May 2, 2013
Now that our journey is over, I realize the enormity of El Camino. While my daughters and I were hiking across Spain, we lived in the moment, taking each kilometer as it came. Now that we have completed our 46-day pilgrimage and returned to the United States, I remember our time on the trail as one huge experience as opposed to a collection of solitary hiking days.
What El Camino is, what it means to the pilgrim who hikes it...the deep meaning and the teachings one unintentionally receives along The Way are profound for each and every person who receives that Compostela. It doesn't matter if you're male or female, Catholic or agnostic, young or old, rich or poor....a peregrina following those yellow arrows kilometer after kilometer, day after day, and region through region will find herself blessed.
I'd like to share with you ten truths the Camino revealed to me. If and when you walk the Camino, you will find your own truths -- the Camino is personal...no one is walking those steps for you, you do it on your own two feet and therefore your realizations will be specific to you and your life experiences. I'd like to share my own truths, however, in the event they might resonate with and/or be useful to others.
Ten Truths of El Camino de Santiago
1. You are stronger than you think you are.
There will be days when your feet feel like someone went at them with a hammer. There will be times when the rain pelts you for hours on end. There will be moments when your back aches and your shoulders hurt and your neck wants to fall off. During each and every one of those times, you'll go deep within yourself and you'll find the strength to keep going. Every time you tough it out makes the next difficult time that much easier.
2. There are beautiful, beautiful people in this world.
Peregrinos come from all different backgrounds, faiths, and traditions. One thing they all have in common is that they are beautiful. Each and every person on that trail is taking on something challenging, and therefore each and every person is in the spirit of being kind and helpful to everyone else. Generally speaking, you see the best parts of people on the Camino. Also, peregrinos are constantly discovering their strengths; such discoveries build confidence and banish insecurities (only people unhappy with themselves seek to cause unnecessary strife and problems for others). The Camino therefore acts as a polishing tool...those who are on it have many of their fears, prejudices, and insecurities rubbed out of them by the time they've mastered a few consecutive hard days' walks.
3. Material goods don't matter. At all.
Besides the basic necessities of adequate clothing, food, and shelter, "things" aren't important. Actually, I'll go one step further and say that the acquisition of things is detrimental to one's well-being. You don't need all the stuff you possess, and having all that stuff only leads you to believe you need even more stuff. Before you know it, you're spending money to maintain the piles of stuff you don't need, and then you're spending energy coveting the shinier stuff your neighbors own (but don't need). My advice - get rid of it. All of it. Anything you don't use on a near-daily basis can be given to the poor. The less you own, the richer you are. Money spent on cable television can be spent traveling. Money spent on gasoline can be spent on airplane tickets. Etc. Going light unburdens the body and soul.
Does this mean I'm about to sell my house and give away all my belongings? Yes and no. No, I won't sell my house, since I promised my daughters the house will be theirs after I leave this earth. The interior of my house, however, will be thoroughly weeded. There's an awful lot of clutter taking up mental and physical space, and most of it needs to go. The girls will go through their own purging process as well (it will be up to them what stays and what goes when it comes to their own belongings).
4. Only the insecure and deeply unhappy people attempt to cause trouble for others.
On the bus coming back from Fisterre, a peregrina shared her worries about how she was going to carry the beauty and truth of her Camino into her normal, everyday life. Se said she worked with people who were competitive and not-so-nice. I responded with advice I intend to follow myself. There will always be unhappy and insecure people who try to create mischief and stress. Such people spread gossip, they throw tantrums when others share positive personal news, they make negative comments in vain attempts to make themselves look clever at the expense of others, etc. Unfortunately, such people are common...but at least they are easily identifiable by their behavior. There's nothing one can do to prevent such people from wagging their tongues or flapping their fingers over their keyboards. One can, however, choose to ignore such behavior and recognize it for what it is - an indication that the person has deep-rooted insecurities and is incredibly unhappy with his/her own life.
Ignore the immaturity and take the high road. Every single time. Continue along your own path and befriend those who also follow the yellow arrows. Stick with those who are pure at heart and pity the ones who have not found the Way. The Way is simple, pure, straightforward, and not necessarily religious -- just live in the moment, do what you need to do to help yourself and others, appreciate what you already have, and remember where you want to go. Don't get derailed by unnecessary things or negative people.
5. Your body needs and deserves the utmost respect.
Before the Camino, I was reasonably fit. I hiked New Hampshire trails and mountains once or twice a week and I had a reasonably healthy diet. However, I still had a problem with eating when I wasn't hungry. If it was sweet and sitting in front of me, I'd eat it. My meals were based around the time of day instead of hunger pangs. I drank cups of coffee every morning out of habit instead of any real desire for the taste. Etc.
On the Camino, I was hungry - really hungry - almost all of the time. I rarely felt full no matter how much I consumed...but I did make an effort to eat a variety of foods and the ingredients were almost always locally grown. I lost two trouser sizes in forty-six days.
Many thru-hikers gain back the weight they lost on the Camino...they get home and continue to eat all they want. In my case, however, I suspect I will be able to keep most of that weight off. Why? I have a new respect for my body. I see it now for what it is - a complex machine that takes my spirit where it wants to go. That machine needs to be well-cared for, which means fueling it when and only when it actually needs the fuel. The fuel should be the best I can find - locally and responsibly grown and free of unnecessary chemicals. I plan on listening to my body and only fueling it when it truly needs the energy. I'll also keep up an exercise regime, though it will no longer be as intensive as walking 10-20 miles each day.
6. Women and girls need to see other women and girls walking across countries, taking on trails, etc.
Alex and Sage received countless thumbs-up, smiles, and cheers while on the Camino. The praise came from men and women, locals and peregrinos, the young and the old, Europeans and non-Europeans. Online and in person, people were extremely supportive and cheerful, and we appreciated all that good will more than I can properly express.
The biggest cheers and smiles came from women walking along the Spanish streets with their young daughters. A mother would point to us, explain to her daughter what we were doing, and then woman and child together would give us huge grins and hearty shouts of Buen Camino. Yes - that's it. That's exactly why I keep up my blog and write. We're successful every time we offer a mother or young girl even an ounce of encouragement.
7. Travel is vital for a healthy sense of perspective.
I don't mean tourist-type travel...the kind where you stay at a fancy hotel, meet and speak with only the waiters and guides, eat only at the trendy restaurants, etc. That doesn't count. You need to get into the real heart of the land and spend time speaking with the people who live there (and who are not currently employed to serve the tourists). You need to speak with people from all different countries and get their take on American culture and politics. You need to see how the families treat their spouses, children, and elders. You need appreciate their take on keeping pets, farms, and businesses. This world is shrinking; there's no longer any excuse for xenophobia or "my culture's way is THE right way" thinking. We all have to live together on this planet. Understanding and respect for differing viewpoints, traditions, and lifestyles is the only way we will all get along and, ultimately, survive.
8. Sometimes you just have to get through the day with your underwear pinned to the outside of your pack.
Sucks when your washed undies don't dry overnight.
9. You are in control of your day.
Things might happen that you don't expect or appreciate - it might rain, you might get injured, your best friend might decide to yell at you for seemingly no reason. Still, you are in control. You decide how you will react. You decide how much to care. You decide whether or not to continue as planned or take a different route. You decide how much to emotionally and physically carry, you decide how to best care for your body, and you decide where and for how long you will rest. Things around and about you are not within your control, but you are always in control of your own choices and your own attitude.
This is a peregrina's mantra; it means Onward. Forward. Ahead. You can't go back. "Ultreia" applies to every aspect of my life. Whatever has happened in the past, it doesn't matter. I can only take action in the here-and-now and I can only look ahead to the future. Keep moving. Keep growing as a person. Keep trimming the unwanted fat (in terms of both diet and negative people) from my life. Keep doing the best I can, keep learning, keep celebrating the moment and keep cherishing my loved ones. Keep hiking, keep planning for the future, keep true to myself and my family.
Again, these are my truths. You'll discover/reinforce your own.
Thanks for your time, your well-wishes, and your kind spirits.
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