Walking 500 miles of Camino transformed me – and that transformation started before I ever stepped onto the trail in the south of France.
Deciding to walk camino was only partially *my* decision. There were other factors and forces at work.
Part 1 of the decision was the back story. It was all the ways I was generally unhappy with my life direction but without any real plan for how to change things.
Part 2 was more sudden, more profound, and dare I say it – divine. I don’t necessarily mean that in any religious sense but I do mean that it had everything to do with spirit, and that some sort of behind-the-scenes magic that took over.
Without that divine decision, I wouldn’t have been able to keep going on those days when I was sore and exhausted.
Without it, I probably wouldn’t have walked at all.
Let me explain…
At different points in my life, I’ve had experiences that very clearly led me towards or away from certain things. I don’t know what language to use here because the word choice might make some of us twitchy, but I’m talking about a fundamental, core-level, knowing that said:
Ger, we’re done here. It’s time to go.
Was it a booming voice from above? Sometimes, it felt like it.
Was it a quiet, inner understanding? Sometimes it felt like that, too.
Whether we call this God or The Universe or whatever, I don’t really mind. I’m just going to call it “knowing” or “gut instinct” in the name of being all-inclusive.
This knowing has prompted me to resign from jobs, leave relationships, and de-tangle my heart from defunct friendships. It’s helped me distinguish, very clearly, when it was the right time for me to change direction. In these situations, it was not my mind making the decisions – it was some other force at work.
In the years leading up to camino, I had a dozen reasons to leave my job and a dozen more to stay. The lists cancelled each other out so *my* plan was to make the best of my situation until the economy turned around and I found a better fitting role. It was the most sensible and responsible plan that my mind could come up with. I didn’t know when I would leave my job or what I would do instead but I had faith that whatever knowing spoke to me in the past would speak to me again:
I will get the nudge – that deep knowing from within or that booming voice from above – when the time is right to change direction. Until then, I won’t make any sudden moves.
Did I believe in fate? Maybe.
Was it a prayer of some sort? Yes, it actually was.
And in the meantime, I just got on with my daily life. I didn’t consciously know that I would walk the Camino in 2013 but there were breadcrumbs that led me in that direction all the same. I didn’t see them at the time but I could see them clearly afterwards.
In October 2012 my friend told me she planned to walk the French Way the following spring – in 2013. She and I very rarely get to hang out so I offered to join her for a week or two. I thought it might be a nice way to spend some time together and tend to a “Bucket List” dream that we both held. My mind thought it a great idea but as I spoke my words of offering, this one word came up as a thought and a feeling at the same time:
That was all.
I didn’t know what it meant – after all, that was a whole 11 months away and I didn’t plan that far ahead. But still, the word surfaced from within me and left that lingering message:
That was the beginning of the magic though I didn’t know it.
In the summer of 2013, my friend returned from her camino experience – warmly radiant. After dinner one evening she presented me with a scallop shell – I believe, the same one that she had strapped onto her own backpack as a pilgrim. I knew the shell was symbolic but in all honesty, it didn’t have any special resonance for me (yet).
She offered her shell to me and said,
I know you’ll walk the camino some day, Ger.
I was touched and accepted her lovely gesture. I agreed with her – I too knew that I would walk it some day. And yet, it was summertime and I was distracted by sunny weather. Accepting the shell was like buying an evening gown for a black tie event but years in advance. It felt premature and it felt somewhat irrelevant. And even though I hung the shell on a prominent wall in my home, I didn’t give it another thought.
Until this happened:
A month later, a particular conversation highlighted clearly, and unequivocally, that I had outgrown my job. Not only that, but it was *definitely* not going anywhere and it was *definitely* stopping me from progressing – personally as well as professionally.
I’d felt all this for years but didn’t have the factual confirmation to back it up. The first 5 minutes of this hour-long conversation revealed the facts and my heart sank. Those were the moments where I actually lost heart in my work and all that it entailed. After years of frustration, tears, and trying to make it work, that deep knowing had blossomed from within and I just knew I was done.
I had received the nudge – no doubt about it.
That evening I said to Handsome Husband: I think I’m done with my job.
We were married only a few short months and I felt a massive conflict between taking care of my own needs and our needs as a couple. If I left my job, how would we pay the rent? Was I terribly selfish? And what about our future plans?
My happiness or misery affected us both. There was more to this decision than finances and grown-up plans.
But I knew I was truly, finally, and completely done with that job. I just didn’t know what to do next.
So, I threw it upwards as a prayer and put someone/something else on the job of figuring that out. As a child, I learned the concept of Guardian Angels and I liked the notion that I had a personal bodyguard in life. I even imagined I had a few of them. I imagined them as a gang, bored, and sitting around playing card games to pass the time. I wasn’t giving them enough to do and they were growing idle in the meantime.
So I threw it upwards with the thought:
Ok you guys, I know I’m done with the job. I get it. What I don’t know is what happens next so I need your help with that. Reveal the path to me. Tell me what I’m supposed to do here. I can’t see the big picture and I need a bit of help figuring this out.
The answer I got was simple (but not easy):
Go walk the camino.
Go walk the camino.
For the next 3 weeks of July, I wrestled with this reply over and over. It woke me in the middle of the night. It sat on my shoulder at work. It prompted a dozen conversations with Husband.
I hadn’t planned to walk. I wasn’t prepared – in any way. I wasn’t ready.
That’s a great idea and I see how it would work, but I’m too scared.
And every day the response was the same:
I know you’re scared – but go walk.
In fact, there were very clear instructions to go with the response, specifically:
- Go in early September – on the 1st if you can get a flight (a nice tie-in to my moment with the September prompt months earlier, don’t you think?)
- Go for 6 weeks – no more, no less. Go from early September to mid-October only. No earlier, no later.
- Don’t wait.
These specifics were *so* absolute that they led me to say I was called to walk the camino.
I really was – and not just sometime or any old time – but at a very specific time, for a very specific length of time. My *mind* didn’t decide those dates at all – it really was some other force that took over.
Every day, my fear ran riot and I’d ask:
What if I wait until the following spring? The weather will be good then too.
The response was always the same: DON’T wait.
I said: What if I go for 2-3 weeks only instead of the full thing? (and keep my job in the meantime?)
The response was always the same: Go for 6 weeks between early September and mid-October. No earlier and no later. Only this time. No other time.
I said: But I haven’t planned for any of this financially!
The response was always the same: The money will be fine.
Now, I don’t really know the bible stories or mythological traditions from around the world but I will say this much:
Something big had taken over. It felt like a “Hand-of-God-comes-down-from-above-and-directly-rearranges-my-life” kind of moment. Religious references aside, something huge was at work.
Whatever the language, I *had* asked for guidance and I definitely received it loud and clear. I couldn’t ignore it. But I struggled to follow it. I was paralysed with fear and my mind was a flurry of ideas and counter-proposals. One weekend, I lay on the floor with sheets of flipchart paper and I drew out a mind map.
On one side I wrote the word:
On the other side I wrote the word:
And I spent the next few hours scribbling out every thought, feeling, and counter-plan I could think of to figure out whether I would resign from my job and go walking in Spain. I needed to see everything laid out on paper in one place, in the hope it would help me some sort of perspective.
For hours, I poured out every anxiety, every consideration, every reason why I should follow the nudge – and not.
At one point, I asked: If I leave my (permanent) job and go walking, what happens when I return? What about all these grown-up plans – how will I finance any of them?
The reply was always the same: Ger, if you trust me on this and go with it, everything will be taken care of.
It gave me goosebumps.
I went back and forth, wrestling my head and my heart. In the end, it all boiled down to this:
Did I trust the voice I’d heard? Did I trust that knowing?
Did I trust that it was the right time for me to walk camino, even though I felt unprepared in every possible way?
Was I willing to trust that my future work, finances, and grown-up plans would, indeed, be taken care of – even though my *mind* had no idea how to make them happen?
*I* didn’t decide to walk Camino. Something else made that decision for me but I *did* decide to follow the calling. My challenge was to trust – everything.
Have you experienced anything like this? I’d love to hear!