MY 10 TOP LEARNINGS FROM CAMINO DE SANTIAGO
I walked 900km across Spain last August.
Yes, you read that correctly. It took me 34 days, 1.3 million steps along with countless friends and memories as I completed the Camino de Santiago.
I actually started penning this piece as a big fat article, documenting my journey along the way, step by step. After two nights of bashing away at my keyboard, I realized that this is not only going to be super boring for the reader, it was boring to write. So I decided to do a Top 10 ranking of stuff I learned along the way.
I’m a notoriously fast walker. In fact, I don’t even really like walking, I’d rather run to the shops to pick up the milk, and it took me maybe a week on the walk to pull it back a gear… or three. Every place along the Camino is running at a pace where it seemed everything could wait until tomorrow, and there is a lot of peace living like that.
The old saying, “It’s all about the journey, not the destination”, has never been so relevant.
You can’t do it alone
Prior to setting off, I had an expectation that I was going to do this alone.
The whole ‘I don’t need nobody’ is romantic and admirable, but after a few days, unrealistic. The Way is full of like-minded people experiencing the same trials, tribulations and eventual transformation that you are. You can immediately relate to each other and human interaction isn’t only unavoidable, its vital.
While I would happily walk for an entire day, speaking to nobody and hearing nothing but the sound of my footstep while practicing my Christopher Walken impression for 2 hours straight (it’s still terrible), I realized I needed human contact and interaction.
It became less about yourself and more about the journey your sharing with those around you. Plus you’ll lose your bloody mind.
Except for my Latvian friend Erwin, who proudly said that he doesn’t need anyone on this journey, and actually did it all by himself after we were to split up due to my time limit.
Next level peace
This was one of the few things that I was certainly hoping for prior to the walk.
Being in the throat of the Pyrenees Mountains, unable to see anything 5 metres around me due to a thick fog and hearing nothing but the sound of cowbells in the distance, I was totally at peace in the isolation. The biggest decision I had to make each day was, will I have the fish or chicken for dinner.
Your total lack of responsibility or worry coupled with the freedom of thought and disconnection allows you to totally remove yourself from everyday issues. Real life doesn’t afford you that luxury.
We’re built tough
There’s a reason the human species have survived through millions of year of evolution- we are tough as nails. The Camino can be pretty damaging in a lot of ways and there aren’t many people that aren’t bearing some sort of cross along the way to compound that.
The mental battle of getting up every morning at 6am knowing that you have to walk roughly 25km isn’t easy, let alone the physical demands of the track.
Many had horrible blisters on their feet, rolled ankles and dehydration, but their sheer will got them through, day after day.
The fastest person I met on the track was a 70-year-old Japanese woman/trailblazer/superwoman who defied her age and absolutely dominated the Camino. The Way is consistently inspiring.
Time to think
When do we really give ourselves time to just think about stuff?
With the rigours of work, hobbies, friends, sleeping, eating, chores, study and so on, seldom do you get a chance to just think about everything (quite literally). I did a hell of a lot of this in my first week on the Camino.
I was reading the The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo that was given to me before I left Australia, which was perfect material for the circumstance.
It was awesome stimulus to think about everything important and unimportant as I simply walked along the trail for hours on end.
But also think about nothing
So #6 was really important, but the real enlightenment/peace started when I stopped thinking.
I even remember the day and the precise moment where I realized that I didn’t have to think about life’s big questions just because I was on a “pilgrimage”. It was day seven and I had just passed through a small village and I could see the path laid before me, snaking over dry yellow grass for the next 5km.
It dawned on me that whatever I was looking for, won’t reveal itself to me until I stop trying so hard to seek it out. Once I realised that, it was like my mind emptied and I had incredible clarity from that moment on.
All I had in my bag were :
- A single pair of pants;
- A pair of shorts;
- A cotton sleeping bag liner;
And I could’ve gone with less.
Living minimally really makes you value the few possessions you have while also helping you to realise the difference between possessions you must have, and those you want to have.
I was quite happy without all those excess items we all enjoy and there is certainly an important lesson in that.
Generosity of strangers
The Camino was a reminder that there are still a lot of good people in the world despite what we are consistently fed by The News each night.
Fellow Pellegrino’s would continually put others needs ahead of their own and there were countless examples of it over the month I travelled through this beautiful country.
Humans are generally kind by nature and you don’t have to be a fully-fledged hippy to believe it after walking the Camino; you see it every day. The locals along the way would go out of their way to help you in what little way they could, pointing you in the right direction, giving you a cheerful wave or giving you supplies.
There are some incredibly poor villages along the trail, but that is where the most generosity was shown.
The diversity of people you meet along the way is truly astonishing. You would converse with humans from different countries, demographics, cultures & backgrounds, but on the Camino we were all equals.
Being around this sheer variety and spectrum of people teaches you so much, and the best way to do that is to simply listen and take it all in.
You have a heck of a lot of time to talk about almost everything and once you get past the necessary small talk, you can learn so much from those around you. Don’t listen to respond, listen to understand.
Be present, present, present
I spent the first week of my Camino attempting to think of life’s deepest questions, as that’s what I thought you were supposed to uncover on a pilgrimage.
But all that did was put me in a dizzying, chaotic mind-set that essentially defeated the purpose of this entire journey.
That was until I hit a turning point (some call it an epiphany, not me though) where I simply stopped thinking and emptied my mind. The clarity and focus I got from that point on was possibly one of the most important things that’s happened to me in 26 years of life.
I wasn’t worrying about anything, I wasn’t concerned with what the future holds, I was just being in the moment, enjoying where I was at that particular time and space.
Life hummed along at a pace dictated by me and me alone, and that was a pretty special place to be.
So that’s that.
Since then I have moved to London and I locked in a job at an awesome and exciting startup with big ambitions. And since arriving here, what I have come to realise is that the greatest challenge wasn’t on the Camino itself.
It is maintaining and putting into practice all of those things I have learned on the trail, into the rigours of every day life. That’s the true test. This was a brief summary of my top learnings on the camino..
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