I was already a week into our trek when I first heard the insight… The anticipation of the morning sun was awakening the birds and fellow Pilgrims were stirring enough to begin their dawn rituals. That’s when I noticed at the far end of the room, near the door, a mysterious figure.

unnamed (2)It had not been a busy night in the albergue, yet I hadn’t seen him arrive. Soon, however, bags were rustling and flashlights were dancing, darting about the room. I could now faintly see the slightly built man; he was of swarthy complexion and in his thirties. He sat on his bunk looking in my direction.

Preparing my feet for another day took time and I was nearly the last to leave the hostel, except, as it happened, for the mysterious man. As I put my pack on and moved slowly toward the door, the stranger’s attention was clearly focused on my uncomfortable limp. I was passing by when he stood up, blocking my exit.

Leaning forward he said in a thick accent laced with mystery, “We Spanish say, that on the Camino, blisters are our sins working their way from the body”.

I thought sarcastically to myself, ‘Yeah, that really helps,’ and said, “Thanks,” dismissively. What did I care? I would never see him again. That morning I walked slowly and in solitude, desperately trying to distract myself from the intense pain in my feet. But for some reason my thoughts kept returning to my chance encounter with this mysterious Spaniard. An immense feeling of remorse began to overwhelm me, remorse I suppose for an opportunity lost. Should I have engaged that messenger and listened more intently? You see, historically, the main reason pilgrims walk the Camino is for penance. As I left the hostel behind that morning I wondered if the word ‘sin’ had become somewhat muddled in translation. With the Spaniard’s small prophecy in mind, I was beginning to think that the blisters on my feet were indeed there as penance for my sins!

Sam resting
Sam resting

In his book “The Celestine Prophecy” James Redfield suggests, “that we focus on these coincidences that occur in our life and not push them away”. Similarly, Paulo Coelho in his book “The Pilgrimage” shares: “The person that doesn’t know how to listen will never hear the advice that life offers us all the time. And only the person that listens to the sounds of the moment is able to make the right decision.” Carl Jung called this synchronicity and intimated that by stopping to ponder these occurrences we will begin to see direct evidence of a divine force involved in our lives.

What I realise now is that allowing yourself to be open to ‘receive’ and to practicingunnamed active listening takes courage, a lot of practice, and a consciously sustained effort. By maintaining PTC (present time consciousness), however, active listening can become part of your subconscious. Free from distractions you can create a fertile environment to receive information from these chance encounters–which can occur at any time, any place, and with anyone. We should listen to the person sitting next to us on a bus, the dialogue of a movie, a conversation in a line at the market, a client, patient, or even to a family member (who in the case of the latter, many of us try to actively not listen to!). And perhaps there might just be a bit of information offered that you will find useful at that point in time.

The peace, quiet and tranquility of the Camino is indeed intoxicating, and definitely a perfect environment for inner reflection. It creates an opportunity for us to empty our ‘backpack of life’ of those negative emotional stones that we carry around–and for many of us, for a very long time. It’s certainly a challenge to sort through the past with the intent of releasing and letting go.

You might consider starting this process with forgiveness, forgiving others as well as yourself. The Camino offers an opportunity to shed past ‘Ill-wills’ and lighten that heavy backpack. It won’t change past events, but it will slowly dissipate the charge associated with their memory. And what a positive and productive way of confirming your commitment to pilgrimage.

Coelho writes, “The only way to make the right decision is to know what the wrong one is.”

image5By participating in this personal journey of soul-cleansing and by enhancing self- awareness, the essence of an expanded sense of empathy and patience for self and others will start to permeate your being. In turn, you will be open to receive a tremendous gift, that of the encouragement, strength, and advice from your Camino community. Pilgrims have an amazing resilience, possessing remarkable cooperative abilities, which empower them to continue day after day.

Deepak Chopra, in his book Healing the Heart, wrote (with slight paraphrasing from this author) ‘Nature has placed the strength to heal the heart in the heart’. Both that strength and that vulnerability is quite literally in our hearts. We have only to choose between them.

In closing let me give a postscript that lends a certain amusing irony to my experience and consequent insights. It was a good time later, many days when my blisters had healed and calluses had grown that I rested upon a rudimentary fence of flat stones and espied a distant figure hobbling my way along a dirt path. As I occasionally glanced at the slight figure I saw it was a man. But then moments later recognised that it was actually the form of the mysterious Spaniard. I felt a wave of wonder and excitement wash over me as he drew within talking distance – it was my reprieve, my second chance.

“It seems your sins are working their way from your body,” I said in a voice of great wisdom.

His eyes lit up and he held aloft a seer’s finger, “We Spanish say, that on the Camino, blisters are our sins working their way from the body!”

“It seems your sins are working their way from your body,” I said in a voice of great wisdom.

In that moment I realised he had not the slightest idea who I was.

Written by Sam Pinkerton (Queensland, Australia) and originally printed in the Australian Friends of the Camino newsletter, June 2016.