Life Lessons unravelled along the Ways of the Camino De Santiago (Part 2)
Buen Camino Peregrinos!
As highlighted in my previous article, I have recently walked 3 different Camino routes and from each of them I have learnt many life lessons that I instilled whilst walking the camino and will carry out in my personal and professional life. I hope you gain as much from these lessons as I have and will continue to walk your own path in life.
Lesson #1. Sense of community and connection
Once the need of ‘love and belongingness’ is fulfilled we can then move onto fulfilling our ‘esteem’ and ‘self-actualisation’ needs which help us grow and move forward in our lives.
Through this experience of walking all 3 Camino routes I realised just how much there is the overwhelming sense of community, connection and love that leaves you with the biggest, warmest and fuzziest feelings inside (and no this is not just the vino talking).
When you put on your backpack with the Camino shell this means you have become part of a wider community of peregrinos (pilgrims) and everyone that you encounter you will greet them and be greeted with “Buen Camino”. This is a traditional phrase acknowledging that you are all sharing this experience together and part of a larger community.
One of the most liberating and refreshing aspects of walking the Camino was that each and everyone I met were so open and willing to share without the usual social front to hide behind. This meant that you were able to connect with each other on a deeper level with much more ease creating a feeling of security, trust and comfort with one another. Along the path I have have heard numerous people’s life stories within the first half an hour of meeting them and what has led them to walking the Camino De Santiago.
Whether you only share a smile with a fellow peregrino, a meal and a few laughs with a group, a community dinner hosted by a donotivo, or you happen to form your camino family, each and every one of these will leave a mark on you and become part of your camino journey. These meaningful and rich experiences will stay with you forever and leave a special place in your heart wanting you to come back for more.
This links back to our everyday lives where we strive for a human connection to understand more about human nature and ourselves. We seek this in all forms of relationships with family members, spouses, friends and the person handing us our morning spanish tortilla and orange juice. The Camino has been one of the most valuable and heart warming ways in which I have had the pleasure to converse with so many different individuals from various nationalities, cultural backgrounds, religions, and social backgrounds opening up my mind and soul to reach out further on my continued travels and when I return back home.
Lesson #2. Re-connect to your inner self
I originally decided to walk to Camino De Frances first as I felt a pull to this route that I can not describe. I knew that from this route I would be experiencing the original route of the Way of St James, that this is the most popular route and would therefore meet a lot of new people who I would be able to connect to, that this was the most sufficiently well-marked route (always a plus for someone like me that gets lost while using google maps), but most importantly because this was described as containing a religious and spiritual significance.
I am not religious, however I knew that while walking this Camino I desired to take time to re-connect with myself and to gift myself with this time to focus solely on what I am seeking in life and my personal reasons for walking this Camino. I found myself walking alone many times just with my thoughts and the sound of nature. Happily walking at my own pace because despite enjoying the company of others I knew that this was my Camino and that each person walks their own journey for themselves and not for others.
The camino has been described as a healing journey for many and I can vouch for this as walking the initial 800km gives you PLENTY of time to think deeply about your life and put many things into perspective. You will learn many things about yourself even at the most unexpected times as I find that this whole path is experienced in a meditative way letting you connect to the present moment as this is all we have being in our pilgrim bubble highly disconnected from the dramas of the outside world.
Lesson #3. Gratitude equals happiness
Many people strive and wish for happiness in their everyday lives. There are countless websites, podcasts, books, scientific research, practices, and inspirational leaders dedicated to finding and achieving happiness.
I am not a world happiness leader like the Dalai Lama, nor am I a scientist, and I have not written a book or produced a podcast on this subject…but I do know that from my experience of walking the Camino and meeting/speaking to those on the Camino that everyone is more or less happy and joyful. This is not evident merely from the words or language that they use to convey this but more from the energy and presence that they exude.
This is not the result of staying in luxury hotels as for myself and most pilgrims only sleep in albergues shared with many others and having access to basic facilities, eating quality food everywhere was near to impossible being vegetarian in a meat centric country, and lacking most creature comforts such as a hairdryer or moisturizer as I gave these up to save weight.
Instead I have and countless of other pilgrims have felt this internal happiness that radiates from inside out because if anything the Camino teaches you humility and gratitude. Gratitude I have found is the link to happiness and this is when you find the value in something that is given to you. Whether this be a watermelon that was left for my friends and me by another friend that was ahead on the path, arriving in a town where all the albergues were full but managed to find a roof over our head in a sports centre (always beats a park bench), or finding the gratitude in that moment which a lot of the time for me was the opportunity to walk through the spanish villages and countryside that I would not have done so if I was not walking the Camino seeing some of the most beautiful sunrises and being wished ‘Buen Camino’ by the local Spanish people.
It is important to remember that life will present us with challenges and it is up to us to think of these not as pitfalls but rather opportunities that we need to find value in to take the chance to rise above them. That happiness is not only found at the finish line or the next venture, but it comes along the way. It is more just about opening ourselves up to it and changing our mindset.
Lesson #4. Follow the signs
So on the first day, energised and excited about starting this new expedition I did exactly this on my way out of St Jean Pied De Port. On my travels through the Camino De Frances, Camino De Fisterra and Camino De Portuguese I discovered many various signs that all pointed me in the right direction forward to Santiago De Compostela.
Admittedly there were moments that I did get slightly lost or was unsure of the direction but using my intuition and being shown the right way by other pilgrims and locals I found my way back to the signs and onto the path moving forward once again.
This also goes the same for in our normal lives that at times we might get spun around and misguided feeling lost but if we just take a moment to stop, open our eyes and listen to our intuition we will be able to see those signs that are more obscure to lead us forward and in the right direction. And in turn we also must be open to the guidance from others who may be able to see clearly what we have missed originally. As from the present moment you can only move forward as what you have left behind will only now be a memory.
Lesson #5. “Life is really simple but we insist on making it complicated” – Confucius
This quote from Confucius sums up exactly what I learnt about living a simple life on the Camino as less really is more and how I now integrate this more into my everyday life.
I originally started the Camino with 13kg. I thought everything that I carried with me was necessary and was quite happy to carry this until I injured myself with a stress fracture by carrying too many items. After this happened I re-evaluated my items and realised I was able to remove 3kg without any hesitation because I was able to let go of those ‘just in case’ items. After I let go of these items my body was much more thankful for losing this extra weight, but more so I felt free in my mind as I was not cluttered by unnecessary items.
As I look back at my items at home and I know that i have many items that I have not used in a long time and probably items that I have even forgotten about. I am not advocating or would not rid of all my possessions as I still enjoy my creature comforts but have now moved more to a minimalistic way of thinking and living.
A simple life does not only consist of living with less material possessions, but in my opinion living a life that is straight forward, honest, with integrity and no unnecessary stress. During my time on the Camino I reveled in the simple life that we pilgrims lead and in our happy bubble only concentrating on the basic necessities such as accommodation, food, drink, walking each day, and human connection. Each and everyday with just focusing on these basic necessities for survival I have not felt so relaxed for so long not having to worry about the dramas of everyday life and more finding happiness in the simple pleasures such as after a long walk in the hot sun being able to dip my feet into the cool water of the river.
I know this is in the context of the Camino which is not how can you live your life forever unless you a Camino nomad, but more importantly to take these feelings and principles forward to really stop and appreciate the small things in life that we sometimes rush past. To not get caught up in the dramas of the world or people who are close by that do not serve you a purpose, to focus on the most important things to make your life happy excluding material possessions, and to not let things out of your control cause you stress as stress is the largest killer and affects every aspect of your life.
Lesson #6. Find the joy in pain and the challenges
Does the phrase ‘No pain, no gain’ sound familiar? This phrase is normally used as an exercise motto to motivate athletes to endure pain and pressure with the promise of greater valued rewards to come for the price of the hard and sometimes painful work.
This can both used in terms of the Camino and life itself. I am not going to lie to you and say that the Camino is a walk in the park. The Camino is tough, but as a reward you will become mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually stronger for this and rising above each challenge that comes along.
During the Camino I had mostly physical pain in the form of a stress fracture on my ankle, blisters, lost one toe nail, back pain, shoulder pain, and general fatigue. However, if you asked me if I regret the Camino and would change anything I would say absolutely not because each of these challenges tested me in terms of realising that these are all impermanent and that my will to reach my goal is stronger. That despite the pain and obstacles we must still find the joy in the moment as this is all part of the journey. I have become more aware of my own body and my own needs so to not attempt to keep up with others if my body was not completely healed as this will only injure myself more and let go of the perception that anyone will judge you if you need to slow down. It is vital to remember that this is your journey and that everyone is on their own path, whether this be the Camino or in everyday life and we must all learn to appreciate and love our bodies and minds more to take us further.
On the Camino all we can do is put one foot in front of another to carry us forward and we will be surprised how far this will take us. This is true for life as well because it is about just being thankful for what you are given physically and mentally to go forth and coping with the pain you will overcome your challenges to reach your ultimate reward of transformation.
Thank you for reading this blog post on the first lessons learnt whilst walking the ways of the Camino De Santiago. Stay tuned for my upcoming post on the rest of the lessons learnt.
Please feel free to comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.