It is Solved by Walking

“Solvitur ambulando.” It’s a latin phrase which means, “It is solved by walking.” And it’s something I’ve long known to be true.

Though I had opted out of the Camino de Santiago for my sabbatical, I found signs that I had gone the right way, and that all is pilgrimage. Photo by Charish Badzinski.

It seems there is a shift in the air, that many people are now searching for something, some deeper meaning for their lives. Perhaps it’s because we are all clawing our way back to our collective new normal in the wake of the global pandemic–which the WHO has officially announced is no longer a global emergency. For many of us, that just means returning to our ways, unmasked, unfiltered, unsanitized, and unburdened by health protocols. For others, this new normal means existing in a world that doesn’t care if you are immunocompromised, which is arguably the way the world has always been, just without a global pandemic to shine a light on it. I can’t help but marvel at the fact that millions of people died of an illness, millions are still getting sick, and millions more are disabled long-term because of it, and all of us are just expected to move on.

In Lamphun Province in Thailand, the Naga staircase at Wat Phra Phuttabat Tak Pha is less traveled by tourists than that at Doi Suthep. The steep 469 steps will take your breath away, but they lead to Phrathat Chedi Si Khruba, a stunning vantage point, and a near-private view of the Northern Thailand countryside. I walked these steps a week after contracting COVID, in part to prove to myself that I still could. Photo by Charish Badzinski.

But the shift seems deeper than that, even tectonic. So many people I know are going through big personal shifts like career changes, financial difficulties, serious illness, depression and anxiety, loss of a loved one, separation and divorce; all big stuff on this life journey. My personal struggles have been more existential. So as the pandemic began to abate, feeling broken and exhausted, I took leave from my work for 2.5 months to try to get my head back on straight.

No matter what we’re grieving, moving toward something feels so much better than just moving on, whether it’s something we do physically, emotionally, spiritually, or some combination of all three. Maybe that’s why a pilgrimage can be so effective.

The Batu Caves are located just outside of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. It’s one of the most popular Hindu shrines outside of India. The 272 steps are a pilgrimage of sorts, walked barefoot, to the Temple Cave. I walked these before catching COVID on my trip. Photo by Charish Badzinski.

Many have begun walking toward wholeness lately, in pilgrimage. The Camino de Santiago has been on my radar for going on two decades now, and it seems to be on the minds of many recently. In fact, the 2010 film about the Camino de Santiago called “The Way” is being re-released for one night only at films around the country on May 16. The timing seems to resonate with a lot of people. The Camino Frances, which stretches from France over the Pyrenees and through northern Spain has been, judging by first-hand accounts on social media, swamped with pilgrims since the floodgates opened last season. It is the most popular of many routes to Santiago de Compostela and is now drawing record crowds. Those on the way recently report intermittent difficulty in finding a bed at the end of the day, as well as continuing outbreaks of COVID. As I planned my sabbatical, even though training and preparation were going well, it became clear it wasn’t my year for the Camino. But I also knew in my heart, there isn’t just a single road to wellness and truth and peace and wholeness. There are millions of caminos. The trick is to set out, and to do so with intention.

As my friend Eileen texted to me, “What gets in the way, is The Way.” I think of this wisdom so often, particularly as I read about pilgrims on the camino who’ve had to end their pilgrimage early after catching COVID.

So I set out on what I privately dubbed my “Faith in Humanity Tour.” It was my own path, one which aligned with what I truly felt I needed: a mix of poison and balm. Throughout the journey, I watched for evidence that there is still goodness in the world, and of course I saw evidence that supported that theorem, as well as evidence to the contrary.

Contemplating beauty, stillness, and faith in humankind. Photo, on timer, by Charish Badzinski.

I planned two weeks in silent retreat to really work on the big questions weighing me down. No screens, no news, no clocks, no caffeine or alcohol or animal products or processed food. I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but it was more daunting and more painful than even I had expected. Without the constant noise of the world, I was fully exposed to my emotions. I was crushed by the anniversary of the day of an emergency appendectomy. Two days later, I was flattened by grief on my father’s birthday. Then, four days before the end of my retreat, I got really sick from ingesting bad water, and I must say being at peak mindfulness and solitude while sweating and puking in a foreign country is a very special kind of hell. The stuff that surfaced was deep-seated and seemingly insurmountable. When the fever broke and the retching stopped, I bounced back, only to come down with COVID three days later, putting me back in solitude for another week.

The 309 steps to Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai, Thailand are a popular tourist draw, but a pre-dawn pilgrimage will grant you a bit more privacy. Some believers will start at the base of the mountain and walk what’s known as the Monk’s Trail, to the Buddhist temple’s elevation at 3,520 feet. Post COVID infection, I climbed the stairs in the dark to watch the sunrise. It definitely felt like a pilgrimage. Photo by Charish Badzinski.

It wasn’t easy. But during that time, I actually did work through a lot of stuff. Not all of it, but a sizable hunk of what I intended to tackle, and a few issues I thought I’d laid to rest long ago. Oh yeah, the stuff that surfaces uninvited is often the most transformational, and is likely the stuff you needed to work on all along.

The simple, but beautiful lodging at Bali Silent Retreat, where I spent two weeks in contemplation, trying to get my head on straight. Some rooms have a wall open to the jungle canopy. Photo by Charish Badzinski.

Is my faith in humanity restored? In some ways, yes. There were so many people who took care of me when I got sick. They delivered food and medicine, a pulse oximeter and COVID tests, and checked in on me regularly. One individual who had confessed he’d gone hungry during the pandemic due to a lack of work, brought me tons of fresh fruit from his yard when I fell ill. Words failed me; how do you thank someone for a sacrifice like that? Maybe I needed to get sick to see that goodness. What gets in the way, is The Way.

The lessons we learn in pilgrimage are often not what we hope or expect to learn. My biggest lessons had nothing to do with my faith in humanity at all. In fact I realized the core issue wasn’t actually humanity, but in me. It took me three weeks in silence and solitude to realize it’s not my job to do the worrying of the world–how egotistical to think it was all my burden to carry! So, to some degree I have successfully let that go. And with that weight off my shoulders, it’s a bit easier to walk toward the future.

Charish Badzinski is an explorer and award-winning features, food and travel writer. When she isn’t working to build her blog: Rollerbag Goddess Rolls the World, she applies her worldview to her small business, Rollerbag Goddess Global Communications, providing powerful storytelling to her clients.

Posts on the Rollerbag Goddess Rolls the World travel blog are never sponsored and have no affiliate links, so you know you will get an honest review, every time.

Read more about Charish Badzinski’s professional experience in marketing, public relations and writing.

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