The Camino De Santiago – Not Just a Walk!
Every year, thousands of travellers traverse the Camino de Santiago, a 33 day walk via foot across Spain. The Camino is not a new phenomena, for centuries people have been making this pilgrimage across Spain. Some for religious purposes, some to follow the Milky Way, some because they believed the walk would bring them to the edge of the world. So why is this pilgrimage still so popular? Perhaps one answer is that the act of walking a long road is often transformational.
WHY DO THE CAMINO?
On the Camino De Santiago, travellers navigate themselves across difficult terrain. As they follow or create their own pathways, they are exposed to a plethora of experiences. At times, walking may be peaceful, calming, blissful even! And yet at other times, walking can be both a mental and physical struggle. As the weight of our luggage bears on our bodies, we start to feel the heaviness of what we choose to carry through life. Many people end up sending most of their luggage back home or simply give them away. After hours and hours of walking per day, travellers realise that what we hold sacred to us is not always so once we have to literally carry it with us. Yet what is perhaps made more apparent on the journey is the awareness of what holds us back in our life. By the end of the Camino, we feel somehow lighter in spirit.
I have taken on the Camino De Santiago twice in the past few years and intend to return once more to complete the trail. Both times were completely different experiences for me. Both had lessons to teach me and I look forward to the lessons to come when I return again. Today I will enlighten you on some of my experiences from the most recent walk on the Camino De Santiago. I focus less on what you might see, eat, or visit, (there are some wonderful sites on the Camino De Santiago that already do that) but on what in fact you might learn.
LETTING GO OF EXPECTATIONS!
In 2017 I continued part 2 of walking the Camino de Santiago through Spain. I had recently injured my voice and the doctors orders were to be quiet for 6 weeks to heal naturally and hopefully avoid surgery. Being a professional singer, I took this very seriously and so I thought the Camino would be the best place to heal and quieten both my voice and mind. As I placed my heavy 10kg back pack onto my back, it felt like a piece of armour. I was determined to walk the Camino alone and in solitude. I had everything I needed in my pack and did not need any help.
On the first day I came across a group of Italians who were sitting to eat together. They asked if I wanted to join their group and walk with them. I politely refused but decided I would take someone’s number just in case we ended up in the same village later that day. By the end of the day I, reaching the village and feeling weary I decided it might be nice to catch up with this group – just for one night though! After an amazing dinner, I went up to a nearby mountain to watch the sun set with the group. When I arrived back at the hostel later I met more people and ended up salsa dancing with some older Italian men under the stars. As we danced a silent bond was forged and I was accepted into this gang of Italians walking together.
LETTING MY WALLS DOWN AND SOFTENING
As I walked with these Italians, I felt so content to be part of this group and to just go with the flow. If they stopped, I stopped. If they walked, I walked. The men were so kind. They would pick up my giant backpack and help me put it on, open doors for me, wait for me, and be patient with me as I stumbled my way through speaking Italian to them.
Over the week I felt myself softening. It wasn’t that I could no longer do this journey without them but by allowing them to help me occasionally and knowing I had their support I dropped my guard. I felt myself softening, embracing my femininity. It was a beautiful thing to experience. I had dropped the mask of “strong, independent woman” and was just allowing myself to be me. At the end of the week the men announced they were moving on to another place and leaving the Camino. After saying goodbye and watching them walk away I felt my wall start to grow upwards again. As I put on my backpack for another day of walking, this time as a solo traveller, my back pack was once again armour.
EMBRACING STRENGTH AND SOFTNESS
After a few hours of walking I came across a little shop where two women were sitting eating outside. I took off my backpack, bought a snack and sat down with them. Both of these women were walking the Camino alone and both were so open, loving and kind. Although they were solo venturers they did not seem to have the same armour on that I had. They were open, friendly, expressive yet absolutely strong. Both women had gone through some turbulent times recently and were using the Camino as a way to heal. As I left these two women I heard a whisper in the wind, words perhaps from the Universe, they said “Yes, Emma, you can be strong and soft all at once.” And with this wisdom, I laughed with the Universe and was grateful for the lesson. After this, the Camino began to become easier as I allowed myself to be open, flexible and expressive. In doing so, I still felt strong but also incredibly fluid.
STRONG VS SOFT
Often the strongest choice is disguised as a weak choice and vice versa. However strength does not have to equate to hardness, stubbornness, or power. Perhaps strength is choosing to rest. Perhaps strength is choosing to walk away. Perhaps strength is allowing your tears to flow. Strength is in being true to you and what you need in this moment. Strength is listening to what your body is telling you and honouring how it is feeling. Strength may be simply being present with someone, giving them your full attention. Strength may be allowing someone else to help you.
There are all kinds of strength and we do not need to subscribe to any mainstream idea of what strength is. Yes, my friends, it is possible to be strong and soft all at once. If you don’t believe me just look in nature and you will see that the creatures that are most flexible are the ones survive the storm. Take the blade of grass, strong and grounded enough to stand up tall but flexible enough to bend back flat to the ground when the flood comes.
If I had not softened and allowed myself to go with the flow I would not have made the connections with these wonderful people. If you are planning to go on the Camino De Santiago then my suggestion is go with an open mind and heart! Who knows where the journey will take you, who you might meet, or what you might learn!