Yes, that’s how many steps I took when this September and October, I left my family and animals behind to walk the Camino in France and Spain.
The reason I decided to go was not really clear. As a matter of fact, I was all but convinced I had made a mistake and really needed to stay home. While I was scared to death, I was also incapable of canceling. Eventually, I packed, tried to make the best of my decision, and left for France.
While I did not realize it then, I do believe now that a deeper part of me knew exactly what I needed and why I said I wanted to go. The 515 miles I walked over 34 days turned out to be life-changing.
First, some random facts on my experience of the Camino: I met people ages 16-80. About half of them traveled there on their own and most of the people I met were also not totally clear on what drew them there. No one I met was particularly religious, although there were a few more nuns along the way than I am used to seeing in the states. I did meet a few people who were there for health reasons, or walking in memory of a loved one, but most people came – just because. Passing conversations often included, “Why am I here?”, “Who knows”, and lots of laughter.
So, what did the journey hold for me? Although words would never do it justice, I thought it might be worth a try. Not because someone reading this will book a plane to go, but in the thought that you might just want to do or try something, and – rather than think it foolish or stupid – decide to go for it.
The Camino is often called, ‘The Way’ (thus the name of the more recent movie about it). Turns out to be perfectly named, as the journey never seemed about ‘making it’ to the end, or any sort of final destination. It seemed to be more about experiencing insights while you were on ‘the way’.
Often these insights were things I already knew, or thought I did. As I learned, knowing and experiencing, can be quite different. What I experienced:
- While walking, my mind would always go to the one or two items I felt I needed attention. This was especially true during the first several days. As I walked, I saw that the infinite things around me were beautiful, wonderful, and great. I had so much to be grateful for, yet my mind would drag me back to the one thing I perceived as a problem. By week two, after realizing this, I found myself telling my mind, ‘thanks,’ but I am going to focus on everything that is right. Fortunately, I also saw that this problem I thought I needed to focus on was going to get solved, only to be replaced by another one.
- I lived for 38 days (including travel) with an 18-pound backpack, as did most the others on the trail. I realized that no one really ever asked what a person ‘did’ or knew their social status. No one liked you because you owned a business or had a nice house. People liked each other because we were all in it together. Period. I realized that, and I will only speak for myself: all this trying to be special, bigger, smarter, more together, more conscious, etc… was not creating what I thought. Instead, it was more fun to be nothing special and just be a part of everything and everyone.
- And finally, as I walked (and some days it was extremely challenging), I found I had only three words I kept repeating to myself: “JUST WALK DAWN.” Some days I might have repeated this 100 times to myself, especially while going up a mountain. Looking back, it was a life-changer, and I hope to use this phrase the rest of my days. “Just walk.” That’s it. All that I need to do is walk, not analyze, worry, fret, make up stories, plan, set goals….it is endless. It became crystal clear on ‘the way’, that I could only experience the moment, the beauty, even the fatigue, when I let go of all of the ‘extra baggage’ in my mind. As I walked, all I needed was provided for. As it always has been. Before I learned to ‘just walk,’ it was almost impossible to experience all that is provided. I was too busy thinking I had to provide more, do more, be more. Now I know, “I am the dancer and life is the dance”. I am happy to just walk and see what shows up.
I am grateful to be home, but even more so that I went. What my insights don’t say, is that as I found ‘my way’ and gained a level of experience that eliminated much of my mind’s redundant thinking, the level of joy and laughter I experienced was beyond anything I could have imagined. And, as usual, after opening myself up to new ways of being, a deep gratitude and a very deep desire to share became present.