Posted December 20, 2010 | by irene | in Walking | 2 responses
One day I was flipping through a Ripley’s Believe it or Not
book when I read a quote typed below a photograph of Ludwig van Beethoven that caught my eye. It stated that three Austrian businessmen had commissioned him to write some music. Instead of paying him for writing the piece, they gave him a large sum of money just for walking every day from sunrise to noon. They didn’t compensate him to compose music because they believed that the secret to creating a masterpiece had more to do with his ability to tap into the pure potential of his creativity. They were confident it was possible to access this through the simple act of walking.
Several years ago, I was suddenly downsized from my corporate telecom career and I decided to leave the comfort of my family and friends to walk 780 kilometres across the north of Spain on the medieval pilgrimage route known as the Camino
de Compostela. Catholics started walking this route over 1200 years ago when they discovered that the remains of St. James the Apostle were buried in Santiago. They walked there because they believed that if they were close to the remains of an Apostle, they would be closer to God. Today, pilgrims arrive from all over the world, from different denominations and backgrounds. Everyone is welcome.
When I walked the first time, it was winter and I didn’t speak Spanish. I wanted to be alone on this quest to discover more purpose in my life. On the ancient path I walked through snow, rain, sleet and hail. I met people from all over the world and I was often served by complete strangers.
One day I arrived in a village and an old woman approached me. In broken English she managed to convey that I didn’t need to worry about my dinner that night because the villagers would make it for me. Sure enough, at the pilgrim’s hostel, the villagers made us a typical Galician dinner of Caldo Gallego (a stew with beans, meat and vegetables)[JR1]
, trout, and flan for desert. They served us, cleaned up and did the dishes without expecting anything from us.
Brigitte, an Austrian pilgrim, and I sat at the table after they left and talked about our philosophy on life as a pilgrim. She asked me a question I had been pondering for some time. “What are you going to do when you get back home?”
“I really don’t know, Brigitte. I’m sure I won’t go back into the corporate world, but I have no idea what to do with my life,” I replied.
“You have a good voice,” she said while making some tea. “It’s loud.”
“Yeah, I grew up in a family of seven children, so I had to have a loud voice to be heard,” I retorted. We both laughed.
“You have a voice people will listen to.” She paused. “Go and speak.”
I was truly moved by her words. I thought about all the report cards from grade one to grade eight. The teachers all commented on my voice. “Susan is too talkative,” they said. Then I was reminded of the many times when I had been told to manage my voice in the corporate world. Could it be that the very thing that annoyed people might be the gift I had been looking for all my life?
The next morning, we left the hostel at different times and I never saw Brigitte again, but that conversation had a huge impact on my life. After 29 days of walking, I arrived in Santiago having gained some clarity about what was important to me.
When I returned back home, I shared the stories of the Camino and soon became a storyteller. By immersing myself in creativity as a way of living, I found peace. I went on to write a book called My Camino
and it was followed by another book, a documentary film, a stage play and a screenplay, and now I’m working on a novel.
Over the last four years, I have walked over 2000 kilometres on various routes of the Camino in Spain, and I now call myself a pilgrim. Now I am absolutely convinced that the more I walk, the more creative I become.
Many times over the years, I have thought about the conversation with Brigitte. Through my recent work, it has become very clear to me that my destiny is to use my voice to tell stories. She was right. Soon I’ll guide a group of pilgrims on the Camino and then remain in Spain for three months on a mission to guide pilgrims on their return journey back to real life at home. One day I plan to create a foundation that pays artists to walk.
On the Camino, with each step I took forward I walked back to myself, and in the process I discovered that everything I was looking for and needed was within me.
This article was published in City Woman Magazine London, Ontario.