“You must give up the life you planned in order to have the life that is waiting for you.”
– Joseph Campbell
Tonight I started to write a rather bland Q&A on a different topic, but I stopped myself when I saw an interesting post by a reddit follower who asked, “Did the Camino change your life?”
What a profound question. I participated in the dialogue on reddit with a short, half-baked response but the question has stayed with me and I want to take this opportunity to put down a few thoughts.
For me, the Camino de Santiago changed everything. It started as a kernel of an idea – go back to Spain where you felt happiest in your young adult life, conquer that thing that your 21-year-old self thought sounded cool and reconnect with your 35-year-old self. The external goal was to show myself how strong I am. A strong independent woman who could travel across the world alone to then walk 420 miles for 5 weeks and survive it. The internal goal was to reclaim my life. To clear my head and feel what I needed in order to move on and start a new chapter post-breakup.
Did I achieve my goals? Kind of. I did achieve my physical goal of walking the Camino. I did clear my head and felt a lot of happy, sad, and angry emotions I needed to purge to move on with my life. I did not come up with a master plan or blueprint for my future. In fact I felt no closer to understanding where I wanted to live, what I wanted to do and how I would approach love in the future.
Is that failure? No way! I gained so much more than what I set out to accomplish. After the Camino, I came back with unexpected life lessons that I am so grateful to have learned. Here are a few from my pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago:
It is the Journey NOT the Destination. By far the road to Galicia was hands down more fulfilling than reaching the destination. The highs and lows of ‘The Way’ happened on the Camino, not in Santiago de Compostela. A big part of the fun is figuring out how to make it on the Camino with other pilgrims. Those shared experiences are what I think of the most when I reflect on my pilgrimage. Once I reached my goal I felt a little let down and lost as to what I should do next. Also, I had built up Santiago de Compostela in my head and it didn’t live up to the heaven-like place I imagined. I realized then what a powerful metaphor the Camino is for life. Since I have been home I try to remember this lesson. I focus more on thinking about what I am grateful for each day rather than waiting to feel that fulfillment until I reach a goal or milestone.
Plans are for Suckas. Every time I tried to follow a plan on the Camino it was foiled. If I wanted to try a certain route, I inevitably got lost. But then would meet the coolest people or see the most beautiful sites on the “wrong path”. If I wanted to walk alone that day, I would end up meeting the most interesting person and accompanying them for the next five hours! That’s how I met my friend Andre, and as a result of that thwarted plan, we have traveled to three other countries together. Maybe the best plan is to be open your heart and mind to what the Universe has up its sleeve for you.
Everything is a Lesson. If you ever read The Pilgrimage by Paulo Coelho, then you know what it means to feel like everything put in front of you is a life lesson on the hero’s journey. It seems like whatever you need to work through comes out in spades on the Camino. In my case, I learned it is better to face something in the moment rather than stewing on it or avoiding it. I struggled with expressing negative emotions and setting boundaries and was ‘gifted’ a Spanish pilgrim who pushed all of my buttons and managed to re-appear throughout my Camino. It took me days of fuming before I mustered up the nerve to confront him, and then a few more days to get over the fact that he chose to mock me every chance he got. Once I said what I needed to I felt a lot better and it gave me the courage to stop avoiding the real conversation that mattered: the call I made on the Camino that ultimately gave me the closure I needed with my ex.
Thank you to the future peregrino who asked this wonderful question. There are so many reasons to take on the Camino de Santiago but for me these lessons made the trip so enriching and worthwhile.