top of page

Recovery and Logotherapy as a Pilgrimage

White Background

Recovery and Logotherapy as a Pilgrimage


Mark Lane-Holbert


A pilgrimage is a spiritual journey with a physical destination. A popular phrase along the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route is, “El Camino es la Meta” (The Way is the Goal). In other words, what we find along the way is more important than the destination itself. Logotherapy teaches us the answer to our journey on this earth lies within discovering a sense of purpose along the way, embarking upon a journey of discovery and making meaning from our experiences that fosters body-mind-spirit unity. 

Yet along the way in life, we are continually distracted by short-term fixes, shiny things and addiction to negative habits or ways of thinking. If our addiction is one that deters us from accomplishing our purpose and living the life we are called to, perhaps a pilgrimage is needed to take us in another direction, or at least have space to ponder what that direction might be? 

Sometimes, I believe we need a true pilgrimage, a retreat of recovery that tugs and transforms our existential reality, challenges how we see the world and reinvigorates our life’s purpose. A few of us in a 12 step recovery fellowship set about asking, what would that look like? A buddhist monk, a music therapist, secular Franciscan and an educational psychologist asked this question, and came up with something surprising in the midst of a global pandemic.  

We named it “Recovery Camino”, and ventured out to cover 200k+ along coastal Portugal and Spain, along an ancient pilgrimage route of the Camino de Santiago. The Celts walked this pilgrimage “to the end of the earth” (so we thought), and medieval pilgrims followed the “field of stars”, believed to be near the resting place of St. James. Today, it is the most popular western pilgrimage (a spiritual journey moving the body towards a destination). But how would we find who needed such a journey, and how would one begin to prepare for it? The way one begins anything, by doing! We set out to bring together a group of pilgrims that wanted to lift up their eyes to something completely different, yet do so together. Among those who chose to join, we had suffered from addiction, depression, trauma, stress and overwhelming anxiety, and all were yearning for a re-connection, a new beginning and a spiritual path of movement.

We chose to utilize the 12 spiritual principles from the 12 steps of recovery as our guideposts, one for each day of our mindful movement together. Any pace and any form of recovery chosen to identify, all were welcomed. We met together online for months before the planned Spring pilgrimage, sharing hopes and challenges, working through daily training (often with a backpack), and aside from Dr. Viktor Frankl, we combed over wisdom from pilgrimage sages: the likes of Paul Coehlo, St. Clare & St. Francis of Assisi, and of course walk-running sages like Jeff Galloway. We read and discussed widely, from Bill W. (AA), Brene Brown and Thich Nhat Hanh. How did they move about the world that brought peace and inner transformation? We learned from one another, and this was just the beginning.

These are the 12 spiritual principles we contemplated along the way, one each day:  honesty, hope, faith, courage, integrity, willingness, humility, love, discipline, perseverance and patience, awareness, and service. The goal of the 12 steps is to move us towards the ability to love others and serve a higher purpose in our life, something that is beyond-the-self and yet at the same time part of our unique calling. It has worked for hundreds of thousands of people in recovery from all maladies of body-mind-spirit, most notably addiction to drugs and alcohol. There are also successful 12 step programs for codependency, gamblers anonymous and many others. 

On the ground: Converging in Porto, Portugal we came from across the globe: UK and US, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands and Brazil, from day 1 we began to meet other pilgrims and learn from them, too. We followed in the true pilgrimage spirit and allowed the Albergues (pilgrim hostel) to shelter and provide for our needs, with very few provisions. We traveled lightly. Perhaps a camelback, some rain gear and a change of clothes… we noticed the more we carried and held on to (metaphorically and physically), the more challenging was our journey. Paradoxically, the more we let go of the more others had to give us, as we created space in our hearts and minds for the gifts of the Camino. The more we were willing to receive, the more we could share with others as well.

And others joined us. At the beginning of each day we gathered for mindful movement warmup (Qigong, Tai Chi) with the sunrise, then at the end of each day held an “open meeting”, in which fellow pilgrims could join in and also reflect on the spiritual principles, their HIs and LOWs of the journey. There were many low points climbing out of the valleys, we empathized and listened. There were many high points in the mountains, we celebrated. 

About halfway through anything, things begin to get truly challenging, be that completing a marathon or a pilgrimage. The honeymoon phase has worn off and reality sets in, including the 4 dangers: HALT- Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired. There were of course disagreements, personality conflicts and logistical concerns, as with any group of humans. But for the most part the Camino provides as much space as one needs, as one can always speed up or slow down, add an extra stop, etc. Fortunately, some cohesion was brought by our constant musical companion, a traveling guitar transported to our destination to be played that evening, along with some of our supplies. 

We all carried things with us. One of the women joining was going through a messy family separation and a recent difficult battle with Covid. One was going through a major job and life change, struggling with identity and finding a purpose. A few others decided their hearts were set on the Azores islands, and upon arriving at the Spanish border, our halfway point, split from the group. Some felt called to new bonds of relationships formed on the Camino, and followed them. Finally, a few of us (including myself) felt called to explore the northern coast of Spain and run more, arriving early and taking the rest of the time as a true retreat. All were truly on their own Camino, yet remained connected in spirit and through modern technology, as we kept tabs to support one another.

“El Camino es la Meta”, rang true;“The path is the goal”, which meant we learned we were already in the midst of our destination by living in awareness and gratitude each moment, each step. Blisters and sore muscles are a physical reality when one wakes up each day to more miles for breakfast. One thing is certain: El Camino (the way) is not easy, whether running, walking, or on horseback. But it was affirming and transformative, and in my account was well worth it. Many in our group said it seemed years of processing sprung forth from days on the trail. Perhaps somehow the faith of fellow pilgrims had rubbed off, and provided us with wisdom and strength to continue on, when we felt unmotivated, defeated, or HALT? There were heavy rains, there were scorching climbs for hours at a time. Despite these moments, somehow everyone received exactly what they needed, whether from fellow pilgrims, our hosts, or from the awe-inspiring and powerful landscape, exactly when it was needed… Around the next bend, there was a generous orange grove, a gracious shopkeeper, a mountain spring water source, or a healer of blistered feet and souls. 

A few of the lessons offered up from our group members, after some reflection:

Despite devastation of the past, each day is new, and our path is not yet determined.

Look up! Notice what’s right in front of you, that’s what counts. The trail behind is gone and can only be there to inform your present step. 

Willingness is the only prerequisite to growth, in spirit and body-mind. 

Our feet carry us. Our soul moves us. Our fellow pilgrims guide us, and our higher purpose shows us the way.

Running anthropology is a way of life, opening our hearts and minds to discovery, to better ways of living and seeing the world.

Finishing / reaching Santiago de Compostela is just the beginning of our Camino. 

It’s not a race, I’ve already won. Yet we’re just getting started, my post-Camino self, the rest is the fun part!

Could it be that these few steps taken will transform a lifetime, and others whom our lives touch? Time will tell, but the outlook is good. Those seeking purpose and needing meaning found it, those needing fellowship created it, and those who sought rest yielded to it. This summer, we still meet weekly and listen to the post-pilgrimage healing stories, as we invite other spiritual seekers in recovery to join us. We have another run/walk pilgrimage planned for 2023 already, and are forming new habits- addiction to movement, with a purpose.

bottom of page