Last week, I returned from hiking the famous Camino de Santiago in Spain, but I never made it to Santiago.
Over the next few days, I’ll share with you what happened along with some Mindful Camino Lessons I learned along the way that just might resonate with you.
But let me first explain the Camino de Santiago and my purpose for hiking it.
The Camino de Santiago was traditionally a religious pilgrimage to the city of Santiago de Compostela, the alleged burial site of the apostle St. James. Camino pilgrims hike the many different Caminos for many different reasons.
The Camino I chose was the Camino Primitivo, which is off the beaten path with beautiful natural landscapes. It seemed to be the most introvert-friendly, and in theory, I could hike it in under two weeks. The Camino Primitivo also happens to be the most physically challenging Camino.
My purpose for hiking the Camino was to have introspective time in nature. I wanted to know how I’d feel hiking alone for a long period of time–how my mind and body would respond. I’ve traveled solo quite a bit over the years. Each time I do, I’m reminded of my own strength and resilience. I was at a place in my life where I was craving that reminder again.
I got that reminder and much more.
One thing I realized is sensitive folks like me have a knack for tuning into the silver lining of challenging experiences and making deep meaning out of them.
Despite the setbacks that caused me to terminate my Camino early, I learned a great deal in the short time I hiked this epic journey. I’d like to share those tidbits of wisdom with you this week.
Mindful Camino Lesson #1: Lighten your load (even more)
What are you carrying in your pack?
As an introspective person who faces anxiety, these are questions I ask myself regularly in my practice of self-care. But this inquiry was incessant during my recent trek of the Camino de Santiago.
The Camino forces you to examine the physical and emotional baggage you carry. I believe it’s one of the key lessons the Camino has to teach us.
For me, I get that less is more. I’ve lived out of the country for two years with everything I needed in a backpack. I value minimalism and I thought I was good at keeping my load light.
But there’s almost always something more we can unload. And we carry baggage in many forms, all of which I believe contributes to greater anxiety.
Starting to Let Go of Heavy Baggage
I carefully sorted through my backpack multiple times before my trip to pare down extra weight, as I knew I’d be hiking 20-30 kilometers per day. Yet, I was convinced each item was necessary.
On Day 1, a knee issue that has visited periodically over the last five years crept in on me. I found myself almost unable to walk at the end of the day. The struggle persisted over the next couple of days. And as I struggled, I realized I was bogged down by the weight of my pack.
As soon as I arrived in a town with a post office, I sent six pounds of belongings to some friends in Madrid. I also started carrying less water and food. My pack was lighter, but it wasn’t enough.
The pain continued. Many Camino pilgrims told me it was normal and my body would adjust. I wasn’t so sure. But I listened to them and continued experimenting to continue walking.
I tried sending my pack from one town to another so I could walk without carrying my baggage. I felt free and light at the start of this day, but eventually, the pain came back.
Why was I so set on continuing my trek and what else could I let go of at this point?
How Emotional Baggage Causes Us Pain
Before starting my Camino, I visited a friend in the south of Spain. One day we were talking about expectations of others. I said I felt that I let someone in my life down just before I left. He said, “Your pack might be light, but you arrived with baggage.”
My friend was right. He encouraged me to communicate with this person. I did… and to my surprise, this person responded in an understanding manner. A weight was lifted.
But was it?
One thing that became clear to me during my long walks was how much of my anxiety comes from the expectations of others, and probably more importantly, the expectations I put on myself with respect to others. And well, I could also add the expectations I have of others.
As an introvert, I often get overwhelmed with social obligations and family expectations. I hold high expectations for myself to be able to be a better yoga teacher. I judge myself for letting go of social work and not doing enough for social justice. The list goes on…
If I don’t check myself, I can easily get caught up in a cycle of needing to be all things to all people, including myself.
And well, these expectations showed up on the Camino. I was subconsciously carrying emotional weight and it was permeating my experience.
I expected a lot from my body. I expected it to be able to climb up and down mountains with little preparation, as it did ten years ago. I expected my mind to be able to handle the challenges and thought all this would require was mind over matter. I expected to be able to work through any discomfort. I expected the people around me to be right when they said my pain would go away after a few days.
I carried the weight of expectation in a range of forms during my Camino. I cried the day I let it go. And then, I realized that I felt lighter as I let go of the pressure I put on myself.
The pain in my knees did not go away, but I was able to move into the Camino my body and soul were asking of me.
Take a deep breath and ask yourself these questions:
- What is weighing you down?
- What does it feel like?
- Who are you carrying it for?
- What would happen if you let it go?
Below I’ve shared a video of my thoughts on baggage during my Camino.
I’d love to hear from you if you feel inclined to share your process of “shedding baggage” and “lightening your load”.