A Single Purpose

What do I miss most about the Camino? If I had to choose just one thing, I’d say, “The simplicity of it all.” More specifically, the fact that there was just one item on my to-do list most days: walk.

“How far did you walk each day?” people ask.

“Twelve to 15 miles in the beginning, but sometimes I did up to 18.”

They are left speechless — a blank stare on their face. “But it’s all I had to do each day,” I tell them. “If you had all day to walk, you could walk that far, too.”

I was reminded of that sentiment last fall when I saw a painting of blue and green mountains. Across the top it read, “Everywhere is within walking distance if you have the time.”

And that’s what it’s about: time. And what we choose to fill it with. How much of it we choose to fill. In his Life’s Little Instruction Book H. Jackson Brown advises us:

“Don’t say you don’t have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michaelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein.”

To which I want to say, “Yes, but they didn’t have the Internet, e-mail, and a little device that allowed people to interrupt them at any time of the day or night.”

I know — I can turn off my cell phone; I can limit the time I spend on the Internet; I can choose to only read my e-mail when I have time to sit and respond. (Yes — I still get e-mails to which I need to respond. I know this is rare for most people.)

As I looked at my calendar last week, I longed for a simpler life. It’s my own doing, of course. I could learn to say no more often. To my credit, I say “no” more than I used to — sometimes even without guilt.

But what is it that makes us feel like we need each moment occupied? I used to always leave the house with a book or notebook in my car or purse — just in case I had to sit in a waiting room. Or stand on a line. Or dine alone. There is a home video of me and my four siblings sitting among our Halloween candy doing our post trick-or-treating trading. A book sits off to my side. “Did you bring a book with you trick-or-treating?” my father asks. “Yeah — in case I got bored,” I told him, matter-of-factly.

Ah — and there it is. Those words so detested by mother’s of teenagers.”I’m bored.” Is that why I fill my days? Fear of boredom? I think the adult version of “fear of boredom” is “fear of being unproductive.” There is a certain push to accomplish so much. In our work lives, our personal lives, our spiritual lives — even on vacation! It can be never ending.

So last weekend, I limited myself to one activity each on Saturday and Sunday — nothing else. On Saturday, after my scheduled breakfast with a friend, I let the day take me wherever it went. I did the same on Sunday and by the end of the weekend found myself feeling relaxed and productive. I was not too surprised. Some time ago I read with fascination a blog post by Leo Babauta on living a life without goals, and how productive that can really be.

I’m not ready to give up all goals yet, but a Camino-like series of days with just one goal? That I might be able to do.