Let Your Body Be Your Guide

“So how far are you planning to walk today?” was a question often heard on the Camino.

In the early days of my walk to Santiago, I knew the answer. I had an Excel spreadsheet that listed all the towns in which I planned to stop and the distances between them — in both miles and kilometers. I printed it on purple paper before I left home so I could easily find it, usually stuffed in the middle of my guidebook. “It’s just a rough idea,” I told fellow pilgrims who saw it.

My plan was to ease into long distances. I did five miles on my first day into the Pyrenees. I crossed into Spain on my second day — walking 10 miles. My goal for the third day: 13 miles. But I didn’t follow my plan. I followed Vincenzo. Or, more accurately, his advice.

Vincenzo had walked the Camino twice before. He looked at my purple paper and told me not to stop in Zubiri as I’d planned. He said it wasn’t a very nice town and that instead I should walk on to Larrasoana. So I did. I walked 17 miles that day — more than I’d planned to walk in any single day on the Camino. And my body would soon revolt.

Two days later, I swung my legs onto the ladder to climb down from my top bunk. As soon as I put weight on my left foot I knew I was in trouble. Pain shot through my Achilles tendon. I almost fell off the ladder. Oh no, I thought. I didn’t know if I could walk to the bathroom to brush my teeth, let alone walk the trail to Santiago.

I packed my bag and limped out the door. There I found a few other pilgrims getting a later start. We decided to delay even further and have some breakfast at a local cafe. While there, I accepted their wisdom and their natural healing products. I also popped two Ibuprofen and paced around attempting to stretch out my Achilles tendon — I convinced myself, based on my physical therapy background, that it was just a really tight muscle and not a tear.

By the time breakfast was over, I decided my ankle was well enough that I could get on the trail. I didn’t know how far or how long I’d be able to go.

It was on that day that I realized my daily mileage goal was not something that could be mathematically calculated or rationally thought through. I was reminded that life doesn’t always go as planned. I could use all my resources — my guidebook, my purple-colored plan, other pilgrims. But ultimately, I had to listen to my body. And to my intuition. They told me when and where to stop — whether for a rest or for the night.

From that point on, when people asked “How far are you going today?” I answered with, “However far my body wants to take me.” And that was exactly what I did.

Since returning from the Camino, I have found myself listening to my body more often. On Saturday, I turned down a friend’s invitation explaining it had been a busy week and I just wanted to stay home and do whatever I felt like — or nothing at all. I was pleasantly surprised to hear him say, “I completely understand.” He is an artist who spends the spring, summer, and fall selling his work at festivals and fairs and teaching classes. In the winter? He hibernates. He stays home and produces his art — no schedule, no commitments. I am not interested in hibernating specifically, but there is something to be said for the body’s need for rest time — whether it’s a day or a season.

How often do you listen to your body’s pleadings — for rest, for sustenance, for activity? Today I invite you to listen for what it is your body is telling you — and then to heed its advice.