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Time on the Camino: spiritual solace or a tough taskmaster?

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Stopping to smell and admire flowers and nature along the Camino
was an easy way to experience a sense of timelessness.

I have always paid great attention to time. I hate being late. Most of my work life revolves around deadlines. I frequently check the time on my watch or computer to orient myself to appointments, and feel surprisingly naked and vulnerable when not wearing a watch. In grade seven, I even wrote a speech about the nature of time.


Therefore, it was disorienting when, in just over a month, I went through three watches while walking on the Camino.

First, my cheap Timex stopped working and the strap came off; I lost the tiny metal pin that attached to the wristband. Then, I lost the square face of an expensive, artsy German watch I bought in Chartres; only the wide, expandable wrist band was left.


I told myself this was a sign to let go of my attachment to time. I’m too caught up in it. Deepak Chopra calls this “time-based thinking”; he says it’s the domain of the ego. In contrast, spirit is timeless. It exists beyond our sense of linear time.


I tried to convince myself that I didn’t need a watch; I could check the time on my cell phone or ask others. But my ego won out. After about three weeks of walking, I bought a whimsical, brightly coloured watch in Léon for 16 euros; it had a cute image of a cartoon dog flying in a plane. I admit: I felt attached to it. By the next day, it had come off my wrist and was gone.


I told Elke, one of my walking companions during my final week on the Camino, about my watch issues. The next day, her watch stopped working. Jokingly, she blamed me.

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With blisters, a sore knee, and fatigue, my then-54-year-old body certainly didn’t feel ageless on the Camino.


I remembered reading Chopra’s Ageless Body, Timeless Mind years ago, in which he reinforced that our attitudes and perceptions help create our level of consciousness. This, in turn, affects the level of stress or tension in our bodies; it reinforces the mind-body-spirit connection. How we react to time becomes part of that equation; are we stuck in the past, worrying about the future, rushing to catch up to people and events—pushing the river, so to speak—or letting go and allowing things to unfold organically?


I have definitely been a push-the-river type. Learning to let go has been a challenging lesson for me in the last few decades; it’s why I made “Let go and go with the flow” the unspoken message of my children’s book Gracie’s Got a Secret.


My mind felt timeless when I lost myself in the surroundings, in solitude, and experienced a deep connectedness with all around me. But more often, I was wondering: How much time to the next town? How much longer can I walk? I made time a taskmaster: it’s what prompted me to leave early in the morning to increase the likelihood of finding a hostel bed at night.


I was following a plan with a determined destination, dividing my days into kilometres and hours. What a contrast to my extended time of solo meditation and spiritual exploration in India. With no schedule in that country, it didn’t matter to me what day of the week it was.


That’s why learning to recompartmentalize my sense of time, upon my return to Canada from India, was one of my biggest adjustments. I had rarely thought beyond a day at a time.

EL CAMINO photos lowres 385

Timelessness is ever-present if we can shift perceptions from ego to spirit.

On the Camino, having to stick to my predetermined arrival date in Santiago felt oppressive at times; my return flight was already booked. This didn’t allow for diversions or the spontaneous desire to stay extra days in a certain place.


I appreciated the leisurely options of retired Europeans who lived so close to home and booked their return train or plane passage based on when they felt ready to go back. Time seemed to be able to expand for them; it didn’t have the same urgency that it seemed to have for me.


If I walk the Camino again, I will choose only a portion of the route and stay longer in some places, giving myself more time to explore and relax without a schedule.

April 14, 2014 at 12:10 pm
  • April 15, 2014 at 6:20 pmD Lynn Chapman

    thanks for the explorations of the meanings and demands of time and timelessness.. one of my beliefs is that now is the only time you ever have for sure… remembering that helps put life in perspective. Watching time is different when one is working fixed hours with fixed deadlines and obligations.. time presses hard on us then.
    since retirement I have not worn a watch and fairly often I get myself to where I have agreed to be when I agreed to be there..
    We have inherited a grandfather clock which chimes the hours quite loudly… that is plenty of time management now that we are retired… I love its mechanical nature.. no red blinking lights here!
    Heather I do think you have magical time powers.. while typing this a Skype add zoomed onto my screen announcing “enjoy the moments without worrying about the minutes”… first time one of those adds has appeared while I have been using the computer!!!! scary!

  • April 14, 2014 at 6:24 pmJack Stein

    Hi Heather, it seems like I will be able for the first time to submit a comment. Thank you for this latest blog. I leave in another nine days for Barcelona.Your blog has come just in time to remind me to try and let go of time. I too am one that has been attached to time forever. I have packed my back pack and as much as I have tried, I don’t seem to get it down to less than 7KG. I have been hiking for the last 3 days with full back pack and my left shoulder is aching. Were your shoulders aching too?
    Anyhow thanks again for your interesting blog and informative insights.
    Jack Stein

  • April 14, 2014 at 5:10 pmLynn Barker

    Isn’t it hilarious how the Universe gives us messages from time to time (pun intended). If we don’t “GET” it at first … the Universe just pounds it in! Haha. Yep, we are too busy clock-watching.

  • April 14, 2014 at 4:41 pmFrank

    Time is the most elusive concept and is wrongly compared to water in a river, water over falls and the like. Find the book “In Search of Time” for some thought-provoking concepts. There is nothing egotistical about telling time or being concerned with it – concern about time is motivated by fear, the most fundamental human emotion. The only time I ever wore a time piece was when we stepped out on the Camino last year. For more than 50 years before then I managed to be on time, every time, for my classes in school and university, dates in court and with clients. But that’s not time, just little agreements about when.

    Time seems like the greatest gift. Space for love, babies, work, everything that is what we are all about. And we all know there is not enough of it. Time can be tasted and smelled, intuited and felt. It is in death that time reaches its true human meaning, our real understanding. Infinitely small and yet infinite, forever. I’m just glad to be around for the little bit of time I have, a quantity without volume, space or meaning, except that it vanishes. It is evanescent, like champagne bubbles. Remember Gandalf’s clever question to Frodo who sought advice about what to do with the ring – “What will you do with the time you have left?” This is the only time question which has real human meaning. And the answer is . . . don’t waste it.

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