When you walk the Camino de Santiago there are these little yellow arrows. Little signs of validation and hope. Look for the arrow and it leads you to where you need to be. Simple.
You learn to trust your instincts as you walk. When you haven’t seen an arrow for a while you trust that one will show up eventually. When it does you breathe a sigh of relief and keep walking.
All you have to do is show up, put one foot in front of the other, and eventually you will reach the end. Yes, you may be tired, aching, limping and cursing your stupidity for thinking you can walk 30km in a day – but arriving nevertheless.
What no one warns you about is the return. People leave out the part about stepping off the plane back into ‘reality’. What’s worse is that travel had become my reality. I was returning home to no job, no house, no boyfriend, and (almost) no money.
The Camino taught me a great deal about myself, and the subsequent months of travel challenged those lessons – The Camino was a wonderful classroom; and travel, the perfect playground.
But life beyond the Camino is a minefield of decisions with no little yellow beacons saying ‘this way’. No one path. No one way. How am I to know I’m on the right path when there’s no validation from a tiny spray-painted arrow on the side of a house?! Heck I don’t even know what path I want to be on, let alone if I’m walking in the right direction.
The beauty and terrifying fact of life is that no matter what path you take, you will end up somewhere. The mistake is thinking there is a right direction. If I don’t know where I want to go, I can’t be on the wrong path. Thank you Lewis Carroll and cue Alice in Wonderland quote…
One thing I do know is you just have to keep walking.
There is one problem though…
…I’m afraid of swamps!
Stay with me through the metaphor. What if where I tread now is straight into a swamp? I have been there, literally – I have the video to prove it! Much of life, for so many people, feels like swamps and cliffs and the loneliness of the deserted Meseta. It’s draining and confronting…And it’s the reason many are on the Camino in the first place.
Nobody wants to ‘keep walking’ through swamps. Sometimes you want fields of wildflowers, mountaintop moments that leave you breathless and pilgrim Disney singalongs. We all want to feel content on our path for a while – These are the things that give us motivation to push through the mud.
I don’t want to walk into a swamp. So I look for arrows. But when they aren’t there fear stops me from taking a step forward; a step that could lead me into the wildflower fields. So I have to keep walking.
The return is about harnessing the trust you found–that at the end of the day you will be okay. True, I liked my little arrow saying “Go you, you’re on the right track”. On the Camino you didn’t have to worry about what to wear, how you looked (though I still did), or where you were going. But life isn’t that simple. And we need to let go and learn to trust whatever path you’re on. That’s the point of pilgrimage. To learn about yourself when life is stripped down, exposed…simplified. The Camino is a teacher, and the simplicity is purely it’s pedagogical method. It’s a lesson about life… not life itself!
In life our little yellow arrows are those divine moments when we smile, laugh, get lost in something. That’s the validation. Subtle reminders you’re on a good, right path. Or that the path just doesn’t matter. I now pay more attention to these arrows. It’s these arrows that lead me away from swamps and cliffs and mountains – and for a moment I can enjoy the wildflower view.