Wednesday 9 August 2023

Pilgrim's Progress

. . . from this world to that which is to come. [that's Bunyan] I'm sorry to hear that John "Camino" Brierley, enthusiastic writer about, and facilitator of ,the process of pilgrimage, is dead. Cancer; at Dartmouth in the S.W of England.  He's a few years older than me but still had a lot to give. I gather that his daughter Gemma has been recently taking up the slack on the relentless process of churning out his useful and appealing guides to the several Caminos leading to Santiago de Compostella. Few indeed achieve satori from the exercise and many are disappointed that their pilgrimage hasn't worked. But lookit, one of the wise people I met on my Camino in Regresso in 2004 quipped: "When your camino ends, the journey begins". Because change is hard; but the most difficult task is to change ourselves.

It's easy to give a tetchy harrumph to the idea of pilgrim guidebooks. That elusive satori may slip through your fingers if you treat the journey as paint-by-numbers. I remember space-time being disturbed by a turmoil of anxiety when I encountered a group of pilgrims at one of the rare forks in the road which were missing the    to show The Way as if that direction was the only option at any intersection. But heck, it's hard enough to walk 100km or 700km to Santiago without doing it on your knees . . . or without a Brierley booklet. No need to go all Joshua Slocum circumnavigating the globe with an old alarm clock for a chronometer - GPS is okay. And, for sure, the demand is there: 1 million copies have been sold in several languages.

 My sister met Johnny Brierley in the 1980s when they were both finding their way in Findhorn. Years later, we all went for a pint in Slad, Gloucs about 5 years after I returned from Fisterra. I was on the fifth draft of my own Analysis of the Process of Pilgrimage and realising that writing the goll-dang thing was enough and it didn't need to be published. As you do, we swapped yarns and ideas about Santiago, the Camino and life-the-universe-and-everything. I liked him and wasn't off-put by the inner light which made his gaze a bit intense. I sent him a message and he replied

I, likewise, enjoyed our brief encounter and stories of El Camino. Thank you for sending me your treatise on the adventures through Portugal and Spain – I found it delightful and illuminating to read and I particularly endorse the tripartite nature of an extended walk and the need to 'allow the time it takes'. It is also my experience that the journey only really deepens to a spiritual dimension once sufficient time has been spent in the physical and psychological realms. Alas too often we allow time constraints to interfere with the alchemical process and to rob us of the potential of achieving altered states (whether body, mind or soul).
Let the journey continue with joy and lightness of step. Johnny.

Gemma Brierley has apparently been instrumental in getting the Camino Inglés to Santiago from Reading to Southampton into a state fit for pilgrimage - more yellow arrows are doubtless needed! Johnny's death created a bit a stir at the time [Obits - Guardian -- Camino Society wch was syndicated to The Reactograph] but not enough to ring my doorbell then. Here's Johnny talking quietly YT-4½min about empty mind. Ultreïa? Sing it!

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