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Matters of the Spirit, The Camino de Santiago 2013

My Camino Chronicles: The Burdens of the Mind

Picture1A ‘seeker’ for many years, one thing I quickly realized on my quest for spiritual truth was that authentic ‘learning’ is actually inner transformation. We may not always be aware what it is that we gain from an experience, yet something changes in the way that we go about life, and in the way that we make our decisions. If an experience alters the way we look at life, at each other, at our environment, if it moves our perspectives into a deeper mode of seeing (whether we are spiritual seekers, medical doctors, farmers, etc), then we have done more than just learn, we have become wiser. The camino journey had many lessons in store for me, and they started right away, as I began my 800 km trek.

I left home for Paris on the 3rd of May, with a backpack weighing about six kilos. Pilgrims are advised to carry 10 per cent (at most) of their body weight, and are offered prepared lists on all of the camino forums by helpful camino ‘veterans’. We are warned not to exceed those limits as it doesn’t take long before the weight of one’s backpack becomes a miserable burden, especially on the many daunting mountain slopes that are part of the 800 km Camino Frances. I packed under 10 per cent, as I had to get a connecting EasyJet flight from Paris to Biarritz, and needed to ensure it would fit their cabin hold requirements. I didn’t take any toiletries, as they’d have been confiscated anyway, and I knew could buy them in St. Jean Pied de Port.

IMG_00000077I arrived in St. Jean Pied a Port (meaning Saint John at the foot of the mountain pass’), so excited, I could hardly keep the grin off my face. With pack on back, I bounced up the winding streets from the station like a kid at Christmas, waiting for my first glimpse of the ancient walled town nestled at the foot of the Pyrenees.  I’d read about it in both Shirley Maclaine’s and Paolo Coelho’s books and I’d devoured every internet source I could find in my camino research.

Entering the walls of the town renowned to be the start of the Camino de Santiago, the sight of it made my heart stop in my chest. With a need to capture every cherished moment of this experience, I could not stop taking photographs. St. Jean Pied de Port was once a part of the Spanish province of Navarra and today, the Basque language is still spoken here.  It is quaint, it is holy; it is sanctified by a thousand years of pilgrimage. With a heart filled with gratitude and a joy I hadn’t felt in a long time, I obtained my pilgrims passport, my pilgrims shell and a sturdy walking stick, and I settled into my accommodation.

IMG_00000078 IMG_00000079 IMG_00000080 IMG_00000083

IMG_00000094 IMG_00000107Later, I went shopping. Unable to find hotel-size samples of my various toiletries, I bought the normal (large) bottles of shampoo, conditioner, body creams, facial wipes, and many other things that after much agonizing, I felt I couldn’t live without. Along with all this added weight, I also bought enough food to feed Napoleon’s army. I was, after all, walking the same difficult and dangerous route taken by this French military man and his army, and my daughter had convinced me that I’d probably get lost, fall over a cliff and if I didn’t die, then be stranded. It’s an unfortunate truth that many pilgrims before me had either been injured or had died on route, and I didn’t appreciate the thought of starving to death on a freezing cold mountain.

On the morning of the 5th of May, I was out of the door at first light and disappeared into the mountain mist that hadIMG_00000130 descended on this historic town. I followed the brass road markers that indicated the camino route. My pack was now very heavy, and getting it onto my back without falling over was not an easy task. But I needed my toiletries and the food. There was no way around the issue of the weight unless I discarded most of my clothes, washed in the mountain streams, and chose to rely on other people’s generosity, rather like the Saddhus of India. Since I didn’t fancy myself in that role, I would simply have to tolerate the extra kilos.

IMG_00000159Following the arrows out of town, I began the most arduous part of the whole 800 km camino journey. I found myself on what felt like a vertical climb at the start of the 25 km Route Napoleon, a path that leads through the most unbelievably beautiful countryside crossing the Pyrenees into Roncesvalles in Spain. Although I was mentally prepared for this, and had trained in the gym for three months before, it was still a physical shock to the system. The sheer slopes combined with the weight of the heavy backpack, slowed my pace considerably. Along with many others challenged by the precipitous inclines, I huffed and I puffed, the sweat pouring off me until I arrived on shaky legs to my first albergue accommodation, an extremely long 8 kms later. The next day, I ended up in Roncesvalles, over the mountain in Spain, having put the worst behind me.

It was only four days later, after much pain and feeling desperately overwhelmed, that I confronted the issue of my backpack weight. Pilgrims are warned that the first week of the camino is the most physically demanding and after that, assured that the body re-adjusts. Walking into Pamplona, I was a physical wreck and fighting back tears. I wanted to be home in my bed. I wanted the warm love of my husband and daughter, and I wanted the familiarity of all my ‘things’.  I found my accommodation and decided to stay for two nights in order to pull myself together both mentally and physically. My family wanted to Skype, but I refused, knowing I’d howl like a baby and upset everyone. As it turned out, a good night’s sleep, a hot meal and plenty of wine were just the ticket, and the next day I was able to think beyond escaping my ‘torment’.

With steep mountains at every turn, I’d come to dread the uphill climbs. I sat down and began a big self-talk session which resulted in me coming to terms with the mountains and their challenges. This was, after all, not some romantic fairy-tale hike I was taking. It was a challenge to the issues that lay embedded in my psyche. I wanted the challenges, I wanted to transform myself and my life, and so complaining about the pain that resulted, and placing myself in opposition to what was occurring wasn’t going to do me any good. Embracing the slopes as spiritual healers of the spirit would be far more helpful. To approach them with dignity and gratitude would be giving myself a gift. This shift in perspective lifted my spirits enormously, and my passion for my camino journey returned.

IMG_00000266I was also forced to examine the contents of my back pack. The weight was ridiculous, but to discard my belongings, I first had to discard some ancient beliefs that had been weighing me down for as long as I can remember. I began by challenging the idea that I had to look perfectly manicured all the time. To my mind, if I didn’t have silky smooth hair, a face smothered with make-up and pleasant smells wafting from my body, people would not accept me. Looking down at my scruffy walking shoes, leggings and sweater, I hardly looked the picture of glamour anyway, and the other walkers and albergue owners had not treated me any differently on the journey so far. That had been a pleasant surprise to me, that people actually related to me, not to the way I was dressed. I’d always believed that I had to be physically presentable before anyone would take me seriously, before anyone would listen to what I had to say. I learned this from society, and this concept is magnified in the corporate world where I worked for a very long time.

On the camino, the conversation is different to that in ordinary life. People want to know who you are on a deep level. We were all seeking something that lies beyond the surface of this life, and we delved into each other to find it. No one noticed my facial flaws when I was free of make-up. No-one cared that I lived in the same clothes day after day. In fact someone even remarked that when it came to camino living, meticulous cleanliness was over-rated anyway!

So I discarded my extra sets of walking clothes, and donated a heavy jacket and all of my toiletries to a happy American tourist who was sharing the same dormitory. I bought some soap and deodorant in miniature sizes and when I donned my backpack the following morning, was able to throw it over my shoulders with relative ease. I packed only what I needed in terms of that day’s food supplies, and threw out all the ‘emergency’ snacks. If I got into trouble, there were always people around who would be willing to help me. That was another idea that I discarded, the one which had me convinced that I have to be self-reliant at all times. This lesson and many later ones encouraged me to reach out to others and let them into my world. As I walked the road to Santiago it felt good to know I could never be alone even though I was a solitary walker.

With the weight of my illusory ideas well and truly lifted, I felt a lightness of being that strengthened me enormously. It seems ludicrous now that I had allowed myself to carry all this mental baggage around with me in my daily life; it became obvious to me then that the unexplained heaviness that human beings feel as we go about our lives is attributed to unexplored ideas that have no real truth behind them.

The camino is a wonderful friend that will always be a part of me. This was just the beginning of my transformation, the start of the release of the dark pockets of gloom that had haunted my heart for many years.



About Yaz

Hi Everyone! Please check out my site. There you'll find a range of subjects on which I've expressed my world view. I always challenge myself and others to move out of their point of view and try seeing things from another perspective. Your point of view will always be there if you don't like mine! And I'd love to hear from you. Perhaps you'll shift something in me. This is the journey to the True Self and I love it. Lots of love to you all!


28 thoughts on “My Camino Chronicles: The Burdens of the Mind

  1. Love this article so much and your distance to yourself and your honesty. I am looking forward to more! I would love to do this route myself one day.
    (I do have similar issues with make-up, so I had to smile)

    Posted by Symbol Reader | July 23, 2013, 12:42 pm
    • Thanks! Honesty is the only route to freedom, unfortunately! I still love my make-up, but am learning not to rely on it.

      Posted by Yaz | July 23, 2013, 2:24 pm
      • Well done you Yaz! Over the past couple of years I have become so comfortable without any make-up at all and there is a definite freedom and self acceptance that comes with it. I have even facilitated workshops now with only the barest hint of eyelier, lip gloss and a touch of blusher…….it becomes amusing to note people’s reactions when I even just go a little further in ‘dressing up’ with a touch more make up. When I get dolled up now, I feel as if I have put up a barrier, so the inner adjustments are so noticeable. Love you,,,,

        Posted by Jules | July 25, 2013, 3:01 pm
      • Yes, Jules, what a difference it makes not to ‘have to’ wear any make up. I probably will always wear it, but will no longer ‘need’ it. Lots of love to you!

        Posted by Yaz | July 25, 2013, 3:16 pm
  2. It seems the trail is doing it’s job, having it’s hoped for effect. I am looking forward to more of this journey. I am so impressed with anyone who takes on such a personal challenge. Great pictures by the way. Including that lovely lady with her backpack. 😉

    Posted by Chatter Master | July 23, 2013, 2:34 pm
    • Thanks Colleen! I was terrified of losing my camera before getting home. The memories are so precious, as hard as it was.

      Posted by Yaz | July 23, 2013, 2:38 pm
      • I imagine, and can only imagine, that with each step closer to home the trail became easier. Especially towards the end…when so much was already lived and learned on the trail. I don’t blame you about the camera. I may have duct taped it to myself!

        Posted by Chatter Master | July 23, 2013, 9:58 pm
  3. I didn’t realise you did the walk all alone!! How brave. And goodness how unfortunate that you had to do the steepest part carrying the most weight. At least you outran the heat wave I hope. I still struggle with the appearance thing but I can laugh at my hideousness when I get caught out.
    ‘Unexplored ideas that have no real truth to them’ must surely be the source of most of what ails us. Well put!! So good to have you back. Xx

    Posted by Joy is now | July 23, 2013, 3:03 pm
    • Yes, Emma, it was a good way to learn a lesson. All that baggage had to be suffered through physically before I got the message. I had good weather, since it was really cold most of the time. I got overheated in the climbing, and it was sunny, so I often remember it all as being baking hot when it actually wasn’t!

      Posted by Yaz | July 23, 2013, 3:07 pm
      • True. You needed the physical discomfort or else you might have carried those toiletries until such time as it got hard later, and for no good reason. Still look great in the photos though!!!

        Posted by Joy is now | July 23, 2013, 3:16 pm
      • Hahaha! You didn’t see the wicked truth under the cap! It hid a multitude of holy horrors!

        Posted by Yaz | July 23, 2013, 3:23 pm
      • I hope to meet those ‘holy horrors’ one day in person and I will show you mine. Unstraightened frizzy hair and eyes that disappear without make up :).

        Posted by Joy is now | July 23, 2013, 3:32 pm
  4. Yaz, I admire your courage to have walked the Camino. To begin a journey in a vertical uphill climb I would find extremely challenging. In reading your post I saw where my own challenges might be should I ever walk the Camino. Makeup no problem for me, I never wear it. But I like having my hair a certain way and I now I wouldn’t be able to bring my hair blower, curling iron and hair products. 🙂

    Posted by Suzanne McRae (@SuzMcRae) | July 23, 2013, 3:07 pm
    • Thanks Suzanne. The Pyrennees crossing is the toughest part, but is closely followed by O’Cebreiro further down the line! By the time you get there, though, you are wiser, lighter and so much fitter, so it feels like a piece of cake!And if you brought all your curling irons and stuff, you’d have to dump it! Lots of people did bring all that stuff, but they sent their baggage ahead of them on the camino trail. You could do it that way if you choose.

      Posted by Yaz | July 23, 2013, 3:12 pm

    Either you’ve got a great memory, to go back to May, or you were taking notes. Either way, was very current and real.

    Re the toiletries – you can’t do without facial wipes? ! I would easily let such a thing go. Yet, full sized shampoo etc would have been a hassle. I’m fine to wash my hair with soap a while. Each to their own, I’m just relating/thinking what would I have done.

    Love how you resettled & donated some junk & away you went.

    Love this, Yaz. LOVE! 🙂 Awesome journey.

    Posted by WordsFallFromMyEyes | July 23, 2013, 3:32 pm
  6. Nice spoken and beautifull pictures…

    Posted by Wim Amkreutz | July 24, 2013, 12:20 am
  7. Oh Yaz…I devoured every word! I feel like I was there with you 😉
    I’ve been eager to read about your adventure, and I’m thrilled you had a good time.
    Looking forward to more posts about this wonderful excursion.

    Posted by Denise Hisey | July 24, 2013, 6:56 am
  8. Yaz, I felt as if I was there with you. I smiled at the thought of you worrying about your make-up as I can so relate. I also worked for decades in the corporate world in NY where a good appearance was expected. What I got the most out of your experience is that we humans create our own heaviness, and the more we let go, the lighter the journey in life. Thank you for reminding us of this valuable lesson.

    Posted by sufilight | July 24, 2013, 11:47 am
    • Hi Marie! I tell you, it really was a hard lesson, but I felt it all lift physically and mentally. In Italy, after the walk, I began going to breakfast before putting on make-up! A huge step in my life, and a massive sense of freedom. Thank you camino!

      Posted by Yaz | July 24, 2013, 2:19 pm
  9. I loved reading this first segment about your journey of the soul, Yaz! ♥ It sounds like the Camino began its ‘lessons’ of inner transformation right from the very start. 🙂 I’m looking forward to hearing more!

    Posted by Jewels | July 25, 2013, 7:21 pm
  10. Amazing! I loved every word of this. I have printed material on the Camino and hope that I can someday take this journey, too. Thanks, Yaz!

    Posted by A Gripping Life | July 29, 2013, 3:00 pm
  11. It always amazes me how easily we forget that ‘there are always people around who would be willing to help’… This happens to me as well, forgetting that I am not alone 🙂 xox

    Posted by shamanictracker | September 15, 2013, 7:26 pm

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