Inspiration for Walking: Henry David Thoreau

Years ago, I came across a famous quote about walking, by Henry David Thoreau.

The quote comes from an essay that I haven’t yet read, so I’m guessing I saw it on a greeting card or in some other book. I feel like buying a copy of the essay soon and reading it over the dark, rainy winter – I’m in that kind of mood!

The quote rattled around my mind a lot before I left for Camino. It’s been rattling around my mind a lot lately too, as I prepare for an upcoming trip to India. I don’t expect to walk another Camino across Indian soil but still, the quotation rattles around my heart.

I have a conflicted feelings about this trip, even though I’ve wanted it for 10-15 years. I remember feeling conflicted before I left for Camino, too. It wasn’t easy to wave off Generous Husband, and leave behind my home and my familiar life. And yet, I felt entirely compelled to go. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say I was called to walk the Camino. I knew on a gut level, absolutely and completely, that it was something I had to do – no delay, no excuses. To ignore the calling would have been a mistake.

It was a leap of faith it was for me to heed that impulse, and go.

I can’t overstate that enough.

At the same time, I had mixed feelings and thoughts about the whole thing. I had (and have) a lot of greatness and love in my everyday life. I’m very blessed in a myriad of ways. I was leaving a lot behind, and hoped that all of it would still exist when I came home. It’s a lot to ask for.

Preparing for Camino instilled excitement and fear into my heart. In the month beforehand (and remember, I planned everything in only a month) I often woke in the middle of the night,  filled with anxiety. Leaving everything – Handsome Husband, my home, my job, my plans, etc. was terrifying, even though it would only be for a few weeks.

What was I doing?

I kept thinking of Thoreau.

I wasn’t ready in any of the ways he suggests being ready. I’m not ready now, either! But there’s something compelling about this piece of writing that allowed me to think of my Camino journey as a pilgrimage or retreat – not a walking holiday or backpacking adventure. His choice of language is striking and strong, and there’s a certain purity to his proposal.

Only when you have let go of your past and have settled your present affairs, can you be truly open and receptive to life, and to the future.

Is that what he’s saying?

I’ve pulled this quote from the web so if you think it’s incorrect in some way, please let me know. I’d hate to misquote, when the whole point of this post is to share the quote.

It goes like this:

“We should go forth on the shortest walk, perchance, in the spirit of undying adventure, never to return; prepared to send back our embalmed hearts only, as relics to our desolate kingdoms. If you are ready to leave father and mother, and brother and sister, and wife and child and friends, and never see them again; if you have paid your debts, and made your will, and settled all your affairs, and are a free man; then you are ready for a walk.”
Henry David Thoreau, Walking

I’m not ready in any of these ways but still, I’m taking a leap of faith as I prepare for my trip. It’s an itch I have to scratch.

But what about you – were you ready when you walked your own Camino?

Do you feel ready now?

Can we ever be ready for such a walk, I wonder?

2 thoughts on “Inspiration for Walking: Henry David Thoreau

  1. Lord, am I ever glad that these aren’t a requirement for actually starting the Camino (or any journey, for that matter). It seems that I went on the Camino expecting to find that freedom, and I did, but this only makes my incomplete life at home more challenging to bear. (This makes me sound glum, but it’s true.) Perhaps putting the cart before the horse creates the motivation to align one’s home life on returning?

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  2. You raise a really interesting point, jenniferhofmann.

    It’s tempting to compare life on Camino to life at home, and feel that life at home is the short straw in many ways. It can seem so complicated compare to life on the trail – right? (And where are those yellow arrows when you need to make big decisions?! :-))
    I’ve felt the temptation to compare Camino to my everyday life. The online forums are full of other people doing the same thing. It’s so easy to make that comparison.

    But the thing is: we’re not really comparing like with like.

    I was on Camino for 6 weeks. It’s hardly fair to compare that atypical 6-week period to the whole arc of my everyday life and expect them to be equal.
    There are patterns and common themes, for sure, but the two are not equal.

    So, I think it’s entirely normal that life at home is incomplete. It needs to last longer than a few weeks: most of us are hoping to get many years out of it!
    So, there are always going to be things to work on, things to change, things to learn from etc. so we don’t get bored or finish up too early.

    I’d love to know if Thoreau himself was “ready for a walk” in all the ways he advised. Maybe he was on occasion, but I doubt he was that ready, all the time, every time.
    Maybe the trick is to go for a walk anyway and see what happens? 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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