5 insights from the first week on the Camino
Unless you go back to the 12th century Codex Calixtinus, there are no official stages of the Camino, but to me it felt like there were chapters.
My own first chapter involved the big climb over the Pyrenées which gradually ends up in the city of Pamplona, a total of 6 days at the pace I walked. This chapter featured high spirits from the newness and novelty of being a peregrina, yet I was already starting to have insights.
1. The world is beautiful! And fascinating!
Seriously! I must surely have been sleepwalking most of my life. Or maybe it’s that I spent way too much time indoors. I rediscovered how gorgeous the world is with its birds and flowers and woods… scenic mountains and agricultural panoramas… colors and smells and sounds!
Don’t hurry past, driven by the clock. Stop and enjoy it. Beauty is nourishing.
2. This is not a vacation…
I can be kind of particular about things. Picky, fussy, and maybe a dab of perfectionism. (I can hear the stifled laughs of family members at this understatement.)
Since you take yourself wherever you go, I brought my picky self on the Camino. When I think back on those first few days, I know I was particular about quiet, fussy about the food, and focused on getting the perfect bunk bed (lower bunk, in a corner, away from the exits).
By the end of my first stage, the days and days of physical exertion started to drain me of my fussy energy. My preoccupation with things being “just so” began to fade and I stopped caring so much about stupid stuff. I even had moments of profound gratitude for simple things like a flat surface to lie down on (even the ground) or clean water to drink or a bathroom stall with a lock on it.
…it’s a pilgrimage.
When I go on vacation, I just want to relax and forget about life. I want to zone out, splurge, and lose myself in the waves or a good book.
I remember a moment a few days into my Camino, when it dawned on me that we weren’t just walking on a path in Spain; we were headed somewhere. (What!) I know this seems blindingly obvious, but it shocked me when I realized the maps weren’t about the terrain. The path I was on would eventually lead me to Santiago.
The word ‘pilgrim’ comes from Latin (peregrinus) and means traveler, not vacationer. I started to glimpse how being a pilgrim means being here, present to this moment, while simultaneously holding the intention of arriving in Santiago. This insight really helped me get unattached to how things “should” be and become increasingly grateful that what I need is present at all.
3. Camaraderie is amazing.
I am so glad I went on the Camino alone. So. Glad. If I’d been with a familiar friend, I might never have reached out to the lovely women I met in St Jean or walked with them so long or been changed so much. I might have stayed stuck in the bottom of the dry well in my heart, unable to change.
Transformation happens when you break down the inner walls and allow yourself to be built up again anew. In Zubiri, after along day of walking, I was stretched emotionally, mentally, and physically. When I fell on the cobblestones, my ego was broken and felt mighty humiliated. Being literally, physically lifted up by new friends was a turning point for me in my relationship to humanity. Instead of repelling love and care of others, I let myself receive it.
The fact that Marisela named precisely my issue — that I care for others, but don’t accept others’ care — cannot have been a coincidence. It was Divine guidance coming through a Camino angel. She nailed it. It took my breath away when she said it. Suddenly the game was up and I was free: Free to explore what it would be like to receive love and care and support. It was wildly liberating.
I’d already done so much of my life alone with company. Camaraderie rocks. I highly recommend it.
4. Pain is inevitable, suffering is an option.
Nothing hurts as badly as the things I tell myself about the wrongness of pain. I only suffer when I argue with the reality of how things are. More about this here.
5. Listen to your body (not your mind).
By the end of my first stage, I started to glimpse just how wise my body is and how simple it is to care for. Up until this walk, I’d spent most of my life mostly unconscious of this precious container and its wisdom.
Simple, like this: When hungry, eat. When thirsty, drink. When tired, rest. When energized, move. When sad, cry. When happy, laugh. Be in your body. Stop thinking so hard and just be the animal you are.
The mind will wheedle and whinge, but the body is simple. Do you need to eat? No. Do you want to lay down? Yes. Do that. Do what your body needs.
Not a bad return on 6 days of walking
The first week on the Camino felt like Freshman year. Exciting and a little awkward. There would be deeper work and harder challenges in time, but I was finally here, doing what I’d planned to do for so long. What a feeling!