René stood in front of a smallish group of about fifteen people that had gathered at the University to hear him give a presentation of his adventures on the Camino. He thought it would be a good idea to give a context to what he was going to say by introducing himself. He had been back only a week when he was asked to give a presentation about the Camino for the Canadian Company of Pilgrims.
“I guess I should say something about who I am and why I am giving this talk. My name is René Beauchemin and I am a psychotherapist. I have been working with men, women, and adolescents for about twenty years. Before that, I worked for the government. I had been a civil servant for just over fifteen years at various tasks for various government departments. My office is in a back corner of my home looking out onto a garden and a few trees. The house is close to the Ottawa River on a quiet, tree-lined street in a good neighbourhood. I live alone in the house, most of the time,” began René.
“What else should I say? I am divorced, like most in my profession. Though unlike most of my colleagues, I haven’t remarried. I just never fell in love again, well that is not before this last trip to Europe when I walked the Camino. On the walk I met a woman, or a goddess as far as I’m concerned, almost too good to be a real woman. With that said, I think this is enough about who I am. Now, I want to talk to you about the Camino.
René talked with ease as he told his story of walking the Camino, talking about the trail, the other pilgrims, the hostels, the food, and the impressive panoramas that were daily laid before him. He didn’t talk about his strange companions. After all, the people listening were here to learn about the Camino, not his explorations into the fantasies of his inner world. People were quick to ask questions about shoes, costs, favourite places, and most memorable event. The last one was the toughest to answer. It was only when he had just about given up on finding that answer when he decided to tell them about surviving the first day’s walk to Roncevalles. He was just about to close the presentation when an older man asked him a question.
“I’ve read so often about the Camino changing a person. Do you feel that the Camino made any life changes in yourself?”
The man looked strangely familiar though René couldn’t remember where he might have seen him before. Then, with a start, he realised that they had met months earlier at the airport in Toronto just as he was leaving for his walk through northern Spain.
“Do I remember correctly?” asked René, “Are you Father Federov, the man I met just before I left for the Camino?”
The older man smiled, “Yes, I am. If I remember correctly, I asked you if you knew why you were going to walk the Camino.”
Feeling slightly wary with the surprise, René went on with what he hoped would be a fair answer to the old priest’s question. “Am I a changed man?” With a brief pause to collect his thoughts, René continued, “There is no question that the Camino changed me. I changed in a number of ways. I am more confident of myself in terms of my body, what it can do, and what it shouldn’t try to do. More aware of myself.”
“Hmm,” paused René, “I guess you could say that I met my personal dragons on the trail, engaged them in battles, and defeated them. By that I mean, the dragons of self-doubt, past wounds, and addiction to avoiding being in the present moment. The Camino forces you to pay attention to the moment. If you are too much in your head you end up tripping and perhaps falling, or worse, getting lost.”
“Thanks,” offered the priest, “That’s what I had hoped to hear.”
The rest of the session was simply for the audience to meet together to talk about their own plans for the Camino in their future. When he looked around at the group, René noticed that the old priest was gone. A slight shiver went down his spine. All of a sudden he wondered if Father Fedorov was another one of his imaginary inner characters. When the time to leave finally came, René felt a wave of relief roll over him. He was anxious to get back home and have a glass of wine before going to bed. He had a strange sensation that his life was going to be getting interesting again, perhaps too interesting.
“The Middle Passage is an occasion for redefining and reorienting the personality, a rite of passage between the extended adolescence of first adulthood and our inevitable appointment with old age and mortality. Those who travel the passage consciously render their lives more meaningful. Those who do not, remain prisoners of childhood, however successful they may appear in outer life.” James Hollis, The Middle Passage, p.7
René was sitting in his office, retired from active practice; well, mostly retired. He had one of his former clients return to work with him, a woman who came for an hour every second week. Though he had been home for three weeks now, he hadn’t done anything to get any new clients. The woman who had returned, was his client again because the therapist to whom he had referred her, had encouraged her to return to work with René. The truth was, she was a difficult client. In spite of his not having other clients, he didn’t feel any pressure to change the situation. However, that was changing.
Sitting comfortably, with a stick of incense burning, René was considering a call he had just received from a stranger, a man who was wanting to interview him. The man had determined that he needed to deal with a few issues that were causing him to have poor sleeps, which in turn was affecting his performance at work. René had agreed to meet with him for the interview which he had decided was really a free session. Since his return from two months spent in Europe, René had been drifting about with no project to keep himself focused and busy. It wasn’t that he didn’t have anything that needed attention, it was a matter that nothing called to him.
René was the sort of man that needs to be drawn into engagement. He needed to feel that some connection needed to be present, even if that connection was externally presented, for him to have any passion at all for the work. The meeting had been set for later in the afternoon as the man would only be in the city for as long as it would take before he returned to his home in another city. René wondered how this man had found him. Was it simply a matter of chance as the man looked through the telephone directory for a therapist?
Getting up from behind his desk, René went to the kitchen for a quick lunch, a pasta salad with leftover barbequed chicken from last night’s supper with a friend, then went to my bedroom to get some clothes on for the man who would soon be arriving.