For many people, walking the Camino is a way to escape the demands of their everyday lives. They want to be free from all obligations and expectations, create space to steer their lives in a new direction. And yet, all too often pilgrims single handedly manage to introduce all sorts of restrictions to the freedom just acquired. It takes great courage to be free.
“It must be marvellous to just wake up, have a relaxing and wholesome breakfast, then enjoy the walk and go as far as you want, eat, drink, talk and sleep. Nothing else!”. For me, this was the image of the Camino I had in mind. I didn’t even arrange a ticket home from Santiago so I had all the time in the world and decided I would thoroughly enjoy my peace. Although the picture I had in mind wasn’t necessarily flawed, it turned out to be an ideal that needed hard work and gut to realise.
Let’s start with the ‘just waking up part’. I imagined stretching myself from top to toe in the morning light, refreshed by 8 hours of deep sleep. In fact, it proved quite challenging to sleep at night thanks to worn-out mattresses often wrapped in a ‘hygienic’ plastic cover, my ears being sucked vacuum to the pillow (also wrapped in plastic), and being surrounded by some serious snoring. Not to mention the heat. But hey, the Camino makes you zen and most of the time you can handle all this just fine.
Hard as it is to get some sound sleep at night though, I noticed I made it even harder for myself. Why? Because I told myself it’s good to get up really early. It provides you structure, gives you a head start compared to others (this competitive drive.. I’ll write another post on this one) and it gives you more time to walk before the midday heat kicks in. That’s all right, but as a result I introduced my lovely alarm clock to the journey and interrupted the sleep of others, often snoozed because I couldn’t get out of bed, and felt bad about it afterwards. Wasn’t I supposed to leave this morning stress behind?
OK, now I’ve got up and we have hit the road, we are just going to enjoy the walk and ‘go as far as we want’, right? Yes, but according to the guidebook today’s stage is 30kilometers so we really shouldn’t stop before we hit the 30K mark. I mean, we want to stay on schedule.
Say what? Fortunately I managed to throw away my guidebook after one week. Saved me about a kilo in my backpack and a lot of stress. Who cares how far you walk? Yet we find comfort (and stress!) in the structure provided by the book. It seems we just like to be boxed in, need the structure, can’t handle the freedom. Without the guidebook, it was scary sometimes to start walking not knowing where I would sleep or how far I ‘had’ to go. At the same time, it felt exhilarating and good to just listen to my body and my mood.
Similarly, it was a real effort to leave the classic route at some point in order to walk through the mountains and along the sea. I wanted to do this all along, but the thought of leaving behind the group and the beaten track proved challenging and scary (and very rewarding in the end).
These experiences made me think about freedom. We all want it, but it’s scary and can be uncomfortable when it introduces feelings of uncertainty. It forces us to make our own decisions, demands self knowledge, flexibility and autonomy.
When I realised the above, I tried to apply this to my life in general. One of the reasons I went to walk the Camino was to reorient my professional life. I wanted to get a very clear picture of what’s important for me when I work, when I flourish. Defining my starting position I realised that from an objective perspective I’m extremely privileged and really don’t have much more to wish for (two university degrees, many friends, relevant working experience, a valuable network, loving family, some savings, a Dutch passport, a fair amount of confidence, and youth). And despite all that, I’m terribly scared to leave the beaten track, to explore what I like and do what I love in the freedom I crave. Stunning! If not now, then when?
The Camino helped me reflect and more importantly to feel. Now I try not to limit my possibilities, but explore them. Not always easy, but very rewarding too. To know what you think and feel helps to claim and use your freedom as it presents the one right direction as the inevitable way to go.
And when you know it, it just comes to a little courage.