“You must plan to be spontaneous.” – David Hockney

A couple years ago, I attended a workshop taught by James Boag, who teaches applied yoga philosophy. He mentioned the above quote and it’s been with me ever since. Yet, I began to understand it at a deeper level while walking on the Camino de Santiago.

I’ll explain what I learned on the Camino, but first, let’s take a look at preparation and spontaneity.

If you’re a planner, you might be drawn to having an element of control and certainty in your life. But you may also know the limitations of trying to prepare and account for every detail of a life trajectory, event, and so forth. Plans often go awry and require improvisation and adjustment.

If you’re a fly by the seat of your pants kind of person, you might avoid planning. You might take risks simply trusting that things will work out. After all, you want an opportunity to change your mind and join the adventure of life.

And then maybe you’re a bit of both like me. You see, I’m a planner. I like my life to be organized and I prefer to know what’s coming on my calendar. Anyone who has known me as a colleague or partner would attest to this. At the same time, spontaneity fills me with a sense of adventure and I like the freedom I feel when I’m spontaneous.

The thing is, I haven’t always integrated these two parts of me into the balance I think is necessary.

What I Learned About Spontaneity on the Camino de Santiago

Many people take a year to prepare to hike a journey like this. It requires some diligent planning with respect to logistics, packing lists…and physical preparedness.

I booked my ticket just two months before my departure. And while I spent some time on logistics and loads of time packing, I did not give adequate attention to my body.

My weekend hikes did little to prepare me since the Midwest is mostly flat. Yoga and occasional biking may have done something. But I failed to engage in regular weight-bearing exercises, as well as see a doctor before leaving (the knee issue was not new).

Instead, I remembered my 29-year old body hiking a five-day trek in Colombia with challenging inclines and long days. I remembered my 27-year old body hiking straight up volcanoes for hours in Guatemala. I conveniently avoided thinking about my 33-year old knee that cried out in pain two years ago while hiking through a canyon in Utah with a heavy pack. I really assumed that if I had some initial pain on the Camino, my body would adapt eventually. And I was wrong.

But here’s the thing. What I came out of that experience realizing was not just I need to prepare extensively just before a trek like that, but that I need to prepare all year round. That is, if I want to be spontaneous when I’m called to adventure, I have to already be prepared in my body. This means I start now–well, as soon as I get medical advice on my knee.

Thankfully, there’s a part of me that was very prepared during my Camino…

The Deeper Reason We Must Balance Spontaneity and Planning

It’s become increasingly apparent to me that the balance between preparation and spontaneity is vital to living a healthy, full life. And I’ll tell you why.

There’s the obvious reason that too much impulsivity can be destructive, like in the example of the Camino. And rigidity can be too. Trust me, if I were married to my plans going exactly as hoped for every retreat I lead, I’d be a mess.

But I do see preparation as something we must do physically, mentally, and emotionally every step of our lives so that when our plans for life go off course, we can adapt without overwhelm and debilitating anxiety.

I think back to the months leading up to my stepmom’s passing earlier this year. My dad would often talk about how he was preparing for an emotional marathon by way of his workouts and seeking support from loved ones. This was his way of planning to survive the loss.

I, too, have undertaken a lifetime of mental preparation for various challenges to come in my life.

My mental strength was not enough to get me through the Camino physically. It got me through the pain for a while all right, but it couldn’t overpower the cry from my body telling me to stop. In this sense, my mind was more than I could ever have asked for in helping me arrive at the decision to stop my Camino. Trust me, that was one of the largest challenges.

If I can recommend one piece of advice for preparing for spontaneity it is to take time for self-care. That is, take time to get to know yourself–your emotions, your mental tendencies, your body. And then take time to nourish each of those areas of your life.

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