I’m not sure why I felt so compelled to walk the Camino de Santiago. I do know my determination was reinforced about 6-7 years ago after a friend of mine and her husband hiked it. She described the path as being a spiritual journey of self-discovery, cathartic in every way (physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually). It just felt like something I would really enjoy doing and could also benefit from. My natural tendency is to be in a state of “doing” rather than in a state of “being”. Walking “the Camino” is all about the state of “being”. So this past September, the timing seemed just perfect for me to finally walk “the Camino”. The plan was to walk from Ponferrada to Santiago over 10 days, walking about 20-25 km per day. Over the course of 10 days, I had lots of opportunity to cross paths with others on the same trail and I also had plenty of time to just be with myself, alone in thought.
I learned many lessons while walking, many of which are applicable to career and in life. Here are just 5 of the many lessons learned while walking the Camino de Santiago:
1. Keep it simple and be prepared. It seems inevitable and yet how many times have you left things to the last minute, not leaving enough time to be fully prepared only to scramble needlessly? Before I walked “the Camino”, I had a checklist of items to pack, and to purchase for my trip. Because I was travelling with only a backpack and a carryon, I had to be very selective about what I would bring on the trip and what I was willing to carry in my daypack. Every morning, I would prepare for the day by putting baby powder on my feet to avoid blisters, wear the appropriate clothing and pack only what I needed in my daypack. Keeping it simple and being prepared made it easier to focus on my daily walk.
2. You almost always have what you need most. I quickly realized that I was carrying too much in my daypack and that purging was needed. I carefully considered what I absolutely needed. This became a daily ritual. Did I really need a full roll of toilet paper in my backpack? Did I need the whole first aid kit or just a bandage or two? Could I do without the flashlight? Would it rain today? Every day I became more discriminating about what to wear and what to carry. The essentials became quite apparent. It’s amazing how little we need when we become more discerning and clear on the difference between necessary and nice to have. How many “things” are you holding onto that you really don’t need?
3. Stay in the moment. For most of my life, I have been conditioned to be in a state of “doing”. In my corporate career, I was rewarded for planning and taking action, doing stuff, accomplishing things and quite frankly even in my personal life, my “to do” list is a mile long and my sense of worth was and still is tied to how much stuff I get done in a day. So staying in the moment and just enjoying what I was observing, hearing and feeling was foreign to me. But when you are walking for 4-6 hours a day, sometimes on your own with no one to talk to, it becomes much easier to stay in the present moment. To take in all that you are seeing, to notice much more than you otherwise would, to hear the birds, the rustle of leaves, the babbling river, the feeling of your feet on the stones beneath you, or to take in the view and fully immerse yourself in your surroundings, that’s the joy of just “being” with it. This was a new and exciting experience for me. Staying in the moment gave me great clarity and was extremely grounding and centering.
4. Change your perspective. Along the path, the view changes frequently. Sometimes you walk along the highway and it requires you to be more vigilant, sometimes you find yourself in the forest smelling eucalyptus, other times you may walk alongside a river or a well-worn rocky trail, or in a small village or larger town. One minute you are looking uphill and wondering how you will ever make it up that hill and half an hour later you are looking downhill into a valley appreciating how much easier it was than you had ever imagined. The perspective is very different moment to moment. It allows you to appreciate where you’ve come from and where you may be headed without expectation or attachment.
5. Embrace opportunities. There are so many opportunities you don’t even need to look for them; they magically appear in your path. Like the medieval festival in Ponferrada the first night we were there – what a wonderful way to spend our first day in Spain assimilating to the Spanish culture. Or the cafè that landed on my path serving delicious cafè con leche at just the right time I was ready to take a break. Or that amazing massage therapist/reflexologist that happened to reside next door to where I was staying on the day my feet needed it most. The opportunities are everywhere, you simply need to notice them, and then embrace them.
Walking over 200 km of “the Camino” reminded me of the simplicity of life and just how much we strive to make it much more complex than it needs to be. Since being back from my Camino walk, I have vowed to keep things simple, stay more present, and eliminate daily clutter and complexity from my mind and my life. I have everything I need to embrace the opportunities coming my way and to adjust my perspective as the view changes.