02 Oct 20
How walking the Camino changed me
“The underlying self belief and trust that I can do anything I set my mind to is so profound and ingrained in me now that I can’t remember my past self doubt.”
If I was asked to summarise my adult life it would be hard to come up with adjectives that weren’t overtly negative. Unremarkable might be one of the softer descriptions. Safe might be another.
You see, I’m the guy that never fulfilled his potential. The wannabe author. The potential academic. The failed entrepreneur. Many things started, none finished. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been good, if not great, at everything I’ve put my hand to. It’s just I haven’t put my hand to much.
A good psychiatrist might be able to get to the bottom of this latent mediocrity. Fear of failure? Sure, but we all have that. Fear of success? Almost certainly. Low self-esteem due to a lack of love shown by my austere British mother? Now you’re talking.
So when I seriously began to contemplate walking the Camino it was more as a means of escape than anything else. It was a noble thing to do so I was justified, right?
For years I had “I will walk the Camino before my 50th birthday” written on my fridge. I walked it at 49. I was horrendously underprepared for it. I walked in a world of pain every day. I nearly quit half a dozen times. I had everything from blisters to back pain, shin splints to bed bug bites. I even nearly quit due to a chronic, seemingly incurable case of chafing!
The day I walked into Santiago I was an empty shell. The romantic fantasies of walking into Santiago in a blaze of triumph with tears in my eyes and a fist in the air were just that, a fantasy. I touched the cathedral wall and felt…nothing.
But this is what the Camino does. She plants a seed. She teaches you what you need to learn, in the time frame you need to learn it. She doesn’t slap you across the face on day 1 and say here it is, this is your lesson. It took 2 years, and a second Camino, to fully comprehend exactly what she had done for me.
My second Camino was as different from the first one as black is from white. On my first one I was a blubbering mess, crying at the drop of a hat for reasons ranging from overwhelming elation to overwhelming pain. On the second I cried once. On the first I was in a world of pain. On the second I had no ailments at all. Zero. On the first I nearly gave up many times. On the second it didn’t even cross my mind. Literally.
There were other factors on my second trip that added to the profoundness of it all which I won’t go into here, but the fact was I was a different person after my second Camino. It took my second one to show me my resilience. It took the second one to show me my ability to follow through. It took the second one to show me my own mental strength. But I needed the first one for the second one to work its magic.
The man who finished the second Camino was a completely different person to the one who finished the first. The underlying self belief and trust that I can do anything I set my mind to is so profound and ingrained in me now that I can’t remember my past self doubt.
The understanding that everything will work out if I just keep putting one foot in front of the other is now at a cellular level for me. It’s who I am. My only regret is that I didn’t walk it 30 years ago. But then I doubt it would have had the same effect. Otherwise she would have called to me earlier. She knows best, after all.
So if you have the calling to walk the Camino my best advice would be to heed her call. Go with the right attitude, without expectations, and with an open heart and you too might find yourself evolving in ways you never expected. But make that commitment to go. Once you do, the universe will move heaven and earth to make it happen for you. After all, a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.