Last month I was blessed with the opportunity to participate in the Camino de Santiago, or the Way of St. James, with my father and sister. This is the pilgrimage to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Northwestern Spain. The Camino Francés, or the French Way, is the most famous route. The last section of this route, from Sarria to Santiago, is the most social since Sarria is the most popular starting point for the majority of pilgrims, at 111km from Santiago.
I walked for five days along this route with other pilgrims. At first, I struggled with the kilometers and long stretches, thinking mostly of arriving at my destination. However, when I started to just take in the scenery and breathe, becoming more mindful of each step, I was able to shift my perspective and the beauty of the Camino revealed itself to me. It was no longer about arriving, it was about the journey itself.
Each step was in essence part of a walking meditation.
Thich Nhat Hanh, in The Long Road Turns to Joy, describes in detail the practice of walking meditation. The following excerpts resonate deeply with my experience:
Anyone Can Do It
Walking meditation is a meditation while walking. We walk slowly, in a relaxed way, keeping a light smile on our lips. When we practice this way, we feel deeply at ease, and our steps are those of the most secure person on Earth. All our sorrows and anxieties drop away, and peace and joy fill our hearts. Anyone can do it. It takes only a little time, a little mindfulness, and the wish to be happy.
Everything Depends on Your Steps
The seed of mindfulness is in each of us, but we usually forget to water it. We think that happiness is only possible in the future– when we get a house, a car, or a degree. We struggle in our mind and body, and we don’t touch the peace and joy that are available right now in the blue sky, the green leaves, and the eyes of our beloved.
What is most important? Many people have passed exams and bought houses and cars, yet they are still unhappy. What is most important is to find peace and to share it with others. To have peace , you can begin by walking peacefully. Everything depends on your steps.
So as Thich Nhat Hanh says, anyone can do it! You don’t have to wait for the opportunity to go on a pilgrimage. You can go for a hike in the woods, a walk near a river or even practice walking meditation in the middle of a crowded city! Wherever you go you can practice meditation.
All you need to do is walk with awareness of each step and take in your surroundings with an open heart. Each step is joy. Each step is peace. Each step is healing. You can even recite this Gatha as you walk, taking two or three steps for each in-breath and each out-breath.
I have arrived, I am home (in breath, out breath)
In the here, in the now (in breath, out breath)
I am solid, I am free (in breath, out breath)
In the ultimate, I dwell (in breath, out breath)
When we practice walking meditation, we are always arriving. Our home is in the present moment. There are no worries about the future or sorrows about the past. There is only a road to be traveled with joy, peace, and gratitude.
Enjoy your travels and remember to, “Smile, breathe, and go slowly,” Thich Nhat Hanh.