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Five Life Lessons to Practice on the Camino de Santiago

January 28, 2018
The Long and Lonely Road

Camino wisdom travels up and down the many Camino trails, and these are five concepts you will hear from other pilgrims. Take them to heart, for this is where change comes from.

The Camino Provides

Many pilgrims arrive on the walk after intense planning and preparation.  Others just seem to show up and start walking.  Camino forums are full of questions about minute planning and packing details. To obsess about details is to miss a vital part of the experience: the serendipity of the places and people around you. There is always a bed somewhere, you aren’t going to go hungry. Don’t sweat the small stuff. It will all work out. It may not work out like you had planned, but that is part of the magic.

A Pilgrim Must Suffer

This line from the 2010 movie The Way underscores the reality of any long walk: you will suffer. Most pilgrims develop painful blisters or muscle or joint aches.  You could avoid suffering by taking a taxi between albergue, but that would be like driving a road to the top of a mountain, not much of an experience compared to climbing the mountain on foot. Anything worth accomplishing it isn’t easy. Take your time, it isn’t a race.  You really can take a day off to recuperate, or even take that taxi sometime.  The suffering is transient, and it helps keep you in the present. No pain, no gain.

Cruz de Ferro

The iron cross at the high point on the Camino Francais is a place where pilgrims lay down a pebble in a symbolic gesture. You are, in fact, lightening your load, but that isn’t the load which counts.  Two weeks of walking brings the pilgrim to a place where millions of pilgrims over many centuries have laid my burden down. The biggest burden we all carry is an unforgiving spirit, and the person in the greatest need of forgiveness is yourself.  By the time you reach Cruz de Ferro the act of laying down your burdens will purely symbolic, because the last two weeks have already brought that to the surface. Glory, glory hallelujah, I’ve laid my burden down.

Everyone Walks Their Own Camino

It is easy for judgmental thinking to sneak into our heads. “That pilgrim is too fat to walk to Santiago.” “She just started walking yesterday, I started a month ago.” “He is running, missing the experience, he should slow down and smell the roses.” “I can’t believe she walks so slow.” Judgement is a dead-end street, and this is the time to give it up.  We are all unique, one-of-a-kind humans trying to make our way through a confusing life.  Give up they are wrong and I am right thinking.  When someone challenges you with a statement you would like to argue with, try this: that is interesting, tell me more about it. The solution to every relationship problem is simple: listen-listen-love-love.  You will learn more by listening than talking, and loving other people means to accept them for who they are.

Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow

The Camino is a time to fully experience the present moment.  Yesterday doesn’t exist, tomorrow will be its own day. Today is all we have. The simplicity of the life on the Camino will help you find this life-changing attitude.  The ego arises from our reptilian brain with lies – “you aren’t good enough, you aren’t smart enough, you aren’t rich enough, you screwed that up, you are a failure, you are a loser.” You may find yourself re-hashing that bad breakup or divorce for the thousandth time. Push those thoughts right out of your head, then stop and smell the roses.  Literally.  Stop and smell the ever-present aroma of the Camino, even if it Is dung from dairy cows.  You are walking through some of the most beautiful places you will ever be. There are whole books written on this subject, read one.  Practice this in your daily life.  The ego will not like this, and keep telling you lies; ignore it, and listen instead to birds singing, breezes blowing through trees, cow bells ringing.

Some people come back to the Camino over and over again, perhaps to keep re-learning these basic concepts.  Your time on the Camino is limited, but it will change your life.  As pilgrims are wont to say – your Camino really starts after you head home from the Santiago de Compostella.

From → Writing Fiction

  1. Beautiful, Robert- thank you!

  2. Pit, of Pit’s Fritztown News, sent me here when he heard I’m planning to walk the Camino in September of this year. Thanks for these words of wisdom! 🙂

  3. I would like to quote your words about the Camino in a document ( could be a book about my own Camino) I am writing. Is it ok ? I will say your name Robert C. Deming. Let me know, Thanks.

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