Sunél’s Blog | Lessons from the Camino

The Camino de Santiago was not on my bucket list. It never occurred to me that I might want to do it until earlier this year when I mentioned to a friend that I wanted to take some time out and she said, “You should do the Camino.”

The Camino de Santiago is a network of pilgrims’ ways leading to the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia in north-western Spain where tradition has it that the remains of the saint James are buried. Many undertake this pilgrimage as a religious part of the Catholic tradition, others as a retreat or spiritual ritual and others as a physical challenge. For me, it was a combination of the last two. We walked 170km over eight days from Portugal to Santiago and spent two days in Santiago participating in the post-Camino rituals, like the Pilgrim Mass and receiving our Pilgrim Certificates.

The time before my departure was frenetic and less than ideal for the preparation of a pilgrimage. I did not have high expectations other than rest for my mind.

But the Camino did so much more.

The simplicity of the days. Walking. One foot in front of the other. Good honest food. Sleeping. And tomorrow the same. Then there was the breathtaking beauty of nature or the simple scenes of daily life in rural Portugal and Spain. And the digging deep to cover the distance, sometimes through ugly industrial areas or busy roads.  It all contributes to an inner stripping so that day by day, the layers of yourself disappear until you are once again faced with your essence. 

As someone who has done extensive personal growth work over the years, I was taken by surprise. I was taken aback by the revelation of spaciousness and aliveness inside me. I felt like someone had pushed the ‘reset to factory settings button’ on my real self.

Our chaotic world robs us of deep intimacy with ourselves and our lives.

The forward in one Camino guidebook comments on this loss, saying “We have allowed ourselves to be thrown onto the surface of our lives – mistaking busy-ness for aliveness, but this superficial existence is inherently unsatisfying. “

You cannot help but ask the age-old question, “Who am I?” In some way, the Camino reveals this to you with no conscious thought about it on your side.

As the kilometres ticked by (sometimes very slowly) and I discarded items to lighten my load, I became aware of the burden of toxic emotions and thoughts, of resentments, judgements and beliefs I needed to shed. I became more aware than ever of the violent impact our the world has on our inner space. As we rested in the dark and sacred spaces of the many churches along the route, I was reminded that our inner space should be treated with the same reverence, and as I shed some of this stuff, I felt a spacious and treasured space opening inside of me.

I couldn’t help but be swept up by the energy of fellow pilgrims along the route to Santiago: their stories, their grief, their physical pain and the collective search for something. Many pilgrims leave items along the way, photos, stones or mementoes of loved ones they had lost or pain they wanted to deal with.

When we reached our destination, I was deeply affected by the collective emotion of relief, astonishment at having completed the journeys and overwhelmed by the collective pain the pilgrims brought to Santiago – a greater reminder of the pain of our world.

We were reluctant to leave Santiago for fear of losing this newfound connection between ourselves and the community of travellers, and within ourselves.

I will work to maintain this relationship with myself, the spaciousness and aliveness within me. We all need to switch off from the world to allow space for ourselves to show up. We do not necessarily have to go to Santiago. A glimpse of this is available to us every day. We can ask ourselves, “Is my life, my career, my effort and my wealth worth it if I sacrifice myself in the process?”

Kind regards,

//12 October 2019.

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