Life lessons. We all learn them as we traverse our own journeys. Sometimes they’re obvious, sometimes they’re subtle. Sometimes we see them immediately, other times they don’t reveal themselves for years.
The Camino is like a microcosm of life. What could take years in “real” life to learn can take you a matter of hours on the Camino. Any one day while walking could encompass weeks or months of everyday living.
Having walked two full Caminos I can safely say that she has taught me a lot. A LOT. So here is a snapshot of the major lessons that the Camino has presented to me, whether it be immediately or down the track.
1. You don’t need much
When you walk with everything you need to survive on your back you quickly learn that you don’t need much to not just survive, but thrive. Ironically, it’s when you have a little that you learn the most.
2. You’re not alone
Whether you like to walk alone or with a group, socialise intensely or keep to yourself, the fact is that you’re not alone. If you need help, it’s never far away. If only those desperate people in real life understood this.
3. You’re stronger than you think
About 10 km out of Roncesvalles there is a stop sign that someone has graffitied with a “don’t” at the top and a “walking” at the bottom. Don’t stop walking. I now have this tattooed on my wrist. If you can keep putting one foot in front of the other for 800km, you can do anything.
4. Nothing worthwhile is easy
Blisters, back pain, sore knees, bedbugs, heatstroke, driving rain, loneliness, chafing…all things that make your sense of accomplishment that much more precious.
5. Take the time to smell the roses
Time slows down on the Camino. You walk. You think. You see. You listen. It may take a while to start with but gradually you slow down. And when you do, you start to notice the world around you. Something we should all be doing daily.
6. Pay it forward
One of the most rewarding moments of my first Camino was when I came across a Swedish woman who was ready to quit. Her boots were killing her and she’d had enough. I basically walked her in to Pamplona where she managed to buy better boots and went on to complete the full walk. Knowing I had a hand in helping her complete her journey was nearly as satisfying as completing my own.
7. Don’t judge
On the Camino you come across the full gamut of people. Old and young. Big and small. Christian and Jewish. Religious and atheist. White, black, brown, gay, straight, transgender, fit, sickly, the list goes on forever. But underneath it all we’re all pilgrims on the Camino. If only we could understand this in the “real” world.
8. Let go of your baggage
When you have nothing to think about on a daily basis apart from managing your blisters and where you’re going to have lunch, your perspective changes. Seemingly major issues you’ve been grappling with suddenly seem small and insignificant in the whole scheme of things. You stop sweating the small stuff. And in the end, it’s all small stuff.
9. It will all be alright in the end
You might feel like the world is about to end when you’re in a world of pain, but somehow you will get through, no matter what. Because as the saying goes, everything will be ok in the end. And if it’s not ok then trust me, it’s not the end.
And of course the big lesson I learned after day one…
10. Chafing sucks!
These lessons may seem obvious and something you have come across many times. I know I had. But the difference is that the Camino gives you a demonstrative representation that then becomes ingrained into your thinking and way of life. It becomes tangible. You start to live it.
So if you’re in the market for some serious life lessons in a small time frame, then strap on your walking boots, open your mind and put one foot in front of the other. And expect some serious growth.