Along the Camino de Santiago, you meet a great number of people, but the most difficult person to meet is yourself.
For 30 days, I walked and wrote about my experience. While I recorded it in a public forum, the truth is that it was never intended for anyone other than myself. My writing was, in part, a public confession and petition, shared and spoken aloud to hold me accountable.
There is a sense of anonymity along the Camino, an attraction that draws many to this ancient trail. In an instant, you dive into the depths of your life’s details. Secrets that have never been spoken aloud are presented with centerstage attention. Story after story pours forth, and slowly the people you have known for only a short distance now know you better than your longest friend.
Knowing that your time is limited, you squeeze the nectar of each moment, drinking in this rare occasion. Questions lead to moments in your life you’ve longed to forget. Laughter reminds you of memories you’ve struggled to rediscover. The conversations shared along the Camino allow people to meet and accept one another with absolute confidence. Unlike its sinister cousin, “What happens on the Camino, stays on the Camino” holds a more sacred seal.
The sacredness of the conversations grants people the promise of discovery. Not only are we speaking to learn more about one another, but in our speaking, we are attempting to learn more about ourselves. The shared discovery permits you the experience to meet the stranger you’ve struggled to meet all your life: yourself.
This inner stranger has walked with us daily, and we fail to ever speak with it. In the chaos of our life, we fail to greet one another. We look down into our business and neglect to look up at the person with whom we are most intimately connected.
Throughout our lives, we are granted glances at that person. “An honest look at the real.” A raw experience of joy. A naked encounter with sadness. A bare moment with pain. But the glance is fleeting, the moment passes in a blink, and we are clothed again by our persona. In that naked clothing, we are left with nothing more than déjà vu.
The 800 kilometers of the Camino slowly strips each pilgrim of their complexities, exposing them to the simplicity of their lives. Each step taken and story shared is a chance to reintroduce you to yourself. In sharing your story with others, you are reminded of the person that you are truly called to be. You learn of the person that you have become and examine the person that you are becoming.
Contained in each pilgrim’s pack is very little, only what they need to survive and gradually any excess is discarded along the journey. The same is true with our lives. We carry and bring with us often far more than we need. Toiletries to mask how we appear to others. Clothing to cover up what we don’t want people to see. Medicines to numb the pain we feel around others.
Eventually, we notice that it takes far too long to get ready each morning, and we find ourselves alone in an empty building. Everyone else is already walking ahead. In that cold, isolated building, we begin to notice the person in the mirror. Slowly, we wipe away the fog on the glass and begin to see ourselves.
Our pack lightens.
In the common room, for all to see, we discard our excess. “Are you really leaving that,” someone may ask? A new conversation is sparked. We discover that stories are the only thing in life that we carry that truly matters. Everything else is excess.
Walking more freely, we continue to share more stories allowing our pack and burdens to lighten all the more. This ritualistic walk allows people the opportunity to face the reality of themselves and see their own reflection. The safety of this walk is knowing that after “the end of the world,” you will no longer see these people. The accountability will diminish along with the sticks and objects burning along the shore.
I wrote this blog for myself. I wrote this blog to be reminded of the stranger I meet along the way. It is far too easy to forget the lessons learned along the Camino. A quick flight delay reminds you just how much of an asshole you can be. The chill of the wind walking from the tarmac reminds you of missed opportunities. Each post, left in this virtual donation box, was a public offering to “take what you need and leave what you don’t.” It contains more than I can hold and less than I can carry.
I appreciate those who “took things from my box” and helped me lighten my journey. I walk ahead into a new chapter of life, knowing my pack contains the stories of what I need.