This time last year, I walked the Camino Frances – alone.
It had a profound impact on me.
It pressed my RESET button.
I think, I hope, that the walk defaulted me to my true nature.
It certainly rid me of a lot of accumulated junk.
Before the walk I was like a sea creature trying to swim against the current of life, with weed and barnacles hanging off me.
The Camino stripped me clean.
It allowed me to swim freely, and with the current, not against it.
This year I walked the Camino Portuguese – leading a group of pilgrims. Some had walked the Camino before, some had not.
It was an entirely different experience for me.
For a start, I was relaxed this time. Because I’d walked the Camino Frances, I knew I could physically walk the Portuguese, even though I hadn’t trained as hard this time.
Last time I was tense and anxious – and fearful.
This time I had no fear.
I was relaxed.
I allowed myself to laugh, and have fun.
This time I focused on others, not myself.
I was less concerned about how I felt, what my problems were, and more concerned with making sure that everyone else was alright – that their issues and concerns were being dealt with – either by myself or Jennifer.
What this meant was that my journey, at times, was less inwards – and more outwards.
That in itself provided some big lessons for me.
I learnt the need for patience, tolerance, acceptance.
I learnt that I’m not the most important person in the room. There are 11 others more important than me.
Last time, I walked the Camino Frances with pain. I did it on maximum dosages of Ibuprofen, and copious amounts of Voltaren.
I not only had bone-on-bone knee pain, and very painful shin splints, I also had huge blisters.
This time I had no pain.
I only took a tablet of Ibuprofen once, and that was for a blinding headache, induced I suspect by some white port.
This time I wore an elaborate knee brace, and it seemed to work. Only now, a week after completing the walk, is my knee giving me some issues. But the brace kept me pain free.
This time I wore a different pair of boots – full leather Meindl, from Germany.
Only a couple of minor blisters, but more importantly, the boots were a joy to walk in.
This time I used poles.
Last time I had a foolish romantic notion that a true pilgrim used a wooden staff. I learnt very quickly that this was a complete nonsense – that walking poles helped you enormously.
These are the physical differences – the outward differences.
The biggest inward difference is that this Camino was a shared experience. And I discovered that a shared experience is no less powerful than a lone experience.
In some ways it’s more powerful, because you learn from others.
I witnessed their transformations, and perhaps Jennifer and I helped at times with those transformations – I don’t know – but irrespective, I shared that experience with them.
I saw what they were going through, what they were learning, and I saw relevance in my own life. It meant something to me.
Another thing I discovered – and this surprised me: you don’t need to walk 800kms to have the Camino work its magic on you. I saw transformative changes in some of our group after just 100kms of walking.
Perhaps that’s because the Camino Portuguese isn’t easy.
I’ve said it before: it’s a gnarly little walk. There are some very long sections – because there are simply no places to stay in between – and there are some very tough climbs.
But it’s not long distances and steep hills that do it – it’s the magic of the Camino.
The soul imprint.
That’s what seeps into you, and causes the transformative shifts.
I’m still going through a fairly massive internal “audit” of the walk. Of the tour. There are things inside which need to bubble to the surface, so I can examine them in the light.
That takes time.
But the thing I know, this pilgrimage was no less powerful than the previous one. If anything it was more powerful, because of the shared experience.
The multiplyer effect.
The Camino works in mysterious ways.