Life and Business Lessons Learned From A Hike Across Spain, Step by Step
Less is more. Simples! When I look back at the many Camino journies, it dawned on me that I had learned this lesson repeatedly and I am still not quite there. On this amazing trail, you will find yourself evaluating two types of baggage. The physical baggage (yes, you will be obsessed with the weight of everything) and the emotional baggage (that hits you square in the face like a ten-tonne truck!).
To ease myself into this blog, I thought I would start with the physical baggage challenge.
As mentioned, you will be obsessed with weight. When you are reading the online forums you will soon discover a magic number known as the 10% rule. This golden nugget of information will be tattooed in your mind as you realise that carrying 10% of your body weight is near impossible unless you are quite a big person! For me, at a mere 8.5st (119 lbs), meant that I should ideally be carrying around 12llbs (5kg). When your rucksack alone weighs 4.5lbs (2kg) then that does not leave much for clothes, sleeping bag, guidebook, toiletries, first aid etc! What on earth was I going to do?
Everything was laid out on the floor of the spare bedroom and I had convinced myself that I needed every single item. I had been sensible. There were no jeans, no books, no heavy jumpers in my pack. It was all quite light and I could carry it quite easily. Weighing in at 18lbs I thought I was good to go! Wrong!
Carrying your full pack on a short day hike is fine, but carrying a full pack day after day takes its toll on your feet, hips, back and knees. On top of that add chafing in areas that you shouldn't have and you have a recipe for a very unpleasant journey. My best friend who is of a similar height to me was carrying 25lbs, and she will tell you that within a few days we found ourselves in a small Spanish post office sending items onto Santiago.
My advice would be to put everything from your pack into three piles.
- Essentials (one set of clothes, toothbrush, wallet, passport, phone, water bottle).
- Things you want (sleeping bag, guidebook, towel etc)
- Luxury items (ipod, journal, extra clothes, pillow etc)
Put all of your essential items into your bag and then weigh the bag. Continue adding items from the piles until you get to no more than 12% of your body weight. Everything else you can leave at home! Trust me, this is not a holiday and your body will thank you later. (full kit list for the Camino can be found here).
Your rucksack may be light, but I found myself carrying emotional baggage that I had buried deep. For those of you who know me, I am not an emotional person at all. I warn you now if you are thinking about walking the Camino then brace yourself for a bit of an emotional roller coaster ride.
Guilt and regrets.
We hang on to guilt as a way of punishing ourselves. I hadn't realised that I was carrying a lot of regrets with me which I needed to let go of. I felt guilty for taking precious holiday time just for me (and I had left my family at home). I had regretted not spending as much time with my daughter during the first ten years of her life. I had regrets for not saying things to my father when I had the opportunity which was baggage that I carried around for years.
I won't go into other areas, but believe me, they were bubbling away under the surface and on the Camino, they rose to the top like a fountain. I had to learn to deal with the emotion, process it and move forward.
My inner critic
I am not sure about you, but I do have a constant battle with my inner critic. I am a natural people pleaser and I like to be liked. If someone has not responded in a positive way towards my actions then I find myself wondering why and the issues escalate in my head. I have a full on conversation with myself and the “negative Nellie” inside would often win the battle.
My inner critic has now subsided and I think that probably comes with age, but it also comes by focusing on the positives in life. This lesson was learned whilst I was enjoying a pizza massage in Logrono with my now good friend and fellow Pilgrim, Erik Op Ten Berg. We had so many long conversations and he is the most positive person I know! I never heard him say a bad word about anyone and his natural enthusiasm for life is infectious. Each time I mentioned something negative he would bat it out of the park which may sound abrupt, but I certainly got the message loud and clear. It takes practice, but I am so much better now! Thanks, Eric, if you are reading this.
Stress and worry
There is good stress in our lives and we all need to worry a little bit as this makes us human, but if you tip over the edge then that is not a good thing. On the Camino, I was given the nickname of “bed ninja” as I was worried about getting a bed. Further, into the trip, my family christened me with another name “toilet ninja” as I was constantly worried about how far it was to the next toilet stop (just-in-case). In real life, I conditioned myself to believe that stress equals good productivity, but carrying around too much of it is really a shortcut to total burnout.
Many people who walk the Camino are carrying a bucket load of grief which is probably the hardest emotion to process. If I am honest, I didn't even realise that I had some of my own grievings to do until it bubbled to the surface without me being prepared. Grieving is a healing process for the soul and, like a hurricane, you need to get through the stormy section before you see the rainbow.
How did the Camino help process some of this baggage?
The Camino provides answers in many ways. Some of the ways are practical and obvious and sometimes the answers simply appear in your mind and you are not really sure where the inspiration has come from. Let me give you a few ways in which the Camino provided for me:-
On all Camino's (not just the Frances route), you will find milestone markers. Often, you will see a little pile of stones on top of a marker which has been placed there by a pilgrim. A small stone may have been simply picked up along the route or alternatively, some pilgrims bring stones from home.
The stones can represent any of the previously mentioned emotions. For example, I placed a stone on various milestones to symbolise that I had left a worry or regret behind. This really worked for me. When I found that a regret or worry had entered into my mind, I would seek out a stone and play with this in my hands until I reached the next milestone. I would drop the pebble on top of the milestone and leave my troubles behind.
Crosses on the fence
As a way of processing grief, it is custom to add a cross to a fence. You will see many of these all on the trail. It was quite therapeutic to find sticks, and place them rather creatively with other people's crosses whilst thinking about the person that you are creating the cross for.
The many churches cathedrals and historic buildings on the route.
I am not a religious person but I would often find myself sitting by myself in a small village church feeling extremely peaceful. For me, it was a fantastic way to process any stress and worry in a meditative way, although I can imagine that some would find the energy of the church rather powerful for religious reasons.
Le Cruz De Ferro – OMG!
This was probably the one place that had the most impact on my Camino journey. One of the best things about this rather famous Iron Cross is that it allows you to partake in a very old, and very freeing tradition. When I approached the cross I remember thinking to myself “well, I don't understand the hype. It is just a telegraph pole with an iron cross on the top, next to a road with loads of stones around it”. But as you get nearer there is no way that you can avoid the energy and emotion that emanates from your pores as you get drawn into the magic.
According to custom, if you bring a small piece of your own home town along with you, you may place it at the foot of the hill and symbolically “leave your sins behind.” If you like, you may say a prayer and enjoy the profound peacefulness that envelops both hill and cross. My mum had painted butterflies on our stones from home and as I placed my stone on the mound I felt a tear trickle down my cheek. The tears did not stop for a good ten minutes and to this day I really don't know why? It is very hard to explain, but I do know that a healing process started that day and decisions about my future were made shortly afterwards.
I appreciate that the above article may sound a bit “woo woo” for some people. The Camino is a place that provides what you need and not what you want. You may be walking the Camino for a physical challenge but arrive at your destination with something much more than that. Alternatively, you may be seeking spiritual enlightenment and you walk away with sore feet and a feeling of accomplishment with a nice certificate in your hand. The Camino provides, you just need to believe.
Thank you for reading this blog.