In preparation for his most recent (7th) book of poetry ‘Pilgrim,’ David Whyte collected stories from everyone he knew who had walked the great Camino de Santiago, a 791 km pilgrimage from the foothills of the Pyrenees in France to Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain.

He writes about life through the eyes of a pilgrim – a person who has, intentionally or not, found themselves in a place of meaningful transition. This being on the road between things may take many forms – illness, heartbreak, loss, depression – but what they all have in common is that you are no longer who you used to be, but not yet still who you will become.

Whyte maps the subtleties of this landscape, which you may pass through quickly or ache to turn back from. Sometimes the nature of your destination changes, sometimes the weather keeps you staying put. You live by the hospitality of strangers, and sometimes you go without. But throughout the journey, you are accorded a special freedom from your identity: the freedom that only comes with having a temporary name – pilgrim.

Illustration by Renee Nault

Illustration by Renee Nault

At the very end of the Camino is a dramatic peninsula overlooking the vast Atlantic, called the Finisterre – once believed to literally be the End of the Earth. Since the word ‘camino’ in Spanish not only means path, but The Way you walk the path, some pilgrims will leave their shoes here to symbolise their letting go of the way they have walked or, as David Whyte puts it, the way you’ve been having the conversation with life.

He says we can extend our circle of friendship beyond our human relationships to the world itself, to the trees and the rivers, to our bodies and even to our own pain. Keeping this enlarged idea of friendship in mind, we can ask ourselves, How healthy is the circle of friendship in my life?

Instead of wishing to go back to ‘how things were’ before we found ourselves on this pilgrimage, we must come to ground in the very place we are standing. Rather than trying to keep our old shoes on with duct tape and safety pins, we must allow ourselves be as awkward and unattractive as molting birds. It is only from this place of intimacy with our lives that we can take the first step in a more courageous conversation, and start becoming an “ancestor of our future happiness.”

2013 © Toko-pa Turner