El camino de Santiago and finding the way | Lisa Steingold

El Camino de Santiago and Finding Your Way

I recently cycled the Camino de Santiago. If you’re unfamiliar with it, it’s a ‘walk’ in Spain. In fact it’s not so much a walk as it is a pilgrimage with many route options that span France and Italy, the oldest of which is called “El primitivo”.

Quick fact check;

  • The Camino Primitivo from Oviedo (my home town) is the oldest Camino route
  • According to the statistics for 2019 only 4% (about 16 000 people a year) of all the pilgrims who walk the Camino de Santiago choose the Primitive Way. 
  • 6% of all camino-ers cycle and mostly by mountain bike along the typical camino paths
  • The number of days required to do the camino is 12-14 days
  • The distance is approximately 321kms
  • The history of the Camino de Santiago dates back to the 9th century when Spanish King Alfonso II walked to Santiago de Compostela. According to the legend, he completed the Camino to commemorate the discovery of the remains of the apostle St. James in Compostela several years earlier.
  • Today, nearly 350,000 trekkers from around the world continue to complete the Camino each year—and for good reason.

I didn’t want to write about this journey because it’s some great sporting feat. It isn’t and I have friends who’ve cycled it in just one day! (Now that’s a sporting feat!).

No, I wanted to write about it because of the feeling the experience left me with and because of the undeniable metaphor between the road and life.

El camino in Spanish, means ‘the way’.

Lessons from El Camino

The way, like many things, if we just pay attention, was a living breathing example of life. Along the way there were new friends to be made, even if just for a moment. There were moments of beauty, moments of depth and moments of despair.

After three weeks without a drop of rain, which is unusual in this part of the world, on the first day it poured. 127kms of being soaked. I however felt full of life.

Just under a year ago, a dear friend of mine passed away from cancer. I knew that if she were alive, she’d tell me “girl, just put on your big girl panties and go and have a blast!”.

Life is short (although some periods – especially the difficult ones – seem long) and so it was with an absolute feeling of privilege that I set out on the road to meet myself.

Life is busy. Take a moment

I live life, like I like, at pace. Boxing classes, working with my incredible team, Spanish class, cycling, going out with friends, reading… It’s non-stop. If I could do more I’d add in a motorbike and more hours in the day but everyone of us is the same – we get 24 hours; no more, no less.

I hit the bed each night exhausted but happy and start again the next day.

But I don’t make enough time to reflect. This was the opportunity to get to know myself a little again.

My family and my friends are the pulse of my life and taking time out for reflection not only makes me appreciate them more but helps bring me back to what I know is important.

Try it. One cup of coffee alone in the sun. One moment. One breath.

Plan your route

Life lessons can be painful. And day 3 was a lesson for me. 

Note to self for next time: “Download your route onto Garmin before setting out Lisa!“

It’s like life in that way. If you don’t know where you’re going, how can you get there? Even when you know where you’re going, you need a route map.

I’d seen the route on Google and figured it’d be a no-brainer and pretty simple. Something like all roads lead to Santiago? 

It wasn’t.

I lost my way. My phone battery ran low. I got chased by dogs. It was windy. I cried.

Next time, I’ll be sure to download my route onto Garmin.

You can’t avoid living – build resilience and carry on

Life is for living! Will you get hurt? Yes! Because that’s what happens when you live with your heart and your soul fully in the game.

You love. You lose. The wind blows. You don’t reach goals that you’d invested every ounce of yourself in. You fall. 

It hurts like shit. 

But you’re alive.

My dear friend Jen from Bia and my dearest friend Nats always tell me “You can cry, but you have to keep pedalling”.

We often, all of us, try to build contingency plans so we don’t have to hurt. This is a good thing, until it becomes a defence mechanism against experiencing life itself. 

It’s not when we go that matters. It’s how we live when we’re here. We’re all going at some point. Some of us, like my beautiful friend who passed so young, sooner than others. We’re all going, so we may as well live.

A route map for finding the way

I actually came up with this ‘map’ a while before I left and I posted it on LinkedIn but it occured to me that there are 4 things you need to know (and do) in order to navigate this crazy beautiful thing called life.

1. Your dreams 🌟 

If you don’t know what you want, you’ll never get there

2. Your challenges 🙈 

Outer but also inner. I’ve had to learn to know what I can control and what I can’t. Also you must know them to overcome them.

3. Your key habits 🔑 

What habits you need to make this thing called life work for you. (Definitely read Charles Duhigg The Power of Habit.) Habits will change your life and make the seemingly impossible possible.

4. Your peeps NB! ❤️ 

These are the people who will support you in both your dreams and challenges AND to whom you have a responsibility to support and love too. Also it’s true what they say about the people you surround yourself with. I consider myself to be extremely fortunate to be surrounded by my family, friends and team at Whale.

🌟PS Most likely in between dreams and challenges, you’ll find your lessons and wisdom:-)

What to do when you’re off the path

The good news is that when you’re off the path and trying to find your way, you’ll know it. If you listen, there’ll be a little voice inside telling you that all is not well. 

Just like a GPS, you can recalculate at any time. 😊

Sometimes we need to rest, sometimes we need to consult Google and sometimes we need to ask for help. 

I think what happens when we’re off the path, so to speak, is that we learn things along the way. We learn lessons. We learn what we don’t want. In that way, nothing is ever a waste of time.

I think that life is just one big process of finding our way and as my friend Farai used to tell me “We’re all just walking each other home”.

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