Europe Journal

El Camino de Santiago de Compostela Pilgrimage

It’s been over a week since I’ve been back from my walk and into ‘reality’ mode I now find myself reflecting on my thoughts and where I stand at this very moment in my life. Bare with me…

What did this walk mean to me? Did I ‘find myself’? Did I find my purpose? Did I solve third world problems? Well, truthfully, no.

I felt like I had to do the Camino to allow myself to just reflect and organize my thoughts. First off I knew who I was, which is why I did this walk. I knew I was going to finish, because I am a big believer in doing what you say. I wasn’t looking for anything I didn’t already know (kind of).

This what learned…

It takes a certain type of individual to walk alone on el Camino de Santiago. You don’t do this walk for ‘pleasure’ (although some do). You do it to reflect and think. Not everyone can actually physically do it, because it isn’t an easy walk. Especially when you do it alone. When you’re tired and want to just go to bed, the only person pushing you, is you.

Connection and Connecting with People.

I met people with stories, and goals, dreams, and hopes. All of which I know I have too. I met people in el Camino that I connected with immediately. Even people that didn’t speak the same language, when you connect, you just connect. There is something special about meeting a stranger and just ‘connecting’. I can truly say I made friendships that will last me a lifetime. One night as I sat alone at dinner, a complete stranger sat down with me and joined me. He was walking alone too and he just asked to sit and have dinner with me. He said he learned something that day. He said he learned  ‘balance’.

Balance…
is accepting the things we cannot change and learning to move forward. Life always has balance. Whether we ‘get it’ or not, it is what it is. Things go wrong in life, to some more than others, but it all happens for a reason. It’s how you learn to deal with it and move forward that makes you different from the rest. What this man said, seemed to have stuck with me. Simply because I know it’s an internal conflict I hold.

This walk allowed me to put all my thoughts out into the world and to ‘figure it out’. Something I don’t do very often without the interruption of friends, family, work, computer, social life, etc. I met another man who was walking el Camino for the 3rd time! He explained that though I may not find the answers to life’s hard questions on the Camino, that I would find them as soon as I got back to reality.

Doubting myself.
Six days into my walk, I found myself in serious pain. Four blisters on the bottom of my feet, and actual foot pain. I also found myself sitting in a friend’s bathroom crying, asking myself what I had done. Then I realized that I am not superhuman and that this wasn’t going to be easy. This I already knew – but I needed to remind myself of it consciously.

Camino de Santiago is something I wanted to do. It is something I chose for good reason. After I was done crying, I laughed it off and told myself that I am going to finish. (To be fair I owe a thank you to a special someone who also helped me realize that. You know who you are.)

The most important thing I realized is that I often doubt myself and my capabilities to do what I desire. I shouldn’t. I quit my job in NYC because it felt right. I came to Europe because it’s what I wanted. I think we all have moments of doubt – which is normal – but that we shouldn’t be so hard on ourselves. Don’t you agree?

Contentment.
This is hard for most people. Being happy with what you have is a challenge, many of us are afraid of even reflecting on.

The Camino reminded me of what I have. The essentials. I started the Camino with a list of items, but I didn’t need them. I finished with what I needed. I felt content not wearing make up. In fact, I felt pretty! I was happy with only owning three shirts. Only carrying what I could. I felt proud.

As I mentioned in my earlier posts (before I left), I wasn’t sure why I was doing this. It was something I felt I had to do. When I met people who asked me why I was on el Camino and what I did with my life, I always smiled. I felt like a gypsy and there is no better feeling than being free.

Homesick.
Yes. That’s right, I said it, homesick. I was. I realized how much I missed my own bed. I slept in rooms of 20+ people and I woke up every 2-3 hours. I woke up every morning to the noise of other pilgrims getting ready to walk. I missed my shower and my bed. But most of all, I missed my family.

I constantly get asked how I just pick up and go places. How can I just leave my family and go? And to be honest, for those who know me, know that family is everything for me. So whilst it may look easy, it is in fact tough for me. I am proud to say that although my family might not agree with everything I do, they still stand behind my madness.

Okay, here come the big ones…

Time.

I hold this one dear to my heart. If you really think about it, it is all we ever have. Time. It is the most IMPORTANT component of our lives. I met people on el Camino who had deadlines because they had flights, buses, or trains to catch back home to get back to their reality. I actually didn’t have a deadline, because I don’t work for anyone.

I found myself slowing down and sincerely appreciating my walk. Realizing that my life was always in constant motion and I’ve never ‘stopped’ to just breathe. I’ve missed a lot of time, and I’ve wasted time on things that I cannot change. Once that time is gone, its gone. We are truly here on borrowed time. How do I want to spend it?

Lastly, Happiness. And the courage to live in happiness. Most of us live in fear -actually all of us do, including myself. The fear of the unknown and the fear of failure.

I am not as scared as I thought I’d be. I always think about the worse case scenario, and if I realize my decision won’t hurt me or anyone else, then why not! As I mentioned above, we live on borrowed time, yet our biggest problem is that we think we have time! And we truly don’t know how much of it we have left.

I am proud to say that I walked 355km (220miles) to Santiago. I cried and laughed, but I did it. The only thing ever holding me back from doing what I want, was myself.

Each and everyone one of us have a story. A road, a Camino, that we follow. Despite the race, religion or country we come from. We all make a choice to live our lives how we want to. I am happy. I am not looking for myself, because I know who I am.

I’d like to encourage people to look at their lives and decide how they want to live them. Nothing wrong with working in a cubical (if you like it), but for those that don’t, change it. It’s you’re life. Don’t live in fear of ‘the what if’. Just do it.

IF it feels right in your heart and gut (that’s the most important feeling), then grab it and run. Don’t wait for anyone, because anyone who loves you will always support you and never hold you back.

So in short, to answer the question of what I learned while walking to Santiago… I learned that I can do whatever I want this life, because it’s my own. I choose to live it as I please. And I want to live a life I am genuinely proud of.

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