As I continue to reflect on my recent Camino de Santiago pilgrimage, I keep stumbling upon connections in the writings of Robert Pirsig, author of the classic Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, that are pertinent to the inquiry into tourist vs pilgrim (see earlier post introducing this subject). He talks of making a pilgrimage himself to holy Mount Kailas the source of the Ganges in the Himalayas. He talks about ego-climbing:
“I never reached the mountain. After the third day I gave up, exhausted and the pilgrimage went on without me. I had the physical strength but that wasn’t enough I had the intellectual strength but that wasn’t enough either. I didn’t think I had been arrogant but thought I was undertaking the pilgrimage to broaden MY experience, to gain understanding for MYSELF. I was trying to use the mountain for my own purpose and the pilgrimage too. I regarded myself as the fixed entity, not the pilgrimage or the mountain, and thus wasn’t ready for it………To the untrained eye ego-climbing and selfless climbing may appear identical.
Both kinds of climbers place one foot in front of the other. Both breathe in and out at the same rate. Both stop when tired. Both go forward when rested. But what a difference! The ego-climber is like an instrument that’s out of adjustment. He puts his food down an instant too soon or too late. He’s likely to miss a beautiful passage of sunlight through the trees. He goes on when the sloppiness of his step shows he’s tired. He rests at odd times. He looks up the trail trying to see what’s ahead even when he knows what’s ahead because he just looked second before. He goes too fast or too slow for the conditions and when he talks his talk is forever about somewhere else, something else. He’s here but he’s not here. He rejects the here, is unhappy with it, wants to be farther up the trail but when he gets there will be just as unhappy because then IT will be “here”. What he’s looking for, what he wants, is all around him. But he doesn’t want that because it IS all around him. Every step’s an effort both physically and spiritually, because he imagines his goal to be external and distant.”
A tourist is an ego-climber – a pilgrim is a selfless climber. How often I struggle with being truly “present” in every moment. How much of my life is spent “ego-climbing” – where I am seeking to broaden my experience and get to that elusive place or destination spiritually that is never attainable simply because it exists in the present and not the future. One of the things walking the Camino has done for me is to recognize that the things I do and actions I take to strengthen my spirituality and grow my faith should not be goals themselves; it is the journey that is important and that which will ultimately enrich my soul.