I Learned This The Hard Way On The Camino de Santiago

On the Camino de Santiago journey, I’m in a section with vast wide open spaces and pretty medieval villages. The sounds of nature are endless, and the landscape is dotted with hamlets, Romanesque churches and crop fields for miles. Summer temperatures are starting to creep up. On those hot days, I wake up at dawn and walk until noon…before the sun makes me feel like I’m baking. My days start early, and it’s always fun to see the sleepy towns start to come alive. I usually walk for 3-4 miles, then stop to power up for the rest of the journey with freshly-squeezed orange juice, tē Verde (green tea), a breakfast tortilla with potato and egg), and a croissant with freshly-made marmalade. For more updates on my journey, follow along on Instagram! 

This week as I was lifting up my heavy pack, I had to giggle at myself with all the unnecessary items that added extra weight to my pack…a whistle, a second charger, too many toiletries to list, four pairs of pants and four tops, a night light, makeup, and supplements…. you get the point 😉 At the time when I packed these items, I was living in a modern world with a box full of unused cords, and a closet full of shoes. But, that’s not life on the Camino. 

In order to simplify the packing process and lighten the load, I started donating these items to others who were in need. Turns out, I didn’t really need my lip stain to make my lips appear plump, or an eyebrow pencil to fill in my sparse brows. 

Now, I’m down to only two pairs of hiking socks, underwear, two T-shirts, two pairs of shorts and a sleeping bag. Thank goodness there are laundry stations everywhere! When I simplified, the Camino became so much easier…and that’s part of the lesson. The simple life is better…and the advice that’s constantly repeated on the Camino is, “Don’t pack your fears and leave your insecurities behind!”    

The same is true with life…What are your fears that you’re packing around every day? What are those fears that are adding extra weight to your back, like putting rocks in a backpack and lugging it around all day? 

Think about that time of adventure of early womanhood, before career and family took center stage…before big fears came into your thoughts… that was a very exciting part of life. Time passes, though, and those days give way to practical, survival-oriented concerns. You get busy with your career, you get married, you focus on buying a house and making it a home. You’re perpetually short on time, drained of energy; as a result, you become less active, perhaps putting on a few pounds, then a few more. Meanwhile, you start developing a repertoire of stress-related symptoms such as stomach pains, back pain, or insomnia. Before you know it, you can’t get going without your coffee, can’t fall asleep without a glass of wine, can’t climb to the top of that little hill to watch the sunset. This is how you start to drift out of vitality. 

Meanwhile, life marches on. Eventually, kids arrive, you hit problems in your marriage, you worry about your aging parents. Maybe you find yourself, as I did, dealing with a physically or mentally ill family member. Suddenly, you’re a full-service caretaker. And what happens? That free, playful spirit—that creative energy that used to dance and sing through your arms, your legs, your hips, your smile—begins to fade and the fears start to take over. Does any of this sound familiar? 

Think about how it felt to be first discovering your vitality. Was there ever a time when your energy was fun, unselfconscious, free?  It’s almost as though a line is drawn between that free-spirited, vitality-filled enjoyment of the world . . . and becoming a responsible member of society. 

By the time I hit my late forties, I felt like someone who goes to look up a favorite recipe and finds the page missing. How did I ever create that energy? Would I ever feel that spark, that aliveness, again? 

Quick fixes don’t address the real issue. A cup of coffee, a post-dinner treat…those things give us a jolt of energy, but never that lasting energy for life. That’s part of why I’m hiking the Camino…to feel alive. And, it’s working. I’m feeling more energetic and alive than I have in years.
Most of us are not ready to dive into the deep end, hiking 500 miles across Spain. I get it…and I’m not expecting anyone to go out and buy the next ticket to Spain and begin their adventurous hike. Perhaps you need to start at a more basic level. But those big dreams can take hold only when you first open up to the possibility. 
It can start small. Maybe a day comes when you look at the wildflowers on the mountain behind your house and say to yourself: Okay, this is it, I want to go see what those delicate petals look like close-up. I’m going to hike to that patch of flowers today. Then—then—the next week you hike a little further on the mountain…  And it builds from there.  It’s about opening up to possibilities. And then, maybe eventually you find yourself on the Camino.
The key is to find things that put the fun back in your body and let you forget about your fears. Because putting the fun back, and putting you back, are one and the same.

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