Following our Dreams and Self-Actualising — An experience on the Camino de Santiago

I’m a big fan of a lit­tle book by Paulo Coelho called the Alchemist. Many book snobs would like to say Paulo’s writ­ing is sim­plis­tic, but I quite like his under­stated style and as with a good song, why com­pli­cate things with too many words!

Paulo believes we all have a per­sonal call­ing, a spe­cial role to ful­fil on the earthly plane. When we fol­low our per­sonal ‘leg­end’ our actions are filled with enthu­si­asm for we are fight­ing the good fight.

But he also states that many for­sake their dream. They accept the ordi­nary, the dull ache of not fol­low­ing their true call­ing. Later in life many look back with a sense of regret. The small flame of their dream still burns inside them, but they lacked the courage to believe their own inner calling.

When I recently re-acquainted myself with an ebook ver­sion of The Alchemist, I found an updated intro­duc­tion where Paulo dis­cusses the four obsta­cles that stop peo­ple fol­low­ing their dreams. I would like to dis­cuss these four obstacles.


Have you ever asked a child what they want to do when they grow up? With beam­ing eyes they will state with con­vic­tion, “I want to be an astro­naut”, “I want to be a doc­tor”, “I want to be a famous pop singer!”

As a young child, they still see the world as an expan­sive place, a uni­verse open to their grand­est dreams. As they grow older, par­ents, class and colour can crush their call­ing. We are told to take the ‘safe’ option, the option ‘within our means’!


Sur­pris­ingly, Love can some­times hold us back from our dreams!

As chil­dren, our duty and respect towards our par­ents, can some­times mean we accept their dreams for us, and for­sake our own.

As life con­tin­ues and most find a part­ner, the yoke tight­ens, with many for­sak­ing their own inner desires to please their part­ners and/or devote their lives to their chil­dren. Of course for some, this may well be their dream, to raise a fam­ily. But for many, their may be a sense of regret, a sense of obligation.

Paulo believes love should never be a rea­son to aban­don our dreams. And that by fol­low­ing our dreams, we are actu­ally help­ing those around us. They share our joy and enthu­si­asm, they see the pos­si­bil­ity to ful­fil their own per­sonal calling!


If we do sum­mon up the courage to fol­low our inner voice, it is often shad­owed with the con­stant mur­mur­ings of hes­i­ta­tion, from both our own fears and those around us.

It is hard to fol­low a aspi­ra­tion, when all those around you tell you it will fail. It can make every lit­tle stum­ble along the way seem more sub­stan­tial than they really are.

Paulo states that fol­low­ing one’s call­ing will not remove one from chal­lenges and dif­fi­cul­ties. This is all part of the journey.

He says we have a choice, we can take up the good fight and live with enthu­si­asm, believ­ing in our end goal.

Or we can accept the dull ache of let­ting our dream rot in our gut. Of wak­ing late in life with a bit­ter feel­ing of hav­ing squan­dered our gifts. Not hav­ing the faith to try, to believe, to be happy, a shin­ing light to others.


An inter­est­ing para­dox can hap­pen when one achieves their dream. Nag­ging doubts can under­mine one’s hap­pi­ness. ‘You don’t deserve this, you will always be poor, black, old, ugly, stupid!

We have all heard of the rock­star, actor, suc­cess­ful sportsper­son, with the world at their doorstep, who seems to sab­o­tage their suc­cess and good for­tune with the nulling effects of drugs and alcohol!

They have made it in the eyes of the world, fame and for­tune! But the nag­ging voice of fail­ure still echoes in the cham­bers of their heart. They don’t feel wor­thy, sur­rounded by snig­ger­ing cow­ards, unwill­ing to ful­fil their own noble voca­tion, whis­per­ing defeatist beliefs!

Paulo believes this is the most dan­ger­ous of obsta­cles, because soci­ety instils an almost vir­tu­ous belief that to renounce one’s own dreams is good for the sake of the group.

Ein­stein said the most impor­tant deci­sion one will ever make is whether they believe they live in a friendly or a hos­tile uni­verse! This deter­mines our mind­set, will the uni­verse help us, or will it beat us down? Or is it really just our thoughts that man­i­fest this reality?


I remem­ber read­ing another book by Paulo Coelho, about his pil­grim­age along the ancient Way of St James. I was fas­ci­nated by the myth and his­tory of this mys­te­ri­ous path. Par­tic­u­larly the fact that many who did the camino expe­ri­ence a ‘spir­i­tual awakening’.

I decided I too would walk the Camino, and doc­u­ment my jour­ney in film. As a com­mit­ment to my new found pur­pose, I decided I would not cut my hair until I had com­pleted the jour­ney. Like pil­grims of old, who would burn their clothes at Fin­is­terre, I decided I would not ‘rebirth’ and shed my locks, until I had reached ‘the ends of the earth’ by foot.

It is fas­ci­nat­ing how things tran­spired. Every­thing seemed to fall into place. I ended a rela­tion­ship, so had no feel­ing of duty to another. I got a short term well pay­ing con­tract, which pro­vided the funds. And there I was, over­weight and with no phys­i­cal prepa­ra­tion, on the French/Spanish bor­der, not really know­ing what the hell I hoped to achieve!

When I first tried talk­ing to cam­era, I found it a daunt­ing expe­ri­ence. I really didn’t know what I was doing and felt very self con­scious. I had never spo­ken Span­ish, so my attempts at nam­ing towns and events along the way were utterly cringe­wor­thy! But I bat­tled on, through rain, mud and blis­ters, deter­mined to reach Santiago.

I started to feel a sense of achieve­ment. ‘Damn it, I was liv­ing my dream!’ I was pro­duc­ing my own doc­u­men­tary. Doing some­thing I had wanted to do for the two years prior. With no fund­ing, no sup­port, and at the start…. no idea!

None of this mat­tered. I was there, I was doing it, and it so hap­pened that the uni­verse con­spired to help me. I met heal­ers, poets and sages. I met lovers, allies and scoundrels!

When you take that first step, your fears sub­side. You realise you can han­dle it. You realise you are on YOUR path, and you feel an amaz­ing sense of expan­sion and joy. Your heart and soul sings the song of the universe

I remem­ber the moment, the day, I became com­fort­able in front of the cam­era. It was on Cruz de Ferro, where I talked about the rit­ual of car­ry­ing stones up the moun­tain and plac­ing them on a Cairn. And in this process, exor­cis­ing prob­lems from one’s life.

The cam­era had become my con­fi­dante and I shared with it my thoughts, with­out fear of recrim­i­na­tion. The all know­ing eye of the lens, like HAL in 2001:Space Odyssey. It didn’t judge me, it lis­tened, and in the know­ing silence, I found the answers I seeked on my pil­grim­age, from deep within.

I have stud­ied psy­chol­ogy, and this day reminded me of Maslow and his hier­ar­chy of needs. The idea that we can reach the pin­na­cle of our poten­tial and self actualise.

I felt a great sense of joy and con­tent­ment as I crossed the thresh­old of the high­est point of the Moun­tain. Was I in the eupho­ria of a ‘peak expe­ri­ence?’ A state Maslow believed self actu­al­is­ing peo­ple can reach, whereby they feel at one with the uni­verse! Was I liv­ing my per­sonal call­ing, on the road to my full potential?

I dropped into a com­mu­nity where a fol­low­ing had formed around one indi­vid­ual and his vision of the knights of old, guardians of pil­grims. An attrac­tive young women approached me and told me I was the most beau­ti­ful man she had ever seen. I found this unusual, but my mood was tran­quil, so I just thanked her for her courage and hon­esty and con­tin­ued on my merry way.

Any lowly thoughts of tak­ing sex­ual advan­tage of this sit­u­a­tion were far from my mind! No women has ever said such things to me before. What was it about that moment, how I looked, that made this women go out of her com­fort zone and make such a bold and brave state­ment to a stranger?

And I think it was because I was buzzing with life. I was ALIVE! I was liv­ing with enthu­si­asm, a true sign I was fol­low­ing my per­sonal calling.

I can’t really watch my camino film now. I find it embar­rass­ing to see me bar­ing my soul to cam­era. But what I find fas­ci­nat­ing is the num­ber of peo­ple who love the film. That my lit­tle jour­ney to doc­u­ment my own search for spir­i­tual mean­ing res­onates with so many others.


Maslow stud­ied the lives of those he believed to be self-actualised and found these indi­vid­u­als shared com­mon traits:

*EFFICIENT PERCEPTION OF REALITY — Being able to cut through the bullshit!

*COMFORTABLE ACCEPTANCE OF SELF/OTHERS/NATURE — Accept­ing the short com­ings of the human condition

*SPONTANEITY — engaged in the moment, will­ing to change course.

*TASK CENTERING — Focused on tasks or prob­lems out­side of themselves

*AUTONOMY — resource­ful and inde­pen­dent, free from a reliance on others

*CONTINUED FRESHNESS OF APPRECIATION — To keep the eyes of a child, an inno­cence of vision

*FELLOWSHIP WITH HUMANITY — Hav­ing a deep iden­ti­fi­ca­tion with others


*COMFORT IN SOLITUDE — To value time alone and be com­fort­able with it

* NON HOSTILE SENSE OF HUMOUR — To be able to laugh at them­selves, a play­ful humour that doesn’t aim to hurt others

*PEAK EXPERIENCES — Spe­cial moments where one feels ecstasy, har­mony and deep mean­ing. At one with the uni­verse; stronger, calmer.

To have seen eso­teric lit­er­a­ture, psy­cho­log­i­cal the­ory and an ecsta­tic expe­ri­ence all meld into one on the road to San­ti­ago was a mem­o­rable experience.

Do you fol­low your per­sonal calling?

Do you have strate­gies to help you become self-actualising?

Tell me about your own expe­ri­ences below?