Saturday, August 17, 2013

Intentions: Steady Aim

A friend asked before I left: "Do you have any intentions for your trip?" I looked up blankly from our pizza. "That's OK: you don't really have to tell me."

I couldn't have; I didn't yet have words. But I knew I had intentions, and I knew the words would come.

Augustine wrote: "Solvitur ambulando -- it is solved by walking." No one can find out where, but if he didn't say it, he should have. The same insight could have come from someone else: Kierkegaard pacing the streets of Copenhagen. Kant crossing the bridges of Koenigsburg. Walter Benjamin savoring the streets of Paris as a flaneur. William Wordsworth braving the weather and the peaks of The Lake District. Post-modern hiker and peripapetic philosopher walks through the centuries with each of them in her history of walking, "Wanderlust" (Penguin, 2000).

I'd get some language for my intentions along the way.

An archer bends the bow back to propel an arrow forward; she exerts force in one direction to make something move in the opposite direction. Pilgrimage has a similar physics. Pilgrims walk toward something, but to get there they have to leave something else -- and some ones else -- behind.

I knew I was walking away from some things and toward others. Getting on the plane for Madrid, my biggest intention was to find out which was which.

My body told me. Whatever I carried in my pack registered on the soles of my feet. I paid attention to everything in my pack, re-packing to shift weight, downsizing to leave behind things that got in the way. In similar fashion, whatever I carried I carried in my heart registered in my consciousness. The long stretches across the Cantabrian Mountains, where there was nothing to do but think -- and keep climbing. I paid attention to everything that rented space in my head, discarding what I didn't need and what I did, shifting weight to allow things their proper importance. Sole-care became soul-care. That's part of the point of pilgrimage.

"Teach us to care
And not to care.
Teach us to sit still."

Pilgrimage is a good instructor, teaching the pilgrim to care and not to care -- or at least to be aware of what the cares are. In the same feat of contrary motion that the archer summons, walking allows the pilgrim to sit still.

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