Day 1: Via Francigena – San Miniato to Gambassi Terme
The question often arises about the differences between a hike and a deep walking pilgrimage. The easiest way for you to find out would be to follow in the footsteps of the ancient pilgrims on one of the famous European routes.
Experiencing it cannot be explained in full
I have met many people who started walking the Camino de Santiago as a hiker and ended it as a pilgrim. Experiential spirituality cannot be explained. It can only be experienced.
Today I started my 13th pilgrimage walk on the Via Francigena in Italy. The original plan was to once again walk one of the Spanish routes but Covid-19 forced a change of plan. Italy is currently a safer country to travel after initially suffering the worst outbreak of the virus in Europe earlier this year. It is now hailed as one of the countries that have been more successful in containing the virus.
Like the Camino de Santiago the Via Francigena is one of the ancient pilgrimage routes dating back to the Middle Ages with the exception that pilgrims walked to Rome rather than Santiago.
A blessing from a stranger
Our walk started in the northern Italian town of San Miniato near Pisa. On leaving the town a friendly granny stamped our pilgrims’ passports, handing each of us a small shell with the blessing of the Holy Mary.
We would not be able to comfortably enjoy these marvelous pilgrimage paths without the support of thousands of such local volunteers who maintain the paths with way markers, first aid kits, and offering their service in the pilgrims’ hostels. It is not uncommon for these people to spend whatever they have left from their small pensions and salaries to maintain these old paths, chapels and other holy sites.
The 24 kilometer route to Gambassi Terme is challenging for a first day, lacking the typical cafes and small towns that you find on the Camino de Santiago. The countryside nevertheless offers marvelous views of the Tuscany landscape and after some hours of walking, the town of San Miniato can be seen in the distance with its unmistakeable hilltop fortress tower.
The physical challenge
Forced by the circumstances to carry more weight than usual in my backpack, this first day was physically strenuous. I would always advise first-time hikers to start with short-distance walks of no more than 12-15 kilometers so that the body can gradually become attuned to long-distance walking. I was reminded of my first walk on the Camino carrying too much weight and starting wholly unprepared. The back pain, blisters and other physical and mental ailments followed inevitably.
Lessons in humility
The pilgrimage path is an important lesson in humility. “If you don’t walk the path with humility it will teach you humility,” a pilgrim once said to me.
It is in the recognition of one’s own brokenness, and in opening up to the beginners’ mind that possibility and elevation of consciousness is possible.
Especially in the current situation it is easy to get pulled into the maelstrom of news negativity and doomsday prophets. A pilgrimage walk is the perfect opportunity to realign and center the mind to higher purpose and meaning.
Walking a path more than once is like reading a good book several times over. What you have not seen or read the first time will be seen differently, from a different angle and new window of consciousness.
The lesson of the day:
- Take one step at a time. If you look at the mountain ahead, your walk will be so much more difficult. On the other hand if you turn around you will be amazed as to how far you have walked.
- Looking at the mountain to climb is the trap that leads to procrastination.
- One blessing, one good thought at a time, one positive action at a time leads to the compound effect that makes all the difference both to you and the world.
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.
“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