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Food for thought

„Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.” – Thich Nath Hanh

Day  2 on the Via Francigena – Gambassi Terme to San Gimignano

On a hilltop between the medieval Tuscan towns of Gambassi Terme and San Gimignano the pilgrim enters the village of Pancole famous for the 15th century painting by Pier Francesco Fiorentino of the “Virgin feeding her Son.”

The original sanctuary was built in 1668 on the site where the sacred image originally stood along a country road where it had been abandoned and covered by undergrowth. Several miracles were attributed to the Madonna.

One of the miracles is the survival of the painting itself after the Nazis destroyed the original sanctuary in an act of indiscriminate vandalism in a bid to destroy the very soul and ancestral roots of a nation.

The sanctuary was reconstructed in 1949 and along with the nearby Monastero di Bose offer wonderful spaces for quiet  contemplation.

Landscapes that inspired poets and artists throughout the ages

It is no surprise that spectacular landscapes and the quiet pathways throughout the centuries inspired poets, musicians and religious orders

Spending hours in the heart of nature after only a few days of walking opens the heart and mind to the whispers from the universe.

You are forced to go slow up the steep inclines and then you begin to notice the small creatures on the ground such as the lizards, beetles, ants, and butterflies.  When in a hurry it is easy to mindlessly trample on these small creatures who are all fighting for survival when perceiving the heavy boots of an oncoming pilgrim.

St. Francis – the original ecologist

There are numerous stories of St. Francis, the patron saint of the animals, communicating and preaching to the animals as fellow creatures of God.  The saint was well known to walk long distances to spread his message and there are no numerous shrines on the Camino in Spain and along the Via Francigena dedicated to him.

St. Francis can be described as the original ecologist and his central message of social justice and greed causing harm to both the victim and the perpetrator ringing more true than ever.

Spending time in nature creates awareness on how complex the interaction of plant, insect, bird and mammal are intertwined and co-dependent on each other.  Nature starts tilting into imbalance when one species gains dominance and threatens the livelihood of all others. It is offers much food for thought.

Reino Gevers – Author. Mentor. Speaker

One more thing…

You might want to check out my new book “Deep Walking for Body, Mind and Soul” released as a paperback by Morgan James Publishing on August 11, 2020. It has some valuable tips on creating happiness and boosting your vibrational energy on many levels. You can order it at all major outlets such as Amazon, Barnes and Noble or in my own store.  Check out the latest five-star reviews on Goodreads.

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“A breathtaking, captivating, transformative walk,” – Tom Dutta, Canada

“The book reminded me of my own journey in life I am walking and how bringing stillness to my busy life and mind is essential.” – Karin, France

“The book compresses on its slim 190 pages an extreme density of life wisdom.” Christina Germany

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Heart mind

We, humans, are hard-wired to walk on paths we know.  We choose friends, partners jobs, and geographical locations according to familiar patterns deeply ingrained in our past. When lives are so completely turned upside down by a pandemic the emotional stress is, particularly hard on the heart.

The heart is the “seat of the soul”

The heart is not merely an organ of the cardiovascular system that transports nutrients, oxygen, and hormones throughout the body and removes metabolic waste.  In the spiritual sense, the heart is described as the “seat of the soul.”  It is the first organ that develops in the fetus and is the connection between our physical and non-physical (soul) selves.

Protea

 

Impulses or thoughts flow first from the heart and then to the brain. The brain dissects, rationalizes, and analyzes. The heart is authentic and closest to the true self or soul purpose.

Cardiovascular disease is stress-related

Our body is constantly sending us signals about what we need to hear and work on. The problem is that we are so caught up in the world of distraction that we mostly fail to listen until the body calls a time-out with some illness or malady. It is no surprise that cardiovascular diseases top the list in much of the Western world.

Regaining that connection to the “heart-mind” comes during times of stillness. Becoming still is particularly needed during these times of emotional turmoil fed by the fear monsters.

Toxic emotions, stress, trauma, and procrastination can be transmuted very well with the ancient body arts of tai chi, qi gong, and yoga that were all developed and refined by spiritual masters over many generations. Cutting-edge research from Harvard Medical School supports the long-standing claims that Tai Chi also has a beneficial impact on the health of the heart.

The deep walking experience

Tai Chi is also described as meditation in motion. For me, I have found a combination of Tai Chi and deep walking as particularly beneficial. Many of you might also currently not have the energy to find a good Tai Chi teacher or to attend regular classes. So why not just take a walk in nature. Even if you live in a big city there are places where you can find stillness in green spaces. The green and blue spaces of nature have an immediate positive effect on reducing stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. Deep walking is not simply a hike for exercise purposes. It is finding a connection with your deeper self while walking. If you want to find out more I really recommend reading my new book Deep Walking for Body, Mind and Soul.

Stress starts with a thought

A really simple method of finding a connection to your heart-mind or your intuition is by concentrating on your breathing while you are walking. Stress starts with a thought. That thought is then compounded by follow-up thoughts and you soon find yourself in that stress maelstrom if you don’t consciously put on the brakes.  If you find it difficult you can count your in- and out breaths, as you are walking.  It is also helpful to focus the mind on a natural sound such as a bird singing or the distant bleating of a sheep.

The events of the past few weeks are teaching us more than ever to look after our mental and physical well-being. It is all about creating resilience and having the energy for the good times that will again come.

Reino Gevers – Author. Mentor. Speaker

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Dealing with anxiety and fear

Our mind is primarily programmed to focus on the negative. It is part of our survival toolkit as a human species. We are magically drawn to sensational news and images of catastrophes. During this time it is particularly important to protect your mental health and to guard your mind against fear and anxiety.

Guarding the mind against fear and anxiety

The constant dosage of coronavirus trackers with updates on infections and deaths, the lockdowns and drastic measures taken by many countries with the accompanying huge economic fallout is already having a major effect on mental health.

We should be mindful and look after our health during every influenza epidemic because it always has a major impact on the elderly with a weak immune system and those people with a history of poor health.  Bear in mind that we are not reading much about two-thirds of the people who fell ill with the coronavirus who only had mild symptoms and have recovered. 

Learning the lessons from a crisis

Every crisis teaches us something.  We need to look beyond the surface. As a humanity we need to go into deep introspection on what we are doing to our earth and our fellow living beings.  Nature is teaching us that we need to move away from an exploitative to a more sustainable economic model.  Short-term external gratification cannot replace the soul’s yearning for spiritual growth and meaning.

The worst and the best of mankind

A crisis triggers both the worst and the best in mankind. While some folk are fighting over toilet paper and hoarding grocery items others are discovering an entirely new sense of community. We are social animals and need the cooperative support of each other. The image of the Italians singing from the balconies of their homes will be of lasting impact. China is finally clamping down on the meat trade of endangered species, with growing evidence that the virus probably emanated from the endangered pangolin. 

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Hope springs

Practicing control of emotion and thought

Being locked down in our homes gives us time for reflection on what truly matters. If we stay calm, centered and in alignment with the higher self we can be of much more support to those loved ones around us.  Here are some tips on how to stand guard at the doorway to your soul.

  • Whenever you have a negative thought or feel a negative emotion such as fear replace it with a good thought or happy moment. What image or memory makes your heart expand or makes you laugh?
  • Breathing meditation. Focus your mind on your breathing. At the count of one I inhale and at the count of one I exhale – counting until 21.  Check out my immune-boosting meditation on Podcast.
  • Take a walk in nature – if you can. Find a spot where you can focus your attention on one sound that you find comforting such as a bird singing, rustling of leaves in a tree or water running over a stone in a creek. Just concentrate on that one sound for several minutes.
  • Our environment, our associations and our thoughts have a major impact on our mental well-being.  Radically reduce associations with people who bombard you with negativity. Reduce the consumption of negative media to a minimum. What we read, watch and think is what we become.

Reino Gevers – Author, Mentor, and Consultant

https://www.reinogevers.com

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Fear and the coronavirus

The coronavirus panic buttons are omnipresent. The fighting over toilet rolls in empty supermarkets to the social ostracising of anyone looking Chinese is telling us something about the fragile state of human society.

Where conspiracy theorists and professional deceivers on social media dominate the narrative fear takes hold.  Fear triggers stress hormones that switch off rational thought, putting the body into fight or flight mode.

Fear and panic stir the darkest sides of human nature with an “everyone for himself” attitude, nationalism, xenophobia and a fallback to the perilous age of pre-Enlightenment.

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Mass panic takes on its own dynamics and its anyone’s guess how long the economic fallout will be in the next few months: Complete breakdown of the cruise ship industry, and factories closing because of supply chain interruptions?

We know from neurological research that when the mind is under stress or in high emotional turmoil that cognitive and level-headed thought is impossible. You will not perceive or hear the voice of reason if you are in panic mode.

Let’s stick with the facts that come directly from the experts quoted by traditional media: The coronavirus is influenza.  If we take normal precautions the likelihood of becoming infected is relatively small and of dying from it even smaller. The victims so far have been predominantly among the elderly with a weak immune system.  With most people, it is a mild infection.

By early March the global death toll from the virus was just over 3,000 with most of them coming from China.  Both China and Italy have a large elderly population.

Humanity is faced by far greater threats than the coronavirus. Climate change has already claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and livelihoods as a result of flooding, heatwaves and freak storms.  One person dies every 40 seconds from suicide. It is the second leading cause of death in the age group of 15-29-year-olds globally.  And lets just look at the death toll of the normal annual flu: At least 12,000 people have died from influenza between Oct. 1, 2019 through Feb. 1, 2020, and the number of deaths may be as high as 30,000 – just in the United States.

We are all going to die at some point. But in a world of spiritual disconnect, the fear of death is profound. Death is not something we like to talk about. We have banished the experience of it to old age homes and hospices.

Fear of death evaporates with spiritual practice. It comes from the realization that the body is merely a vehicle to higher soul elevation that moves into a different dimension when the sojourn on this earth has come to an end.  Within a different state of consciousness, the mind quietens amid the din of confusion and panic sirens.

Reino Gevers – Author, Mentor, and Consultant

https://www.reinogevers.com

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Is religious being spiritual?

What is religious and what is spiritual?  At its best religion is a ritualized expression of the spiritual. At its worst, it becomes an instrument of dehumanization and control.

While religion focuses on who you are supposed to be by abiding by certain rules of conduct and practice, spirituality is all about becoming who you really are with all your unique, individual, God-given potentials and abilities.

spirituality

Religion is a doctrine that tells you what to believe, what group you need to belong to and what rules you have to follow. Spirituality is experienced from within. You believe because you have felt and experienced. You do the “right thing” because you just know what is good and what is bad for the Greater Whole.

Most of the many fellow pilgrims I have spoken to on my walks on the Spanish Camino would describe themselves as spiritual seekers rather than followers of a certain religious doctrine.

In becoming mindful and watchful for the subtle messages of the universe transmitted in dreams, images, and symbols, life takes on an entirely different meaning. Put in a different way: God speaks to us in many different ways.

We are on the brink of another raised level of human consciousness which is non-divisive, universalist, tolerant, self-reflective and compassionate.

At the same time, elementary and revolutionary changes are always confronted with a backlash from those defending the old order.

In recent years we have seen a frightening rise of movements seeking to divide and separate with fear-instilling messages, propounded by dangerous narcissistic and ego-driven leaders.

It is the natural pendulum of the yin and the yang. Energy is wasted in the hysteria over the actions coming from the shadow.

In going with the higher frequency of the raised consciousness, the danger is that we react with the same patterns as our adversaries. We also become hateful, ranting and vengeful.

Yet when seen according to the law of opposites that is the foundation of life, a different perspective can be taken. Identity is defined in terms of the opposite and it is often when confronted with the extreme opposite that we are galvanized into action.

(This is an extract from “Deep Walking for Body, Mind and Soul”)
Reino Gevers – Author, Mentor, and Consultant

https://www.reinogevers.com

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A clue to happiness: How are you talking to yourself?

Humans are hard-wired to live in the past or in the future because planning and learning from the past has been crucial to the survival of our species.

Real joy comes from those magical moments of being absolutely present and experiencing spirituality, love and peace of mind.

Researchers have found that distraction, one of the major scourges of our time, is also a major cause of unhappiness.

Psychologists at Harvard University conducted a study with 2,250 volunteers, monitoring their thoughts and feelings, to find out how often they were focused on what they were doing, and what made them most happy.

thoughts

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More than half the time people’s minds were wandering to other things. The researchers concluded that reminiscing, thinking ahead or daydreaming tends to make people more miserable, even when they are thinking about something pleasant.

Matthew Killingsworth, a doctoral student in psychology and lead author of the study, wrote in the journal Science:

“A human mind is a wandering mind and a wandering mind is an unhappy mind. The ability to think about what is not happening is a cognitive achievement that comes at an emotional cost.”

The human mind has between 60,000 – 70,000 different thought monkeys dancing through the head on one day. Becoming aware of these thoughts is the first step toward focusing on the moment.

It is an empowering thought to realize that you are in control of your thoughts and that with a little training you can regain control of these monkeys.

Thoughts are energy waves and they create reality. Where energy flows, the energy goes. The first step is to become aware of your current feeling. Is it predominantly, sad, angry, resentful, happy, or joyful? Negative emotions can sometimes be triggered by banal events, like a driver blowing his horn at you in a traffic situation. This then suddenly triggers an anger explosion that is completely out of proportion to the event. It would be one example of anger that has its roots elsewhere but hasn’t been transmuted.

Out of control emotions have a close connection to scattered thoughts and an uncentered state of mind. For me, deep walking retreats on the Camino in Spain have been a real eye-opener. While walking alone I was inevitably confronted by countless thoughts, especially during the first few days. It is part of the process of dumping old emotional garbage – some of which lie buried in the subconscious mind for years, sometimes to early childhood.

You will have made progress when you find your senses tuning in to the surroundings and becoming aware of the sights, sounds and smells around you.

What thoughts you have immediately after getting up in the morning have a major impact on your day. A dream could have stirred a negative emotion. But you are in control. You can reset your mind. You can set a positive anchor for the day with a meditation, a gratitude ritual, an exercise routine, a mantra, or a prayer.

Every time you catch yourself with a negative thought, you can train the mind to concentrate on breathing. Consciously counting the inhaling and exhaling sequence of breathing will immediately transmute that thought. If you click on my Podcast link below you will find a powerful meditation from ancient Qi Gong practice which I find enormously powerful and the effects of which can last for hours.

Reino Gevers – Author, Mentor, and Consultant

https://www.reinogevers.com

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Deep Walking to the inner self

Walking the Camino in Spain is a profound experience and many pilgrims have turned their daily journals into books.  Why another Camino book? It was a question I also asked myself before starting my second book on the Camino.

It is almost three decades ago that the actress Shirley Maclean chronicled her pilgrimage in “The Camino: A Journey of the Spirit.”  For Maclean, who was in her 60s at the time, the Camino was an intense spiritual and physical challenge with her journey also taking her back to past lives.

Paulo Coelho, one of the world’s most influential authors, wrote  “The Pilgrimage” in 1986 after walking to Santiago, inspiring numerous people to walk the Camino. German comedian Harpe Kerkeling’s “I’m Off Then: Losing and Finding Myself on the Camino de Santiago followed with his bestseller in 2006.

Some of the world’s greatest artists found inspiration on long walks

After walking my twelfth Camino in 2017, I delved into more research and was surprised to find that some of the world’s most creative and talented artists, including Johann Christian Bach, William Blake, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau explored their inner worlds on long walks.

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When a hike turns into a pilgrimage

Several of the many pilgrims I met during my walks said that they started their journey on the Camino as a hike and ended it as a pilgrimage.

In a world of constant digital distraction, the search for new spiritual meaning by “knowing and embracing the true self has become a matter of survival.”  I hope to inspire people to explore their inner world while deep walking in nature.

Walking “things off” in releasing the shadow and hurts of the past, gradually opens the cracks to the soul. By healing the inner we heal the outer. Walking is not only the most effective and underrated form of exercise but can be a real walk to spiritual renewal.

When nature whispers to the soul

Deep Walking on a pilgrimage is not just a walk.  Walking on paths where pilgrims have walked for centuries works on many subtle levels.

A pilgrimage walk is a mindful becoming aware of the simplicity with which nature can heal and whisper to the soul.

Reino Gevers – Author, Mentor, and Consultant

(Read more on this topic in my new book “Deep Walking for Body Mind and Soul” Ebook scheduled for publication by Morgan James in New York on May 5th, 2020. Printed edition scheduled for the major outlets in August 2020)

https://www.reinogevers.com

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Walking into authenticity

A pilgrimage walk is so much more than an ordinary hike, working on many subtle levels, that may trigger a changed perspective and a complete realignment of emotional, physical and spiritual needs.

Walking the Camino is a walk into authenticity when the whispers from the inner voice gradually become heard as with every step more distance is created from the pull of the external distractions of the daily treadmill.

Moving to a higher energy level

From my own observations, I would say that most people are living lives in which they suffer in a quiet misery of unhappy jobs, dysfunctional relationships and other unfulfilled needs that come when the mind is focused too much on external rather than internal needs.

A combination of a daily dosage of junk foods, a mind fed with negative gossip and emotional drama, a sedentary lifestyle, an imbalanced stress, and recuperation cycle, inevitably lead to a downward energy spiral.

Finding that momentum to change an unhappy situation

Over the years it then becomes that much more difficult to find enough energy for the momentum to change an unhappy situation, especially when it comes to taking that first step in changing bad food habits, doing a regular exercise routine or morning ritual.

When you are on a pilgrimage walk, you simply have to keep going. Once you are on the path the pull to complete it is very strong. Other pilgrims will give you that extra bit of encouragement when you are having a down moment.

Walking off old emotional baggage

Especially during the early stages of the walk, there will be mornings when every muscle in the body is aching and feet are blistered.  You may be asking: “Why am I doing this?” But gradually the walk becomes easier, the load from a backpack less heavy, and the motivation to reach the destination that much bigger.

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It is a huge reward when you actually start feeling so much better, physically and emotionally.  It is part of the detox, the walking off of old emotional baggage, that is part of the Camino experience.

By the time you have walked three or four weeks on your pilgrimage retreat, your energy frequency inevitably rises. This becomes noticeable in the resonance with people that have a positive mindset.  You might find stray dogs or cats following you, a bird singing at you from a breakfast table or complete strangers greeting you and starting a conversation. You will also become more aware of the beauty of your surroundings.

Taking time out for realignment

Over the years I’ve tried fitting in a pilgrimage retreat into my schedule every year. It has been life-changing. Modern lives have become exceedingly stressful with the emotions of pain and fear dictating the daily narrative. The uncertainty that comes with exceptional economic and social changes is making many people ill.

More than ever, therefore, we need those time out retreats for inner realignment for those age-old questions seeking answers: Where do I come from? Where am I going? Am I leaving a positive footprint for future generations? The sense of purpose reveals itself in the authentic self.

Reino Gevers – Author, Mentor, and Consultant

https://www.reinogevers.com

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A journey and its lessons

A group of tired young Russian pilgrims from St.Petersburg arrived late last night in the Municipal Albergue, or pilgrims’ hostel, in Najera.  It was the last group we registered before we concluded our 14-day term as a four-member volunteer team.

During these two weeks, we registered some 805 pilgrims who stayed overnight in the hostel.

The Camino is becoming an international experience

When I walked my first Camino in 2007,  most people walking the path seemed to be middle-aged Germans, Dutch or Scandinavian.  The pilgrims arriving in Najera were from a far more international diversity.  Apart from the Europeans, the largest groups were from Asia and the Americas.

Together with my fellow three Hospitaleros Pedro from France, Carmen from Toledo in Spain and Ebo from Argentina we were responsible for keeping the hostel clean, and catering to the needs of the between 50-70 pilgrims arriving each day.  A good part of the day we spent scrubbing bathrooms, cleaning floors and washing bed sheets.

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Pilgrims sharing a meal and the experiences of the day in the Municipal Albergue in Najera. Pilgrims are only asked to donate a small fee for the use of the utilities.

Najera is the eighth stage of the Camino Frances, starting in the French village of Saint-Pied-de-Port,  and taking the pilgrim on a more than 727 kilometers (451 miles) journey across northwestern Spain to Santiago de Compostela.

An adventure turns into a spiritual journey

It was a privilege to converse with many of these people and to hear their different stories and motivations in walking the path. Some people start the Camino as a sporting adventure that then turns into a spiritual journey.  An American pilgrim I walked with some years ago said to me: “If you don’t approach the Camino with humility it will humiliate you.”

The Camino is telling you that this journey is not about accomplishing something but in un-becoming from everything that you thought you were and touching that place deep in the soul who you are truly meant to be.

Is the Camino part of the bigger journey of humanity seeking a common spirituality that transcends the boundaries of religious dogma?

A test of emotional and physical resolve

When I spoke to a British man, leaving the Albergue in the morning he confided that “this very emotional journey” was much more than he had anticipated.

After a good week on the Camino, it is a real testing time for physical and emotional resolve. The Camino is in many ways an analogy of life. If you can deal with the roller-coaster of the walk’s trials and tribulations, you will be steeled for whatever challenges life throws at your feet in the acceptance of the impermanence of all things.

Reino Gevers – Author, Mentor, and Consultant

https://www.reinogevers.com

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Mindful walking

Najera, northwestern Spain – Preparation for a lengthy pilgrimage walk is essential.  After eight days of walking many pilgrims are arriving at the Municipal Albergue in Najera with badly blistered feet and hurting knees.

 

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Bunk beds for 90 pilgrims in the Municipal Albergue in Najera 

Most people, who walk the Camino Frances to Santiago de Compostela, start in the French town of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port.  It takes the hiker up a steep climb of the Pyrenees mountains to the Spanish town of Roncesvalles.  It is a good 24 kilometer or seven to nine-hour walk. Even for trained hikers, this is no mean feat.

 

However, if you are wearing new boots and carrying a backpack full of unnecessary clutter, your walk will soon become a chore. The Camino is not only a physical challenge but even more so an emotional challenge. Much of the first few days of walking can rekindle old stuff you thought you had dealt with years ago. It is then comforting to know that there will always be other pilgrims walking with you, going through much of the same process.

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Getting ready for the day’s walk. The hostel has to be empty by 7.30 am latest

Three parts of the Camino

Some hikers describe the first stage of the Camino as the “path of crucifixion”, the second as the transition or the walk through the “valley of death” in the heat and dust of the Meseta between Burgos and Leon.  Several guide books describe this section as boring and recommend that the hiker skip the section by taking a bus. Most people who have walked it, however, describe it as a crucial part of the Camino that they would want to have missed. A absolutely agree.

A path of rebirth

I would describe the first two sections as the mindful preparation for the last section-the “path of rebirth or resurrection”.  It is when the pilgrim has moments of absolute euphoria, gratitude, and joy. It is the feeling of accomplishment after transmuting the old stuff into revived energy.  The three parts of the Camino however, can be experienced in some form or other each day. Getting up early in the morning after a bad night’s sleep in a crowded Albergue is a challenge where the mood can be at rock bottom.  This could all change an hour later when experiencing a beautiful sunrise on a mountain top with a bird of prey circling overhead.

Having walked the Camino more than a dozen times, I decided this year to give something back in serving as a volunteer in an Albergue or pilgrims’ hostel for two weeks.  There are between 50-70 pilgrims arriving here each day. It is an enormous privilege to hear the stories of why and how they are doing the Camino. Some are doing the path the third, fourth or fifth time. Most are walking the Camino for the first time.

It is a joy to observe people from many different nationalities and cultural backgrounds bond in this shared experience of the Camino. They mostly don’t understand each other’s language. But the language of shared experience shared meals, and shared emotional ups-and-downs are universal.

Reino Gevers – Author, Mentor, and Consultant

https://www.reinogevers.com

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