Reviewing The Pilgrimage by Paulo Coelho

Mileage post

I’m going on another Camino next year, so I felt the need to read Pilgrimage (Plus) by Paulo Coelho. I’ve avoided books on spirituality because I’m far from being spiritual. Even information about Catholicism make more sense to me, though I’m not Catholic either.

Coelho’s purpose for walking the Camino is to find a sword that he lost somehow. To find the sword, he has to walk the Way. At St. Jean Pied to Port, he meets his guide, Petrus. Is this another example of a made-up companion to make the book more interesting?

Petrus shows Coelho the true path to wisdom. It involves Agape – love that consumes – from the ancient Greek. Coelho mentions the word, Agape, many times. Wisdom also has practical applications to your life.

Petrus convinces Coelho that wisdom is a path that can be followed by anyone, like the road to Santiago. It’s similar to my motto: No place is too far to walk if you have the time.

Santiago cake

Petrus also inducts Coelho in an Catholic organization, Regnus Agnus Mundi (RAM), which is either an obscure Catholic sect or a figment of the writer’s imagination, depending on what you read. But RAM created physical exercises that you must do on the Camino; they are eerily similar to yoga and meditation exercises. The first one, the seed exercise, is a variation of child’s pose.

I was not surprised to learn that yogis have appropriated the RAM exercises as poses. Now yoga poses I can understand. This is just one example of description of these poses at  http://findandlove.blogspot.com/2012/07/ram-practices-pilgrimage-by-paulo.html

Split in trail

Why the guide? Was Petrus a spiritual guide or a trail guide? Why not follow the yellow arrows on the Camino? When you write about a linear journey, a guide or companion is a handy tool to have. Otherwise you’re just talking in your head or to random people you meet and will never see again.

Think Don Quixote and Sancho Panza or Katz in A Walk in the Woods.

Coelho sprinkles the book with wise sayings that were worth writing down

  • Human beings are the only ones in nature that are aware that they will die.
  • I was more frightened by the way in which I would die than death itself.
  • The most important is to enjoy life fully.
Sign to Muxia

Coelho, who is Brazilian, mentions the Falkland Wars and claims that the conflict between the Argentinians and Falkland Islanders was predicted two months before the invasion. Since I’m going to the Falkland Islands next month, that got my attention. He explained the reasons as an astral level for the conflict. I don’t think Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s prime minister at the time (1982), would have bought the argument.

A real organization, The Order of the Knights Templars, watched over pilgrims on their way to Santiago. It was trans-national military-religious order which spanned two centuries of the High Middle Ages, from the Order’s founding in the early 12th century to its suppression early in the 14th century.

The UK Guardian, who reviewed the book, said it best:
Coelho is widely acclaimed as a powerful storyteller and his legions of fans credit his books as “life-changing”. Critics, while acknowledging the power of his fables, have been less convinced of his literary worth, arguing that the simplicity of his tales represents no more than pandering to the lowest common denominator of new age gullibility.

Did you read the book? What did you think?

Cancel or not Cancel – that is the question

Can someone who no longer punches a clock have a snow day?

ATL and AVL Camino hikers on warmer days

Oh yes, they can. Friday, the snow started early but I didn’t pay attention. I went to my usual 7:30am yoga class at the YMCA. It was busy. Then it started to really snow. In Asheville, it meant that the world was going to close down.

I spent the morning printing some pictures of my Camino del Norte pilgrimage – finally – something I’ve been postponing for a long while.

I baked cookies, a classic on a snow day. I went on a short walk in the afternoon when West Asheville came alive.

But mostly I worried.

Should I cancel the hike that I was leading on Sunday? I was scheduled to lead our 16-mile Asheville Camino walk around the city, jointly with Carolina Mountain Club. Some CMC members have been waiting months to walk this Camino.

Walnut tree on AVL Camino

In many years of leading hikes, both in the Northeast and in Western North Carolina, I have never canceled a hike. There have been instances when I should have canceled – when I showed up at the meeting point and no one else did. But the record stands ; I’ve never canceled a hike.

It snowed all night and into this morning. I checked the weather forecast obsessively for Sunday (tomorrow). It didn’t change. It was going to be way below freezing until the afternoon. Roads in the Smokies were closing because of snow and ice.

I walked around the neighborhood again and noted that the snow was melting. The ice was soft but it was going to refreeze overnight. Not good.

CMC has devised the “breaking news’ feature on their website, so that a leader can let hikers know something new about the hike or cancel a hike. Some say  that it becomes too easy to cancel without the inconvenience of going to the meeting point. But it also saves hikers a trip just to find out that the hike is canceled.

I could have postponed the decision until tonight but what was the point? I canceled the hike this afternoon.

I’ve broken a long streak of not canceling hikes. I used to say that “I never cancel a hike.”

Never say never.

Camino How-To Meetings

At the AVL Camino meeting

Everyone says to walk your own Camino – like Hike your own Hike.

Well, it sounds good, until you realize that to do that, you need a lot of advice and experience.

That’s where the WNC chapter of  the American Pilgrims on the Camino comes in. The group meets monthly at REI Asheville for talks, discussions, and sometimes, an introduction to the practicalities of walking a Camino – Camino 101, as they called it.

Chris Slater has walked ten Caminos, more Caminos than anyone in WNC, starting in 2004. He gave a brief history of the Camino de Santiago, speaking eloquently without notes. Then, attendees went from station to station where Camino topic experts answered questions.

Rebecca on what to take on a Camino

Peggy Beaman covered how best to get to your  Camino starting point and the various routes available.

Mark Cobb, a retired doctor, answered medical-related questions. He’s a dermatologist but I should have asked him about my sorry foot problem.

Chris Yavelow shared his knowledge on technology on the Camino. Some walkers were adamant that you shouldn’t have a phone on the trail. But what if that’s also your camera?

Rebecca Gallo is the packing guru. She created lists of what is essential to pack and what is just nice to have.

Chris Slater answered food and lodging questions. From five-star hotels to municipal albergues, you can choose your right level of comfort and luxury.

Symbol of the Camino

I don’t know where you can have this kind of one-to-one help and encouragement for any other trail. The Appalachian Trail may be the most documented trail in the world, with books, maps, discussion groups and apps.

But is there a club that devotes itself to helping newbies walk the trail successfully? The group is like “Pilgrims on the Camino anonymous” but we encourage the addiction, not help you get over it.

But these monthly meetings are not the only place to hear about the Camino from experienced pilgrims – yep, that’s what they call us. See the event page of the AVL Camino website.

Hike on Sunday

I will be leading the next Asheville Camino hike on Sunday, December 10. It’s a joint hike with members of the Carolina Mountain Club. Meet  the group at 8 a.m. at the Asheville Visitor Center (36 Montford Ave.). You can walk all or part of the 16 mile trail.

By the way, the picture above is of a very well-dressed Rebecca on Le Chemin de St. Jacques in St. Come d’Olt. I saw that dress folded in a zip lock bag which is fitted in her pack. Very impressive.