This week we begin our next Pilgrim in Residence Series, with David Fulton as A Sacred Journey’s third Pilgrim in Residence. I met David early on while at The Seattle School, but I feel like we really got to know each other best at The Seattle School bookstore, where I worked one day a week. He often came in for a drink or a quick bite to eat, but when the bookstore was quiet he would stay to talk for a while. We talked about school, life, where we came from and where we were going, and as I became more interested in pilgrimage, I’m sure we spent a lot of time talking about journeys.
This summer while I was in Seattle I ran into David at a graduation party. Despite the dancing and loud music, when he spotted me he came straight up to me and said (or really yelled, as you do when trying to speak over loud music), “I just did the Camino!” My immediate response was, “You have to write about it for my site!” He said he would, and that was the end of the conversation. It was obviously not a good time to chat, but from that moment forward I’ve looked forward to hearing more of David’s Camino story, especially since he brings with it his experience as a therapist. Below is the first installment. Come back on October 13th for part two (update: read part two here) and October 20th for part 3 (update: read part three here).
(P.S.–For those new to the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, the Camino [which means "the way"] is a historic [or what I'm calling "traditional"] pilgrimage. In the golden age of pilgrimage in the Middle Ages, Santiago de Compostela was third in popularity behind only the Holy Land and Rome [the Vatican] as a pilgrimage site. In the past few decades, the Camino has seen the greatest resurgence in popularity since the Renaissance. I’ll share a more detailed history of the site and the journey in the future, but if you’re wanting more background information, Wikipedia will do for now).
In April and May of 2013 I had the privilege to walk the Camino de Santiago across Southern France and Northern Spain. This famous pilgrimage is a way marked with history, tradition, and a deep sense of community. I first heard about the Camino from a friend in 2009. She did two weeks of the journey and spoke so highly of the experience. Ever since then the desire to walk the Camino grew inside me. There are many Caminos to choose from, with all the pilgrim routes leading to the city of Santiago de Compestela, where it is believed the remains of St. James the apostle of Christ are buried. I would walk the Frances route of the Camino, a journey that begins in the French Pyrenees in a quaint village named St. Jean De Pied de Port.
To arrive in St. Jean for the beginning of the Camino wasn’t the start of my pilgrimage. For me, pilgrimage is about so much more than the actual journey. It’s the weeks–the months–of preparing. It’s the long nights staring into the computer reading the blog experiences of others before going to sleep. It’s the hundreds of miles to break in your new hiking boots.
“For me, pilgrimage is about so much more than the actual journey.”
The pilgrims who have walked before me–some as far back as 1400AD–carried nothing but the bare essentials. They lived off the generosity of people and the land. My nagging question of what to bring and what to leave behind is asked bravely of everything that I put in my pack with the constant reminder of all the luxury in my life. It was here in the countless hours of study and preparation–rent checks for two months, suspending my cell phone and walking every chance I got–that I began the pilgrimage. I was leaving, and leaving costs a lot.
And of course the big question–the why of doing this walk? For me it was to slow down. I don’t do slow well. I know one pace–fast. Intense. Slowing down to walk?– The slowest form of traveling was intimidating. There was a season in my life where I prided myself in how busy I was. I derived my worth based on my accomplishments. This was something I picked up at a young age. Its taken several years of therapy and a lot of painful experiences to be able to rest in the fact that I am loved not for what I produce but for who I am. Slow in my old paradigm was considered weak. Now I consider slow as wise and prudent whose fruit yields patience and grace. So, to walk literally 500 miles across two countries for 33 days averaging between 12-18 miles a day calls to me inward to the busy places of my heart where rest is needed.
To tell my story of the Camino and of pilgrimage requires me to look deep within myself. But that is the point of pilgrimage; you are searching for something. For me to arrive searching meant I had to come to terms with my brokenness. I left my front door in Seattle for the Camino (because pilgrimage starts at your door step) depleted with nothing left to give. So I prepped. Read. Researched. Cried. Bought my plane tickets. Bought my train tickets. All the while, I was wrestling with the question of how a therapist in need of his own healing internally prepares for such a journey.
“To tell my story of the Camino and of pilgrimage
requires me to look deep within myself.
But that is the point of pilgrimage;
you are searching for something.”
My job relies so heavily on taking care of others. Yet the truth be told, I often fail at doing it for myself. Leaving is hard. I was leaving so much. I was leaving my job of almost two years as a Practicum facilitator at The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology. I was leaving my private practice. My friends. I was leaving my bed. My home. My rituals. I gave up what I knew in hopes of finding something I needed. So I left. I left with my pack, 2 pairs of clothes, 3 pairs of socks, a limited amount of toiletries, a cell phone (my only camera) and the all the pain, shame, ache, and fear, and about 10 extra pounds on my stomach.
I arrived in St. Jean and everything I had prepared for was in front of me now. A room with 14 bunk beds, a breakfast of bread and butter, instant coffee drank out of a bowl, and the excitement of walking the first day 28km through the French Pyrenees. I had made space for healing. Maybe that is what pilgrimage is–the courage to venture out alone to make space for what’s missing. It is in this empty space I journeyed alone.
“Maybe that is what pilgrimage is–the courage to venture
out alone to make space for what’s missing.”
But the Camino de Santiago doesn’t leave you alone. It brings people–lovely people with whom you can share the various parts of yourself that are fragile, weak, glorious and hopeful. And the scene was set. That morning I would walk from my hostel 300 yards alone. And the next 790 km, I was no longer alone but in community.
On April 23rd, 2013 an American (myself), two Canadians (a mom and daughter), an Irish woman and a French man (who didn’t speak any English)–all strangers a few hours before–left St. Jean to walk the Camino de Santiago. Our Camino family was taking shape with my brokenness and burdens, represented by a stone that sat securely in my pack, and my smile, representing the peace I already felt.
What’s missing in your life right now that calls you to journey and make space?
David is a psychotherapist and a CrossFit instructor in Seattle, and loves to explore the connection between body, mind, and soul. You can learn more about his work at davidpfulton.com and follow him on twitter here: @davidpfulton.