Among all that made the success of the Camino, a rising value of our society: going back to simplicity and the essential. Austerity is somehow sad. On the contrary, simple living is a tendency that is experienced with joy and awareness.
One may or may not be conscious of it, but going on the Camino means to commit oneself to a journey at the heart of simple living.
Simple living, what is it?
Simple living is a lifestyle that states it is possible to live well and be happy with very little. In today’s world and in our Westerner societies in particular, it’s an idea with a strong political positioning! To suggest that consumption, money and competition bring neither satisfaction or peace of mind, it’s to go against the flow of nowadays dynamics…
Simple living is an attitude and a life ethic. It’s to prefer intellectual and spiritual enrichment to accumulation of wealth. To chose harmonious and cooperative human relationships rather than competition and individualism. It’s to center one’s life on sane values for oneself and the surrounding world. To be aware of one’s belonging to the world and of the place one is taking within it. However, don’t mix things up! Simple living doesn’t means living like an ascetic or a monk!
To put it clearly, simple living is… 1) To be aware of what is essential, fair and sane in Life. 2) Live accordingly to this consciousness, simply and respectfully. 3) To be happy and have a joyful heart about living in such a way!
A lifestyle at the heart of the Camino
To set off on Saint James’ pilgrimage is a process that totally corresponds to simple life dynamics. The pilgrim leaves his-her “normal” life and strips him-herself step by step, to the point s-he reaches the essential and lives off it with joy.
Giving up on superfluous starts with the preparation and management of one’s backpack… Sobriety is required to avoid to take tons of stuffs on one’s back! One has to think about everything s-he wishes to take. The idea is to sort out the true essential and the “essential” that only answers a fear to lack something. The pilgrim lets go on material and the (fake!) safety it assures him-her… Simplicity is also an inner attitude that is shaped step by step. The pilgrim soothes his-her thoughts, heals the wounds life gave him-her and rediscovers the simple joy to be. Obvious consequence of this outer and inner bustle, the reduction of pilgrims’ belongings! As Santiago comes closer, backpacks get empty, as if by magic! When s-he arrives (almost) without anything, the pilgrim knows then that simple living isn’t a discomfort to dread but a sobriety to seek and enjoy.
Life on the Camino is a practical and steady application of simple living. The values pilgrims find and enjoy there are theirs. To reduce consumption and the importance of money, to give value to human exchanges and solidarity, to rediscover and cultivate the joy of a simple life… The Way make it easy to learn (learn again!) to be, be well and be satisfied with very little.
Right now, you certainly die to tell me that such a vision of pilgrims and of the Camino is quite idyllic. And yes, it’s quite true… Nowadays, the Way really seems to lack of simplicity. The popularity of the Camino made it a place like any other in our “ordinary” lives. One can avoid sorting out unnecessary stuffs thanks to bag transportation; have services equals to those in daily life in accommodations and restaurants; keep in constant touch with “the world” thanks to technology. It’s even possible to do without the weariness of a long journey by foot. Today, one can use up a pilgrimage as a tour-operator.
The most famous routes are very easily marked by a lack of sobriety. The Camino Francés and the Le Puy route are good examples of the abundance and the unnecessary excesses that flourish on the Ways… On the Camino Francés in particular, it may be very difficult to travel in simplicity. The environment, the atmosphere and the others pilgrims’ ways and wishes can indeed be at the very opposite of simplicity! Values, sobriety or even links between people can be mistreated there…
Of course, any pilgrim leaving his-her comfort and going on the Camino will have a taste of a more simple life that his-her daily one and will enjoy it. However, all that surround him-her will make it difficult to grasp the full depth of true simplicity and the joy that goes along it. After having done popular Caminos, some pilgrims are surprised to discover the simple, peaceful and eventually rough and Spartan nature of the other routes of Saint James. Could this be a proof of the lack of simplicity of the popular Caminos?
Despite this quite dark assessment, a conviction makes me believe that simple living on the Way is not just an utopia. Living the Camino in a simple way is always possible, whatever the chosen route! Simple living is a lifestyle that first rises within ourselves. If this is well established, no one nor any excessive environment may ever take it away!
Seeking simple living
Easy to say, but simplicity is not an easy exercise. It’s a true process that can take time. Before being happy with the essential, one first has to have widen his-her consciousness and tamed with the “very little” of a simple life.
True simple living only exists when one enjoys to live off very little. This implies to overcome fears (lack of abundance, comfort) and the laziness (easily do and have, now) that run and define our “normal” lives. To live off very little is feared and depreciated in our societies. Those who live this way are often forced to do so and suffer from it. As a consequence, we associated that material abundance = happy life. On the other hand, the habit to satisfy our needs without any effort (or visible effort) is a distinctive feature of our daily lives. Quite hard to renounce it, as living simply may ask some kind of effort we’re not used to anymore! Sobriety demands some letting go!
Going on the Camino is an experience that ease the transition to simple living. Out of necessity, the pilgrim go back to what is essential. S-he experiments the virtues of a more simple life without suffering from a loss. S-he rediscovers the value of efforts and the satisfaction that goes with it. It’s then only up to him-her to let go of his-her habits ans fears, to open his-her eyes on everything that is around him-her. Almost despite him-herself, the pilgrim of the Camino observes the joy of a simple life and the abundance of the “very little”.
Gratitude and seeking simplicity are the signs of successful simple living… Before one tries it, sobriety seems difficult and austere. After one have lived it, going back seems impossible! Isn’t the nostalgia of the simple life on the Camino one of the reasons of the post-Santiago depression that hits so many pilgrims?!?
And you, can you imagine to live a more simple life on the Camino? Do you feel you have experimented simple living while going to Santiago? Do you miss it since you’ve returned? 😉