Mindfulness and Self-Discovery Walking the Camino
When I told people I was planning to do this walk they would often ask have you booked accommodation? No. Do you know where you will be each night? No. Will you turn up and hope to find a bed somewhere? Yes.
For many, this entirely independent way of travelling would be too stressful, but after a few days I was used to it.
The key thing is that each person walks the Camino at their own speed. So, in the first few weeks when I was hobbling along in agony, some people moved on days ahead of me. Others chose a more sedate pace and kept up with me or fell a little behind.
Ultimately, you spend a great deal of time alone and in the initial weeks this is hard to get used to. You crave conversation and contact with humans - but not too much.
Because your brain starts throwing things in your way. So, remember that thing, that big thing that you never wanted to think about? You now have the time to look at it again, think about it from every possible angle and in some cases, reach a conclusion about it.
The place this really hits home is the Meseta. Between Burgos and Leon is 7-9 days of flat lands and one-horse villages which don’t change much. There’s little scenery so you have no choice but to confront your demons as you pass the recently harvested field and the sad, drooping sunflowers. After 3 days you’ve had plenty of time to think about big issues - by day 4 or 5 you’ve kind of had enough, but there’s little choice - not much else to do except walk, so you try and deal with your problems because you may as well.
A very kind person sent me an online meditation which I listened to on several days. ‘There is a way I can fulfil my purpose in life’ was the central message - and it’s a good one. What is your purpose in life? Some people are lucky enough to know exactly what theirs is. This question is one I have struggled with my entire life. It’s a really great question for a long walk like this. Sometimes you try and help people - which makes you feel good but is that your purpose? Sometimes you make people laugh - is it that? Sometimes you just listen to someone describing why they are there - and they appreciate you listening. Is it that? Sometimes you walk on for hours, unutterably alone and get used to it - and the fear grips you that perhaps your purpose is to be alone. What a thought. Incidentally I’m still struggling with that one.
There are some that would claim 5 weeks of self-discovery/self-healing is an indulgence. In truth, we all harbour issues we ignore or put off dealing with. You may not resolve them on a walk like this, but you will set your mind working on them - and your mind is cleverer than you realise.
Lastly, music is your friend. My Bob’s Camino playlist changed and expanded along the walk. Some of the songs are ones I listened to when I last travelled for any time alone, in 1989. Some are classics, some are new, some had me dancing along the way using my walking stick to count the time. Over time I deleted some and added others. Friends sent the songs or albums I’d never heard - these were added and enhanced my listening. Music, and in particular the hidden notes that tug on your heartstrings, sets your emotions off quicker than just about anything else. Without the comfort of your air-pods it can be pretty lonely!
In the Meseta I was alone for a couple of days staying in empty hostels, the towns were literally dead, and you couldn’t wait to get going each morning. Character forming? Quite possibly.
What you’re supposed to do is self-improve, self-forgive, self-heal and self-focus. I am struggling to see any of these to completion. You can quickly get fed up with yourself, trust me.