7 insights from the second stage of my pilgrimage
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. In terms of topography, the second stage of my pilgrimage moved from the mountainous first stage to the flatter terrain of the meseta. On a personal level, I gradually turned my attention from my peers to the inner workings of my heart and spirit.
In the 11 days of my second stage, I felt stronger every day. The newness and excitement of being on the Camino faded into the background and walking became my job and my focus. However, I remained in relative denial that I’d eaten up almost three of my six weeks to walk to Santiago — and was only one-third of the way there.
Insight 1: This is not a day hike.
From Pamplona to Burgos, I was honestly surprised (and sometimes deeply dismayed) by the amount of physical pain I experienced. Despite having trained for the journey, I learned about the dramatic difference between going for a day hike and walking daily for two and a half weeks.
Insight 2: I have a body.
Feet? I have feet? Maybe you can relate to this, but I’ve spent most of my life in my head. Only occasionally have I given any thought to the amazing creature that totes by brain around.
I am an animal — and I don’t mean that figuratively. A sentient one, yes, but an air-breathing, water-dependent, tropical animal nonetheless.
Entering this arid region of Spain and the arrival of warmer weather made me profoundly aware of how much water my body craves. I noticed the connection between food and energy. As I learned to use my walking sticks more skillfully (behind me on the uphill, in front on the downhill), I gained a much deeper appreciation for this machine that is my body.
Insight 3: Boundaries and self awareness are good practices.
Although I’d come alone on the Camino, initially I chose to walk with a small group that formed spontaneously. If you know about the Enneagram, I’m a 9, the Peacemaker. Under stress, I tend to worry about whether everyone is doing okay and thus unconsciously neglect my own needs.
After my Irache insights, I slowly dropped trying to manage everyone else’s experience. I started to differentiate and let my needs be known (instead of hiding them). In turn, this built trust.
Insight 4: Honesty builds trust and intimacy
When I look back at the intentions I wrote before I left for the Camino, my focus was on personal transformation and clarifying my life direction. What I did not expect in the least was how deeply I would connect with my fellow pilgrims.
I did not expect to find a culture on the Camino for exploring the deeper subjects of life: why we’re here, what our lives are for, what moves and heals us, the struggles we’ve endured, and what we hope to create with our lives. I crave these kinds of conversations deeply, but often struggle to find time to have them with people I trust.
On my Camino, these conversations were spontaneous and often prolonged, taking place in albergues and on the way. I met people who shared honestly, who listened to me do the same. Conversations like these bond people to one another and helped me heal calcified, life-long issues. For me, the Camino was like being on a 47-day personal growth workshop — and I loved it.
Insight 5: I’m a Parador kind of girl.
On the lighter side, this discovery continued to be the subject of friendly teasing from my pilgrim friends all the way to Santiago: I love the finer things, four star hotels not excepted.
However, before you dismiss me as a “not real” pilgrim, I did mostly stay in albergues. In them, I learned to be grateful for mattresses made of cheap foam, hermetically sealed with rubber or plastic. I learned to sleep next to, above, and below snorers, accept them deeply for who they are, and pray for their healing. I learned to navigate to the bathroom in the dark every night and never got lost coming back. I learned to use bathrooms with every kind of odor and sound emanating from stalls containing both genders. I (mostly) learned to tolerate being around people for whom smoking is a serious pastime and a sensuous art form.
But. If I want to be comforted and restored, I learned this about myself: I need a quiet, well-appointed room, a spacious bath with ample hot water, and a good mattress with clean, crisp sheets. This makes me relax. Fluffy towels a bonus.
I don’t want it every day, just often enough to hear myself think, get completely clean, and enjoy a full-night of uninterrupted sleep.
Lesson 6: The Divine speaks.
I have never had a vision before. A few times in my life I’ve heard a voice not my own giving me guidance.
During this phase of the Camino — perhaps because I was in pain both physical and emotional — Divine guidance showed up. Especially when I was at the end of my rope. The pain I felt purified me and, in turn, I let myself be supported.
I had a vision in Irache and a conversation with an all-knowing, compassionate presence that I call the Divine. Many nights, I lay on my back and could feel a warm and loving presence supporting me. Tears would squeeze out of my eyes from the relief of not having to carry everything myself.
In hindsight, I feel a powerful temptation to analyze it, but my heart is content to rest in gratitude for the guidance and support I received — and trust its Source.
Lesson 7: I can let love in.
In this stage, I became open. Picking up that crusty heart-shaped rock was a powerful talisman for me. Every time I found it in my pack, I reminded myself: You’re going to let this hardness go. When the time comes, you will be ready to let it go.
This mantra, this preparation, helped me be open to connecting more deeply with fellow pilgrims and locals, acknowledging the Divinity within them. It made me ready for what came next.