Posts tagged ‘Camino de Santiago’

June 3, 2014

Fear of Emptiness

by Tabitha Kidwell

You know that experiment with the jar and the rocks? Like, a guy puts a bunch of big rocks in a jar, and he can’t fit another rock in, so you say the jar is full. Except, then he adds gravel, and it fills in around the big rocks, and when it reaches the top, you say the jar is full again. But then he does the same with sand, and then with water, and then, finally, the jar is truly full This is supposed to point out that you can fit many things into your life, but only if you get the big rocks in first. So, if you fill your life with watery things like facebook or television, you won’t have time for the big rock-type things like friends, family, or faith.

Well, the Camino is like the opposite of that experiment – it’s just a giant, empty jar, with nothing to put in it. You don’t have to go to work, meet up with friends, clean the house, make dinner. You can’t check facebook or watch tv or waste time. You just walk – you and your vast, echoing soul.

I toured the stunning cathedral in Burgos yesterday. In one intricately detailed Rococo chapel, the audioguide pointed out that there was no place left undecorated. It said this was because of horror vacui – the fear of emptiness.

I’m not especially afraid of emptiness – I’m no stranger to either solitude or silence. I lived in a village in Madagascar alone; I spent a week in silence in TaizĂ©; I’ve traveled all over the world on my own. But still, it is scary when the building blocks of your life are removed. I experienced this (and blogged about it) last fall, when, for the first time in my life, I didn’t go back to school. I was confronted with the reality of spending a year without a job, and I didn’t know what to make of it. Now, I’ve also had all the other other elements of my life removed – no friends to meet up with, no volunteering, no Nana Bets to take care of. It’s just me, walking, everyday.

And it’s not clear to me yet what will come of this experience. One of the most frequently asked questions on the Camino is “Why are you here?”, and I don’t know yet how to answer. As I approach the halfway point, my thoughts are all mixed up. I feel disconnected from reality. The truth is, I am disconnected from reality – I’m thousands of miles away from everyone and everything I know, doing something I’ve never done before and will never do again. And I also feel disconnected from time. I am walking in the footsteps of a millennia of Pilgrims, and, blogging and iPhones aside, there is an aspect of this expereince that is timeless, that transcends reality. Throughout history, even while feeling the need to fill the emptiness in our lives, people have felt called to do this Camino. I think the reason why comes back to that jar: to fill it well, to have a life that is not only full, but fulfilling, you have to start with an empty jar.

May 28, 2014

The First Third

by Tabitha Kidwell

As you walk the Camino, you pass pilgrim graffiti – thoughts, advice, and quotes scrawled on walls, bridges, and signs by those who have passed before you. Like this:


I saw one the other day that said “Camino de Santiago: The first third heals your body, the second third heals your heart, the last third heals your soul.”

I don’t know yet about my heart and soul, but I really hope it’s right about the body. The first week was basically non-stop physical suffering, which is not what I had expected at all! I thought I was a pretty fit, healthy person, who could coast through 15-20 miles a day thanks to generally being in shape. And I thought I had read enough blogs and planned carefully for blisters, sunburn, rain, cold, or whatever else might come my way. Probably all of that has helped – who knows how much harder this would be if I didn’t have the gear I do, or if I hadn’t been running marathons and doing triathlons the past few years. But there is really nothing that can prepare you for walking the Camino de Santiago other than… walking the Camino de Santiago.

So… I am in pain. I thought I had experienced every body pain possible from running, but my muscles are sore in a totally different way, and I have chafing in places I didn’t know existed.

What is causing me the most suffering, though, is one deep blister on the back on my left heel. I kept popping it, and it kept returning. My planning and preparation wasn’t as complete as I had thought. Every pilgrim along the route gave me their opinion, and I tried many of them, but nothing seemed to work. I had to hobble along using a stick as a support, and felt like a huge failure. Finally, in a fit of rage, I took a knife to it. A bunch of blister gunk rushed out, the pressure was released, and it started to heal.

The same day, an emotional blister seemed to pop, as well. I found myself inexplicably crying all day long. I had had to rely on others for help, which is really hard for me, so that had me feeling vulnerable. I was simultaneously struggling with loneliness and with the stress of being around so many other people. I was dealing with feelings of failure and inadequacy. There was a lot going on, and I don’t totally understand it all. Maybe this marks the beginning of the second third, and the healing of my heart? For the sake of my chafed, blistered, and sore body, I sure hope so.