The Camino: A Journey of the Spirit - Shirley Maclaine
I read Shirley MacLaine's The Camino several years ago and it touched me in subtle ways as did her previous book, Out on a Limb. This review is from rereading it and trying to find that point of connection that had moved me so. Or maybe points of connection, for there are many.

First, Shirley MacLaine is no ordinary "movie star. " She is a capable writer, able to tell her story in engaging and intelligent prose, even when the subject matter is strange. She is aware of her privileged position that allows her to travel the world without the concerns that hinder the rest of us. Yet she isn't so "full of herself" that she doesn't recognize that driving desire for knowing that mark her as a sincere seeker, of knowledge and understanding, way beyond the illusions of fortune or fame.

The Camino is an apt telling of a journey undertaken by Shirley physically, spiritually, and metaphorically. She tells a story that is an engaging travelogue highlighted with spiritual connotations that inspire and enlarge the recounting of her physical traveling. Her tale is also metaphorical, told with meaning for herself and her readers. She tells us not just about the travel, but about the journey that happened in the same space and what it taught her, with the implication that we can draw similar insight from our own journeying, whether far or near.

In the introduction, she tells us what the Camino is:

"There is a famous pilgrimage that has been taken by people for centuries called the Santiago de Compostela Camino across northern Spain. It is said that the camino -- the road or the way -- lies directly under the Milky Way and follows ley lines that reflect the energy from those star systems above it."

I admire her for making that succinct description in 53 words. Then she gives us the reason people undertake the grueling, 500 mile, pilgrimage:

"The Santiago done with the intent to find one's deepest spiritual meaning and resolutions regarding conflicts in Self."

With this intent toward spiritual self-discovery, Shirley launched her own journey down the ancient way prompted by anonymous letters sent to her during shows she was doing in South America. With further encouragement from spiritually-minded friends, she undertook the physical trek in 1994 when she was in her sixties. Just making such a trip at that time in her life is an inspiration for those of us wondering how many trips we have left in us.

She relates how she started the trek in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in France, crossed the Pyrenees mountains into Spain, and walked village-to-village (between cities) and staying in sordid little refugios (places for Camino pilgrims to stay the night) until she reached her journey's end at the town of Santiago de Compostela. Along the way she faced territorial dogs, rain, sometimes annoying fellow pilgrims, cold showers, intrusive paparazzi self-serving priests, and persistent dreams of her past lives, always urged on by the locals with the exhortation of: Ultreya -- move forward with courage.

Sleeping in the refugios, in the open, or sometimes ina hotel, she dreamed. At times, her dreams were so lucid she considered them visions, and they were all about her past lives. Indeed, her telling of those visions of her past lives on the Camino and in Atlantis and Lemuria are what puts this book (with her others) solidly in the "New Age" section of the book store. Enhanced by the concentrated energy of the Camino, her visions were of her travels on the Camino as a Moorish girl, apparently a mistress to Charlemagne, as a pupil of "John the Scot" (who is also one of her chief spirit guides), and as an androgynous being in Lemuria and Atlantis who was an early experiment carried out by aliens on the sexual separation of humans. The latter is an image of humanity's "split" from it's previous state of unity (between yin and yang) to its current state of disconnection, ever seeking its other half.

Such visions will be off-putting to many rational thinkers, but they should not be so quick to judge. While I personally don't believe there was a real Lemuria and Atlantis with aliens that sank into the ocean, I do believe they are powerful and persistent metaphors among visionaries that this present civilization about the dangers of arrogant materialism with its inevitable collapse. They go along with New Age ecological themes of preserving the earth and creating sustainable modes of living, rather than the paradigm of "endless growth." Such themes are constant at the core of mystical lore, and Shirley MacLaine's works are no exception. Indeed, while she avers the reality of having had the visions, she still alludes to them as being instructive imaginings.

In The Camino, Shirley says: "Without the recognition of the soul's journey within us, we are lost and only part of what we were intended to be."

Maybe finding that lost part of us is the attraction in "journey" stories that make them classics, like The Odyssey, The Lord of the Rings and Gulliver's Travels, and The Camino. I know that, in spite of the "fantastic" parts, I've been able to relate to Shirley MacLaine's writings in my own quest for enlightenment because I recognize in her prose the quest for understanding of a fellow seeker. And so I highly recommend The Camino to you as a guidepost to help you in your own journey through this mysterious life.