This year, I walked 500 miles through Spain and became a Peregrino, (a Pilgrim). I, like the 200,000 plus people from all over the world that are drawn here each year, walked (or biked) to the Shrine of the Apostle Saint James in northern Spain’s medieval city of Santiago de Compostela. The routes, known as “caminos” or ways, originate all over Europe. We travelled the same paths as those did thousands of years before us for the same reasons (spiritual, mental, physical) with very little change.
It is said that “the Camino provides”. One of its gifts was the simplicity of each day. As you trekked through each small town, you were reminded of the beauty of an uncomplicated life. After 33 days of being “unplugged” from the usual stimuli of our daily lives, my mind was clear and open, a freedom seldom experienced.
Whether I was enjoying the camaraderie of other Pilgrims or the solitude of walking alone, my days were filled with time for sharing thoughts with others or with myself. I returned home with the unexpected souvenirs of some lessons learned and a new way to live life:
- Focus on one step at a time: Rather than waking up each day and thinking of the 12-20 miles of inclines and descents ahead, it was important to concentrate on your footing. Likewise, giving my attention to smaller goals rather than the big picture, will keep me on track and not leave me feeling overwhelmed.
- Listen more: I was so captivated by the life stories of the other Pilgrims, that I found myself listening, really listening to what they had to say. In the quiet moments, I paid more attention to the sounds of nature. I was even more attuned to what I was thinking and feeling. Now, when I have the inclination to interrupt in order to get a word in, rush through a day or disregard myself, I will instead try to remember to savor the moment.
- Go with the flow: A day of torrential downpours, a missed turn, dirty clothes and a broken washer and dryer; the day’s trials were nothing that a laugh over a glass of wine with some other Pilgrims couldn’t fix. I have trouble “winging it” and always prefer the flow to be pre-planned. I now realize that I need to loosen up and enjoy the ride.
- Be open: This was an amazing opportunity to meet people from all over the world and realize that even though they may look, speak or act differently, we basically are all the same. Rather than shying away from those that are different than I am, I will make an effort to be more receptive and try to let my curiosity lead the way to new experiences.
- Be grateful: Living so simply for a month, slowing down and watching the small details of life go by opened my eyes to what really matters: health, happiness, family and friends. I will remember to start each day being thankful for what I have, work at giving back in some way and try to cling to as much simplicity as I can.
Pictured: The Cruz de Farro (Iron Cross) near Rabanal – Pilgrims bring a stone from home and carry it on their journey to symbolize the spiritual, mental and physical aspects of their lives that are weighing them down. When you leave the stone behind, it is said you are ridding yourself of these burdens.