So now for some of the “practical” parts of the Camino based on what I’ve learned from my own experience. Simply put, expectations are a “bitch” so not having any is the best way to travel. I have to give myself a pat on the back on this one as I really didn’t have any and was blown away by the results. However, I think the key to this was traveling solo, only having myself to answer to. While I have never felt alone on this journey, meeting and traveling with many other pilgrims, I was able to listen to my intuition more clearly and could say yes or no to anything and anyone.
I’ve already written frequently on the subject that for me, this journey was the beginning of the end of my “forced isolation” I had underwent during a heavy bout of depression after my father died. But much of that isolation was a result of not feeling capable of living up to what I thought others expected of me, that I everything I did was wrong. I wasn’t able to create boundaries, I was indecisive and even the smallest decisions I had to make seemed overwhelming.I second-guessed everything and so the easiest thing to do was hide.
Depression is “one hell of a drug,” to play on Rick James’ now famous quote regarding another powerful drug (cocaine). And while depression and narcotics are completing different things in name, I find the mind-altering effects to be very similar. After many years of self-analysis, therapy, and search for meaning with the aid of many “self-help” books, I’ve come to the conclusion that each individual must find their own “way” and how I or anyone else decides to rid themselves of the “unbearable mental baggage” they carry is their own prerogative but I will say the Camino can do wonders!
And here I thought I was going to be writing today about what to wear, what gear to bring, what to leave behind, where to stay, where not to stay…. I guess I just have to admit that this is not that kind of blog!
While I know that I am not the only one to have this experience, my depression had left me in a deep dark hole with the feeling of no escape. The Camino, while it wasn’t the solitary reason of my assent out of the darkness, it has been the culmination of a much longer trip “to hell and back” and the perfect ending to an arduous journey much more difficult than anything my legs and back have experienced walking 500 miles.
And so yes, this blog might not be the best guide for “practical” solutions on how to pack or how to train for such an unpredictable physical journey, but I do think embarking on the Camino evolved into to a “practical” solution that has helped me to heal the cracks in my psyche. In a sense, I simply “walked it off”. But timing is everything and if I had come on this journey any sooner, I don’t think I would have been ready to see, hear, feel, or accept the lessons I’ve experienced thus far. Which in a round-about way leads me back to the topic of isolation.
I think the old me, five, four, three, two, one year, or even six months ago would have had a completely different experience on the Camino even if I might have taken the same route and met the same people. There is a point or various points in my depression that I felt like a horse wearing blinders….and earplugs for that matter, and unable to see any other option than the one leading me down a scary dissent into the pits of despair, feeling utterly hopeless.
I can imagine that if I had walked the Camino any sooner, I wouldn’t have been ready to listen to others and empathize with their pain that, when it boils down to it, wasn’t very different than my own. So my “practical” advice for those in a similar situation embarking on their first Camino would be to understand that, as many Camino friends reminded me, the people you meet are some reflection of yourself, and that, good or bad, you are being given a chance to come to terms with what you see, hear, and feel.
But I still had to do the work and, as I was also advised, that meant learning to say yes and no and setting boundaries as the old me would have easily given way to what others thought or demanded of me. But instead I learned early on to stick to my own schedule and not give into the pressures to speed up or slow down or when to wake up or stop for food and drink. Wherever I go, there will always be the push and pull of “ought to” and “should do” of others around me, but the Camino has helped me to be better at listening to the beat of my own heart and understand the difference between intuition and guilt.
One of the many side-effects of depression was becoming lost in my own diseased brain and only being able to think about me, me, me. And while I already wrote about this is my last post, I want to re-emphasize how the Camino has helped me to reintegrate into humanity. The beauty of this type of journey includes the bonds and pacts I was able to make with others and I never knew who I would end up clicking with regardless of their nationality, age, religion, political belief or language barrier. So, along with listening to my heart, was also having a filter for knowing when I was just being completely selfish and understanding the responsibility and need to be reliable amongst the people I had come to care about. Yes, I wanted and still want to fulfill my own agenda but not at the expense of others.
However, maintaining the balance of intuition and compromise can be tricky but I think the best way to illustrate my point is with an actual story that happened just a couple of days ago. Having arrived in Fisterra (Finisterre) on Thursday, having two lovely nights on my own to reach what felt like the real “end” to my Camino where it was once believed to be the end of the world, I received an invitation to join my new Camino buddy, Irena at a place called the Lil Fox House about 7km outside of Muxia. Having heard about this place from another Camino pal, I was curious to check it out as it was marketed as the perfect place to end your journey, inviting pilgrims to a quaint little cottage where the owner Tracey, an avid Camino walker herself, will wine and dine you, sharing her home for a little rest and relaxation to ponder your experiences.
However, Irena and I turned out not to be in the mood for rest and relaxation and found ourselves thoroughly bored. And so even though we were scheduled to stay one more night we made the decision to be true to ourselves and return to Fisterra, planning our escape like two teenagers sneaking out after curfew from the nice but very matronly woman who had wanted to keep us locked up in her in peace and tranquility. So when our fairy godmother stepped out to the local festival with orders for us to eat our soup and make her a salad for dinner, we quickly packed up our things, cleaned up our mess in the kitchen (yes, I made her the salad) and promptly called a taxi to take us back to the civilization. (Okay, maybe not the most mature way to get the job done but it worked.)
Upon arrival we knew we had made the right decision as we came across some of Irena’s Camino family on our hunt for a supermercado that might still be open (it was Sunday and none were). They asked us to join them for dinner and discovered that Irish Emmit had been in Fisterra for five days and had yet to walk to the official end. So we made a plan to walk together with his Sardinian buddy (brother from another mother) Francesco, first showing them the San Piedras stones, the megaliths once celebrated by the Celts and the perfect place to watch the sunset before continuing on to the last mile marker of the Camino.
On preparation for our departure, we encountered another Camino buddy, Irish Jarlath who Irena and I first met in Liras and he too was just about to make the same walk in search of the stones. So the four of us set out on the hour long walk to the top of the peak to San Piedras and when we arrived we made yet another friend, Japanese Yuki, who was already atop the stone we were aiming for (its amazing how easy it is to bring someone into your circle simply by offering them a beer!).
The night could only be described as EPIC! and even Hollywood could not capture (though it did feel like a movie) how utterly amazing each of our experiences were on those magical stones overlooking the town of Fisterra and the open waters of the Atlantic. The view on both sides could never truly be done justice by camera (well, at least not by my old school Ipad no matter how much I enhance them). Each of us brought something different to “the table,” and somehow an American, a Slovenian, a Sardinian, two Irishmen, and a man from Japan found common ground on what felt like the top of the world.
And to think, Irena and I might have missed out if we had settled for the little cottage in the middle of nowhere! We came away feeling as though we had passed the test, “slayed the dragon,” not letting other people’s priorities for life overcome our own… and thank god we did, as the weather the following night completely blocked the sunset and we may have never run into Irena’s Camino pals as she was longing to reconnect with someone from her original trek and to experience a “real finale” to the Camino on the sacred stones she had come so far to see.
As for me, this is the “shit” I live for! And while it would have been fine to have that same sunset on my own, being able to share the experience with others filled me with hope and reminded me that I really am a part of something “bigger” than myself and that I am finally ready to start giving back to the world that I’ve come to grow into and finally love. And while I don’t know exactly what the future holds for me, I’m very excited to find out and I know now that I am perfectly capable of doing it my own way.
Okay, that’s enough for now, though I do want to mention that I finally found my “end” to the Camino and although I had planned to keep walking to Porto, Portugal, I have discovered that I’m content to end it here, at the “End of the World.” I do know I have another Camino in me but I am okay with being patient, taking the lessons I’ve learned and letting them sink in over the next two months of my trip.
I’m headed back to Santiago today for the St. James festival and have decided to listen to another Camino pal, Irish Gus, who informed me that if I go “hug St. James” I can ask for my Camino wish! And even though that might mean I have to wait in line for an hour (which I detest) its worth a shot at a wish come true…now to decide what to use my wish on!
Of course, I’ll keep writing (as long as my Ipad permits) and keep up the theme of the Camino as I have been told that the lessons keep coming long after the actual walk is done. And as I am not returning home until September, My Camino is still in progress I suppose, regardless if its by foot or by train, by bus or by plane (shout out to Dr. Seuss).
Thanks for reading and stay tuned!