I saw a movie called The Way a few years back which stuck in the corners of my brain for years as a curiosity. The movie only came out in 2010, but this path, the Way/the Camino de Santiago, has been traveled for thousands of years. How have I never heard of this?
Starring Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez, it tells the tale of a grieving father going to St Jean Pied de Port in the Pyrenees of Southern France. His son had died crossing the Pyrenees in treacherous weather as he began his Camino. The father, Sheen, changed his plans at the last minute and walked the 500 miles with his son's equipment and remains to finally connect with and understand his estranged son.
The movie highlights the experience, the challenges and the beauty of walking this ancient path. I was intrigued. Is this really a thing, I asked. To Google I went to investigate, and came across a whole new world, at least new to me, called the Camino de Santiago, or the Way of St James.
What is it exactly?
The Camino de Santiago (the Way of St. James) is a large network of ancient pilgrim routes stretching across Europe and coming together at the tomb of St. James (Santiago in Spanish) in Santiago de Compostela in northwest Spain.
There is a traditional route called the Camino Frances: starting in St. Jean Pied de Port, up and over the Pyrenees along the same paths traveled as Charlemagne and Napoleon (Wow! I should have paid a little more attention in history class), crossing the flat plains of Spain called the Meseta, into the mountainous Celtic nation of Galicia and finally into the town of Santiago where the remains of St James are buried in the gorgeous cathedral. Gorgeous does not do this cathedral justice. Awe inspiring. I was humbled in its presence.
Side Note: go to YouTube and search for the Botafumeiro Santiago to see the ceremony of the world’s largest incense burner. Trust me, much more interesting and beautiful than the world’s largest ball of twine. But in fairness to the twine, I haven’t laid eyes on it, but I have witnessed the Botafumeiro ceremony, and may have shed a tear.
Pilgrims, as we hikers are called, have been walking this trail for over a thousand years in search of many things. Searching and walking for forgiveness, for meaning, as an alternative to jail time for a crime (yes, that was really an option back in the day - I am talking way way back in the day), for fun, for adventure, for grief, for community, for solitude, for exercise (it is 500 miles), for history, for art, for food and wine, for collecting cool stamps - I loved earning badges in each town marking my way, and to ask life’s big questions. Big questions like “Hey, I just left my job, and have nothing planned to do next, now what?”.
Why do it?
That big question was specifically my own. In 2015, I walked away from a career, and now I was physically walking across Spain. For 500 miles. That should be enough steps, approximately one million steps, to figure it all out I thought. Interestingly, I met many people on the Camino who were there to answer similar career change questions. Or maybe the magic of the Camino brought us all together to meet? Who knows for sure.
They say that the Camino will provide. It is one of many lessons that resonate with me still today. This one tells me to “chill out, things will work out” - in other words stop stressing and worrying so much, and stop trying to plan and predict everything - things will work out exactly as they should. I learned to trust and go with the flow, although I wasn’t successful in that achievement every single day - I am human. Still, it is good advice for me today, and I believe good advice for all of us from time to time.
What did you learn?
Speaking of lessons, and there were many, some didn’t come to me until days, months even a year later. What I learned is that it was the perfect adventure for me physically, mentally and spiritually at that time. I am not a religious person, and by that I mean organized religion. Nothing wrong with organized religion and church on Sundays. I was raised Catholic and attended 12 years of Catholic schools, but for me spirituality is my connection to something greater than me.
I experience this connection in silence and nature. The Camino provided me many of these opportunities, like when on a trail covered in soft, almost tennis-ball shaped chestnuts, or when enjoying the soothing smells in a eucalyptus forest...ahhhh.
The path was long. The steps at times seemed endless. I struggled. I felt joy and pain. I questioned what I was doing there. I resisted moving forward. I offered help and accepted help. I stepped into the moment and simply enjoyed the cool cover of an ornate cathedral in the middle of an unknown town in Northern Spain.
And many times I stopped, looked around at the beauty and simply said “Wow”.
More to come, as I will be writing about the experiences and the lessons of the Camino that I take with me today. Some of it thought provoking and some of it entertaining - some of it both - all of it I take with me into my coaching practice.
Your turn to answer:
What adventure are you ready to take? Buen Camino!