Walking is one of the first apprenticeships that we undertake in our evolutionary process from the cradle. As the years pass, from those first steps rehearsed gropingly, between effort and error, beneath the attentive gaze of our closest carers, we come to travel many paths. Some of them are those that daily routine prompts us to undertake from one place to another, carrying us on automatic pilot, without us paying much attention to each step we make. We take steps to the rhythm of the hands of the clock, which often marks a fleeting time.
Others are ways travelled with our willingness to set out on a journey, to move beyond mere necessary shifting around driven by daily imperatives. The initial disposition that drove Ignatius of Loyola to set out on his path from his family home five hundred years ago now was his response to a vital experience, an interior motion, in his own Ignatian terms. Abandoning life at the court, he was driven by a yearning to reach the Holy Land, to dwell in the places walked in by his new Lord, Jesus Christ, whom he longed to serve. He set out to trace the Marian trails that had accompanied him on his journey to the city of Barcelona from where he intended to sail to those holy lands. In Arantzazu and Montserrat he found the Marian imprint.
Other initial dispositions drive those who have scoured this same path for centuries. If Ignatius was summoned by his physical wound in Pamplona, the initial impulse from then on often turns out to be a wound. “Where am I going and to what?” (cf. SPEE 206) –in Ignatian terms– is the question that moves pilgrims who live the path as an opportunity to find their way back to themselves as well as to have and relish a spiritual experience.
Yet the aim is not to search for which way leads to the nominal destination, but rather to seek the old way, traced by Ignatius, in order to live a new, personal way within, by finding ourselves. Even though at times the drive to set out on a path may be a fleeing from something else, what we cannot flee from is ourselves. Whether we are going or fleeing, our inevitable rucksack is our own body, our own mind and our own soul. Then we shall pack one or another load, always with an eye to minimalism, which our shoulders can bear. From footstep to footstep our corporality is at stake, for the benefit of us becoming more present in each firm step and of us making sure that the mind does not wander off into its usual scattered soliloquies.
After all, you begin by making the journey and you end up realising that it is the journey that is making you, with everything that takes place along the way. As much if your experience is in company as it is alone, you grasp the benefit of treading this way with a new outlook, as if it were the first time it was taken: making the way a conscious one, with your eyes alert to whatever each step brings, each breath, each landscape, each hamlet that you cross…All are opportunities to enter into the teaching process of a journey that can go on making you, if it you allow it to.
The time factor also plays a part in the initial disposition. On the way time lingers, stretches out, decelerates. We move from the chronos (chronological time) that the clock indicates, to an amplifying of the experience of time in the present, in what is happening in the here and now. Each footprint gathers an air of holiness when we guide our footfall into the meaning of the footstep by recognising that where we pass through is holy ground. As we do so, body and spirit open themselves up to the experience of kairos (auspicious time), of that insight in which our attentiveness increases and our sensitivity abides, more alive to the moment. The experience of presence grows. The path becomes sacrament.
Neuroscience explains that our nervous system is capable of perceiving information of 4 million bytes per second. Of all this information, our mind allows us to become conscious of 2000 bytes per second. That is to say, many more things occur that those of which we end up becoming conscious. The information that travels through the whole of the nervous system is so much more substantial than that which travels through the conscious mind. We reduce our sensorial capacity to survive and we live as if the whole of reality were contained in 2000 bytes. By increasing our level of awareness – if we take for instance walking the way for several days and reducing input – we gain in our attentiveness to the present and expand our intuitive capacity. This way we enter into a readiness to make use of the information that our neocortex is unaware of, like when we feel the presence of someone we do not see, when someone behind us moves closer. A path of deceleration enables us to increase this sensitivity and amplify the 2000 bytes per second, growing in levels of subtle perception, in awareness and presence.
Neuroscience explains what may be open doors to the Spirit, apprehending God’s subtle step into our own lives, through others’ lives and through the entire world, if we could only open ourselves up to it. That inner relishing must have something to do with this increase in bytes in our perception of reality.
In fact, we can sketch four registers that the way takes on, when we walk it in a readiness to let ourselves be transformed by it. A first which consists of walking along the way, setting out, letting ourselves become caught up by that mobilising question, in decelerated mode. Then a second register kicks in: that which increases the possibility of embodying the way, of leading a life according to “where am I going and to what?” when it is focused on an end, as much in the outer strides as in the inner experience and perception. From embodying the way we move on to the third register: reflecting on the way, understood as letting ourselves be touched by the inner experience which reverses outwards. Signs of this are gains in attentiveness, courage, in becoming more awake. A last register can surface if the initial disposition favours it: praying along the way. An opportunity to feel that this is not a solitary experience, that the Lord walks with and in each individual, walking the way in tandem, making the trodden space a holy one, and considering openness in the step of the Other.
The option of living the way like a sacrament has everything to do with the intention of living it by experiencing the Spiritual Exercises. This is Ignatius’s proposal, to resort to the length of four weeks so as to clear out the internal clutter of our own lives, so as to shape ourselves ever more to Christ’s lifestyle.
Ultimately, the where am I going and to what leads us to rediscover ourselves with the origin of why we were created, the crucial question to the meaning of the full treatment. In that, principle and foundation, opening and closing of the experience of the Ignatian Way. A way which generates a dependency on orange arrows. If only to live yet another dependency, which does not enter into contradiction with freedom, that dependency that we can come to feel in the company of the Lord.