Pilgrims have embarked on journeys along the Camino de Santiago for over a thousand years. But, aside from knowing it was on my mum’s bucket list, I didn’t know much about it until a couple of weeks ago.
If you haven’t been, it’s a journey I’d wholeheartedly recommend.
Not for its scenery, although it is stunningly beautiful. Not for the health benefits, although they are plentiful. Not even for the yummy pinchos and delicious vino — okay, okay… maybe for the pinchos y vino!
Like most ancient wisdom — modern science is catching up. A recent psychology study out of Stadford with 1,600 participants found that people who fully embrace “the journey mindset” mindfully rather than the end goal have lasting success.
350,000 people walk (cycle and run) the Camino de Santiago each year, a path which has been taken for 12 centuries! No doubt you know someone who has walked the way, or maybe you have done it yourself. The journey traces back to a tomb discovered in picturesque Galicia, believed to hold the remains of the Apostle Saint James (Santiago)… but I doubt you are here for a history lesson; it’s not my area of expertise anyway. Here are four short stories and the lessons I learned along my Camino.
We arrived in Santiago on Monday, found our hotel, went out for food, and coincidentally and quite literally wandered into the Compostela de Santiago, not knowing Mass was about to start. Within minutes the church was jam-packed. I gave my seat to an older lady and stood along the side with crowds of people. I’ve never seen such hustle and bustle in a church.
From the front row, a small elderly lady gestured for me to come over. I approached her, and she whispered in Spanish, asking me many questions; I smiled and tried to explain that I didn’t understand a word. Then, she nodded to lift the barrier rope and sit with her and the sisters in the front row. She watched me with kind eyes and a gentle smile throughout the Mass.
The service was like nothing I’ve ever experienced. It was breathtaking. There was beautiful singing. The lead priest was so passionate he practically roared and shouted most of his sermon, which was in Spanish. There were five priests, several nuns and at least eight monks. Toward the end, crowds came up to the front, recording the dramatic scenes. The monks rushed to pull the ‘Botafumerio’ (incense) as the grand organ belted out so very intensely. Breathtaking doesn’t even come close; the Mass felt like being inside a very vibrant movie set.
But none of that compared to meeting this lady.
At the end of the service, she took both my hands in hers, and although I didn’t understand her words, I sensed she’d blessed me. An almost overwhelming feeling of love and peace poured over me.
Each day I woke at six, had a cold shower, wrote my morning pages, and meditated before heading off on our way. I walked with Mum, with other pilgrims, and towards the end, I wanted to reflect, so I mostly walked alone, with my mother in sight ahead of me.
As I walked, I asked questions that I’d first heard many years ago from Marianne Williamson when she was teaching a Course in Miracles.
The four reflective questions are:
“Where would you have me go?
What would you have me do?
What would you have me say, and to whom?”
Rather than trying to find answers, this practice has helped me recognise the power of releasing control and being open-minded and open-hearted. The things I deeply questioned and, if I’m honest, worried about over the last few months are no longer even questions.
“Once a problem is solved, its simplicity is amazing.”
― Paulo Coelho, The Pilgrimage
The final kilometres of the trek felt ethereal.
A chilly breeze, lush green fields, and endless stone walls — reminiscent of Connemara guided me to point 0.0 km. Walking along the vast coast to Finisterre, an unexpected sense of home embraced me.
Before Christianity, this area was a place of worship for the Celts. It was also considered The Edge of The World until Columbus discovered the Americas.
There was a teenie-tiny gift shop at the top of the Cape with souvenirs, where stones engraved with the Dara Knot graced the top shelf. This Celtic symbol comes from the Irish word Doire which means Oak Tree. It represents the tree’s deep roots and calls us to remember our inner strength, wisdom, and leadership. I adore the symbology — so much so that it inspired my logo for Sonas when I rebranded my business a few months ago.
I picked up a stone, and I smiled, looking at it, recognising just how far I’d come to really see what is in the palm of my hand.
John O’Donoghue wrote in his beautiful book Anam Cara which has six chapters that you might find a hidden seventh. The Camino revealed to me in the same mystical way that every journey has a secret destination. If we are mindful on ‘our way’, we will recognise it.
Although Finisterre and Muxía are breathtakingly beautiful places, it doesn’t matter in the slightest which of the many routes along the Camino de Santiago you choose to walk. You’ll look out for the yellow arrows at the crossroads; you’ll hear the cheerful ¡Buen Camino!’ greeting from the pilgrims as they pass. But everything else will be unique to you.
You’ll do it your way.
Recognising (in life) that we are all simply walking each other home brings a sense of connection. It releases the notion that we should be further ahead of ourselves or anyone else. We travel a road that countless others have walked, but the journey is totally unique to us. If we are lucky, we’ll find purpose in our days and good company to walk with us along the way.
Have you walked the Camino? Is there a journey you’ve been waiting to take? I’d love to hear — leave a comment below and hit subscribe to have my Sunday post arrive in your inbox.