Camino de Santiago Inspiration

Camino: 10 Profound Lessons Learned on the Spiritual Journey

“How do people change on the Camino?” “What did you learn from the Camino?” These are two questions I remember typing into Google some years ago. If you’ve landed on this article, you’re probably wondering the same.

I was contemplating a trek along the Camino in northeastern Spain. I had long desired to do the spiritual journey known as the Camino de Santiago and was finally making serious pilgrimage plans for the following summer.

So, I Googled. I joined pilgrim groups online. However, I didn’t research too much because I wanted the Camino to be my own. But, I also desired to know why the Camino was calling me so strongly

If I were to walk 12-18 miles a day, would I come back the same as I left? What would I learn about myself? I fretted.

In the end, I walked. I chose to quit thinking and analyzing. Then, I let the journey (and it’s lessons) unfold.

Are you ready to do the same?

Why is it important to share our lessons learned?

Are you a future pilgrim, all set to go? Maybe you are like me, years ago. You’re certain you’d like to go, but not fully committed. Perhaps you feel called, but nervous. You’re in research mode.

Wherever you are in your journey, welcome. 

For obvious reasons, I can not answer the question, “What will you learn about yourself?” We all walk for different reasons (often referred to as a Camino theme or why) and in different seasons in life. Regardless, it’s important to share as others’ life stories often help us understand ourselves. 

I hope that by sharing what I learned, your decision to peregrinate becomes clearer.

My Spiritual Journey on the Camino de Santiago

I set out on my first Camino de Santiago in northeastern Spain on hot summer morning. It was a big feat; I was to complete the Camino de Santiago, a physical and spiritual and journey like no other. Of course, I had some ideas of what I would learn along the way: aspects of myself I wanted to contemplate. Mostly, I was extraordinarily excited to be alone out on the open road. To commune with God and nature. To carry my pack. What other time do you have in your life to solely focus on you?

Undoubtedly, my Camino why was to be alone with myself.

I chose the Camino Frances, which is known for being one of the best Camino routes for first-time pilgrims due to its well-formed infrastructure and spirited camaraderie. At the time, I didn’t have the desire to walk the entire 500 mile (800 km) route. (There is some disagreement over what is the “entire” route, but many say the starting point of St. Jean Pied de Port, France is “official.”) My goal was to walk for ten days, so I set off from Astorga, located roughly 165 miles (265 km) east of Santiago. Although most reputable guidebooks cite the trip as a ten-day walk, I walked for 14 onerous but joyful days.

Since returning, I have longed to put into words my profound Camino experience. The trek has unceasingly shaped my thoughts and outlook ever since.

Should you choose to walk, I am confident you’ll grow in ways you never imagined and flourish just as I have.

So without further ado, here are the 10 lessons I learned on the road to Santiago.

10 things I learned about myself on the Camino de Santiago:

1. I am capable of anything I put my mind to

I had a tendency to doubt myself. A creative person by nature, I have lots of ideas. I would excitedly start projects, but self-doubt would undoubtedly creep in. In this way, self-doubt kept me from pursuing a multitude of opportunities.

Each day on the Camino de Santiago, I put one painful foot in front of the other. It was exhilarating but also extremely physically and mentally taxing. It was so hard, I often wondered why I was doing it. Who goes on vacation to walk in excruciating pain? But, with each day, with each footstep, I threw off the doubt.

I realized I if am capable of walking 165 miles to Santiago, I am capable of anything I put my mind to. In fact, I finally started my own business, something I had been dreaming about for years!

2. Don’t carry unnecessary baggage

My goal was to carry my pack the entire way. As I hobbled into Santiago on day 14, it dawned on me that this was entirely unnecessary. Walking itself was a challenge for my body. I could have easily sent my pack ahead with a transfer service, allowing my aching back and legs some well-earned rest. 

Searching for the yellow arrows leading to the Cathedral in Santiago, I was suddenly filled with tears. I finally understood that the heavy pack was just a metaphor for emotional burdens I had carried too long. I remembered this verse:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30 NIV)

I, no one else, had chosen to carry this weight (physical and mental). Breathing deeply on a crowded street corner, a peace overtook me. I resolved to lay down my burdens that day and onwards.

Hiking through Foncebadón on the way to Iron Cross

3. I am physically strong

Although I had some interest in sports growing up, I had come to believe that I wasn’t strong or agile. (Embarrassingly, I couldn’t shake that time I was picked last for the soccer team in P.E.) Even though I loved to walk, bike, and do pilates, I was never consistent. I struggled with feeling good enough when it came to exercise.

Walking seemingly endless days on the Camino de Santiago were infinitely more demanding than I expected. Some days I cried, wondering if my legs would make it. Other days I worried I was doing permanent damage to my unrecognizably swollen feet and ankles. Nevertheless, I persevered. My body even healed itself in the weeks to come!

Whereas I used to view my athletic ability as weak, now I view myself as strong! (On a side note, make sure you purchase travel insurance in case you really do hurt yourself!)

4. Plan, or you’ll miss out

It was mid-June, and a dangerous heat wave was overtaking Europe. There I was, stepping off a train in the north of Spain. No major plans, no guidebook, little to no training (but all the right gear!). It took me no longer than 48 hours to realize that this trek was a lot more than I had bargained for. I saw pilgrims reading guidebooks and thought maybe they had some secret insight I was missing out on.

Although one of the best experiences of my life, some amount of training and a guidebook would have made my trek more enjoyable. Upon return, I immediately ordered several guidebooks to review for my next Camino. Moreover, I realized that my “go with the flow” attitude of daily life meant I often chose chance over creating opportunities. 

Now that I intentionally build structure, plan, and set goals, I more deeply enjoy the many opportunities and experiences in this world.

5. Lean into the uncertainty

Waking up each day, I had no idea what I was going to eat, who I would meet, or where I would sleep. Despite an arduous history with uncertainty that once kept me trapped in fear, I reacted quite the opposite to my new reality. Instead, I found the unpredictability of each day attractive. In fact, it was one of the best parts of the Camino!

The Camino taught me to be open to uncertainty and to embrace the uncomfortable. When life gets precarious, I now walk with the knowledge and confidence that everything will work out.

6. People-pleasing

As a child, I was taught to “do the right thing” or “be good.” Perhaps you can relate. Alone, on this self-reflective journey, I still felt myself needing to please people. You see, it’s easy to make friends or find a pseudo “family” on the Camino. But with friends and family comes those all too familiar thoughts of, “What if I disappoint them?” I debated, for example, “Should I stay in the town I want or join them in the town they recommend?” 

I knew people-pleasing was an issue for me, but recognizing that I was seeking the approval of strangers was eye-opening. The Camino was a first step in my journey of letting go of the need to please people.

7. Opening up to people isn’t so hard

The Camino really is a beautiful thing. Pilgrims come in and out of your life, sharing moments that become imprinted on your heart forever. As I walked, I began to hear the whys people were on their Caminos: to reach a goal, to make a decision, to forgive. In these wonderful and fleeting moments, pilgrims were vulnerable with me. They trusted me to hear their story. 

After several days, I decided to try it out. I began to share things long hidden in my heart (for example, the dreams of starting this blog). To my surprise, my ideas were met not with judgement, but with curiosity and encouragement.

It’s not so hard to open up, after all. I now see that vulnerability is actually synonymous with strength.

Molinaseca, a welcome sight after a rocky descent

8. Accept help from others

“We’ll rest with you. We need rest too,” said a young Argentine couple as I urged them ahead so as not to slow them down. After all, it was their walk, and who was I, a complete stranger, to derail their afternoon? These are just two significant pilgrims whom I will never forget on the spiritual journey, the Camino de Santiago.

I am not exaggerating. I wouldn’t have made it to Santiago without the support and exhortation of other pilgrims (and my trekking poles). In the hard moments, they whispered, “You can do this,” and “Come on, just a little ways more.” Those words meant everything to me when I was physically at the lowest of lows. They actually bring a tear to my eye as I write this. 

As a fiercely independent person, I have had trouble asking others for anything in my personal life. While I love helping people, somewhere along the way I bought into the lie that my “asks” were nothing more than burdens in others’ busy lives. The Camino taught me that my needs are not a burden to others. It’s okay to accept help and rely on others, especially in hard times.

9. Keep going

The physical pain I experienced in my feet and legs was agonizing. I won’t soon forget the shooting pain in my feet or my seized calf muscles. It was without a doubt the most pain I’ve ever been in! (Read: please train before you go.) Some days, I didn’t think I’d physically be able to make it to the next albergue. To expand, I moaned and shuffled at times. But, I didn’t give up. I got up each day, slathered my feet with an anti-friction stick, and excitedly continued walking.

In life, not everything goes how we planned. It’s easy to throw in the towel and give up on our dreams. The Camino taught me to keep going, to keep moving forward when life gets hard – even if it’s one step at a time.

10. We are all connected

Evidently, I’m not alone in saying that the Camino is about the people you meet. The journey is long and lonely at times, but people come alongside you. “See you at the next albergue” and “Let’s get a coffee together” were commonplace.

Hospitaleros/as, bartenders, “Camino family,” and passing pilgrims are always there right when you need them. (I suspect I was also there right when they needed me.) I saw a kindness in people that I had almost forgotten existed in this fast, achievement-focused, social media-driven world.

The willingness to serve and countless acts of selflessness I witnessed reminded me that we are all connected. It reminded me of the importance of connecting with all of you.

My Top 5 Camino de Santiago Essentials

Click here to see my full Camino de Santiago packing list.

What next?

The lessons I learned about myself were not grasped in a day, nor the ideas completely formed by the end of the Camino. To this end, I understand now that my Camino had only just begun as I reached the iconic Plaza de Obradoiro in Santiago de Compostela.

If you are wavering at all about going on the Camino in Spain, I hope these ten lessons I learned about myself have motivated you. If you’re wondering if you’ll change, the answer is a resounding, “yes!” The Camino de Santiago is a profound spiritual, mental, and physical journey, sure to change anyone who is open to it. To get started with your Camino, figure out your why to help you focus your time productively. Check out our Camino de Santiago Guide: Planning the 500 Mile Pilgrimage.

Then, book the flight, go it alone, and find joy in your journey. ¡Buen Camino!

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