2013-11-08 / Sports

Jen’s Fitness Forum

The Way of Saint James, A Continuation: Physical
By Jen Font de Bon

“The Way is not a race.”

I heard this repeated many times at the beginning. I heard it until I understood it and put it into practice. After years of team sports and competition, it was in my nature to turn the pilgrimage into just that.

But the Way wasn’t about getting from point A to point B. The more profound experience came from everything that happened in between. I soon learned that rushing through the 510 miles would leave me with nothing but an aching body. If I wanted to finish my Way and grow from the experience, I’d have to let go of control and take on a more relaxed, open attitude. The Way wasn’t just a long walk, it was a lifestyle, and it would be my lifestyle for that next month.

The great physical sacrifice of the Way made finding balance essential. I learned the importance of stopping every few miles to stretch and rest. Even just five minutes would leave me feeling recharged and enthusiastic about continuing on. I began walking at a slower, steadier pace with my head up. I took time to pick fruit off trees, splash my feet in cold streams, get to know the people I encountered, free write, enjoy storybook-like landscapes, stop in the medieval towns, and pray in simple stone and baroque churches.

Indulging in my surroundings in this manner made me feel whole, and I realized that all of these aspects were equally important in bringing me to my final goal. Acting with the physical body wasn’t just about burning calories, letting off stress, or achieving the “ideal” figure. It was about taking what nature offered with gratitude and giving back.

Of the hundreds of pilgrims I met on the journey, all of them experienced physical ailments during one time or another. Overcoming physical weakness came from listening to the body and tending to it, keeping a positive attitude, and remembering that everyone on the Way felt pain and discomfort.

After a few days I concluded that my major aches and pains rooted from the exaggeratedly heavy pack I carried. I evaluated each individual item in my bag and left anything that wasn’t completely necessary for future pilgrims. I was on my pilgrimage with no expectations. My attitude was free and open. I had no concrete plans and trusted that everything the Way led me to would be for the best. The pilgrims I walked with–my husband, new friends and passing strangers– helped me keep things in perspective and surpass physical obstacles.

Embarking on a 500+ mile pilgrimage, it’s natural for physical insecurities to arise. Will I be able to do it? What if I get sick, or hurt? How will I continue? But soon, one realizes that the drive to go on does not depend on his physical body, but rather on his internal strength.

One foot will put itself in front of the other, as long as what’s going on inside stays strong and flexible. Faith will guide everything. As Mark Twain wrote, “They didn’t know it was impossible, so they did it!”

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