Twenty years later: right or left?

I arrive at Santiago de Compostela, this time by car, to celebrate my pilgrimage twenty years ago. When I was in Puente La Reina, I had the idea of holding afternoon book-signings without any elaborate preparations: just calling the next town where we were going to spend the night, ask them to put up a notice in the local bookstore, and be there at the appointed time.

It worked wonderfully in the small villages, but it did take a bit more organizing in big towns, like Santiago de Compostela itself. I enjoyed these unscheduled meetings; I found that labors of love are best performed in the spirit of improvisation.

Santiago is now in front of me, with the Atlantic Ocean a few dozen kilometers beyond. Nevertheless, I am determined to go ahead with my improvised book-signing afternoons, since my plan is to spend ninety days away from home.

And since I have no intention of crossing the ocean right now, should I take a right (Santander, the Basque Country) or a left (Guimarí£es, Portugal)?

Better let destiny make the choice: my wife and I enter a bar and ask a man who is drinking his coffee: right or left? He says with some conviction that we should go left – perhaps thinking we were referring to political parties.

I telephone my Portuguese editor. He does not ask me if I have gone crazy, does not complain about being informed at the last moment. Two hours later he calls me back to say that he has contacted the local radio stations in Guimarí£es and Fatima and that in 24 hours I can meet my readers in those cities.

Everything works out fine.

And in Fatima, like a sign, I receive a present from one of the people present at the book-signing – the writings of a Buddhist monk called Thich Nhat Hanh, with the title “The long road to joy”. From that moment on, before I continue on this 90-day journey across the world, every morning I read the wise words of Nhat Hanh, which I summarize below:

1] You have already arrived. So, feel pleasure at each step and do not worry about things that you still have to face. We have nothing before us, just a road to be traveled at each moment with joy. When we practice pilgrim meditation, we are always arriving, our home is the present moment, and nothing more.

2] For that reason, always smile while you walk, Even if you have to force it a bit and feel ridiculous. Get used to smiling and you will end up happy. Do not be afraid of displaying your contentment.

3] If you think that peace and joy always lie ahead, you will never manage to achieve them. Try to understand that they are both your traveling companions.

4] When you walk, you are massaging and honoring the earth. In the same way, the earth is trying to help you to balance your organism and mind. Understand this relationship and try to respect it – may your steps have the firmness of a lion, the elegance of a tiger and the dignity of an emperor.

5] Pay attention to what is going on around you. And concentrate on your breathing – this will help you to get rid of the problems and worries that try to accompany you on your journey.

6] When you walk, it is not just you that is moving, but all past and future generations. In the so-called “real” world, time is a measure, but in the true world nothing exists beyond the present moment. Be fully aware that everything that has happened and everything that will happen is in each step you take.

7] Enjoy yourself. Make pilgrim meditation a constant meeting with yourself, never a penance in search of reward. May flowers and fruit always grow in the places touched by your feet.

The next text will be posted on the 9th of May.

P.S: Dear reader,

During this journey, that is filling my soul with very interesting experiences, one of the most magical moments comes every night when I read the comments posted on this blog. Even though I can’t answer all of you, I want you to know that it’s very important to me to know that I’m not alone on this path. Thank you so much for your support and for the words and ideas that are now engraved on my heart.

Paulo Coelho