The Camino is a Way of Love, I believe it since my first pilgrimage. It’s a feeling that settles and grows stronger every time I’m back on the Ways.
You may say talking like that is a little mushy. But no, not at all! Talking about Love is talking about what makes the World go round… the right way. As far as the Camino is concerned, it means talking precisely about what makes the Way so special.
The Camino, a Way of Love, let’s see it here and now!
An old-fashion concept and (poorly) warmed over
Love. What could possibly be more cliché? How many million year have we already spend loving around the globe? How many passions, dramas, pieces of art ans even ware happened because of love? Men, women, youngsters, elders, North, South… Everyone is affected by love and deal with it for a while. And I’m just talking about earthling people! We all know for instance that animals can love too, and who knows what happens beyond our atmosphere? In the end, nothing’s new under the sun. And yet, what could possibly be more up-to-date? Whatever the date, Love keeps making the headlines of our daily concerns.
That being said,Love has a very small flaw. Despite its age and unbeatable popularity, it’s just a true mess! Let’s play a game. If I tell you “love”, what comes across your mind within 2 minutes? Lover, parents, kids, family, friends, “God”, pets, food, various objects, activities, places… Symbols, pictures, scenes, ideas, concepts… The list would be very long and unique to each person. Yep… the truth is, this little word can mean much more than it seems!
We could eventually agree on this: love is old, but totally timeless. It is absolutely ordinary, but always memorable. Incredibly simple, but fabulously complex. Exceptionally brilliant, but passably chaotic. In one word (or two), love is a strange paradox. Couldn’t we benefit from defining it better?
Love. Alright, but which one?
Well, the Way’s Love and everyday life’s love are similar and different at once. Both have the same dynamics: they are the energy the heart steers toward an “other”. These 2 love differ in the way they are directed and in their intensity. They indeed express themselves on distinct plans and degrees.
Everyday life love is more or less the one of matter: it steers the energy of the heart towards the concerns of our physical plan. It’s a love with many labels that takes various forms according to the “other” it is directed to. Romantic love or erotic, family, friendly, motivated by intellectual interests or hobbies. Of course, this love also comes with different degrees. A lover is not loved in the same way than a child or in the same way than the wonderful posts of this blog! (By the way, thanks to love -and share!- this one! 😉 ) However, this love has its limits. Because it steers towards a material “other”, it is subject to attachment and conditions always apply.
The Way’s Love is the one that transcends the material plan. It is what some call “true”, “divine”, “unconditional” or “pure” Love. When on the Camino, I consider it synonymous to what people refer to as the “Spirit of the Way”. Word are not important when it come to define Love, because it is of a spiritual nature. It means it steers towards the insubstantial and so towards what can’t be qualifiable, in contrast to the “others” of the everyday life’s love. It is the Love at the essence of every religion and spirituality, whatever form and name it is presented by or referred to. This Love expresses itself with an intensity that is beyond us, because it can’t be fully grasped through our physical nature. It is an unconditional and boundless Love that makes up the World and dissolves it at the same time.
A poetic little picture
How could I describe such a brilliant theory? Let’s imagine for a moment that we are lovely wooden bowls and that loves (everyday life’s and the Way’s) are water. Considering everyday life’s love, the picture would be of a bowl full of water (us, filled of love), rationning it between various other bowls (us, lovins “others”). Considering the Way’s Love, the bowl would be immersed into the ocean (us, immersed in Love)…
Considering everyday life’s love, the water in the bowl is clearly limited. Even if it isn’t easy to dry out our bowl, once it’s empty, there is nothing left. Or, if our bowl cracks, its water is lost. In other words, everyday life’s love can be given while available and while we exist. We share this love thinking our stock decreases: conditions and restriction are added to the delivery. Because everyone is doing the same thing, relationships become tensed and numerous conflicts are likely to occur.
Considering the Way’s Love, the bowl is completely immersed into water. It is full but it doesn’t matter anymore: water is everywhere! To be filled up does’t make sense anymore and it can’t dry out. The bowl exists within the ocean. I can selflessly share “its” water to other bowls that are not in the ocean. The ocean also protects the bowl from damage, until its wood will dissolve. In any case, water will always be there and available in the same quantity. In other words, the Way’s Love immerse us in a World that swaps the meaning and importance we give ourselves. Once into the Love, we remain full of it, able to share it with no conditions and restrictions.
A Way of Love, some actual experiences…
But… we’re not bowls! We don’t even go to Santiago swimming! Who can live such a Love on the Way, and how? Well for once, here’s a scoop. To experience and manifest Love with a capital L is within everyone’s reach! No need to have a religion, to be spiritual or to be a saint for that! One can be an atheist, a materialist or even a “sinner” and live a true experience of Love. The Way is a environment that makes it easier to reach. Love manifests itself there through simple things that can easily go unnoticed.
To live authentically is already a way to be in Love. With oneself, first. To go on the Camino is to leave one’s identity behind. No more age, trade or social position; every pilgrim is equal to the next, another ordinary man/woman. It also means living a simple life made of essential. No more duties, appointments, dates or superfluous activities; a pilgrim walks and leaves well off nothing. He has time to dedicate to his inner life, to contemplation. On the Way, he is more than he has or does. It’s also to be true in the World. A pilgrim doesn’t cheat with what and who is around him. He doesn’t pretend to be cold when the air is hot; he shows himself as he is to the people he meets. His relationship with the World are true and profound.
Authenticity leads to humility and gratitude, which are the expression of a life at one with Love. The Camino teaches the pilgrims to be humble towards themselves, other people and the World. They start to listen to their body; they joyfully put up with a life in community, they accept the moods of the elements. They have a serene awareness to be a drop in the ocean and are not sad about it. On the contrary, their gratefulness to all that is lived and received increases, as well as humbleness.
These state of mind go along with joy, another witness of a Loving existence. The Camino is a place where joy is one of the most common and reachable experience that can be. It often starts by the simple fact to finaly be on the Way. Along the journey and despite hard times, joy is always present. It is in encounters, the many daily little things, the solitary moments of plenitude or those shared with friends.
… or a big mysterious one
The Camino can also be the occasion of a more violent and intense experience of Love. Rather than “water down” its strength in the life on the Way, Love can really make a big splash! Without warning and with all its might, it can suddenly immerse the pilgrim into a true ocean of pure Love.
It’s a big hustle and bustle than really knocks your socks off… Obviously, people have different experiences, but the essential remains identical to all. Humbleness, gratitude, joy and a huge feeling of peace arrange a meeting and party! For once, the intellect gives way to the heart, that happily takes its place. Imagine, the feeling of your arrival in Santiago, only a thousand time stronger! The World seems to be brighter, the body lighter, conscience larger and the heart infinite. It’s pretty common to weep with joy, to laugh without reasons or to want to hug anyone that passes by. It’s a feeling to dissolve into the oneness and the essence of the universe while keeping awareness of one’s own existence. The heart literally seems to have left the body, giving the impression to see the World from another place than ourselves.
It’s hard to know what happens when such an experience strikes you! Thankfully, one really couldn’t care less when it does, for it is a true amazement. No book on the Camino ever warned the pilgrim about such state of consciousness… One has to turn to spiritual Traditions to find a comparison that comes close. There, this kind of experience is called, as examples, transcendence, awakening, enlightenment, transfiguration or satori. They describe the effects of an opening of consciousness and of heart and tell of Man overstepping their strictly material nature to incarnate his spiritual nature.
Great spiritual Masters from the past lived it, said it, taught it and repeated it. Nowadays Masters do too. The state of enlightenment (or other) can be reached and lived for a bit before it goes away. One is then left to live with this souvenir and to embody its vision in the World. Great or small, experiences of Love are no different. The most intense ones last only for a moment, the “watered down” ones last as long as the pilgrims are on the Way. Whichever ones, it is hard to get out of such state, of an environment made of Love! Our hearts remain then the only reference on which we can rely on to go ahead and stay true to Love.
The return home starts by a stage where the pilgrim daydreams, his head high in the clouds. The shock of his physical return is eased… It only start to be hard when his mind sobers up and when he starts to feel blue. Dull mood, nostalgic souvenirs, Camino frenzy; the pilgrim drives his kin round the bend and himself nuts. Some can even get depressed. Where has gone the Love of the Way? The longer the time spend on the Camino and the stronger the experiences, the rougher the return!
More or less consciously, the experience of Love are taken in and change the relationship the pilgrim keeps with the World. The wish and the need to keep and bring Love into one’s life is very strong at first. With time, some chuck it all (or almost) in, others are more moderate and operate changes, most end up forgetting the Spirit of the Way and the momentum it caused as they are (re)overflown by their daily life. In any case, Love leave a mark that will accompany the pilgrim long after he returns from the Way.
Things gradually regain balance. What is important is to find Love (again!) once back, to embody and manifest it in a way that fit our life off the Way!
What about you? Do you think the Camino is a Way of Love? Do you prefer another name, like “the Spirit of the Way”?
What were your experiences of Love on the Camino? Did you live an intense one?
How did you live and deal with your return, did you find Love in your everyday life?