Keep it real, I say to myself, as I’m writing this post. Keep it very real. “I’ve been plenty humbled these past few days”, I can hear my pride is trying to negotiate with me, “do we have to publish this failure on the web?”
Yes, we do, I argue. Firstly because I do not want to fear failure. Secondly, if I struggle with accepting failure maybe other people struggle with it too? We could open up the dialogue to see what this is all about. Perhaps silly Failure is just Adaptation’s ugly brother whom no one likes? He gets a bad wrap, but he shows up to all our parties anyways. He certainly showed up to mine.
Let’s consider the following:
1. If you ordered a yummy desert that you remember liking three years ago and then tasted it to find out that it was
no longer your favourite: what would you do?
2. If you felt some kind of obligation to finish a beloved art project started before and found that you no longer enjoyed creating it, would you feel bad if you stopped?
Three years ago, together with my mom, I set out on the frequented pilgrimage in Northern Spain: the Camino de Santiago. We walked about 150km of the Way. Since that time I’ve often thought that I would complete the journey. This month of May was dedicated to that purpose: I had calculated that if I started where mom and I had left off walking about 20km a day I would make it in about 30 days to Santiago de Compostella. My math skills are good, however, my gear and walk-planning and, more importantly, a lucid evaluation of my own motivations and attitudes for this pilgrimage, were far less skilled.
Firstly, gear. Big mistake: wrong shoes (runners rarely work while trekking or hiking boots do work). Within two days (16km day 1 and 23km on day 2) I had developed blisters all around and under my toes.
(my feet and legs on Day 4)
I chose to take others’ advice and popped the blisters and wrapped them up tight in tape. This allows you to continue walking with bearable pain, although in my case I had already had the time to develop hip pain and shin-splints and, what was even more unfortunate, blisters on top of blisters underneath my tape bandages. I knew I had to place my feet normally and ignore the pain otherwise I would be putting awkward stress on another body part, like ankles or knees, which could cause other injuries. Rest would solve my problem but, problem number 2, I had not accounted for any rest days in my trek. If I rested I would not be able to finish anyways. So I walked on Day 3 and 4, and I walked in a lot of pain. I walked, and I wondered what to do next.
I stopped for a moment to contemplate this pain. You see, I’ve been there before. Especially back in 2012 during my fundraiser and solo bike ride across Europe I was in a great deal of physical pain (during first 2-3 weeks of ride) and I was so determined not to disappoint my family and friends following me on my ride and those supporting the fundraiser that I muscled through all possible pain never once considering defeat. I could not let anyone down, least of all myself.
Back then it was an important lesson to learn. I needed to feel this in my body. I needed to push my limits to understand better where they are and to experience the deep satisfaction of a fight well fought and, ultimately, won. I’ll also add that, happily, no lasting physical damage was done. It was a gamble, and I got lucky.
Now, I don’t see things quite the same way. I respect my body and her limits in a different way. I am not so willing to gamble with my health. I no longer think it is a good idea to push and push until I can no longer bear the pain. In fact, I no longer see the value in unnecessary pain. I used to think that it builds character :-) now I feel that it is simply unnecessary. Besides, how can I be fully present for others when I am so absorbed in my own pain?
Now, the all important spiel concerning motivations and attitudes.
I feel that I went into this experience way too self-assured. What’s a few hours walking when you’re used to spending your weeks jogging, doing yoga, swimming and surfing? I was so sure I would be fine. I got a big dose of humility and reality check in answer to my over-confidence. This is a lot harder than it looks. Many pilgrims do the Camino section by section over the course of many years. Many end up taking buses to move ahead on the stages and/or take rest days to manage their foot/hip/body pain. Many, like myself, never get half as far as they had initially planned.
To add to this confidence was my sense of obligation and duty to finish what I had begun 3 years ago. If the Camino is a metaphor for life which, in many cases, it can be, this has been a poignant life lesson for me. Simply put, projects undertaken from a cold emotional space of duty allow little room for pleasure and excitement and set me up for…failure. I’m not sure why I felt such a sense of duty to finish the Camino, but I did. What I learned is that Duty doesn’t add juice and flavour to my days while lightness, flow and enjoyment do!
I could go on, but for now I’ll stop here. It has been a fascinating 5 days on the Camino. I really love walking, and Spain is as beautiful as I always remember her. It has been a short time packed with great insights. I’ve really enjoyed interacting with the pilgrims, young and old. But, for now, it’s done. The Camino (the trek) is done, while The Camino (my life) is in full bloom :-) Tomorrow I head back to Madrid to properly rest and heal my feet and then I’ll go to…I don’t yet know where.
(photo: enjoying beauty of Camino sunrise)
I am ultimately proud of myself for having the courage to change plans, adapt and yes, to disappoint myself and others. This wasn’t the outcome I was expecting, but it’s the outcome that happened. It’s the outcome that I chose. On the bright side I have a ton of gear, planning and life experience that will come in handy if I ever want to take up the Camino again.
I am wishing you also plenty of adaptability and capacity to let go and to go with the flow of what comes to you in your life :-)
With blessings, from the Camino!
⁃ your tired, foot-sore, forever learning life-Pilgrim