“If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath.”
― Amit Ray, Om Chanting and Meditation
I arrived in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port pumped up and ready to start my first day of hiking. However, I failed to anticipate the strength of the midday heat and the endurance required to hike twenty seven kilometers uphill in one day. I was quickly given a reality check by one of the volunteers at the “Amis du Chemin de Saint Jacques de Compostelle” or “Friends of the Way of Saint James of Compostella”. He politely informed me that there was no freaking way that I was going to start hiking that day. He advised that I just relax the rest of the afternoon, get a good night’s rest and start fresh early in the morning. Bummer.
The village of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port is a popular starting point for modern pilgrims. The village is convenient for travelers because of its proximity to the international airport of Biarritz. Historically, though, it was a milestone for ancient pilgrims passing through and stopping for a night or two before beginning the steep ascent of the Pyrennes. The village has managed to maintain the ancient charm, while also creating a thriving economy based on the pilgrimage.
However, if you are the type of person who has a hard time sitting still *points thumbs at self*, a full day in SJPdP can be a little frustrating. There is a pretty steep hill to climb from the train station to the pilgrim’s office and most of the ancient town is situated on a few small streets on the hill. After eating some lunch and waiting in line for my credentials (the pilgrim’s passport), I found myself perusing the small shops and walking up and down the hill. In the late afternoon, I walked to the highest point of the village and finally started to relax when I caught a glimpse of a small flock of sheep doing what sheep do. Quietly grazing, no stressful or racing thoughts. I sat down, ate my early dinner as an impromptu picnic and enjoyed the view.
Then, I reclined on a nearby park bench and realized that I am so used to having somewhere to be or an obligation to fulfill that I had forgotten how to just relax. I would find out in the following days that it takes a while to slow down. But, when I finally did, when the racing thoughts stopped and I just followed the path, it was total bliss. People asked me on the camino what I was thinking about on the journey. Happily, I replied, “Absolutely nothing. My mind is finally empty.”