It’s fascinating now, with a bit of perspective time-wise – to look back on the tour and reflect on the group experience.
When you walk in a group, as part of a tour, there’s a whole other dynamic going on that you don’t experience when you walk alone.
There are the obvious things: often you’re walking with others and so you don’t have the time or opportunity to contemplate or reflect, because your energies and attention are deflected to whoever you might be with.
But the upside of that is that the other person might be providing you with insights, or dare I say it, beads of wisdom, that could end up being incredibly beneficial to you. Or you might be walking with a few people, and you might be bouncing around ideas or beliefs that you wouldn’t have considered had you been walking alone.
Same at lunch or dinner – group discussions can be fascinating, revealing, and insightful.
You might say that this can happen if you walk alone, and you meet up with people who you befriend along the way. But it’s not the same thing.
As a group you start off together – you’re bonded from the outset if for no other reason than you are a collective – and unlike friends you meet along the way, who you might not see for a week before you meet up with them again, with a tour group you’re with each other every day, and most meals too.
What this creates is familiarity, deeper friendships, and sometimes a level of intimacy that you wouldn’t otherwise experience. And by intimacy, I’m talking about being able to confide in someone. Being able to trust someone with your innermost thoughts and feelings. And being able to share moments of fun and pure joy.
Yes of course that also happens on the Camino when you walk alone – and sometimes there’s intimacy with strangers. Because they are strangers. Someone will pour out their heart to you because they know most probably they’ll never see you again. You become their Camino Confessional Box.
But that’s a whole other ballgame to the group experience.
One of the other major benefits of the group experience is that you begin to act like a family, and you begin to care for one another in ways that would’t necessarily happen if you were walking alone.
Yes if you walk alone you can be the recipient of acts of kindness and generosity – again often from complete strangers – but I’m talking about the caring and deep rooted empathy that comes from a bonded “family” experience.
I saw this first hand. The Camino began to work it’s magic on one of the group – this person began to unhinge, and a whole lot of stuff that had been lying deep within began to surface. Someone else on the tour recognised this – knew that person needed help – and gently stepped in and provided much needed guidance and support.
Because of the group experience, there was trust and familiarity between the two of them that allowed it to happen.
I’ve been aware too that now after the tour, that caring and providing of support between some in the group is continuing. Which is wonderful to see.
Fact is, you can be by yourself in the group experience. You just walk off on your own. it happened a lot. Everyone else recognised immediately that the person needed to be on their own for a while. They understood, and respected that.
And when we arrived in Santiago, there was no dilution of the impact of that arrival because we were a group. If anything it was intensified, because of the shared experience. Because we not only knew what we’d been through to get there, we also knew what the others had been through as well – as individuals, but also perhaps more importantly, as the group. The family.
We had become an an entity – a unit – a strange kind of animal that the Camino had spawned. We were separate pilgrims, yes, but we were also an organism that had registered it’s own experiences. The shared experience, as against the personal experience.
And the shared experience was truly memorable.