Onward: Lessons Along The Camino
From the blog Daisies amon Roses, by Claire Denise Johnson
May 16, 2012
When most decide to walk the Camino but only have one week for their journey, they usually begin within 60 to 100 miles the final destination, Santiago de Compostela, where you receive your Compostela, a Latin decree documenting your journey. There are some who walk other sections of the 500-mile Camino for a week if they do not have the goal of receiving the Compostela at the end of their journey. In my heart, once I saw the Cruz de Ferro (Iron Cross), I wanted to walk up the the cross, lay stones that I carried from friends and family that symbolized our sorrows and struggles to leave behind and move forward. That journey, which would have to begin before the cross in a town called Astorga, is 170 miles. I wanted to accomplish that in one week. I did not know if I was capable of it. At home, in sunny, flat Florida, I walked up to 15 miles per training day and I carried less in my backpack than that required on the Camino to move from hostel to hostel. On the Camino, to complete my goal, I calculated that I had to walk 30-35 miles per day over mountains and strenuous hills and I watched the weather every day which reported snow and significant rain.
After five and a half days of hiking with my heavy backpack (that I never weighed because I didn’t want to know – yet another relentless question I had to deal with) up and over mountains and hills with snow, hail and relentless rain, I completed the goal within my heart.
The Camino reiterates life lessons you already know. In your heart, you have all the answers. Here are the lessons confirmed for me:
1. Keep moving onward. ”Ultreïa!” or “Onward” is heard quite often along the Camino de Santiago. It is an ancient Galacian word that has been associated with the Camino for centuries. Keep going! Walk further.Walk higher. Each morning, I woke up with more pain and tingling in my feet. It woke me up in the middle of the night. Ibuprofen wouldn’t touch the pain after a few days. I could barely walk to the bathroom. I thought, “How am I going to do this again today? Another 30 or 35 miles?” But, I put on my boots, put one foot in front of the other and just moved onward. I never let that thought leave my mind – onward. I knew that I was following in the footsteps of all of those
The day I arrived in Santiago and completed the journey in my heart
2. It doesn’t get easier. You get tougher. The last three days of my journey, I removed one item each day to lighten my load and each day, my backpack still felt as heavy as the day before. I struggled with the hiking just as much or more than the day before. The Camino is like life. Life doesn’t get easier. You get stronger.
3. You are not alone. Even on the rainiest day when I walked eight of my thirteen hours without anyone around, I was not alone. I always had friends and family cheering me on in spirit. I had my God. I was never alone. There is a new movie soon to be released called Brave. One of the quotes of the trailer is, “The bravest journeys are never taken alone.” I had the best of both worlds in my Camino. In the mornings, I walked with pilgrims around the world and later in the day when I hiked another stage, I walked alone and learned to appreciate the solitude. During my Camino, I also saw four pilgrims walking back the opposite way making the return trip from Santiago. They were a reminder that others were there before you and you will make it through, too.
This is your Camino and your life. No one can walk it for you. Walk it your way. “Wanderer, there is no road, the road is made by walking” Don’t let anyone talk you out of something or tell you how it should be done. My heart called me to begin before the cross. Being told it was too much for me took at huge emotional toll. Don’t do that to others, especially your children. Don’t do that to yourself. When I was 20 years old, I visited my Aunt in Western Pennsylvania. A popular race, The Bridge of Flowers 10K, was taking place the next day. I wanted to run it, but my aunt thought it was too much for me. The following morning, I watch all of the runners go by and told myself I could have done it. The morning after the race, I ran the route myself. I did not receive a medal or any documentation that I ran the race, but I was given a priceless reward. I told myself to never let anyone talk me out of a challenge again. If I would have hiked less on the Camino, I know I would have regretted it. On the other hand, I saw tour groups get out of a bus at the Cruz de Ferro, took pictures and get back in. And each morning that I ached and began walking again, I saw transport vehicles carrying backpacks for pilgrims. But, who am I to judge? That was their Camino and not mine.
5. Gratitude – After hiking one-hundred miles in three days, it was tough getting out of bed that fourth day. But, then I had a friend who wrote to me on Facebook. She said that I should be grateful that I am able to accomplish such a feat. It is true. There are many who are disabled and not able to hike who would gladly change places with me to be able to hike the Camino. I met an amputee at Monte do Gozo, an energy point before Santiago. He hiked the Camino, but I’m sure it was a challenge. Reminders of gratitude are placed along the Camino. It makes one grateful for many things we take for granted in everyday life – shelter, warmth, security, nourishment. My gratitude for life continues now that I am back home.
6. The Universe gives you what you need at that moment.I have mentioned this in my blog. If you put something out to the Universe, you will receive it. It could be positive or negative. If you fear something bad enough, the Universe will give you that experience to show you that you can endure it. On a positive note, one morning I accepted a banana for breakfast from a lady who didn’t English. I don’t digest them well, but I took it because she was so sweet and kind and I didn’t want to hurt her feelings. Later that day, I ran into a group that I walked with for hours. There were two Spanish men and a young, American student named Sette. I was craving chocolate after walking so many miles so I threw it out – “I wish I had some chocolate.” Sette had chocolate and she wanted a banana so we traded. If you desire something and put it out to the Universe. This is a simple story, but I also put out to the Universe that I wanted a walking parter on the first and last days of my journey and I received an Austrian pilgrim on the first day who hiked with me for 25 miles when I didn’t know what I was capable of doing and a 76-yo pilgrim from Asheville, NC on the last day of my Camino who walked with me in the dark. These were gifts I received from God and the Universe for putting it out there.
7. Getting lost is normal. It’s finding your way back that’s important. Even though there are abundant arrows to find your way along the Camino, I got lost several times. That’s okay. It not getting lost that is the problem. Getting back on track is what counts. When you think you are lost, you can look at the footprints – those who have come before you.
8. If it was easy, you would take it for granted. The Camino, like life, is tough for a reason. If it was easy, you would take it for granted. Do not take anything life for granted. It is all a gift full of lessons and reward.
9. Incorporate moving meditation into your life. Walking the Camino is a form of moving meditation. Not all can walk the Camino, but you can incorporate moving meditation in other ways – walking, running, yin yoga, tai chi. It touches on the mind, body and soul.
10. Life rewards you for sticking with a tough journey. The first five days of my Camino were filled with snow, rain, hail, and cold, blowing winds, but when I arrived in Santiago on my final day, the sky opened and I was surrounded by blue skies. Finally! If you continue to endure any journey, your reward will arrive.
11. We were all the same on the Camino. Along the Camino, we are all the same. We walk the same path and sleep in the same housing. There is not divide. In our regular lives, we divide ourselves for so many reasons. Live life like the Camino. We are all the same.
12. There’s a fine line between courageous and crazy. Life you life walking that line. On the fourth morning when the Camino becomes busier with extra pilgrims only walking the last 100K , I met a man from Malta who asked me about my Camino. When I told him I was walking 30-35 miles per day. He said that was courageous. I said that more often I was called crazy. His response was, “There’s a fine line between courageous and crazy.” Let’s live life walking that line! That same afternoon, I heard a cuckoo bird calling incessantly, “Cuckoo!” . How fitting! Yes, I’m cuckoo. But, also courageous. And I’m going to walk that fine line.
13. If you choose to walk it long enough, your reward will come. After snow, hail, rain and blowing winds, we had blue skies on the day of arrival in Santiago! It was a welcomed reward for the journey. It gets better.
After the Camino, it’s as if time slowed which is why it took me so long to write this blog post. I feel a sense of calm I did not have before waking up with a new peace, hearing the birds with a heightened sensitivity that I did not have before. Now that I am back home, my Camino continues onward. I have to choose to continue the Camino in everything I do in life. It’s always about onward which reminds me of the non-profit I founded in 2009, Stepping Onward, to help those who have had setbacks move forward in life. This journey on the Camino gave me the courage to try a new adventure. On Saturday, I will be running my first ultra marathon – 50 miles – in the Florida Keys. And like the Camino, I have had a naysayer who said, “Good luck with that.” I don’t know if I can complete it, but I have worked on preparing, will place one foot in front of the other and keep moving onward. I would rather try and fail than not try at all.