters of Finisterre. I’m not sure why. I visited the lighthouse and observed the waters, but didn’t step in. In 2008, long after I had finished my walk for peace to Jerusalem, I returned to the Camino to walk the final stretch from Santiago to Finisterre, and to celebrate my 43rd birthday. This time, I bathed in the frigid waters to celebrate the pilgrim who had died many small deaths on her journeys, and who now re-emerged a little more confident in herself and in the path of peace she continues to walk to this day.
Pilgrim Mony Dojeiji
Completed first Camino in 2001 Mony Dojeiji is a pilgrim who walked the Camino Francés in 2001 and later that year embarked on a 5000-kilometer, 13-country, 13-month walk for peace with fellow Spanish pilgrim Alberto Agraso. Details of their journey can be found on their website http://walkingforpeace.com.