When I made pilgrimage in 2013, the first steps were fueled by excitement. Foot fall by foot fall, up and up, out of St. Jean Pied de Port. Steadily west. Steadily up. Into the Pyrenean breast, the heart of frontier between France and Spain.
In reality, the first step happened six months prior. I read a short essay about food along The Way. It inspired. Within a couple weeks, I had a plan. Within a couple months, I bought tickets. Step one: Plan. Step two: Act.
My first steps out of St. Jean would more accurately be described as Step Twenty, or so.
"In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, in the expert's mind there are few."
- S. Suzuki
My second pilgrimage I approached with a little more knowledge. But - the idea of "Beginners Mind" was in my head. I had honed the kit. I had prepped, physically. I did not, however, try to walk like an experienced caminando. I actually slowed down. I noticed the things around me.
A bird followed us for several minutes. She would flit along beside us, ducking into the shrubs and popping back out. I whistled to her. She answered. I called her Steve.
In my childlike state, one of awe and new, I imagined Steve following us all the way across Spain.
She did. (I'm reasonably certain it wasn't actually the same bird. I mean, one morning she'd be thick and black. The next, she'd be small and brown.)
It became a source of joy along the path. Our small cadre of peregrinos would point to the first bird we passed and ask, "Steve?"
"Nope," I'd say, "But she's gonna show up soon." And she did. Flitting in and out of the bushed by the Roman Road. Every day, we'd play this game. Every day, it made me smile.
Steve helped me to keep my beginner's mind.
Find a Steve. Maybe it's a little bird. Could be a squirrel. Maybe Steve is a small stone in your pocket. But you gotta have something to remind you to be young and curious, silly and observant.