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Don’t wait any longer, don’t let life pass you by.
I never did find out why my parents named me Jacques. My grandmother once told me she would like to take me to Santiago de Compostela, because of my patron saint. The first woman I shared a moment of meaningful intimacy with was Spanish, and she also offered to bring me to Santiago de Compostela.
Many years later, I became interested in pursuing this adventure, this pilgrimage—I who had never liked walking. As I was skimming through a book on the subject at the library, tears began flowing down my cheeks. Yet there were only footpaths, walkers, and beautiful landscapes. Normally, I would have been more impressed by the Loire motorcycles or chateaux. I didn’t understand where such emotion came from. Being naturally curious, I felt I should explore this “trail.”
But how can one who doesn’t like walking set out across Spain? I attended several meetings for walkers preparing to embark on the Way of St. James adventure, with little interest. I was rather bored by all the talk of walking shoes, specialized clothing, life in shelters, blisters, tendonitis, and anti-inflammatory drugs.
After my father’s death, which was a turning point in my life, I felt it was time to take this long walk, as I sensed that something meaningful might happen. On several occasions I walked between fifteen and twenty-five kilometers, trying to reproduce the conditions of the adventure ahead. I read as little on the topic as I could, in order to save as much surprise as possible for the route. A few days before leaving, an old friend I ran into on the street said, “Do you realize that each night on this trip you will sleep in a place you’ve never seen before and will probably never see again in your life?” I would later learn just how right he was.
Upon my return, I read a sentence whose meaning has stayed with me ever since. It is an excerpt from an old book about the mystery surrounding the Way of St. James: “A man can only attain knowledge when he has personally risen to the level of truth he is seeking.” I began asking myself a number of questions about the truth I was seeking. It was clear that I, like so many others, was in search of happiness. I focused on this direction in my personal and professional activities, asking questions, finding answers, then asking more questions. I felt I was making progress, but always toward new challenges.
Not being a hiker or a serious walker, I could never have imagined that the river of life would one day lead me to backpack across Spain. My biggest surprise was to realize that this experience, more than any other, prompted me to keep my feet on the ground—in other words, to put down roots!
Another important pursuit on my life’s journey was the experience of silence. After four years of very stimulating work for a multinational company, I had taken a one-hundred-eighty degree turn, with volunteer work with socially isolated individuals and stays in a number of monasteries in Quebec, France, and Belgium. These experiences made me even more aware of my needs. It was at this time, after my father’s death, that I felt ready to travel this route off the beaten path—I who had never really liked walking!
The biggest challenge on the route to Santiago is, in my opinion, respecting one’s own walking pace. Spurred on by the goal of covering a certain distance, or wishing to follow a person or a group, it is “easy” to go too fast. I believe that walking the Way teaches one to slow down—the most important lesson being to achieve enough self-respect to “slowly and surely win the race.” When we are not attuned to our body’s signals, we become physically exhausted and develop blisters and tendonitis.
If a man must rise to the level of truth he is seeking, for me the Way was the beginning of a journey toward greater self-respect. Wearing a backpack, one is reminded at each step on the route of one’s physical reality and limitations. The body can very quickly and suddenly become incapable of moving forward. Dehydration leads to tendonitis, too much weight on the back to blistered feet, and a lack of concentration to sprains and many other unwelcome consequences.
In our daily work life, the situation is the same. A sense of rootedness and connection with my body is key. If I am too caught up in my own thoughts, I end up feeling disoriented and uprooted. I slowly lose touch with the important signals my body is sending and I move further and further from its real needs. If I do not respect my body, there will be no sustainable performance or real progress. The “human machine” becomes exhausted and needs time to recover, especially when it is treated like a machine. This is one of the main reasons why burnout is on the rise in our society.
Since my return from Santiago more than seven years ago, I have continued my quest for well-being. I have also developed physical and psychological tools that I share with the general public and businesses through training that relates the Way of St. James experience while drawing parallels with daily work life. Helping others manage their own human capital brings me great satisfaction, and I am continuing in this direction—one step at a time.
I now live in a state of conscious and almost permanent connection with the earth. During rare periods of separation, I look for grass, trees, parks, and trails that allow me to reconnect with a sense of rootedness.