I recent wrote about having seen The Way, the new Emilio Estevez/Martin Sheen movie that is, in part, about the Camino de Santiago, a famous hike along northern Spain. Since seeing the movie, I picked up Hape Kerkeling’s I’m Off Then: Losing and Finding Myself on the Camino de Santiago. I also picked up Shirley MacLaine’s The Camino: A Journey of the Spirit and Paul Coelho’s The Pilgrimage.
Kerkerling is a German comedian. Initially, his writing felt dismissive about the journey, and his commentary felt surface and uninterested. But I continued to read because I hate stopping a book, and I’m so glad I did. I’m nearly done now, and he seems to have fallen for the experience. He writes about highlights and frustrations, including the people he met along the way who tended to be a little bit of both. And just yesterday, I found myself underlining incessantly.
I have two favorite passages so far. In describing how he encountered God on the Camino, Kerkerling writes:
“To encounter God, you first have to issue an invitation to Him; He does not come without being asked – a divine form of good manners. It’s up to us.”
I’m not sure I wholly agree with the theology in that statement, but I don’t question that he’s describing his experience accurately and that alone makes it truth. To me, the book just reads differently from that moment on.
The other passage I love involves a pilgrim he met along the way:
“She spent eight months teaching English to monks in the Dharamsala in northern India, where the Dalai Lama was living in exile, and in return a Rinpoche instructed her in Buddhist teachings. Anything I’ve read about Buddhism is kids’ stuff in comparison to the wealth of experience she gained there, which she now generously shares with me. Her most significant lesson from the eight months is one simple sentence from the Dalai Lama: ‘Drop the thought! When something upsets you about the job or anywhere else, just drop the thought. Don’t chew away at it, because dropping is the only way of releasing it.'”
As a master dweller, this lesson stops me cold. I dwell on everything. I worry. I think. I rethink. I imagine and reimagine. I look at it this way and that way and try to dissect every piece of it. I journal on it and reread the entries. I talk to myself about it and remind myself about the discussions I had. Years later, I find myself still wondering about…just stuff. Did he mean that? Did I handle that correctly? Why did she say that? Should I care? Could things have been different?
Drop the thought? I think that could be freeing but it would require a major rewiring of my systems. I’m not sure that much of me would remain.
I haven’t yet set foot on the Camino de Santiago but it’s already begun to change me.
Drop the thought. Interesting.