A few days ago, I returned home from Spain after walking the last 120 km’s of the El Camino de Santiago, with my husband and friends. Pilgrims have been walking across northern Spain for thousands of years for spiritual, religious and other reasons. I was doing it because I’m always up for an adventure, and although I’m not religious, I have definitely been on a spiritual path for the past couple of years. I don’t particularly like to walk a lot, and I knew that I would learn some things about myself by doing it. Plus, I was excited about spending some time with my friends and seeing Spain. So, this blog post is dedicated to the gold nuggets from the El Camino.
During our trip to Spain we spent 5 days walking up to 28 km’s/day and the remainder of the 9 days touring around little villages and the larger cities of Madrid and Barcelona. The trip was a feast for the senses and definitely challenged the goal I had set for myself, which was to experience the Camino and the entire trip mindfully. What do I mean by mindful? Being mindful means to be aware of what is going on both inside you and externally, in the present moment without judgement. That sounds like it should have been simple enough, but it wasn’t. The following are the gold nuggets or insights that I came away with from my experience in Spain.
Firstly, it is challenging to be mindful, especially when there are a lot of distractions. I realized early on in the walk that walking the Camino mindfully was not going to be easy. For the first part of the walk, I had the mind chatter that never stopped and was consistent with my usual mode of operating which consists of worrying about everything. Was I too slow and holding up the group? What if I fell behind and couldn’t find them? What if we got off track and had to walk further? It went on and on….
The other factor that makes walking The Camino mindfully so challenging, is that everyone has a different pace and at times it felt like a freeway with people passing, then being passed, slowing down and speeding up. There were more people walking than I had expected and this gave me more food for thought, always lot’s of thoughts!!
At some point, during day 2, I reconfirmed my commitment to experience the walk moment by moment and take things as they came. It was at that point that I began to get in a rhythm and realized that my mind was doing less traveling. I found my natural pace and allowed and encouraged myself to stick with it, step by step, regardless of what others were doing.
The second gold nugget was experiencing what it felt like to be part of the pack and then what it felt like to be separated from the pack. When our differing paces necessitated that we walk alone at times, I have to admit I felt some anxiousness about that. I was grateful that I noticed that I was feeling anxious and that was my cue to explore that further. Why was being separated from the pack causing me to be anxious? While some people like to go it alone, that has never been my experience. I like being part of the pack and part of my spiritual growth over the past couple of years has necessitated that I go it alone sometimes in order to grow and evolve. I love the quote “Be willing to go alone sometimes. You don’t need permission to grow. Not everyone who started with you will finish with you,. And that’s okay”- M.Scott Peck.
I think when I was alone on the walk, with my thoughts, feelings, blisters and some aches and pains (maybe I needed to train more) I got to the point that I was fully mindful. It happened around day 4, when I was exhausted and just putting one foot in front of the other. I would notice thoughts like; what if I can’t finish or how bad will these blisters get? and I would redirect my thoughts back to one foot in front of the other. I had let go of needing to control everything and was completely peaceful. No worries, no frets, no what if’s, just the full experience of the sun, heat, aching legs and feet, the corn fields, the little villages, and my husband walking close to me with the realization that we are connected but on our own journey’s.
Probably the biggest nugget for me was when we came across a labyrinth beside the path. It was raining and the wind was blowing and we were marching along head down. My first inclination was to walk right past the labyrinth to get to the next stop. Something inside me said you have to walk this labyrinth, even though I didn’t really know what the symbolism of a labyrinth was. So we slowly walked the labyrinth and for me it was powerful as I heard the voice and I listened to the voice. When I returned home, I had to find out, what exactly is a labyrinth? Walking a labyrinth is a metaphor for the journey to the centre of your deepest self and back out into the world with more awareness of who you are.
That labyrinth turned out to be symbolic of my experience on The Camino. I did learn more about myself and am more committed than ever to grow, learn, meditate and continue to “practice” living a mindful life.