If you give yourself 15 minutes to do something, it usually takes all day. But if you give yourself all day, well then, a lot of times it only takes fifteen minutes.
This was a quote from a video that Stephanie, my girlfriend, was showing me inside our luxurious hotel room in Santiago de Compostela. Luxurious, mind you, because of its comparison to sleeping in albergues with up to 40 people – 10 percent of which are always heavy snorers – for the last 32 days. The video was about training horses, but not in the traditional way of training them which involves aggressiveness and “breaking them”. This was the famous and ever so soft “horse whisperer”, not unlike the character played by Robert Redford with the same name. He was talking about going slow, not forcing the horse to develop trust, but providing the framework conducive to that state. This especially rang true for me on the Camino. I have constantly wanted things “now”, the impulse only being diluted by fulfillment.
I thought about slowing down on the airplane ride home to Brussels as well. I used to love boarding an airplane, where you could check not only your physical luggage, but your work and social baggage as well. The heyday of flying, if you ask me, was when you couldn’t be reached by anyone in the world that wasn’t on the same plane as you. But we are hungry for outside stimulation; we slop to it like a pig through mud to his trough. Now, even planes are equipped with Wifi and our worries can easily reach up to 35,000 feet.
A wiser pilgrim than me once said, You have few worries on the Camino other than where you are going to eat, where your going to sleep and how you will take care of your feet. For example, you don’t have to worry about what you are going to wear because normally you have only two options 1) Clean or 2) Dirty. This frees you up in ways that you wouldn’t think. The lack of differentiation in clothing between people tears down a lot of social prejudices since you really can’t judge people on their appearance – otherwise I would have been a social leper due to my fanny pack, patchy beard and dorky walking sticks. I remember trying out all my gear before the Camino, walking around downtown Brussels. The looks of amusement and superiority I received from the locals were funny if not discouraging. Furthermore, when you restrict your worries to only a few things, it’s amazing how much introspection you can get done. The constant nattering of your internal to do list is all but turned off. You turn away from trying to do 30 things in one day – You just want to make it to the next town where you can drink a beer, eat a menu del dia and sleep.
But it’s not only introspection; slowing down and cutting the number of items on your To Do list helps you be more productive in general. By slowing down and concentrating on one topic, you sharpen your focus. Another great pilgrim of the Norwegian variety once told me the reason that workers burn out is because they are stretched in so many different directions; constantly being asked to multi task. We get burned out because we can never do anything to 100%, we are constantly moving from one subject to another, never dividing our attention fully to one thing. We degrade and dilute the quality so that we can get more accomplished, but the ironic thing is we are so tied up trying to do things in 15 minutes to get a lot accomplished, we often get less done than if we had settled for only doing one thing well.
The end of the physical Camino was three days ago and during the time since, I have tried to put focus and patience into my everyday life. I choose only one topic that should be completed for the day. Everything else is just gravy. That being said, the real test comes weeks, months and years down the road, after the lessons are only a whisper of their former importance. So calling this post an epilogue may be a bit short sighted. Maybe the real epilogue won’t come for a very long time.
In two hours, I leave for Konnigsfest in Amsterdam, a party a kin to New Years eve to celebrate the Royal family of Holland. I have a feeling things won’t be as slow there as they were on the Camino…
The first set of photos is from an Easter Procession of the Passion of Christ. There are 13 different clubs that each have their own unique floats and colored costumes. What usually is a staple though, are the huge, Ku Klux Klanesque style hats. Trust me, they are not racists, they just have pointy hats.
The Virgin and Son.
The next set of pictures is taken from a beautiful park right inside the city about 500 meters from the Cathedral. There is a pond with “friendly” ducks and swans, a playground, leafy walk ways underneath huge eucalyptus trees, a strange round acoustic bench that you need only whisper and the person 20 meters away can understand you clear as a bell and a great view of the cathedral.
At this time of year, during late spring, the flowers in the area are in full bloom.