In a few hours, a week ago, I will have completed the journey by walking from Cronulla to the Sydney CBD.
I know this sentence makes little grammatical sense but there it is.
In a few hours a week ago, having walked the last 25 of the 620Kms, I will walk another 1.5 Kms to the St. Mary’s Cathedral on William St. to give thanks for a safe deliverance and her apparent patronage.
It’s been a week since I’ve been back and already I’m in the swing of things but deep underneath I feel different.
The experience has changed me on some profound basic level.
It’s hard to describe. It’s just a feeling. Or maybe it is the absence of feelings that I would have normally had?
I don’t know. I just know that something is different and it’s not temporary.
So what did happen to me during those long days of walking? On the surface – nothing much.
There were no profound revelations, no apparitions, no hocus-pocus of any kind. I just walked.
I thought (when I could) about my life, about my projects, about my loved ones – all the things I’m used to thinking about as I often spend lots of time on my own, thinking.
The only thing out of the ordinary was the feeling of certainty that would pop up in regards to one matter or another.
All of a sudden I’d feel certain that a large phase of my life was now over. Or I’d recognize, without a doubt, what my relationship with a particular person was all about. I’d had vague suspicions of these things before, but now it was clear and definite.
Something was also going on on a deep unconscious level, as I was able to surmise from the fragments of dreams I could recall.
I usually try not to remember or analyze my dreams but I did notice a common theme stretching over a number of nights, developing in a consistent manner, like some sort of a review or re-processing of a major life plot.
On the conscious level, the first two weeks of the walk were all about working with pain and discomfort.
My backpack, though not very heavy (about 12Kgs), was causing my shoulders a lot of pain. My feet, calves, knees and lower back were keeping me in the present, most of the time.
My days consisted of a series of an hour-and-a-half marches, followed by a short 10-15 minute break. Each march, in turn, consisted of a 30 minute pain-free period (right after a break), followed by an hour of slowly intensifying aches and pains. My job was to try to simply observe these aches and pains and not resist them or react in any way.
In truth, I could do little else but keep my mind on these aches and pains and keep my eyes and ears on the road. Cars, trucks, buses were whizzing by at a 100Km/h, often at a distance of an outstretched arm or less, and I had to be extra careful.
With all of that I had little time for any philosophical discourse or contemplation. My entire attention was on getting through the day’s walk and recovering enough at night to do it all over again the next day.
A 30 minute easy walk, an hour of pain, 10-15 minute break. 7 to 10 hours per day, day, after day, after day, after day… It seemed like it would never end.
Then, after two weeks, unexpectedly, it all ended. All the aches and pains went away, the backpack no longer felt heavy and
I could easily do a two-hour march, barely feeling any discomfort. I sometimes found myself not even wanting to stop and wanting to keep moving but I had to take breaks because I found that without a regular recovery time my feet quickly developed blisters.
I would have spent my newly acquired free time on thinking, but that too appeared to be over and done with.
Everything seemed clear and needed no further mulling over.
So the last week I just walked, with no agenda, in celebration of the walk itself. It felt like by walking I was paying homage. To whom or what or why, I didn’t know and didn’t care. It just felt right to walk.
I’m very glad I chose to fast the entire way. Apart for an occasional black coffee in the morning, I had nothing but water for 21 days.
On the 22nd day I had a couple of fruit juices and slowly built up to solid food over the next few days.
This long fast opened my eyes on a few things. Firstly, I was surprised that it was not at all a struggle. I mean I felt hunger but there was no urgency about it – it was just another sensation to watch and not react to.
After a few days the very process of eating began to seem ridiculous. I saw it in a new light: we are walking food processing factories! We lag all this equipment around and spend much time and energy on acquiring the ‘raw materials’, processing, digestion, elimination, etc. It all seemed so… cumbersome. I was glad to be free of it.
Of course I fantasized about food all the time, but it was more an intellectual thing rather than visceral.. I began to realize how much we use food for sense gratification and entertainment.
Now that I’m back and no longer restricted, I of course took every opportunity to fulfill those fantasies but the results are far from what I expected. I found myself sticking a finger down my throat to throw up all that junk I was stuffing myself with – it tasted rather bland and weighed heavily on my stomach. I just couldn’t be bothered digesting all that crap.
What I surmise from it is that I managed to detox myself to a high degree. So much so that I feel cravings for plain steamed veggies and a thought of pizza makes me cringe. I hope the feeling lasts!
So if you ask me whether I think it was worthwhile to spend over three weeks walking, my answer will be that it was without a doubt one of the best things I could possibly have done for myself.
I was in a good place even before the walk – not because of any particular circumstances or that my life is easy but because I simply feel content, regardless.
I believe that this feeling of contentment is largely due to an increasingly maturing understanding and appreciation of life I’ve been acquiring over the past few years. I feel that this walk has made a significant contribution in that regard, judging by how I feel now.
And how is it that I feel? Well, you know that feeling on a bright, warm spring morning, when the air itself is full of life and hope and new beginnings? I feel like that most of the time – even when it’s cold and dreary outside, and I’m very grateful for it.
I am grateful for the call, and I am grateful for the opportunity to walk, and I am grateful for all the help and support I got.