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Tales from a pilgrims’ hostel

An 85-year old Dutch guy arrived here at the pilgrims’ hostel in Najera, northwestern Spain, pulling a 100-kilogram cart. While all the other arriving pilgrims were walking toward Santiago, Johannes van der Pas was going the other direction back home.

Johannes celebrated his 100th day on the Camino and has become quite a celebrity. Passing motorists have been seen waving to him. Strangers are inviting him to stay overnight after he was featured on Portuguese television while on his way to the famous pilgrimage town of Fatima.

He started walking from Eindhoven, Netherlands, then stopped in Lourdes and from there walked via Santiago to Fatima.

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Johannes van der Pas with his credential or pilgrim’s pass displaying all the stamps from the towns he has visited along the way.

It’s a remarkable achievement for any person, but this guy is not letting the old man in and is in better physical shape than most men half his age. He has according to my calculation, so far walked 3,340 kilometers, averaging 33.4 kilometers a day.

On occasions, he has walked all night in the rain in the remote areas of France where, in contrast to Spain, there are hardly any pilgrims hostels.

Johannes is living proof that it’s possible to remain mentally and physically active up to a high age. His recipe is simply doing a good walk every day, and shakes his head at the many people starting their walk on the Camino with little training and then complaining about sore knees and feet.

It’s my fourth day serving as a voluntary hospitalero in this town. The hostel is run by the local municipality and pilgrims are just asked to provide a donation to offset electricity and water costs. Locals living along the Camino have for centuries been generous hosts to pilgrims walking to Santiago de Compostela. The marker stones with yellow arrows on the path are almost entirely put up by local volunteers, paying for them with their own money. It is therefore sad to see that some of these markers are defaced by “Killroy was bere”  ego-minded “bypassing tourists.”

We voluntary hospitaleros are being greeted here with exceptional kindness. Restaurants have refused taking money for meals. Entry to the local museum and monastery is free of charge.

On the third day, we registered 58 pilgrims including seven from South Korea, one from Taiwan, two from South Africa, two from Bulgaria, one from Hungary, one from Venezuela, three from Japan and six from the United States and Canada. Most people are from Spain, Italy, and France as this is the main vacation period in these countries.

And, just as I’m finishing the Blog for the day two women from Greenland arrive at the door, saying that they will stay for the night as they are not used to the warm temperatures.
Reino Gevers – Author, Mentor, and Consultant

https://www.reinogevers.com

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Lessons from the Camino: Winding down

Many a pilgrim doing a walk for the first time on the Camino in northwestern Spain underestimates the physical and emotional challenges.

Most hikers start on the French Route, or Camino Frances, from Saint Jean Pied Le Port, the small French town straddling the Spanish border.  It’s a steep walk up the Pyrenees mountains. For the inexperienced hiker, this in itself can be challenging.

pilgrim_najeriaBut in the last few days, summer temperatures were touching 40 degrees Celcius in much of southwestern Europe.  A walk in the midday sun can be life-threatening and some albergues, or pilgrims’ hostels, have put up signboards, warning pilgrims not to walk between 11.00 and 3 p.m.

A path of crucifixtion?

A few pilgrims in the Albergue of Najera, where I’m serving as a volunteer for the next two weeks, are arriving with blistered feet, swollen knees and other body ailments. I always tell them that this is not a path of the crucifixion and that nobody will chop their head off if they take a break, a taxi or a bus to the next destination if their body is clearly telling them: “Slow down, take a rest, go easy.”

Subtle whispers from the universe

The Camino has so many life lessons to tell the pilgrim. Walking is an ideal way of reconnecting with body, mind, and soul. In the rat-race of day-to-day distractions, we often ignore the body’s subtle whispers telling us to slow down, to recuperate and take a time-out. If we fail to listen, these whispers will get louder, and if we still fail to heed that inner voice, the body will at some point force you to stop. It’s very much the same when we reach a deadlock during a particular life situation when the universe is telling us with obstacle after obstacle to change something.

The higher perspective

Reaching a destination should not be the objective. The real miracles happen in opening the senses to the here and now while walking. This morning I took a walk with two of my fellow volunteers, Ebi from Argentina and Carmen from Spain to the next village, Azofra.

A beautiful bird of prey took flight from a tree in the vineyard nearby, circling overhead. This animal messenger from the spirit world appeared to tell us to remain focused on the task at hand and to keep the higher perspective in mind.

Reino Gevers – Author, Mentor, and Consultant

https://www.reinogevers.com

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Day One on the Camino

Today is my first day as a volunteer in a pilgrim’s hostel on the famous Spanish pilgrimage route – the Camino de Santiago.

Pilgrims have walked this path for centuries. In modern times its being rediscovered by thousands of people as a modern-day route to self-discovery.

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Pilgrims checking out the next day’s route in the pilgrim’s hostel, or albergue, in the town of Najera on the Camino Frances

Giving back to the Camino what the Camino has given to me over the years is an enormous privilege.

I arrived in Najera, northwestern Spain, in the valley known for its famous Rioja wines last night. As a volunteer hospitalero I am one of four people who serve in a pilgrims’ hostel for two weeks. We register the arriving pilgrims who come from places as far as South Korea, Colombia, Japan, Canada, Australia, and Kazakhstan. In the mornings we clean the rooms, toilets and prepare the hostel for the next group of pilgrims.

Every pilgrim has a story

Every pilgrim comes with a story and is happy to share some experience while on the way. Last night Darko from Croatia told me how he met a Swedish couple celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary walking the Camino. They were sitting on a bench looking at the vineyards in the valley below. “So has someone hugged you today, ” he asked. “No, they replied. You are the first one who asks.”

“Well, then can I give you a hug then?” he responded to the beaming couple.

My fellow volunteers are from France, Argentina and Spain. We converse in a mixture of pigeon Spanish and French. It always works out. All of us have walked the Camino several times and it doesn’t need much vocabulary to understand what needs to be done.

Reino Gevers – Author, Mentor and Consultant

https://www.reinogevers.com

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Time out is crucial for your health

Most people living in an urbanized environment live highly stressful lives, spending most of their lifetime in closed indoor environments or on noisy streets. It is crucial for health and well-being to reconnect with nature and the natural rhythm of the universe.

Sprint and recovery

An integrated sprint and recovery system that integrates work and recuperation time spent outdoors in nature, should be built into our daily routine.

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In order to function as human beings we need lazy time for rest, recovery, creative play and the digestion of the countless distractions vying for our attention round the clock.  There is a huge amount of scientific evidence showing that stress factors such as high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat and high cortisol stress hormone levels begin to fall as soon as we focus our attention on the rustling of leaves in a green forest or hear the sound of ocean waves gently washing to shore.

Natural light is crucial for your body metabolism

Natural sunlight affects our bodies in many ways.  It is a catalyst for the secretion of hormones such as serotonin and melatonin. Melatonin is an important antioxidant and can neutralize some agents that damage cells and DNA that are believed to be a contributing cause of some cancers.

Indoor toxins may threaten your health

When we spend most of our lives indoors we also expose ourselves to countless indoor toxins that come in the form of mold, dust mites, fabrics and chemical compounds.

After going through a period of massive job and personal stress that left me badly fatigued, grumpy and in poor health, I went on my first pilgrimage hike in northwestern Spain some ten years ago. It changed my life and since then I’ve taken time out every year to spend between three and four weeks at a time walking in nature. I’ve interviewed numerous people from all walks of life on the Camino, who have confirmed my own observations that walking is a wonderful way of reconnecting with the universal rhythm.

Great thinkers found inspiration while walking!

During research for my new book “Deep Walking for Body, Mind and Soul”, to be published later this year by Morgan James Publishing in New York, I was surprised to discover that some of the world’s greatest writers and thinkers such as Johann Sebastian Bach, found inspiration while walking.

Henry David Thoreau wrote in his journal, “Methinks that the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow.

The poet William Wordsworth was said to have walked as many as a 290,000 kilometers (180,000 miles) in his lifetime. This translates to an average of six and a half miles a day starting from the age of five.

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.

Listen to thoughts when walking

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

It is an enlightening experience to “listen” to your own thoughts when walking. Becoming aware of your thoughts is the first step toward focusing on the moment.

Take a break, savor the nature around you by opening your sense of smell to the herbs by the wayside, open your ears to the chorus of bird song and feel that cool mountain breeze caressing your face.

Nature is the best healer!

Reino Gevers – Author, Mentor and Consultant

https://www.reinogevers.com

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The walk alone

The ancient masters of all the great religions recommended time alone as a crucial means of discovering authentic self.

It was the 40 days that Jesus took for time alone in the desert to confront his own shadow and the demons of temptation.  Moses removed himself alone to Mount Sinai to receive the ten commandments from God.

Before his enlightenment the Buddha retreated for an extended time in the forests, and often went into silent retreats during his lifetime. He however cautioned that “one who goes into solitude will either sink to the bottom or rise to the top,” meaning you have to do it for the right reasons.

It is in the time spent alone that we come closest to the divine and our life purpose, especially if it is time alone in nature.

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The Chinese masters of the body arts such as Tai Chi and Qi Gong called the empty space between the spokes of the wheel more important than the spoke itself.

It is in that empty dark space between the stars where you can touch the divine.

Confronting distraction

We as a society are obsessed with what the wise ancients called the distractions of the 10,000 things. Countless things pull at our attention every day in this digital age:

The news media feed on negative news, the constant subliminal messages working our emotions instill a need for material things we mostly don’t need. There is confusion between necessity and want.

It is no coincidence that with the addiction to distraction there are very few people who can truly bear to spend time alone, and be without the constant chatter.

There is such a great quote from Robin Williams that really sums it up nicely:

 “I used to think the worst thing in life was to end up all alone. It’s not. The worst thing in life is ending up with people who make you feel all alone.”

We are thus constantly seeking the accolades through social media as a reassurance. But it will seldom lead you onto the path of deeper spiritual experience.

Discover self by being alone

It is during the walk alone, the time-out during a silent retreat and the alone time in nature where the gateway to the soul opens and you begin to realize who you truly are.

It is the  time when we confront our own shadow, explore the world within, and find out where we need to take the next step.

It is during the alone time that we discover the heart, the love and the divine within. It is who we truly are and that which soul wants to illuminate.

Reino Gevers – Author, Mentor and Consultant

https://www.reinogevers.com

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Finding purpose with deep walking

My next book “Deep Walking – for Body, Mind and Soul” will soon be on the market.  It is about finding purpose during that void of inner silence that comes with deep walking.

We need to listen to nature

While writing the book I so often came to a point of writer’s block or procrastination. A new inspiration always came after going for a walk in nature. I think this is a dilemma most of us face in the modern world. We are spending too much time indoors, and it’s making us sick and moody.

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The disconnect from nature and the wisdom of the universe, has separated our species from the web of creation. This is why we are treating ourselves and the environment with such disrespect. What is happening within reflects what is happening in the outer world.

At the crossroads – depression and suicides have reached epidemic proportions

Humans are creative and exceptional beings. But we are very much at the crossroads where decisions made today will determine the future of our species in the next half century. I’ve said it often on these pages: The Western mind has sacrificed its soul to the golden calf of immediate external material gratification.  The result: Depression and mental illnesses have reached epidemic proportions. Something is out of order when one person commits suicide every 40 seconds. It is the second leading cause of death in the age group 15-24 in the United States!

Religious dogma from the past is not giving answers

A growing number of people are feeling this intuitively and are searching for new meaning and purpose. They are not finding the answers in the religious dogma of old that is telling us to believe in this or that. The new spiritual consciousness comes from an individual experience. It is why more than 300,000 people from all walks of life, different nationalities and faith, walk the pilgrimage path in Spain, the Camino, every year.  You can get my tips on preparing  for the Camino here: Preparation Camino.

The difference between a hike and a pilgrimage

It is a phenomenon I came across the very first time I walked the Camino in 2007. There  is a huge difference between just taking a hike for exercise purposes and going on a deep walking experience lasting several weeks, especially on a pilgrimage path walked by pilgrims for centuries.  Get my tips on preparing for the Camino here:

Nobody who walks the Camino with serious and mindful intent, comes back the same. As you walk from day to day through rain, mud and hot sun, passing village after village and climbing mountain top after mountain top, a mystery unfolds from within. When the many external distractions fall away, the empty space where we stop thinking opens and the universe, or God, can finally speak to us.

We can find this experience in meditation and other spiritual practices. I’ve found that deep walking in nature to be an exceptionally meditative experience, taking time out from the rat-race that has become our world, aligning with the above and the below with every mindful step.

Reino Gevers – Author, Mentor and Consultant

https://www.reinogevers.com

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Are you living in a tribal bubble?

Our world is becoming dangerously fractured into tribal bubbles and we are losing our sense of a common humanity along the way.

As our world becomes more globally connected on a digital level, there is a growing tendency to align with a “tribe” that thinks, dresses, talks and believes in the same things that we do.

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Photo by Surya Prakosa on Unsplash

Tribes have a tendency to build defensive walls against all those who are not members of the same community.  It is then only a small step away to see them as the enemy targeting our watering holes.

The divisive narrative on both sides of the political spectrum in the current politics is symptomatic. Extremist leaders whose narrative is threatening the very fabric of societies are being democratically elected.

We desperately need such wise leaders as Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi , Theodore Roosevelt and Dag Hammarskjöld who were multi-lateral and holistic in their thinking. Their narrative was one of serving a common humanity rather than a political ideology.

When wise leaders are at the helm,  the rest follow and an immense sense for the common good and higher purpose can result.

The western mind has very much lost its way. When there is a spiritual vacuum, loss of purpose and direction, it is fertile ground for demagogues. They fill the void in playing the “angst” game with nationalist or tribal rhetoric. Its us against them!  Political ideology has all the trappings of a pseudo-religion. Its black or white. A religious cult has the philosophy of either you believe what we tell you to or you will suffer eternal damnation.

An innate spirituality is liberated from belief.  It intuitively feels rather than believes itself connected to what is the fabric and the web that holds everything together on a different level.

When you live in a tribal bubble you will listen only to those people, and media outlets that share your opinion. You have a fixed belief and it becomes part of the ego and the self. Different opinions, irrefutable evidence and scientific fact are slated as “fake news” because they might threaten the image of a false identity that has been created.

If there is no willingness to even listen or to discern between the opinion and the humanity of the other, the inevitable result is confusion about those root cohesive and common values that solidify society.

Reino Gevers – Author, Mentor and Consultant

https://www.reinogevers.com

     

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