On July 8th of this year, I set out from St Jean Pied du Port to walk the infamous Camino Frances. I had a return ticket booked for five weeks later and I dreamed of finishing my walk at the Atlantic Ocean in Finisterre. As I packed my bag before my departure I was excited for the unknown. I was excited for the physical and mental challenges that lay ahead of me.
To be honest, I really did not know what to expect. Friends, colleagues and different internet blogs gave me an insight into what they experienced but for me I set off on a very wet and cloudy day across the Pyrenees not knowing what The Way would bring.
It turned out to be the most epic trip I have ever done. I am home now as long as I was gone away and I am finding life familiar but different. It is hard to pin point why exactly. As I walked my Camino I encountered life in its most primal way. Food, security and shelter, the three basic needs for humankind to build their lives from were the first things I had to organise everyday. Once we have these needs accounted for we feel safe.
After a few days, I learnt not to stress about these, everything always fell into place. That first week I was beyond tired, my body was aching in ways I had never encountered. I went from being in a great mood to being in a quiet mood where I wanted solitary time. I got tendonitis early on and I found myself annoyed with myself for tying my boots too tight.
As the days rolled on and the monotony of my daily routine became second nature I found my mind becoming very strong. I became more in touch with emotions of myself and others and creativity in my thinking began to reignite. I overcame injuries and tiredness and I gave myself over to an overwhelming sense of gratitude.
Some days my pace quickened, other days it slowed down. I headed off most mornings in darkness as I began to love walking with the Milky Way guiding me. The stars that hung so close above my head were so clear that I often stopped just to stare up in awe. I loved the feeling of dew on my skin and the stillness of the darkness. Within an hour, daylight began to break through the stars and I was there as the day time world took over. I saw fields and fields of sunflowers, lined up like soldiers, awakening and smiling brightly towards the sun that rose behind me every day as I continued heading west.
The ever changing scenery, the smells, the wine I drank with new friends, the sound of us marching to the beat of our own drum brought me to a sense of sheer happiness. Walking every day both alone and with new friends from such diverse backgrounds to myself taught me a lot about myself. Now that I am home and I am looking back on my Camino I appreciate that it was not only a journey across Northern Spain, but a deep introspective journey into who I am.
Past life events came back to me and things that bothered me but were put into a compartment deep away also popped up. I looked at these and sometimes I’d randomly strike up conversations with someone beside me about it. I have learnt that when a thought comes up, I acknowledge it for what it is, just a thought, and I then just leave it there and move on in the present and not letting the past project into my future.
I began to make notes of thoughts that came to me. Since I came home, I am now spending my evenings and spare time reading and researching interests. In a life dominated by social media and external factors bombarding our senses I have become an observer and not as much a participator in trivial, energy sapping experiences. I am very happy with where I am in my life at the moment and I am putting energy into quality relationships and life experiences more than before.
When I arrived in Finisterre on August 10th I sat on a rock at the lighthouse and sat in silence while the crowds around me giddily took photos and chatted. After a month of walking with the sun rising behind me I was watching the sun set before me and I realised that while my walking was over and the adrenaline was beginning to wear off, my way was just beginning and it is something that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.
Catherine O’Brien, October 2015, www.carryoncamino.com