Lessons from the Camino

The following is a list of the lessons I learned, beliefs that were strengthen, and/or topics which frequently came up in discussions with other while walking the Camino. Walking the Camino provided a wonderful opportunity to consider what makes a meaningful life.

TL;DR

  • The best part of this journey is experiencing the “Camino spirit” which is exhibited by nearly all pilgrims. Key to this is everyone has slack / aren’t in a hurry so they have time to notice others and respond rather than rushing off to the next obligation. The uniformity of how pilgrims are treating others is likely influenced by a self selection bias of who walks a Camino, and a reinforced by the trail’s ethos. I believe the key elements of the Camino Spirit:
    • default is to be kind (loving) to everyone encountered
    • no judgement of others, instead curiosity when differences are encountered. Miroslav Volf would say everyone was an “us” not a “them”.
    • choosing to be vulnerable, sharing deeply and honesty which builds connection
  • Simple acts of love, being kind to others, can be life changing for both the “giver” and the “receiver”. If everyone’s response to others was kindness and compassion the world would be a completely different, better, place.
  • Life impacting community can develop almost instantly when a super-majority has chosen to be in the Camino spirit. People feel like family, in the best possible way in just a few hours.

The “Big” Lessons

  • Love is the ultimate measure of a life.  Love spreads through connections and multiplies: the giver and receiver both grow love. This can result in exponential rather than merely linear impact.
  • Community is the key to a flourishing life. Community requires:
    • Time / Availability / Slack. If you are always busy then you won’t have time for community. True community can only form when people are able to share their lives together. Life isn’t predicable. If your community activities are restricted to a tightly defined time-box you will miss out.
    • Care / Love / Acceptance. As mentioned above, love is so important. Healthy communities require the members to choose to love each other and the world around them.
    • Vulnerability. People need to drop their guards and lower their masks so people can truly seem them. Without vulnerability the bonds in the community will be weak.
    • Something bigger than the individuals of the group. Community that is only focused in itself will stagnate. It needs something bigger than itself.
  • What seems insignificant to you can be life changing for others. Don’t underestimate power of simple acts of loving your neighbor. Thank people when they have made a difference in your life. Often they have no idea they had any impact on you. Your thanks will be an encouragement.
  • The skill of listening well is hard to be developed, but is worth the effort. I often fail to listen because I am so busy formulating answers and fixes rather than listening to truly understand and be empathic.
  • Presence is maybe the greatest gift we can give to someone.  Really seeing people and being with them. Giving them our full attention, and not looking for something better in the moment.
  • Everyone is fearfully and wonderfully made. Cherish, honor, and respect others even if they are being an idiot in the moment.
  • Being a great companion requires dropping expectations and being delighted by another which results in an ease of interactions and great satisfaction.
  • The Camino spirit enriches our daily experience and could change the world if more people embraced it.
  • Living out the Camino spirit has many similarity of what Christians would call kingdom living.
  • Busyness and chasing after “success” will choke the Camino spirit out.
  • You can maintain a Camino spirit by cultivating gratitude, remember to put other people first, and leaving slack in your schedule so you can respond to unexpected needs.
  • Sometimes suffering isn’t about us, it’s to prepare us to help others. God loves all his children and will sometimes let one child suffer so all his children can thrive.
  • Don’t blame others. We are responsible for how we respond to all situations. If you give that away, you will always be dependent on other for a sense of happiness.
  • Contentment = CurrentReality – Expectations. We can be happy in very difficult circumstances if we don’t have any expectations, and miserable in situations that nearly everyone would be delighted by because our expectations are extremely high.
  • There is great joy and freedom when simplicity is embraced. Pack and live lightly.
  • Intentional minimalist / essentialism / simplicity focused on making time for what’s most important and getting rid of obligations and possessions that keep us busy and/or distracted.
  • Minimalist can lead to people being hyper focused on stuff, constantly trying to prune things down to a “perfect” set. Minimalism at it’s best understands that stuff is only useful when it enables spending time on meaningful activities and is best when stuff fades into the background.
  • Prayer is good, and has been at the heart of most of my most profound experiences. Yet I am not consistently praying.  This is stupid and needs to change.
  • We all hunger for transcendence because we know in our hearts that there is more than our eyes can see. Some people try to find this in nature and art but this isn’t sufficient.
  • If you don’t push a particular ideology and are genuinely curious, most people are happy to share their spiritual (or none spiritual) journey and you can hear some amazing stories. Ask questions, don’t give answers. Often these people will be interested in learning about your journey. Don’t preach at them, share what you have experience and let them decide what they think. Don’t expect or insist they agree with you. If you are interested… this is a description of my journey.
  • When people share something significant in common, like walking the Camino, other differences aren’t very important. We heard no one spewing nationalistic rhetoric. Rather than “my country is better than yours” I heard a lot more “oh, we do the same” or “We don’t do that, tell me more about…”. The only time I didn’t always see empathy / compassion is the pilgrim vs “tourist” divide in the last 100km.
  • If you want to go fast, travel by yourself. If you want to go far, travel with others. You don’t notice the miles if you are in a good conversation, and you are able to help and encourage each other when difficulties are encountered.
  • The symbolism of the Iron Cross is powerful… identify the weights you are carrying, and drop them at the cross.

The “Small” / Pactical Lessons

  • When you meet people that you “connect with” take their picture and connect on WhatsApp so you can stay in contact. There are a number of people I would have liked to stay in contact with from some of the first days, but we never saw each other again because we were walking at different rates. WhatsApp QR codes are the easiest way to exchange contact info. If you are using WiFi and don’t have cell coverage take a screen shot of your WhatsApp QR code for others to scan, and take a picture of their QR code for when you are connected.
  • We could have sold 90+ Montbell Umbrello Hats. They are incredibly practical and made a lot of people smile. We often had people ask for selfies with us or to borrow the hat so they could have their picture taken wearing one.
  • Minimalist sandals like the Luna Retro Oso Flaco are great provided you have trained your feet before embarking on a long walk. I had no blisters and no foot issues, even after 30 mile days. Ironically I have several people each day ask “Are you hiking in those sandals?” to which my answer was “Yup.. from SJPP. They are the only footwear I brought.”
  • Orginize items in your pack based on where you use them. Unpack and pack them the same way each day so you don’t forget anything. For example even if they are different, put things that going next to the bed in the same bag: charger for phone, eye mask, lotion you put on as you get out of bed.
  • At the end of the day it’s hard to recognize people when hats are off, sunglasses put away, and people of freshly showered.
  • People who are walking as part of a tour can miss out on some of the Camino Spirit because they often travel in a bubble which keeps them from a broader interaction with other pilgrims.
  • Bicyclists on mixed use trails should use a bell to warn hikers of their approach. It is universally recognized and doesn’t seem to startle people.
  • Many people found private room greatly enhanced sleep quality.

Snippets of Stories

One of the best parts of the Camino was hearing people vulnerably tell stories from their lives. I don’t feel free to share full stories without people’s permission… but some short fragments of stories I witnesses or heard to give a sense:

  • Retired minister who does 750 tax returns free of charge for the poor in his community which is greatly appreciated by them and grew his empathy and understanding of what people were facing.
  • 72y old gentleman with a lot of grit who adjust his plans so as not to damage his body because he had nothing to prove.
  • A man with terminal cancer walking to Camino to prepare to be his very best self in his last year of life. When he walked the Camino in the past he found the power of kindness, the value of being present with others, and the clarity of a simple life make him better and more loving to all those he came in contact
  • A couple that came together years ago when one of the parties came to realize the other wouldn’t hold them back but would always strive to lift them up. We could feel their gentleness just by sitting next to them in a restaurant. Though they faced some serious challenges they were joyous and thankful.
  • A couple who met on the Camino and found they enjoyed discovering the Way together. They were learning each others language and enjoying each others company. The had a joy and ease that was breathtaking because they have no expectations other than to be companions as they walked.
  • A vision impaired gentleman who noted that he has a super power… that people strived to be their very best when they saw his cane… being kind and generous to him with this could spill into the rest of their lives.
  • A women who help many of us see the “boring and ugly” Meseta with new eyes… such as how the wind move the grain like waves on the ocean.
  • A gentleman who lost his wife on the Camino 5 years ago who is finishing the walk they started, leaving little memorials each place that would have been special to his wife and sharing his experience of what makes a meaningful life.
  • Many stories of people who were burned out and recovered during their walk finding energy and joy during the Camino. One gentleman said “I was a broken man… on the Camino I was restored.”
  • People who had trouble “letting go” and so were carrying a laptop to keep tabs on things “back home”. It would have been appropriate to leave the laptop at the Iron Cross, but they took the more practical approach of shipping it to Santiago.

Resources I Share Frequently

  • Excellent Advice for Living – Kevin Kelly’s 450 tweet size bites of wisdom. This is an expansion of his 68 bits of advise.
  • The idea of training for the Centenarian decathlon. Ideally start in teens, as soon as possible, but it’s never too late, especially if you didn’t do a lot of exercise in your earlier life.
  • Design Your Life – Burnett & Evans. Run small experiments and design yourself into a good life rather than trying to figure everything out and then a grand plan to accomplish everything.
  • Harvard Study which reveals how good friendship and personal relationships are the most significant factor to health and happiness.
  • Interview with Tom Catena the only doctor serving 1 million people in the Nuba Mountains in Sudan. Humility, simplicity, what’s important, and resiliency.
  • How to Build a Happy Life (now called how to talk to people)… podcast by the Atlantic. First season was by Arthur Brooks. Other seasons followed with different hosts.
  • Books by Arthur Brooks, Richard Rohr, and Parker Palmer for their life affirming and gracious content.
  • The Good and Beautiful God – James Bryant Smith. How we have many false narratives of what God is like and what he wants from us.
  • Kindness Diaries follows Leon as he travels around the globe, and then from Alaska to Argentina by relying on the kindness of strangers who freely provide him food, fuel, and a place to sleep.
  • Lectio 365: A devotional application which provides 5-15 minutes of content each morning and evening.
  • Six Streams of Spirituality promoted by Renovare for a balanced faith and what living out those streams might look like.
  • The parable of the prodigal son and the gracious insights of Ken Bailey.
  • My Packing Light Page
  • My Healthy and Fit Page
  • My advise about money

I am not in control. I am not in a hurry. I walk in faith and hope. I greet everyone with peace. I bring back only what God gives me.

Murray Bodo, The Pilgrim’s Credo

1 Comment

  1. Thanks Mark! Reading your write up takes me back to the Camino days 🙂 it was a pleasure to meet you & Jackie along the way. Hope all is well.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *