Lessons Learned Along the Camino

Walking in the morning fog.
“Whenever I have a big decision to make, I go for a walk. Then, I go to sleep. When I wake up, the answer is always there.” Mona, a wise woman from South Africa I’ve been walking with the last few days, told me this today. It reminded me of evenings I’ve called my mother stressed over something. “Go to bed,” she’d tell me. “It will all look better in the morning.” And indeed it does. Perhaps now I’ll go for a walk before crawling into bed.

Many pilgrims are walking the Camino contemplating a major change in their lives or with a question they’d like answered. I’ve met at least half a dozen pilgrims walking the Camino after ending a relationship. I’ve met retirees contemplating their new lives. I’ve met young and old alike wondering which direction to take their lives next. If a problem can be solved by taking a walk and then going to sleep, the Camino can solve a lot of problems. I’ve talked to former pilgrims who tell me the most lasting change they’ve noticed in their lives is that when they need a break, or an answer, they take a “mini-Camino.” It can be just a 20-minute walk around the block, but it serves the purpose.

Today I thought about other lessons I’ll take back from the Camino. Here are some I hope will help all of you along your own journeys.

  • Sometimes you’ll wonder what you were thinking when you decided to start on this journey. That’s okay. Just keep going. Answers will come.
  • There will be detours — some planned, some unplanned, some at the suggestion of others, some because your gut just tells you to take a turn.
  • You will get lost. Look for signs to find your way back to the track. Or ask for help. Or look for others who are headed in your direction and follow them.
  • There will be ups and downs and all sorts of terrain. You can keep plugging along. But also listen for when it’s time to take a break.
  • You’ll carry too much. Then learn to let go. And be amazed by how little you really need.
  • You’ll reach out to help others — giving them what they need. In turn, you’ll find that when you need help, you will receive what you need.
  • There will be moments that leave you breathless and moments that will take your breath away.
  • You must take care of your body. Feed it. Give it water. Let it rest. Listen to it when it tells you what it wants.
  • Some days you’ll get sick of the routine and wish for a change. Some days will be so tumultuous you’ll long for a return to the routine.
  • You’ll meet as many people as you care to. All it takes is a simple smile, and they’ll let you know if they’re interested in a further conversation. Some you’ll just greet in passing. Some will walk with you for a short time. Some will walk with you for days, or for the entire journey. Some will be with you one day, gone for weeks, only to reappear later. Some will speak your language. Some you’ll communicate with in other ways. All will leave their mark in some way.

I have experienced every one of these lessons along my Camino. I look forward to learning more.

Today, I invite you to take a mini-Camino. Go for a walk. No need to get into the right clothes, nor to drive to a park, nor to find someone to go with. Just get yourself out the door. Enjoy.