“Why am I doing this?!” is what I exclaimed on the third day of walking the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage, also known as The Way, the Way of St. James, or Camino Frances.
My body was aching, my feet were sore, and my bag felt heavier than ever before.
Alas, on the second last day, I did not want to leave. I wanted to keep walking for the rest of my life!
Oh to wake up and just walk for 30 kilometers! Bliss.
Two years ago, my partner and I embarked on the most spiritual journey that I have ever taken—the Camino de Santiago.
We started in St. Jean Pied de Port in France and made our way to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. We walked through forests, over bridges, past busy roads, and quiet towns.
At a time where many of us are now in lockdown, quarantine, and barred from travelling, it all seems like a distant dream.
This journey was very much a metaphor for life itself. Some days were challenging, and some days were a breeze, as life so often is.
We never experienced a lack of food or sleep deprivation. Our basic needs were met by the generosity of the people who run albergues and hostels along The Way.
I particularly enjoyed learning the Spanish language and attempting to communicate with the locals. Stray animals, farms, and the daily café con leche and manzanilla tea kept us grounded.
As I find myself submerged in the throes of these present times—the impacts of COVID-19, the tumbling economy, loss of jobs, and the extent of grief, loss, and trauma surrounding me—I am reminded that the lessons I learnt along the Camino have never been more important.
1. Leadership is how you treat people.
You don’t need a fancy title to be a leader. Helping others, being available, being generous, and kind…now that is leadership. I still remember the wonderful couple who helped us when we were crossing over a little bridge in a forest. They showed us how to tighten the straps of our backpacks, so they sat high on our backs and took the pressure off our shoulders. This simple gesture made our journey so much more pleasant.
2. People will come and people will go.
A lesson that I learnt during my yoga teacher training was aparigraha or nonattachment. Along the Camino, we met many people, some of whom we waved and gave a nod to, others who we got to know somewhat, and those who we remain connected with on social media. Nonattachment is knowing that people will come and people will go. And yes, just like that famous quote, we remember how people treat us.
3. It is never too late to learn to be a different version of yourself.
We tend to think that we are stuck where we are, whether it’s a job, a relationship, a course of study, or any other choice in life. You can learn to be a new you at any time. Yes, the process may be different at different stages, but the possibility is always there. The only person standing in your way is your own self.
They say the Camino never ends, and that once you have walked it, you continue on the journey. We are all on some form of a journey, a path where we have much to reflect upon and learn.
Wherever you are in your life, I hope that you give yourself the same kindness that you would offer others.
I hope that you realise your value in this world for simply being you.