“The bright moon does not shine to guide the night traveller” – Zen saying.
I joined my two brothers for the last leg of the Camino de Santiago, the ancient pilgrimage in Northern Spain. They had started a few weeks before me and by the time I arrived they had already been named ‘the express train’ for their fast pace along the way. At an intuitive level, I became aware of an invitation to enter into a deeper way of being on the flight over to Spain. That was to let go of the inner voice of judgement, turning instead to a pure observing mind, one with gentleness and simplicity.
I was greeted warmly by my brothers and the group that they had connected with. One of the great things about the Camino is that whether you start alone or with others you soon become aware of pilgrims walking the same route. The group expanded as I walked through Galicia in North Western Spain to include Irish, Americans, Germans, Italians, a Hungarian and a Brazilian. I was soon introduced to an American lady who was interested in meeting me on the grounds that I was ‘spiritual’. I spoke about the Zen saying to her which I thought was quite apt and she later asked me to come up with a question or statement that might help her along the journey.
Source of pain
I pondered about the mindfulness concepts of the inner critic and the inner observer at some length. During my pilgrimage, I noticed that I was constantly making impulsive judgements based on what I heard, saw, smelled, tasted and touched. For example, I instantly thought to myself “nice sound” when I heard birds singing, or “bloody feet” when I walked on a sharp stone, or “terrible rain” when I felt it pour down. I figured out that these judgements actually took me away from the present moment. In fact, I came to realise that the inner critic was the source of my pain and that it was time for a radical change.
The Camino opened up my pure, observing mind little by little. I began to absorb my experiences just like the “umph, umph, umph” of my walking sticks. I listened to the sound of frogs with complete attention; I held back from any impulsive thoughts and almost let the experience sink into my body. I listened to other pilgrim stories and I asked relevant questions. Judgement is far from bad, I realised, it just requires a level of thoughtfulness and consideration that lets the truth emerge in its own time. I rejoice in my Camino experience and I am deeply grateful for the gift of silence and solitude.