What Did You Learn?

I set out on the Camino without a plan, without a goal, knowing that it was going to change me no matter what I did.  And change me it did.  I did realize just what my body and will are capable of—which is much more than I believed when I set out from Irún. 

But the most important lessons ran deeper.  Every run on the Camino was a time to be alive, aware only of what was around and inside me at every step: the deep, damp smell of the Spanish woods, the whispy cobwebs in my hair, the sound of my backpack shifting against me, the pink gold of each morning’s sunrise.  There was nothing else to do besides put one foot in front of the other, nothing else to need.  

Eventually, somehow, that became true of me, too.  It was as though all those days pounding along the trail loosened something in me, allowed me to feel and be whatever it is that I am.  To surrender to the truth of things, no matter how half-formed, messy, or unsure they are, and to let myself be carried forward naturally, alone and in the arms of friends.

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David Whyte captured it beautifully in his poem, “Santiago”:

The road seen, then not seen, the hillside

hiding then revealing the way you should take,

the road dropping away from you as if leaving you

to walk on thin air, then catching you, holding you up,

when you thought you would fall,

and the way forward always in the end

the way that you followed, the way that carried you

into your future, that brought you to this place,

no matter that it sometimes took your promise from you,

no matter that it had to break your heart along the way:

the sense of having walked from far inside yourself

out into the revelation, to have risked yourself

for something that seemed to stand both inside you

and far beyond you, that called you back

to the only road in the end you could follow, walking

as you did, in your rags of love and speaking in the voice

that by night became a prayer for safe arrival,

so that one day you realized that what you wanted

had already happened long ago and in the dwelling place

you had lived in before you began,

and that every step along the way, you had carried

the heart and the mind and the promise

that first set you off and drew you on and that you were

more marvelous in your simple wish to find a way

than the gilded roofs of any destination you could reach:

as if, all along, you had thought the end point might be a city

with golden towers, and cheering crowds,

and turning the corner at what you thought was the end

of the road, you found just a simple reflection,

and a clear revelation beneath the face looking back

and beneath it another invitation, all in one glimpse:

like a person and a place you had sought forever,

like a broad field of freedom that beckoned you beyond;

like another life, and the road still stretching on.

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