Discovering yourself along the Camino

By 
  • July 16, 2014

When you walk the Camino de Santiago, what you think will be hard is easy and what you think will be easy is hard. That's the advice Annie O'Neil gives after embarking on the 805-km pilgrimage known as the Camino Francés from St. Jean Pied de Port, France, to Santiago, Spain, the most popular of the Way of St. James. 

O’Neil is a pilgrim in and co-producer of the new documentary Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago, which will be playing in Toronto July 18-24. The film, by director and producer Lydia B. Smith, documents six journeys of friends, families and strangers as they make the gruelling month-long journey, pushing themselves physically and spiritually. 

The documentary was filmed in the spring of 2009. It takes viewers across the hills and valleys of the countryside to historic churches, towns and villages that in many ways have stood still in time, and cities esthetically with one foot in the past and the other in the present.

People have walked the Camino for hundreds of years, and this isn't the first film to focus on the ancient pilgrimage. But O'Neil says this film is bringing both men and women to tears and more people are considering taking the physical journey at some point in their lives. 

The film is about the internal journey of each pilgrim just as much as it is about the physical journey, if not more. 

"Every day is a journey and the road itself is home," says Wayne, one of the pilgrims featured in the film. 

People walk the Camino for a multitude of reasons: for a religious experience, to sightsee, to commune with nature, to challenge themselves. Yet, as a local explains in the film, by the end of the journey, travellers become pilgrims. Many times, people begin to refer to the journey as "my" or "your" Camino, attaching a more personal association to the path.

"You really discover a lot about yourself on the Camino. You discover a lot about yourself in meeting these adversities, in getting through them, either with the help of someone or without the help of someone," said O'Neil. "You have this self-discovery, and for me that also is a very sacred event that I think we are sent here to co-create our lives with the one who sent us. And so that experience is so intensely personal that when it happens along the Camino, walking this way, it's so personal people do refer to it as 'my Camino.' "

As pilgrims continue their journey, they begin to leave behind their baggage, literally and figuratively. For O'Neil, she started to leave behind her competitiveness and her habit of measuring herself against the "external differences or perceived internal differences" of others. One of the most memorable lines from this film sums up the sentiment: "On the Camino, the baggage you carry is your fears." 

O'Neil did pick up some injuries on the way. She has a metal plate in her right leg from an accident years earlier, but it was her left leg that developed tendonitis. The Camino is in no way a walk in the park, but people far over age 70 have walked it. 

Since the documentary, O'Neil has written Everyday Camino with Annie, a book of daily reflections, and walked the Camino Primitivo, a more isolated Camino route. 

The documentary is touring Canada and will be on screen at Toronto's Bloor Hot Docs Cinema from July 18-24. O'Neil will be in Toronto on July 18 and 19 for Q & A. For more tour dates and locations, visit www.caminodocumentary.org

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