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Self-acceptance on the Camino: Are we following a misguided ideal? »« Find faith in liminal space

Social media on the Camino: barrier or portal?

After hours of walking the Camino every day, I always felt grateful to arrive at a café or restaurant to rest and have a drink or snack. But too often, outdoor tables were full of people texting or talking on their cell phone. It seemed that for many pilgrims, finding a place with free Wifi was more important than food or drink.

Some pilgrims accessed the internet on their phone to find out the weather in the next main town along the route. While sitting at the table, they sometimes shared facts about this upcoming location, such as population, current temperature, and historical points of trivia, which they had just found online. Although I appreciated hearing more about certain places, this new knowledge also seemed to remove the mystery of the experience for me. There was no more joy of discovery—much had already been revealed.

pilgrim symbols low-res 985

Universal symbols require no technology or language to communicate their message.
At one roadside eatery, I enjoyed seeing the pilgrim icons
used to identify the respective washroom for men and women.

Others on the Camino used email to contact pilgrims they had met, to arrange where they would meet up or agree to stay that night. This seemed practical to me, but at the same time, it imposed planning on a process that I liked to keep more open-ended. Whether it’s on the Camino or in daily life, we all choose how much control we want to impose on what we do. We each find the balance that works for us. How much are we letting go and allowing life to come and meet us—making room for the Unknown—and how much are we trying to shape it ourselves ahead of time?

It jarred me to hear Spanish people talking on their phones as they walked. This occurred only a few times, thankfully, since the chatter of a voice ruined the serenity and silence of a moment. Yet, when I felt irritated by these occasional disruptions, I reminded myself: These people are not far from home. Their friends and loved ones are readily accessible. Why resent their desire to stay connected? Maybe I just needed to learn more tolerance.

 

After all, I was carrying an iPhone, which I used to send and receive emails and for taking photographs. How was my behaviour any different?

editing notice low-res 906

As an editor, I chuckled at these multi-language instructions in one Camino washroom, which included others’ attempts
to correct vocabulary and syntax.

 

Like most Camino pilgrims, I daily searched for outlets at albergues to recharge my iPhone. At one hostel, all were constantly in use, and I was unable to recharge it. The next day, I walked a whole morning without being able to take photos. It surprised me how unnerving this felt; I could not seem to let go of the sense that I was missing out on one-of-a-kind visual opportunities. I was more attached to my identity as a photographer than I thought.

 

Although I enjoy taking pictures, I recognized that to stop on the path, find a place to put down my poles, take off my gloves, dig my iPhone out of my zippered fanny pack, and take a picture—often when it was so bright that I could barely see more than a faint silhouette on the screen and didn’t even know if the image was in focus—I was disrupting the flow of my walking journey.

 

Holding up an iPhone to take a picture of someone or something creates a barrier to direct experience. I was stepping into the role of recorder, framing and capturing the image inside a tiny rectangle rather than observing it with my own eyes. I wanted the picture as a memory of the scene, yet I was removing myself from the event to do this. The immediate connection to a moment was gone.

 

John Brierley, author of the popular Camino guidebook that I used, recommends not bringing a camera on the pilgrimage. He writes: “[D]on’t forget that you can’t photograph an inner experience, so don’t set up a disappointment for yourself! . . . The camera . . .insulates the photographer from the reality of the experience.”

 

Strangely, I did not consider my writing process (jotting words in my notebook along the way) as the same form of separation from a moment. For me, this writing felt more like an extension of my inner thoughts, sometimes the result of an inner experience. Usually, I just wrote a few lines or a quick paragraph to jog my memory in the evening, when I would write in more detail in my journal. Yet while doing this, I was still stopping along the way and removing myself from those around me.

 

altered state low-res 175

Without pen, camera, phone or any other distraction,
I found nothing more exhilarating than directly experiencing
Oneness with Nature, as if an altered state.

 

Some Camino pilgrims bring along iPads and share their comments and photos as they go, either on email or on Facebook. I think that’s great to stay in such constant contact with people, but I chose not to do that. Consciously, I knew that I wanted to write about my experiences after my return, not en route. Before leaving, I told my husband that I would email him when I got a chance, but not to expect daily communication.

 

In that sense, I was creating separation. I realize now that my view of a spiritual journey, ultimately, is a solo one. While on the Camino, I sought out others with whom to share my spiritual self and related perceptions, appreciating that sense of community. But in a given moment, there was nothing more exhilarating than tapping directly into Nature’s energetic essence, stopping to feel this everpresent sense of Oneness. No technology is required for that at all — it only gets in the way.

 

December 20, 2013 at 6:32 pm
3 comments »
  • December 28, 2013 at 2:23 pmHanna

    I’m enjoying the photos and description of your journey Heather – what a trip! :)

  • December 27, 2013 at 6:04 amFrank McElroy

    I admit, after the intro, I could not read this post. I understand but cannot countenance the need for constant communication which has been brought to a zenith by so-called social media. My social is looking you in the eye and having your eyes in mine and chatting. All the other stuff is second to tenth rate. It is unimaginable to me that any human chooses electronic “communication” over silence and solace and tete-a-tete.

  • December 23, 2013 at 8:07 pmrobert wotton

    Heather,

    I had a similar experience bringing a camera along during a family holiday in a new landscape on Vancouver Island, feeling that the act of taking photographs was a disruption of the experience. However, I think we are capable of stepping away from an experience, then stepping back into it again with practice. I learned this while working with young people, where I could loose myself in play, then step back to assess the big picture, then return to the intensity of the moment. Photos can add to a journal.
    I am enjoying your regular updates.
    Robert

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