I recently completed the last 100km of the Camino de Santiago de Compostela in Spain and thought to myself what better first topic than this for my new coaching blog! If what I’ve just said is double Dutch to you, the most basic explanation of the “Way of St. James” is that it’s an ancient pilgrimage to the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, north-west Spain.
People do the Camino for a variety of reasons, not just religious. Some are at a crossroads in life, others do it for exercise, the challenge or to spend time outdoors.
This was my third time to do a section of the Camino, travelling from Portomarin to the final destination of Santiago. I went minus any of my original crew from four years ago and with two other friends. I really loved it this year and feel like I got more out of it.
I’ve just summarised what it meant to me in case you’re ever considering it:
- Life detox: there is a lot of talk about the “digital detox” in this day and age but I think technology is only one area that we need to switch off from in the busy era of 2017. If like me you are “addicted to busy”, the Camino is the perfect way to get off the crazy treadmill of life. When you are walking for 6 to 7 hours a day up hills, through farmland and vineyards, completely away from the hustle and bustle of daily life, you do begin to feel a sort of sense of calm and peace.
- Friendship, camaraderie and community: many do the Camino on their own but for me part of the appeal has always been doing it with friends and getting the chance to have really good chats, deep and meaningfuls, banter and definitely a few giggles. However it’s not just about those I went with. You meet lots of different people each day and they always greet you with a smile and the phrase “buen camino” as they walk by you (and vice versa). This essentially means “Enjoy ‘the Way/ the journey’”. When you are all heading towards the same destination it is nice to get a frequent reminder to enjoy the journey also – corny but not a bad metaphor for life. There is a real sense of community.
As well as the commonality of doing the Camino itself, all pilgrims are generally recognisable by their “conchas” (shells), their books of “sellos” (stamps from each stop along the way) and walking sticks! Any locals you pass by in the small towns you go through will salute you enthusiastically with the same greeting which I find completely amazing given they must see pilgrims every day of the year!
- Body confidence: I’ve been reading a lot lately about focusing on what your body can do for you rather than on what it looks like, following on from “strong is the new skinny” trend a few years ago. I’ve never been a fan of myself in shorts, however it is hard to do the Camino in anything else due to the heat. So whenever this thought came into my head, I tried to focus on what my body was doing. 25km, 29km, 20k and 23km in four days is not too bad! It actually works when you flip the focus. There is very little glamour on the Camino – Vaseline on the feet before you put your socks on, blisters, swollen ankles and no makeup or hair dos. You are not at your prettiest but you actually don’t care as your legs have carried you a significant distance each day and despite the aches the next morning you get up and do it all over again.
- Overcoming a self-limiting belief: I’ve a degree in Spanish but apart from singing along to Justin Bieber’s “Despacito” this summer you would never know. I took it up in college and never felt like I had gotten the basics right before I was over in Murcia for a year. Nowadays I never really claim to speak Spanish (unless I have had a significant amount of alcohol making the inhibitions disappear!) and would definitely have a lack of confidence in my ability. However I don’t know what happened to me this year on Camino but given I was the only Spanish speaker in our little trio, I spoke, read and understood Spanish the whole time without any major issues. It was like it all came back to me. Without anyone to contradict me, I just went for it!
- Everyone’s Camino is different: As I mentioned at the start, people do the Camino for different reasons. They also do it in a variety of different ways. There are multiple routes to get to Santigo within Spain but also in other countries. El Camino Frances, the one that we did, albeit the most popular is just one of them. From start to finish our particular Way takes up to five weeks. I’ve done the first seven and the last four days over three separate trips and I will definitely be back at least once in my lifetime.
The fact is the route (or routes) are available for people to make of them what they will in the way that will suit them best. If I can make one more cheesy analogy, the Camino is similar to life. There is the traditional route but who says that is the only way? Why do you have to start at the start and go straight to the end? It shouldn’t matter if you make several attempts until you get there or what age you are when you start out. You need to do what’s right for you and don’t let the voice of others hold you back.
So for now whatever you are doing in life, I wish you a Buen Camino.
If your Camino has gone off-track or you want to change direction/route or you set out without ever really knowing where you were going or what you were doing, please give me a shout.