Some of you may have heard or even completed parts of the Camino De Santiago, or have watched the film “The Way” or a documentary on it. If you haven’t it’s a walk that spans over 500 miles through Northern Spain which many will walk for various reasons, often self-discovery. I was no different and have walked part of it on a few occasions. It is truly one of those adventures that I cannot recommend enough to people and long to go back to do more myself.
Let me tell you about the biggest thing I discovered on my very first Camino. My trip was self organised, not a package holiday but a cheap one with no frills (well not many). It started as a bit of a challenge (I like to push myself) and instead of doing the last 100km in 5 days, I decided to make it harder and do 209 Km, the equivalent of walking a marathon a day for 5 days, which allowed me to walk the most walked stretch (known as the last 100k) and then go beyond to the coast (reaching what was once thought to be “the end of the world” - Finisterre lighthouse). I had the option to pay to have my luggage moved from one stop to the next or to carry it in a backpack. I opted to carry it myself, thinking this would be more meaningful and contemplative. At that time my life was quite hectic, work was busy and home life was busy. I was frustrated by how much I felt people expected of me and as part of my journey I wanted my backpack to be a weight to reflect the heaviness of life (seems very romanticised and looking back it was but boy did it work). I needed to try and work out if I was metaphorically carrying things in life I didn’t need, and this was my time out to think about what I could let go of and get back to basics. The ideal notion of a “simpler” life.
I packed my backpack with only essentials (or so I thought) and it weighed in at 9.8kg. Now I had done my research and was advised by google that a woman of my build should really only carry 7kg. I thought I could handle it and was fit enough for the task ahead. My husband came in and lifted the backpack and against my many protests, proceeded to empty it and make me rethink what I truly needed (this was the first step to self-discovery, I had among other things “a little makeup” as essential and I always use 2 brushes when washing my hair!!). He took time to talk through my rationale for keeping some things and told me if I was going to survive this challenge, I would need to carefully consider what I took on my back. Begrudgingly I let go of some stuff and reduced the weight to just under 7kg, totally believing I would regret letting those things go.
The journey started and for me it wasn’t about the beauty of the surrounding area, it was the calm rhythmical and melodical movement of walking in one direction with no decision to make about where I was going as that was predetermined. I just had to put one foot in front of the other and keep moving. Chatting to various people as I went and stopping for coffee frequently (never did I imagine eating egg and chips at 10am in the morning, but hey when in Rome and all that). The conversations I had really opened my mind to see how many people are carrying burdens that they need to let go of. Some spoke of bereavement, others of lost relationships, others of trying to decide what to do the next chapter of their life, young old, big, small, some walking in plimsolls, but all of them heavy with something, not in a dramatic way, but in a normal “life” kinda way. I remember meeting Bill, a man in his 70’s from Texas, he had been walking for 4 weeks alone and told me how he had lost his sister to Cancer and just needed to take time out by himself. From the dirt of his trousers, it was clear that he had fallen, and we joked as he told me how he had fallen in cow pat and laughed saying “it's like life, sometimes you fall in shit and you just gotta get up and get going again, eventually it dries and you can just brush it off”. Then there was Sandra who was clinically obese and clearly struggling as she walked. She told of how she was determined to do this walk but had given herself 7 weeks (most take 1 week). She told of how she didn’t need to conform to timescales set by others but was doing it for herself at her own pace and loving every moment. She told me how if she didn’t think outside the box, she wouldn’t try anything.
Each night I journaled my conversations so that I would be reminded of the inspiration I had felt from others, who, in many ways were just like me, trying to work out how to simplify things and manage life. There was a joviality and enjoyment at just getting back to basics and that no one was really looking fab or smelling great but that didn’t matter we were all going in the same direction with the same end goal … to find ourselves or at least a bit.
As the days progressed and the miles mounted, my legs got weary, and I totally felt the weight of my backpack every step I took. With a silent voice of appreciation for my husband that it was 3kg lighter than I had wanted, I still recognised that it had other things in it that I could let go of, things that I thought were essential but actually I hadn't needed or used and could find elsewhere if I did need them. In reality I needed very little. I reflected on all the things I had going on in my life, where I spent my time, the things I had thought were essential, meaningful, purposeful and started to consider if they were truly important or if I was just carrying stuff unnecessarily because I was too scared to let go, or afraid of what not having these things in my life would mean for my identity. I could easily identify relationships that I had neglected because I was too busy doing “other stuff”. I knew there were tasks at home and work which were not adding value, not to mention things that I continued to do that I just was not allowing others to take over. I thought of how I value my independence but that at times that shuts others out as I say no to help, essentially wanting to prove that I can do everything myself. I recognised then that my life was full of “stuff” as in activities that I didn’t need to be doing and by letting go I could make my journey much easier and really invest in what's important. I came home from my trip tired, sore and my body definitely knew what I had done, but my head was so much lighter. I knew the activities, jobs, things that I had to let go of and started doing so. I did it without guilt or remorse and started to think carefully about where I invested my time.
Now the journey in life is full of bumps in the road and mine is no different. Things have a way of building up gradually without us seeing or noticing it and we all need to do the metaphorical declutter every so often. I can easily reflect on how, during the past few years, I have been guilty of letting things build again. Starting this new chapter in my life and the new business has brought me excitement but also many losses. I have left a world in the Health Service that I know so well to enter one I am not quite so familiar with. I have left behind friendships that I valued and roles that I felt I could do really well. But it is time for me to let go a little more. I have things that I have been keeping, a bit like a security blanket which I really don’t need. I have friendships that I need to make time for and others that I need to stop feeling guilty about. I have roles that are no longer my priority or the right ones for me. I am scared about what the future holds, but I also know firmly that I am where I should be, doing a job that I love and knowing I can make a difference with a real vision for what our business can achieve. I can only do this properly if I make enough space and that means letting go, even when it feels painful.
We have all gathered stuff that we just keep ticking over in the background, but it is still taking up our energy and our time. So maybe you too could take some time to have a look in your backpack and see what can be taken out!! Even consider your own Camino and walking it out, I think I’m ready for another one too!!