Well it’s been four months since we finished our Camino, and three months since we returned back home after our post-Camino R&R visit to Orvieto, Italy. Erik and I have had plenty to time to reflect, contemplate, and rehash our walk so I guess it’s time that I finally put some of those thoughts down on “paper”.
After you’ve walked the Camino, people often ask you if the experience has changed you. After all, they say, how can you walk 800 km and not be a different person when it’s all over? I suppose for most people, the obvious answer would be yes, but I have to admit, “change” is not a word that I would use to describe my Camino experience – instead I think of Contemplation, Observation, Appreciation, and Affirmation.
Contemplation and Observation
Obviously you have plenty of time to contemplate life while on the Camino and even if you are walking with a partner, it’s likely you aren’t together all the time. Whether walking with Erik, or on my own 100m behind him, I was often lost in my thoughts.
I thought a lot about how reality was matching up with my expectations of the Camino. I thought about what changes I might see in myself while walking the Camino. I thought about the physical and mental challenges I was experiencing and figured out ways to work through them. I tried to be “one” with my environment and to experience living “in the moment”. (And as usual, I stressed and obsessed about crap because that is what I do best – I just tried to do less of it.)
I did find it really interesting to have so much time alone with my thoughts, and I found I enjoyed that. I would try hard to be mindful and pay close attention to every little detail so I could truly appreciate everything around me. One day, I was walking alone and I made a point to verbally point out every single thing I noticed -from mountains, to trees, to rocks, to birds, to flowers, to bugs. I began to notice how the grass along the trail grew in little tuffs, and how the poppies were actually many different shades of red. It was interesting to pay really close attention and observe the small things around me – things that we often miss in our hurried lives. Normally, I find it really hard to “live in the moment” so the Camino was a wonderful opportunity to put mindfulness into practice on a consistent basis for 40 days.
I began to think of the Camino as one long meditation and so when negative or irrational thoughts entered my mind, I would try to accept them and then let them go. But as I mentioned in my post about “Moments of Bliss“, I can’t say I really had a single moment where I felt an awakening or a realization of change within myself. It was a gradual process of growth and acceptance of who I am.
Last year, I wrote a post, “Slow is Good”, where I talked about the importance of slowing down and appreciating things in life, rather than taking them for granted. As I walked, I began to think about that post and make connections to my Camino journey.
While I walked, I appreciated that I was in a position to be able to take this journey in the first place – I appreciated that I had the money, the time, and the willingness to get out there and just do it.
I also had a great appreciation for the simpleness of the Camino – the repetition of each day made life easy in many ways. No work, house, car, or family to worry about. You just get up and walk. When you’re hungry, you eat. When you’re thirsty to drink. When you’re tired, you rest.
I appreciated that my body allowed me to walk 20-30 km each day. I appreciated that my physical pains were relatively minor and short lived. I appreciated that I had a partner who was of like mind and body and that we travel so well together so that we could experience this journey together. We met a lot of people walking on their own because their spouse was uninterested or unable to walk the distance. I’m not saying that there’s not value in walking alone, but for me, it was a treat that Erik and I were able to take this journey together and continue to build our relationship.
I began to appreciate that everything I needed was on my back and that there was a certain simplicity in having only two sets of clothes and minimal material objects. In fact, upon returning home, I felt a need to purge a lot of “stuff” I had collected over the years. I enjoyed living a simple life and that feeling continued during our month living in the small town of Orvieto, Italy.
I appreciated the beauty of Spain and of the ever-changing scenery – from isolated mountains, to busy downtown city streets; from muddy farmland tracks, to rocky trails; from noisy highways, to quiet country roads. We walked through three distinct climate areas of Spain and every day was a new view. I loved them all.
I appreciated (mostly) the simple food, especially a cafe con leche and croissant for breakfast, and a banana, a bag of peanuts, and a freshly squeezed orange juice from a tiny bar in the middle of nowhere for lunch, a crusty ham and cheese bocadillo or a bowl of thick lentil soup when I was hungrier. And a cold beer at the end of a long walk. A BIG cold beer.
I appreciated a hot shower or a hot bath more than I ever have before. I appreciated clean socks, ibuprofen, dry shoes, a good rain jacket, my blue scarf… so many little things. On the Camino, life was broken down into moments and I tried to be mindful, think about, and appreciate every one of them.
My transformation as a human being is constant. I am always learning and evolving in small ways and I hope I will continue to evolve until the day that I die. However, I think that the big inner change that many people experience when doing the Camino is something I did before I started.
While I was open to new ideas while I was walking, and fully expected to have a “wow” moment of realization, that didn’t really happen for me. In my post about the Cruz de Ferro, when I decided to leave my rosary at the cross instead of my stone, I wrote about my thoughts on religion and spirituality. I guess if there was one moment of clarity, it would have to be that moment, but even then, it was ultimately an affirmation of what I had believed all along, although I did find I was able to broaden my concept of “spirituality” and accept that I am a “spiritual being”, something that I had struggled with up until that moment.
While walking the Camino, I affirmed my belief that I can do anything I set my mind to. It affirmed my belief that I can always walk another step, no matter how tired or cold or wet I am. It affirmed my belief that I need to slow down my life, and my mind, and not worry about my pace – just enjoy being fit and healthy. It affirmed the old saying that “it’s the journey, not the destination”.
Arriving in Santiago was somewhat emotional to think that we had actually made it, but really, it was the every day walking that I loved, that I contemplated, that I appreciated, and that I’ll remember the most. I never once thought that I wouldn’t be able to finish the Camino. Not once, did I wake up and think “I don’t want to walk today”. I allowed myself to walk my own Camino and tried to make smart choices along the way (like taking a bus or taxi a couple of times when the situation dictated it).
Walking the Camino didn’t really change the way I think about life, nor the way in which I will approach my life in the future. However, it did affirm many of the beliefs and understandings I’ve developed over the past 10 years or so, as I have attempted to slow down, savour the moment, appreciate what I have, and always try to look for the positive.
Next Up – Camino Bits and Pieces – a few final thoughts on the ins and outs of walking the Camino. If you have any questions you’d like me to respond to, now’s the time to ask in the comment section below!