My Camino — prologue
The winter of 2016–2017 was, and I can now say this without any doubt whatsoever, the most confusingly challenging and stressful of my life. Going into the details would provide enough material to fill a thick diary, so I will summarise it in just one short simple sentence. I exploded emotionally.
I’d reached the age of 50, and I was a ticking time bomb in the form of a man-child who’d lost his place and way in the world. I’d first started down this road for sure probably a decade earlier, but the worst of it became manifest in the two year period following the end of my 18 year marriage, which was accompanied by the brutal kick to the cajones that I was no longer able to see my darling daughter every day — but even worse was that no one could tell, because I was what is probably now termed a highly functioning ‘smiling’ depressive. To the outside world, it seemed like I had my shit pretty much together. Hell, even I thought I was doing just fine, but the truth was anything but. Anyway, by way of a new, deeply important personal relationship, the fuse got lit, and what followed was, well, the kind of fallout you would expect when a bomb goes off.
You wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down.
— Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon
Now here I am 6 months on from that initial violent explosion, at a point where I have once again found a base level of balance and new perspective, which has allowed me to heal sufficiently. Well, at least enough to re-enter the world where the majority get on with their days. However, I will be the first to admit that I am still fragile. Even though my head is now clearly above the waterline, I remain vulnerable to the fact that I’m still far too close to it to say that I’m sufficiently in the clear. I do believe that the direction I am heading in now is the right one, but at this very early stage, it’s so important that I do my best to not look back, to repeat the mistakes of the past and risk another dive to Davy Jones’ locker. Should I be driving a car, I have to focus my attention to what lies ahead through the windscreen, rather than fix my gaze on the rearview mirror. As a lifelong runner, I have found great comfort and healing power in the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other, to know that I am making the choice to take action, to move forward. At the darkest moment of my self-imposed emotional prison, I had a rare moment of clarity, which has miraculously brought me back to where I can breathe again. The very obvious realisation that the best way to help myself was to just do what I already knew worked, which was to, literally, move myself forwards. So, I decided to go for a walk, a rather long one at that, to try and find myself again.
The seeker embarks on a journey to find what he wants and discovers, along the way, what he needs.
— Wally Lamb, The Hour I First Believed
On the 16th March, just 3 weeks on from that decisive moment, I found myself outside the cathedral in Porto, Portugal, about to embark on the Caminho Português de Santiago, a 245km long pilgrimage trail to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. I had no other plan than to just take the first step and then see how things went, trusting that things would unfold as the the universe had intended. If I had any plan at all, it was simply to listen to what my body was guiding me to do, which was mostly to walk when I felt like it, eat when I was hungry, drink when I was thirsty, and sleep when I was tired. So, basically, my approach was to channel my inner Forest Gump. However, I did have three specific mental goals, which were
- to walk off as much negative emotional stress as possible, which had finally found daylight after my iced-up heart had been violently pickaxed open wide
- to shift focus from my own issues by communicating with others to learn about their lives, including the challenges they’ve had, how they’ve overcome them and, very importantly, what makes them happy
- to strengthen my personal resolve and commitment to leading a good and satisfying life, and to (hopefully) inspire others to take charge of their own lives, and to find the courage to follow their dreams, especially in times of personal difficulty
In summary, as both a professional coach and the human I aspire to become, I (literally) needed to walk my talk, to take action as opposed to passively sitting around feeling sorry for my lot in life. To me, taking on the Camino de Santiago trail seemed as good a start as any.
This article is the prologue to what I experienced and learned on my Camino Portuguese Santiago. I hope that you will come along for the journey.
You can also view a playlist of videos covering the entire 7 day trek here.