While walking the Camino has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made for myself, it does come with it challenges. Tom, an awesome 77 year old man I met briefly the other day during my first cafe stop in the little pueblo of Puente Villarente said it best, explaining how the Camino introduces itself to a Pilgrim in three phases.
The first phase is the physical challenge as it begins in St. Jean by sending you on an immediate incline with steep climbing and even steeper descents. The second phase is the mental challenge leaving the city of Burgos when you encounter the Meseta, the long, drawn out part of the Camino where the scenery grows monotonous and the weather gets hotter and the walking, though not harder, is more of a challenge because by this time most pilgrims have had foot, knee, or back issues and is guaranteed to start each day in some sort of discomfort. And the third is the spiritual phase which is said to begin in Leon, when…well, I can only imagine as I’ve just leaving this big, beautiful city today.
While I’ve definitely have had to overcome the physical discomforts, nursing a couple of blisters, and the sciatic pain that wakes me up at night, I find the mental challenges interesting as they seem to be my everyday ones from home delivered to me through my encounters with other pilgrims. The best way I can explain it is through that mirror analogy that someone (can’t remember who) came up with that basically says that each person you meet in your life is a mirror reflection of yourself, in that, what you like or dislike about a person is most likely the things you like (or want to be more like) or dislike about yourself.
The Mental Phase through the Meseta.
The biggest slap in the face for me so far has been the occasional encounters with the “Negative Neds” and “Negative Nancys.” Having felt so happy to be here, following through with a dream I’ve had for years, I’ve been finding it really hard to have anything to whine about on this trip. But I’ve had a couple encounters now with people who have nothing positive to say about anything. So, during those long, hot days when I’ve walked completely alone for hours on end, I’ve thought about the mirror theory and what lessons I can take from these “Camino Haters.”
And the truth wasn’t too hard to find. The reality is, I’m the happiest I’ve ever been right at this moment. But its hard not to be when I’m in my “Happy Place,” traveling, seeing new things everyday, meeting new people, this experience on the Camino being all I could ever hope to do the rest of my life! But, looking back at my history, I can only admit my own tendencies towards negativity, especially during the few years after my Dad died, when I was at my lowest point of my life, completely depressed, finding it near impossible to find joy in anything even when I was surrounded by the people I most cared about, doing the things I loved most.
But now, when I meeting the occasional “Debbie” or “Donny Downer,” the kind of person who wants only to leach onto your soul and suck every ounce of positivity out of you until you are at their level just so they can have some one to commiserate with, it makes me want to “repent” own my past “suck-y-ness” and thank all my friends and family who managed to put up with me in my worst and most selfish, self-centered moments even though I know I must have left them feeling drained and much lower than I found them.
I guess now the challenge for me is how to maintain the positivity and the lightness I feel here upon returning home to “reality”. I feel certain now that I cannot go back without a plan, a new goal to work towards, something that will keep me moving forward so that I don’t become stuck in my old ruts and routines that have I’ve repeatedly played out before. This means admitting to myself that the limiting beliefs of what I’ve always thought I could and couldn’t do must be addressed and “challenged” themselves.
I can no longer wait for life to deal its cards for me, I must choose my own or suffer the consequences of being unfulfilled, thinking only of the “could” haves, “should” haves and regrets. There are many roads to travel in this lifetime and none are any better than the others but its the ones I have purposefully choosen that have lead me to my fondest memories and greatest lessons in who I really am, the good and the bad. And while it has taken me years to give up the idea of perfection, I finally see that simply trying and failing and trying again brings more joy and enthusiasm for living than remaining passive and stagnant, waiting for life to just happen to me instead of going out and making it happen.
I guess what I’m getting at is that even what seems like a negative experience or challenge has its silver lining in that it has offered me life lessons, but it is still up to me to choose to accept them and/or break from my old habits and comfort zones to put these lessons into action. The only thing that scares me on my return to “reality” is that I’ll go back to believing that it is the ONLY “reality” possible, that I’ll be sucked back into the vortex of a misguided belief that success in life is only dependent on what I do for a living, how much money I make, and how much I have saved in my 401K. Not to say there is anything wrong with wanting this kind of life if its the one that makes you happy, but it has never been my “choice” yet I have let my “failure” at achieving it define my self-worth.
So, with that I am hereby declaring my intentions for the next 9 years as a way to “keep myself honest” about where I want my life to go. Travel is a must, writing is a must, but I also want to spend time with the family and friends I have left on this earth so there will have to be some compromise and how often and long I can depart from the reality back in the States.
However, having met some many people along this journey who are in fact making this kind of life and reality as well as financing it, I think my first step is to get the Teaching English Abroad certificate (TEFL) https://www.internationalteflacademy.com/faq/bid/102043/what-is-tefl-and-what-is-tefl-certification.
So after I finish my pilgrimage to Santiago and continue my “spirit-quest” down through Portugal, I am going to make sure I have signed up for classes back home, whether online or in person. And well… I guess that’s it, that’s the decision I want to focus on and speculating past that is like trying to guess what the third phase of the Camino will bring…I just know until I get out there any do it so with that I guess it is time to hit the road!
Thanks for reading and feel free to let me know in the comments if you have any ideas or resources about teaching English abroad, I’m ready to listen!