Camino Frances, also known as The Way of Saint James, is a 775 km pilgrimage across northern Spain.
Recently, I packed 2 small bags, boxed up my bike and hopped a plane to Paris. Lugging a massive bike box through Paris, I then took a train to Bayonne in southern France, assembled my bike and rode 3 hours to a town in the Pyrenees mountains called Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port where my journey on the Camino began.
I set out with few expectations, only knowing I wanted to grow and know myself better. In the end, I experienced the biggest transformation of my life.
Here's what I learned:
1. Invest in your soul
At school, we invest in education. At the gym, we invest in our bodies. We make financial investments in land, housing, stocks, etc.
When do we invest in the thing we carry with us always -- our soul? If you're religious, you might go to church or mosque... but what about experiences? What about discovering what nature, God, and the universe have given us, straight from the source?
We're born with the desire to discover. Watch how children explore the world with wonder. Don't let that child in you die. Grow and feed it.
Travel, love, hike and bike as much as you can. Adventure on!
Gratitude truly is the key to happiness
I started having knee pains and feeling demotivated one evening. Continuing to bike, I noticed someone far off. Getting closer, I saw it was a woman with a white cane.
She was alone, so I got off my bike to walk with her. I learned she was partially blind and ended up walking with her to the next town.
I realized this strong woman is an example for everyone. She not only motivated me and made me grateful for my sight, she showed me that we have everything already. We have it all.
I learned it's about perspective; seeing things through a filter of gratitude. From there, you will always be happy.
The Camino, like life, is about gratitude for hot showers, dry clothes, good feet, strong knees and a healthy body. It's about being grateful for every breath.
We are never lost; we are just not familiar yet
At one point, I decided to let go of my phone and all technology. I wanted to free myself. I believed I'd find my way by the signs and location of the sun.
And I got lost.
I went south instead of west, 30kms in the wrong direction. Discovering how lost I was, I panicked.
But then I realized it was just another Camino; another way.
Life doesn't come with a map. We're always somewhat lost. But it's only ever a matter of time till we become familiar with our surroundings. I started to feel comfortable with being "lost."
I also stopped seeing the Camino as a race. Which brings me to...
Life, like the Camino, is not a race.
A few days in, I realized I'd brought work along. I was assessing each day by kilometers covered and goals reached.
I was doing it all wrong.
The Camino, as in life, should be taken at my own pace. I learned not to compare myself to others - how much time they take, or how fast they go.
It's all within my control. I choose the speed and time... when to wake up... where to stop for coffee, Spanish omelette or to drink wine... who to talk to, walk with or ride with. I choose it all.
I am the captain of my life. It's not a race with others. It's a journey with myself.
It is ok to feel, have emotions and express them
Exhausted, I went to park my bike. It moved suddenly and hit a wall... so did my head. Some locals came to help. Insisting I go to the church, one took my hand and guided me. Entering, I felt a great energy. I sat down and prayed.
It had been years since I'd truly expressed emotion. In that moment, I felt the weight of everything I'd suppressed. An emotional waterfall, a strong internal yet external feeling, hit me. I couldn't control my emotions anymore. I was overwhelmed.
I didn't care who saw. I was so true to myself in that moment. I felt so human; so real. I decided to never abandon that beautiful feeling for anything.
We truly own our emotions, feelings, and bodies. Let your feelings speak. Don't suppress them. They are the route to true happiness.
Laugh, cry and love as much as you can. Never hold back.
If I succeed at work, school, or in society it means I'm able to conform to the system around me. That's only relative success.
True success is being your best in your own eyes.
For me, that means helping others, growing myself and my soul, and giving back. Everything else is just seasonal success defined by time, place and company.
It truly is the journey, not the destination
Through this beautiful mental, spiritual and physical experience I learned many things. Most importantly, that the Camino is not about the Cathedral or certificate at the end.
It's about a Spanish guy pushing your bike 2kms uphill at a 1500 Ms altitude because you're in pain; competing with a Swiss mountain biker and laughing about it; a German girl sharing her water when none is around; laughing with strangers, so hard you forget why.
It's about the emotion, the overwhelming feelings, the pain and embarrassment. It's playing cards with Germans. It's talking politics with Americans, food with Italians, wine with Spaniards and French, beer with Belgians, life and bad decisions with your bike... and it's about silence.
It's the people, not the place. The journey, not the destination.
We know where we're going, so enjoy the journey, enjoy life, make yourself happy... everything else can wait.
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