Camino Reflections – Lesson #9: Keep it Simple

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Walked about 25 km today, about 15 miles, which is a pretty good distance and pace for me. Started out in Calzadilla de los Hermanillos, and was treated to a spectacular view of the moon setting in the west, and a rising sun in the east, flanked by the Spanish Pyrenees to the north. This was my second day walking on the ancient Via Trajana (or Via Romana), and it has really been the best 2 days of the Camino thus far for me. The vast stretches of remote countryside, with no noise and very few peregrinos, offered the sense of solitude and peace that I so desperately seek.

I’m staying in the municipal Albergue tonight – 5 Euros buys you a bed, shower, and place to rest up for tomorrow. The life of a peregrino is really one of simplicity. I’m thinking of catching an early bus into León tomorrow, which will provide an opportunity to rest and to spend more time in León. I have walked 21 straight days now, and though I feel good, a bit of a break would not be a bad thing right now. Only 2 more weeks of walking until we reach Santiago.

                                                           Mansilla de las Mulas, June 2, 2015

Of  all the lessons of the Camino de Santiago, the lesson of simplicity might be the most important, and yet for me personally has also been the most difficult to sustain since returning home. The Camino demands simplicity; it strips away all that extra baggage we carry with us, both literally and figuratively (Some of the baggage we carry is obvious, other things less so.).

One of the first things a peregrino learns in walking the Camino is that you’re more than likely carrying stuff that you’re never going to use. After a week or so of hauling it, wise peregrinos will either donate these unneeded items to an albergue (in hopes that someone else will find them useful), or they will pack it all in a box and ship ahead to Santiago, where it can be reclaimed upon arrival. Pilgrims quickly learn what they need to function well on the Camino; they also quickly learn what serves no true purpose, and just weighs them down on their journey.

The simplicity of the Camino extends beyond just the physical, however. One of its true beauties is its freedom from structure and schedule. There really are no schedules to keep other than those that are self-imposed. This freedom provides an opportunity for the pilgrim to free ourselves from the structured life that is so ingrained in most of us, and opens up the door to self-discovery. When we strip away the unnecessary baggage of schedules, meetings, external commitments and the like, we are offered in exchange a time for coming to know ourselves more fully, to build relationships with our fellow peregrinos, and to deepen our relationship with God. This is incredibly transformative.

Simplicity is a gift, indeed is a gift from God. Saint Thomas Aquinas, in his great work Summa Theologia, writes of the “absolute simplicity of God.” I’m still learning how to comprehend this in a spiritual sense, but I have no doubt in my own mind that the simplicity of the Camino de Santiago provides a window into this understanding. 

In closing, I leave you with a Facebook post from June 2015, which described the simplicity of the Camino, as I understood it at that time. I really can’t think of anything more important that I could have taken from that pilgrimage. I’m still learning, still comprehending, still understanding its significance three years later.

Dear FB friends, reporting in from the Camino de Santiago. The life of a peregrino is a pretty simple affair. You get up in the morning, brush your teeth and wash your face, pack all your belongings into your pack, and start hiking. You may or may not get breakfast before you start hiking, but you can generally plan on getting a cafe con leche and a croissant or tostada (toast) somewhere along the way. After 12 to 18 miles of walking, you check into an albergue, find your bed, take a shower, wash your clothes and hang them out to dry, then go find something to eat. After that, you can sit around talking, write in your journal, take care of any feet issues you might have, check your e-mail or post on FB, read a book, or go to a Pilgrim’s Mass if it’s offered. Then it’s usually lights out at 10:00 pm, and you go to sleep ready for the next day. Now, what can be simpler than that?

Buen Camino!

                                                                     Facebook post, June 10, 2015



5 Replies to “Camino Reflections – Lesson #9: Keep it Simple”

  1. What did you take that you could leave behind or ship home? How did you change physically?
    Did your weight go down and health improve? Love reading about your spiritual journey.


    1. So, I was fortunate in that I didn’t bring very much that I didn’t wind up using at some point along the Camino (as I recall, there were only think of a couple of items that I didn’t use, but don’t remember what they were). I paid pretty close attention to the Camino guidebooks (and online recommendations from groups like American Pilgrims on the Camino), and also met with a priest who had already walked the Camino. So, our group of 4 had some good guidance, although not all of us adhered to that guidance completely. One of our group brought way too much, and wound up shipping a good bit of it ahead to Santiago, where he was able to reclaim it when he arrived. I also purchased some gifts in Leon, Spain, which I also shipped ahead to Santiago.

      A good rule of thumb for the Camino is for your backpack and belongings to weigh no more than 10% of your weight. My pack came in a little more than the 10% goal, but it was no problem for me to carry.

      Physically, yes the Camino changed me. I had already lost some weight before departing for Spain, just from the training that I was doing in preparation. On the Camino, I lost an additional 13 lbs., which was great. It was the first time I had weighed less than 180 lbs in 20 or 30 years!

      The simplicity of the Camino is about more than just the physical aspects of what you carry and how you change. It’s about stripping away the unnecessary elements of your life that get in the way of truly coming to know yourself. The simple beauties, the kindness of strangers, the simple style of living – these are all things that I think of when I think of simplicity.

      Thanks again for the kind comments!


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