A walk of wisdom in practice

The first part of the Walk of Wisdom will open on 21 June on a 136-kilometre route around Nijmegen. Below is a story from the experienced pilgrim Jan Veltman about what pilgrimage can do to you.  

Years ago I depicted my life’s path in a creative way. The drawing shows a path to the horizon, which becomes narrower and narrower and disappears there. My path in that drawing always goes up and down from left to right along that road to the horizon.

Walking my path through life has gradually become a pilgrimage with enrichment. Pilgrimage is a special way of walking for me, namely meaningful with a religious character and also the many encounters. I experience these encounters as a gift.

In 2000 I walked with my brother and sister-in-law from the Netherlands to Santiago. A beginning of a beautiful “career” as a pilgrim. But my recent Franciscan walk on my own was really different. During this trip from Florence, to Assisi and then to Rome, I was much more on my own. Much more on off the beaten track. This gave room for many encounters. This has brought me a lot. I’m still working on it. The pilgrimage alone was not always easy. It could be tough. Sometimes I would arrive completely exhausted. Yet this felt like true joy because the next day I had already forgotten the heaviness of the previous day. I could take it all over again.  

Under the sign of the word “trust” I walked this pilgrimage. Along the way, this has kept me busy a lot. It means a lot to me. The essence of trust for me is believing that you are supported when you let go. It has become a way of thinking and acting for me. Letting go is difficult, but having to let go happens to everyone, sometimes willingly, often unwillingly. This can be extremely painful. But now, while walking, on my own, in nature, I noticed that distancing was better. A sense of letting go then grows. The special thing about this trip was that I always had the feeling that Francis was walking with me. That’s special, and helped me to be on the road with my thoughts.

Moving on is the only solution for me to get somewhere. I don’t just see this as a necessary practical solution when I get lost during my pilgrimage. For me, it’s a metaphor for how to deal with the difficult moments in my life.
I have regularly met special people. Other pilgrims or holidaymakers with whom I have had intense conversations. Because I had a lot of my experiences and perceptions to share and I also got a lot in return, these were special encounters. For me, these conversations were meetings with Francis and sometimes I was allowed to be Francis for them for a while.

That seems like a contrast; Being alone and meeting a lot. But while walking, a lot of thoughts arise. You have space and time for that. You come to yourself more. But you also let go of all kinds of ballast. I have written down many thoughts and experiences in my booklet. That is intense, you get more and more to the core of what is essential. Sharing this with people you meet also makes the encounters more intense and valuable. Being alone, I experienced it as brilliant, fantastic. That too seems to be a contrast, but it is precisely the contrast with the encounter that complements these concepts so well. I definitely feel like a people person too. 

I carried my ballast with me in my backpack and I saw that in imagery as the dark sides of my life, which I always carry with me. You can’t see it, but it’s there. And everyone carries the burden with them. It is good to realize that these shadow sides help you to find a better balance in your life.

 I may be a bit busy and hurried by nature. But every now and then a walk gives a lot of peace of mind, I have experienced. I slow down, come more to myself, find more balance. That’s perhaps how it goes with all the contradictions. By becoming aware of one side of yourself, the opposite also gets more space to manifest and grow. As it were, as with walking, you alternate your left and right leg forward to move forward. Keep going, it’s the only solution to get somewhere.

Concluding my pilgrimage story is my experience that during my pilgrimages, initially unconsciously, but now intensely felt, I have experienced my pilgrimages to my inner source. The outside grows towards the inside. From the inside comes the joy that I share with others, the outside, but in the end it’s about the inside.

Baarn, March 2015.
Jan Veltman