Lessons Learned on the Camino de Santiago

Toward the end of my post a couple of weeks back on how the Camino changed my life, I got thinking about the lessons I learned while walking the Camino Frances.  The following are some thoughts on lessons I think I started to learn there.

Finisterre, the end.

I Can Do More Than I Think or Believe

This was a great lesson to learn, one that I share with many others who walk so far, carrying their own belongings, washing their own clothes each day, sharing so much with people that I had never met before.

It is a while since I have been young, since I climbed up rocks for fun, camped, or even shared space with strangers in a hostel. Pushing myself physically has amounted to training for a half marathon – so easy in comparison.

Walking for a month along the Camino is not easy.  Your back, shoulders, knees, hips, legs, and feet get sore at various times.  There are days where you can see a town in the distance and it seems like the town has little Spanish legs and keeps walking away from you.  At that point I didn’t give in to tiredness or frustration and hail a taxi – I kept on walking.

I don’t think anyone ever forgets walking the Camino.  There are so many people like me on the Camino, we are not couch potatoes – just weekend hikers who enjoy getting out – and we have gone out and completed something truly tremendous and yet something that so many complete each day.

Tell someone that you took a precious month off work and spent it with a backpack walking 800 km across Spain – just watch their face.

Pain Reminds Me I am Alive

At a couple of points along the way, I suffered a lot of pain.  I discovered I had two hernias, and once the skin on my heels had to be cut off; during the day I taped my heels up.  The problem with my heels happened because I started walking with very hard skin on around my heels and blisters formed under them.  The whole thing was down to using hiking boots that were not suitable – quite a lesson, (I ended up buying hiking shoes in Pamplona).

While trying to deal with this I stumbled on this thought – pain reminds me that I am alive – trying to see it in a non-debilitating way.  This worked for me.

I Like People

It really is too easy to become the grumpy old man, (or middle-aged grumpy) – long before its due – if it is ever due.

In daily life, people are often the source of my problems – not me of course, but them.  They are in my way on the underground, their cars are going too fast or slow. They get in my way at the checkout or take too long at the ATM.  Please, people, get a life and get out of my way…

Having my ego reduced by walking just like everyone else was and is good for me.

After a few days, my head slowed to the same pace as my hiking.  I listened and talked with many others, guardedly at first.  Then I just started to open up and I enjoyed talking with people and took the time in conversations to listen to the whole story, instead of demanding only the relevant highlights or the takeaways – or waiting till they finished not really listening so I could tell my story…

I Like Being Part of Some Groups

I have never really liked being part of a group and being subject to group decisions does drive me crazy.  (Democracy I suppose)  However, I found myself as the part of a couple of groups along the way without bother – it just crept up on me.

Group decisions just happened.  Where are you stopping tomorrow?  Do you want to join us for dinner this evening, or join us in making dinner?

Maybe this next one belongs above as being part of a group only came after realizing people were likable.

Types of People Annoy Me – Language Aside

Sometimes I am not very bright; my thought process does not challenge my current thinking at times.

For all my stated dislike of people above, I thought all pilgrims on the Camino would be nice, likable, kind – just something completely unrealistic.

It was the first time in my life where it was so clear that there are types of people that have the ability to drive me crazy – a tone of voice, a certain type of look, an off-hand attitude – I am sure you know what I mean.  Once the words were taken away the rest fell into place.

My lesson was I had to change.  Would be nice if they changed to accommodate me, but I am the one with the problems.

People Care

Giving on the Camino FrancesPeople care a great deal.  Leaving a city a local stopped me as I was walking the wrong way.  I got lost one day, on the Camino Aragones, and we walked into this tiny hamlet on the top of a hill.  One of the residents gave us ripe tomatoes right off the vine – I have never had a tastier tomato since.

I saw food and sweets left at doors and on windowsills with notices telling pilgrims to help themselves.  Volunteers ran many of the albergues, and many of them are donation only, (though this is changing). I saw so many instances of caring that I don’t notice in my normal environment.  I cared more as the result of this, I think.

Crying is Okay

I would rather think that I am not a typical man – however, I am.  I don’t cry, and certainly not in public.

However, something happened along the way that moved me to tears.  I walked most of that day crying.  Then when I got to Santiago I cried again.  In fact, in my eyes it was worse than just crying – I cried while Anna held me.

Now twice in a month and you would think I had enough crying.  However, there was more to come.  I had left my car in Roncesvalles.  So we picked it up and started driving home.  I thought I would be the nice atheist and take Anna, the Catholic, to Lourdes on our way home.

In Lourdes, I was no longer a pilgrim and had put my worldly cynical hat back on.  Since I am here, I thought I might as well have the full experience.  I decided to get in the queue and enter one of the baths.  I did. I sat on a chair after being submerged in the water.

Then I tried to stand and nearly fell.  One of the old guys steadied me and helped me sit again.

At that point, I burst out crying.  I have no idea what happened there – but it appears like I did get the full experience.

It has become easier over the years, though I am still not completely comfortable with crying.

Sharing is Good

My things are mine.  That’s what it feels like in everyday life – ever vigilant to “things” being taken away.

On the Camino, I shared what I had, plasters, disinfectant, threads, even money.  The need to grasp eased.

I Need Less Than I Think

I sit here in my home office with many electronic toys around me; some of them cost quite a bit and have been hardly used.  At the time it appeared important to buy them.  I have learned that as soon as I buy one of these toys there is another lined up right behind it for me to buy – a never-ending cycle.

I walked with two pairs of socks, underwear, two T-shirts, two pairs of shorts and my sleeping bag – I had little more than this.  I went a full month without having to buy things to add to my ever-growing collection of junk.

This is a philosophy Anna and I have tried, with varying success, to take into our relationship – how much do we really need?  And if I have something that I don’t need can I find a useful home for it.

What about you?  Did you learn anything about yourself or the world while on the Camino?

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  1. Máire on October 11, 2017 at 1:19 pm

    Thank you so much for this honest sharing. I too am moved to think about how walking the Camino has changed me?

  2. Maria on October 11, 2017 at 6:06 pm

    Truly beautiful to be reminded of how extraordinary it was to have walked the Camino. I shall never forget all the points you have mentioned. Yes, life is something we experience and perhaps come to the conclusion less is more.

  3. Herb on October 11, 2017 at 10:38 pm

    I am so grateful for having experienced the Camino in 2016. My only real regret is I often was so intent on getting the day’s work in , 15 miles, I think my own stress over this caused me to miss a great deal.. I walked with a close friend of 27 years, and we seemed to be on similar schedules for eye opening and awareness raising experiences. One day about a week in we started a conversation and the both of us burst into tears. It was wonderful to feel the warm afterglow of crying.

    We stopped in a church one morning and for what reason, God knows, I just became overwhelmed with a sense of presence. I also came to realize just how self-centered I am and hopefully I have begun to work on this. Thank You for your honesty . Peace, Herb

  4. Diane on October 12, 2017 at 4:00 am

    I thank you also for the reminder of all I gained with each step I took. Simple and fundamental parts to a good life.

  5. grace d. on September 8, 2018 at 1:44 am

    your comments helped remind me of how my attitude al most ruined every moment of trip; but God broke through this usually so i then could enjoy the ” nothingness” of it all even the walk….

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