Friday, 30 May 2014

How a walk can change your life

I recently read an article on happiness and wellbeing that got me thinking again about why a pilgrimage walk is such a good experience, and also a catalyst for change and even a metaphor for life. While part of power of a pilgrimage is that it is full of positive experiences (landscapes, cheese, wine and new friends spring instantly to mind), it has done something deeper than simply provide an interesting set of photos. 

The walk is over, but I continue to draw on more than memories. In the article I read Carol Ryff (1989) proposed six dimensions of well-being derived from previous work on how to measure happiness or wellbeing.  The walk was an opportunity to grow and develop in each one of these areas:

1. Self-acceptance:
We all walk at a different pace. I grew in self acceptance as I found my pace, my fitness, and my strengths (and weaknesses). I felt positive about what I had done so far and I want less to be someone different.  I walked alone for several days, I am comfortable in my own company. Over time I found others who are also comfortable in their own skin. 

2. Positive relations with others:
From a short greeting and chat as we pass, to the deepest of conversations about life and it's meaning,  there are opportunities each day to connect with others, to show care when someone stumbles or needs some first aid (bandaids and beer fix many things).  The highlight of many days is an open table, where we can celebrate together and talk about what is to come. 

3. Autonomy:
I am doing this, with my determination and ability to resist the pressure to stop. I am keeping up with no-one but myself, I set the pace and I aim for what I determine is a good goal for me.  

4. Environmental mastery:
There is only so much preparation and training you can do. Google won't help me master the road ahead, even if it does provide excellent directions and photos. I can cope with a limited ability to communicate and only general directions about where to stay and what to do in between. I don't have to have all the details in order to keep taking steps in the right directions. Things sometimes don't work out but 'the camino provides', at least for those able to keep an optimistic eye out for it. It's also true that 90% of success is turning up. As a result of this I'm more confident in taking on things that seem hard. 

5. Purpose in life:
Walking the camino sharpens the focus of each day: Face towards your goal and take steps in that direction. Rest and eat when needed. Rinse and Repeat. 

I have come back with a clearer sense of purpose and I now have more confidence to keep walking in that direction, even when my current circumstances show little evidence of it. I know that you can cover a lot of distance by taking consistent steps in the same direction.  I've also found that it's more enjoyable than wandering in circles, waiting for the change in life to happen. 

6. Personal growth:
Someone high in personal growth 'has a feeling of continued development; sees self as growing and expanding; is open to new experiences; has sense of realizing his or her potential; sees improvement in self and behaviour over time; is changing in ways that reflect more self-knowledge and effectiveness' (Ryff, 1989, p. 1072). 

Every day the walk provides opportunity for personal growth. Perhaps one of it's strengths is that it continually provided points for reflection; from sitting in churches to sitting at tables sharing stories. Reflection helps me to see those changes along the way and to want to continue. It has encouraged me to keep going after the new and the challenging.

The camino gave me the opportunity to grow in all six of those dimensions, it's no wonder so many people find it a transforming experience. A walk can change your life, or I suppose more accurately: you can change your life. 

I don't need to go on another pilgrimage to keep growing in these dimensions of well-being, though both still sound like good ideas. I can focus on any one of these dimensions and grow in my sense of well-being. Some of the changes in direction that I've made since returning from the walk are about doing all six at once, and that feels good. And a little scary, which is good too. 

Ryff, C. D. (1989). Happiness is everything, or is it? Explorations on the meaning of psychological well-being. Journal of personality and social psychology, 57(6), 1069-1081.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

On your knees?!

So it looks like I've got a follower who thinks he's Jesus.. Or Jesus is now running a twitter campaign.. Or... something even stranger..

Four targets of the latest message; Pope Francis, Hillsong Church, Mark Driscoll and me..
'One of these things is not like the other..' comes to mind..

I'm intrigued as to how I fit into this picture, though I suspect logic will not help make sense of it. Is this my 15 milliseconds of fame?

Should I kneel just in case?

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

6 months later..

A lot has changed in the last six months. I resigned from my job and have started a Masters degree (in leadership and change management). The camino didn't make me do it, but it did provide a perspective change. I was restless before I thought of walking 600km, but the walking showed me a different way of living that has continued to impact me. 

It helped me see that you don't always need to know the details if you know the direction. So many times my plan fell through on the details but what eventuated was usually better and always sufficient. Trusting what you need to be there when you need it, proved to be the best way to enjoy the journey. 

I started out on my own; in order to reflect and take some time to consider my life, to push myself to attempt something that was way out of my comfort zone, and to explore a spiritual action that was quite foreign to me. While I enjoyed the moments of solitude, I found the communal aspects of the camino to be the most inspiring and impacting. Looking back now, I most enjoyed sharing company and food several times a day with a large number of people going in a common direction. What made it especially rich was the diversity of reasons why people were doing the walk and how much there was to learn from each other. 

I got fitter than I have ever been. It has not been easy to keep up. I got as far as buying running shoes, and I have worn them once, so there is some margin for improvement. The camino is not a permanent change. I am still working on the daily habits that bring health and fitness. 

I enjoyed blogging during the walk, even though it was hard to do it every day. It has encouraged me to keep writing regularly. And to keep traveling.. at least I'm pretty sure that's what I am hearing. 

I would like to do another camino at some point. In the meantime, I am bringing the gratitude, freedom, and camaraderie of the walk into each and every day. 

The pics: 
1. Lisbon Cathedral
2. In the plaza, just before the flight home. 

Tuesday, 10 September 2013


I went to the end of the earth. Now my way is towards home.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

The end and the beginning

Today is the day we reach Santiago. Since Porto I have met new people each day. Over that time a little community has formed. At 6:30am 10 of us gathered together to walk the final 12.9kms to the Cathedral. It's completely dark and we use torches to find the arrows and markers. Donald is slightly ahead of us and we loose him at an intersection. We can't see him or find an arrow. The map, GPS and some local advice all tell us that we are on a main road to Santiago, but not the marked path. We decide to continue as we are heading in the right direction at least. After a few more kilometres I can smell bread. We are yet to find an open coffee shop. It's not a retail shop and I walk past slightly despondent. One of the Spanish girls sees someone inside and knocks on the door to get directions. She emerges with two baguettes! Free. Rocio hands them to me and I break bread, with thanks. It seems a strangely spiritual thing to be doing together and I am not the only one to make the connection. It is also delicious. If only a winemaker would appear an offer us a bottle, but not many of my companions would expect full communion.

At 8:15am we find Donald waiting at the coffee shop, which is about to open. The Camino has focused our daily needs to just a few things. This is definitely one of them.

We now have 6.094km to go according to the way marker. Our goal is to make it to the midday mass, as Rocio, Ana and Alicia are taking the bus home tonight. There is already an awareness that the end of our shared adventure is near. Several others, including Carlos, will leave tomorrow. I have walked with Carlos for over three weeks. Saying goodbye is going to be hard.

Though a few are carrying feet and knee injuries we keep walking at a good enough pace and we get our first glimpse of the Cathedral at 10:40am. We have made it, and made it on time.
We have enough time to take some photos and soak in the atmosphere. There is also time for those of us staying to tonight to book in to a hotel and drop off our back packs.

Donald walked the Camino Francis last year and has an excellent recommendation for accomodation. Its a monastery turned into a hotel and it's right beside the Cathedral. €23 with buffet breakfast. I book in for two nights. I haven't had a real breakfast in 4 weeks. Seminario Mayor if you are in town. They have single rooms for pilgrims, with ensuite. So it seems I still have a taste for more than the necessities of life.

We go to the mass. I would have liked to have understood what was said but it was moving anyway as I took in the significance of my walk. Some of us are Catholic, some of us are Protestant, some are agnostic, and we have done it together. We have followed a way together. It is sad to know it is finished.

We spend the rest of the day and the next getting our compostella, eating together, seeing the city and saying goodbye.

I now have just over a week before I travel back home. I want to see more of Spain, as I have seen so much more of Portugal. Travelling with Carlos and then also with Rocio, Ana and Alicia has given me a glimpse into the gloom of the Spanish economy and how it affects the aspirations of it's young people.

Tomorrow I will take a bus to Finisterre and then an overnight train to Madrid. I will get back to Lisbon in time for my flight on the 17th, when I can finally catch my flight home. If it were possible I would fly today, but since I have the time I will use it to try and experience more of Spain and it's people.

I miss Meredith, and Chloe and Charlotte. If I were a medieval pilgrim then Santiago would only be the halfway point in the journey. I am very grateful I am not walking home and that for me this nearly marks the end.  A new journey awaits when we are reunited.

Today's photos:
1. Our first glimpse of the Cathedral
2. We made it. From left: Me (Australia),  Carlos (Spain), Wade (Usa), Donald (Canada), Neil (England), Ana (Spain), Jim (Usa), Flavia (Brazil), Alicia (Spain), Rocio (Spain).
3. We made it in time to get a seat.
4. Lighting the botafumeiro.
5. The Cathedral at night.
6. Jim with his compostella
7. My very own Santiago cake. It was nice. Sorry but unlike some of the others I can't bring one home to share.
8. At the spot where pilgrims used to be able to put their hand on the pillar.
9. There is still time for washing even though I have to improvise the drying method. The monastery roof works well. Best drying time of the whole trip.

Friday, 6 September 2013

600km down the road..

I leave early again and walk fast. Our plan today is to do one and a half stages so that we can walk into Santiago tomorrow morning in time for the pilgrims mass. To do that, our destination for today is Teo.

Again today I see Donald as I am getting ready to go so we agree to meet at the first coffee place which is about an hour away. He leaves a bit before me so when I start I walk to catch him. It is 6:15am and it's fine when I am walking under streetlights, but I need to use my torch when I get beyond the town. It's hard to walk at full speed in the dark, and easy to miss the way marking. After 30 minutes I pass a really lovely French couple and ask if they have seen Donald. They haven't, so somehow one of us has taken a detour. I am pretty sure it wasn't me, and I hope he's not walking completely off the way. I have a coffee and keep walking. I arrive at Padron at 9:45am, having covered the 18km stage in time for breakfast.

I slow down a bit over the next 10km. I have a moment where I think I should be seeing the destination but nothing is making sense on the map. I decide to take a break and try to figure it out. My GPS only confuses me more as it says I am a long way west of the destination. I am contemplating either walking back to check, which I don't like, or keep going forward and risk entering Santiago, which is now only 18kms away. As I am thinking this through a scout group from Portugal walk by. I hail them and ask about the albergue at Teo. They are going there and it's still 4km ahead. Is there anyone more helpful than a Portuguese Scout?

I reach the albergue at 12:30pm. There is a group resting there but I am the first guest for the night. Donald makes it in just as the last beds are being taken. Carlos and Wade arrive just before the manager and are told they can't sleep on the floor. They go back down the road 2km and book in to another place with the others.

After a drink at the local I decide that I will go down the road and meet up with the others for dinner. It will be our last together. I have eaten with these people most days since Ponte de Lima. We have a lot of running jokes and have also had some significant discussions about many things over the past 10 days. After the funniest dinner I have ever had I march back up the hill to be back in the albergue by the 10pm curfew.

Oh yes, today I reached the 600km mark on my walk, but who's counting?
Is this day 26?

Today's photos:
1. Last nights dinner, all the regulars together.
2. A nice looking church in the dark.
3. Some beautiful forest walking in daylight.
4. Padron. In the guide it's the end of the days walk. Today it's a breakfast stop.
5. A beautiful Spanish lane.
6. A Spanish goat.
7. The sort of entrance I would love to have, if only it would fit in our front yard.
8. The Last Supper.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Choosing company

I decided last night to get up and leave when I woke up. Some people start incredibly early, but I saw a familiar shape walk out the dorm door at 5:15am and so I get up. I leave at 5:45am and soon catch Donald so we walk through the city together hoping to find an open cafe. There isn't one so I press on till the half way point in today's walk, which I reach at 7:35am. Donald catches up as I stop about 40 minutes for breakfast while I wait for the sun to rise. It's a total of 23kms to Caldas de Reis. It feels a bit strange to have half the day done by breakfast. Some people leave this early every day but it is by far the earliest that I have walked. As I sit and have breakfast the sun rises. I have used a torch for most of the walk and the section just before the cafe was enclosed forest. I suspect that it would have been beautiful if it wasn't completely dark.  

I do the next half quickly and arrive at Caldas de Reis at 10:15am. I could easily do the next day's stage today as well but my desire to finish with the people I have travelled with is stronger than the call of the finish line.

The rest of day 25 is filled with walking around the town and enjoying the company.  

Today's photos:
1. The church at 6:50am.
2. Closing in on Santiago.
3. A little bit of Spanish suburbia.
4. Spanish churches are definitely different from Portuguese.
5. The old bridge by the albergue.
6. No chance to see how a Fosters compares with the Spanish product.
7. A shared Santiago cake. Delicious..
8. A warm spring washing station and now foot bath.