Tag Archives: Small Scale

Walking Time


In the church at St-Alban-sur-Limagnole, along the Chemin du Puy.

A little while ago, I described two months on the Camino as “an eternity.” It made so much sense to me at the time that I didn’t consider the words. But a little later, I started thinking about them.

In non-Camino life, two months fly by the way cars speed past walkers.

But when I was walking, two months felt like forever.

I’m not talking about the dragging, glance-at-the-clock-ever-few-seconds time that’s so familiar to students in a dull class or employees in an endless meeting. Some might associate that sort of boredom with long walks—but those are rarely, I suspect, the people who’ve gone out walking.

A few years ago, I spent a fair bit of a summer reading about time. Not scientific time—that Stephen Hawking stuff goes over my head—but the human experience of time.

And one of the things I read was that when you experience the same things over and over each day, time feels like it’s moving more quickly. The science behind this idea had something to do with the circuits in our brain. If we use the same ones all the time, our brains stop really paying attention.

So in a weird way, we live shorter lives if we never break out of our routines. Because when it comes right down to it, it’s our experiences that count, not the readings on our clocks and calendars.

* * *

Eternity isn’t some later time. Eternity isn’t a long time. Eternity has nothing to do with time. Eternity is that dimension of here and now which thinking and time cuts out. This is it. And if you don’t get it here, you won’t get it anywhere.
—Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth

One of the reasons children experience time as moving more slowly is because they’re always encountering new things.

I heard an interview with psychologist and philosopher Alison Gopnik on one of my favourite radio shows the other day. Gopnik said young children are much more conscious and aware of what’s going on around them than we adults tend to be.

Adults’ attention, Gopnik explained, is like a spotlight: we look at what we think is important and tune out everything else. Young children don’t know what’s important and what’s not, so they notice everything.

It is, in many respects, a wonderful way to be in the world, but it’s not efficient. Young children spend a lot of time sleeping and crying as they try to process all they experience. They’re not so good at getting important things done.

But, Gopnik said, adults can recapture some of that feeling through travel. When everything is new and different, we notice so much more. We become more alive. Travel isn’t the only way to reach that state, of course, but it can really help.

And I suspect that’s a big part of why time slows down on the Camino.

But it’s not only that, at least for me. I’ve done a fair bit of non-Camino travel, and time, then, didn’t slow to the same extent. I think the speed of Camino time also has something to do with the slower pace, the way life shrinks when you’re rarely thinking more than 30 kilometres ahead.

Maybe that’s part of the reason some of us get addicted to walking pilgrimages. We’re more awake when we’re walking. We live more deeply. And time stretches out toward eternity.

* * *

What do you think? Did you experience time differently while you were walking, or at any other time in your life?

Posted by Anna-Marie Krahn at 12:31 pm
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Life Shrinks on the Camino de Santiago

[The Meseta]

The Meseta, after Castrojeríz.

One of the things I miss about the Camino is the smallness of life there.

I know that doesn’t necessarily sound like a good thing, since most of us want to live larger lives. But one of the things I loved about the Camino was that it let me temporarily live a larger life through a series of small but meaningful moments.

When I first trudged out of Le Puy-en-Velay at the end of August 2008, I had more than 1,500 kilometres of walking ahead of me. For the first few days, I would look at the numbers on the occasional signs giving the distance to Santiago, and think about how I could easily be there in two days if I were driving. I could probably do it in one day if I really tried.

I can’t pinpoint exactly when it happened, but within a few days of walking out of Le Puy, I was fully immersed in the smaller walker’s world. The 18 or so kilometres I averaged during the first weeks of my journey were enough. The first day I walked 26 kilometres, the distance felt enormous.

[Stained Glass]

The gorgeous modern stained glass in the Aumont-Aubrac church.

Once, talking to my mum in Canada, I said I had “only” walked 16 kilometres that day. She laughed and said she’d thought the hour-long walk she’d taken that day was impressive.

The cars that hurtled past when I walked along roads and highways came to seem like alien beings. Sometimes I’d come across a sign warning of an intersection five kilometres ahead. I’d laugh to myself, because I’d be lucky to reach that intersection within the hour.

On my sixth day of walking, I was about four kilometres out of Aumont-Aubrac when I realized I’d left my best hiking socks hanging on the clothesline at the gîte d’étape where I’d spent the night.

A little voice from the car-world I’d left behind told me four kilometres was nothing and I should go back. But I didn’t seriously consider it. Going back would mean an extra two hours of walking, and the socks weren’t worth that.

It wasn’t just distances that grew large in my new walking life. Mid-sized towns suddenly felt big enough. Cities seemed huge and foreign (and not because I was from another country) after days of walking through the countryside. I always hurried through to their medieval centres. These were usually limited to pedestrians, and felt like they’d been designed for people rather than cars.

In France, where the churches and cathedrals were often open, they felt like true places of refuge, providing shelter from the sun and the rain, and quiet spaces to stop and think and feel the weight of centuries of history.

[Pilgrim Feet]

Walking can be one of the greatest pilgrim joys of all ... as can taking a break from walking.

World events felt far away. I was in Moissac when I heard about the economy collapsing, and after a brief panic, I mostly forgot about it. I got the gossip on Canada’s federal election from an Ontarian pilgrim one afternoon as we relaxed in a Spanish village after a day’s walk. And an Irishman told me about Obama’s presidential victory the morning after it happened, in a freezing pilgrim refuge in an even smaller Spanish village. But like the cars, these major events belonged to another world.

What mattered on the Camino was finding food and a bed for the night, meeting up with friends both old and new, keeping myself and my clothes relatively clean, tending to injuries so they didn’t get worse, and every day getting a little closer to Santiago.

Walking so slowly, I noticed and appreciated little things like fresh blackberries, the occasional washing machine, relaxing with friends after a hard day’s walk, shelter from sweltering heat and freezing rain, and small kindnesses, both from pilgrim friends and total strangers.

And in the small world of the Camino, those little things were huge.

Posted by Anna-Marie Krahn at 9:57 pm
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