Today was, as expected, extremely challenging and strenuous. We walked 27 km, but because of the big change in elevation from about 600 feet to about 4500 feet, it was more like 32 km. We walked across the Pyrenees Mountains from St. Jean Pied-de-Port, France, all the way to Roncesvalles in northeastern Spain. Beginning in the dark at 6:30 a.m., we walked for 12 hours. The way was very, very steep on most of the trail, but the views were spectacular.
Near the summits of the mountains, there were soaring and gliding groups of hawks, wild horses, and the occasional other intrepid pilgrims from all over Europe and the world.
The walking had valuable lessons, indeed. When every step is that difficult, especially with a twenty-pound pack on one’s back, the best method becomes just to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Take one step at a time and think of nothing but that step. Because there was no place we had to be, and no particular time we had to be there, every step was exactly where we were supposed to be and exactly what we were supposed to be doing. Every step was the only moment and place that existed. Therefore, we could go slowly, at our own pace, and just think about each step. Each step was all that mattered, each step was all there was. At any given moment, only that footstep existed, which meant total involvement in the present moment. To do otherwise, to think about how great the distance was and how high the mountains were, would make the task of crossing the mountains seem beyond our ability.
There was no schedule to worry about, no place to think about, no distance in mind other than one step. It was true mindfulness in action. Not only that, but it was a reminder that many people in the world, because of poverty and other suffering, ask of life only the chance to make it to the next moment, and the next, and the next, and then as a result, to make it through the day and live to see another one. Two very important concepts thus seemed to overlap in the difficult, difficult walk to the top of this mountain range, which was only more difficult for and demanding on the body during the steep descent. When we entered Roncesvalles, Spain, we found room at the pilgrim hostel, a large and beautiful converted monastery.
What we had gone through to reach this place, an exhausting 12-hour ordeal, made the simple pilgrim’s dinner seem more like a feast. Because the trail we hiked had in the past been marched over by Roman legions and the soldiers of Napoleon, it was even more gratifying to know that I had walked it not for war, as they had, but for peace.