11.3.4 Camino
In her book The Camino, Shirley MacLaine wanders through puzzling visions and boldly records her spiritual wanderings. In The Camino, she describes her thoughts and adventures along the Camino trail, a 500-mile pilgrimage that begins in France and cuts through northern Spain to the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. The Camino presents a physical challenge, even for a lifelong dancer like MacLaine: It is filthy, dangerous, and tiring. MacLaine walks it alone, beset by dogs, deceptive tourists, and the violent taunting of the press. She wears blisters into her heels; she carves ten pounds off her lean dancer's frame; she walks miserably through walls of bees. The Camino, as an exercise, pushes MacLaine to her physical limits. In this chronicle of discovery, MacLaine bravely and openly explores her own imagination, memories, and heart. In doing so, she pushes her readers to think more freely about their own spiritual journeys. MacLaine's progress encourages us to connect dreams with physical life, to develop our bodies morally.
The odyssey began with a pair of anonymous handwritten letters imploring Shirley to make a difficult pilgrimage along the Santiago de Compostela Camino in Spain. Throughout history, countless illustrious pilgrims from all over Europe have taken up the trail. It is an ancient -- and allegedly enchanted -- pilgrimage. People from St. Francis of Assisi and Charlemagne to Ferdinand and Isabella to Dante and Chaucer have taken the journey, which comprises a nearly 500-mile trek across highways, mountains and valleys, cities and towns, and fields.
For Shirley, the Camino was both an intense spiritual and physical challenge. A woman in her sixth decade completing such a grueling trip on foot in thirty days at twenty miles per day was nothing short of remarkable. But even more astounding was the route she took spiritually: back thousands of years, through past lives to the very origin of the universe. Immensely gifted with intelligence, curiosity, warmth, and a profound openness to people and places outside her own experience, Shirley MacLaine is truly an American treasure. And once again, she brings her inimitable qualities of mind and heart to her writing. Balancing and negotiating the revelations inspired by the mysterious energy of the Camino, she endured her exhausting journey to Compostela until it gradually gave way to a far more universal voyage: that of the soul. Through a range of astonishing and liberating visions and revelations, Shirley saw into the meaning of the cosmos, including the secrets of the ancient civilizations of Atlantis and Lemuria, insights into human genesis, the essence of gender and sexuality, and the true path to higher love.
For MacLaine, these visions need not be material to be meaningful; they need only encourage moral growth. She shrugs:
"The Camino seemed to be a walking meditation on what I had learned internally. If the Garden of Eden had indeed been lost, I would seek to find it again. If other terrestrial species had sought to achieve that balance themselves, then I would give more attention to UFO sightings and why they were here. And if we had once been androgynous, then I would cease to stereotype any person's sexual orientation or preference. If the Camino's energy had amplified all those memories for me, then I would trust it."
Most importantly, then, MacLaine's imagined worlds (or memories) guide her to explore her beliefs more deeply and to speak about them more honestly.