You get your power from the first step. It’s exhilarating….After that, everything falls into place. Your power comes from that first step. What a lot of people can’t accept is that there is no control. You can’t see the entire journey. ~ Ed Gillette
Before setting out on our Camino adventure, Judy and I promised each other that we were going to walk at our own paces. We were not going to allow ourselves to get pulled into the push to get to the next, best albergue or to make comparisons between our own and anyone else’s progress. We were not in a rush. We had no set number of kilometres we were holding ourselves to walk. We did have a return flight from Madrid, but other than that we were free to experience this journey as it unfolded – each in our own ways. We agreed to listen deeply to our bodies and if need be one or both of us could take a bus or a taxi to move us forward in the journey, for health or any other reason. We believed we were deeply grounded in this flow-based understanding prior to flying to Spain
In preparation for our first day on the trail we had arrived in Leon a day ahead of time. We were able to find our way from the Renfe station to the hotel we had chosen in a fairly haphazard and intuitive way: We watched where others who were clearly pilgrims were headed, we looked at the map of the area we were carrying from the pages of the John Brierley book that had become our lodestone, and then we set off towards what looked like a river – because we knew we had to cross one to get to where we were going. Despite our preparations, nothing looked like what we expected to see. We were in a city of some size with traffic rushing off in a multitude of directions from what looked like the Spanish version of a rotary.
We did find our destination and, after checking in and leaving our packs behind, began our search for the yellow arrows or shells that would be our guides for the upcoming three weeks. We wanted to know where we were headed in the morning so that our launch day would flow smoothly. It seemed there were yellow arrows and shells everywhere! How could we figure out in which direction the shells were actually pointing? Were we to follow the base of the shell or the fan that spread out in the opposite direction? The ones for people entering into the city looked exactly like the ones that would lead us out. We could be walking backwards if we didn’t resolve this quandry, and get to St. Jean Pied de Port instead of Santiago! After tracing the streets and alleys of Leon we sorted out the shells and found the local bus stop that would take us to our starting point in La Virgen del Camino, just outside of the city. We were set! The next morning we actually were the guides for others due to our scouting expedition the afternoon before. We leapfrogged with these folks along the trail, heading towards Villavente, meeting and leaving behind the people we had encountered that morning.
The next morning, as we prepared to leave our first albergue, I could feel the pull to move faster than we were inclined to. I remember turning to Judy and saying something like, “Judy, we need to hurry up so we can follow someone out because we have no idea where the trail is!” with some urgency in my voice. I immediately caught myself, as this was clearly a way in which we could have made our schedules dependent upon that of others. And yet, I had the same experience the following day as well. After what felt like an eternity (we were establishing what would become our morning routine, which included foot care and packing our packs and eating a light breakfast), we did make it out the front door the second day as well. With no one else in sight we wandered for a while looking for what would soon become familiar sights: the yellow arrow or scallop shell, sometimes obvious, sometimes quite tucked away.
During those first long days of walking I found myself pondering the feelings I was having. It seemed that this part of our journey was about sitting (or walking!) in the unknown, towards the unknown, learning to be comfortable in the uncertainty. We normally see ourselves as being quite secure with following an uncommon path despite the call from friends and family to define our choices and next steps. Out of kindness and perhaps their own discomfort they want us to have a plan (and we too are tempted at times!) – to solidify. Many of our Camino meanderings were about remembering not to crystallize in either thoughts or behaviors, pushing away the expected and staying open, recognizing the fears that arose, and walking with them. But what we discovered in those early mornings was that we don’t need to worry about finding the way, because the way will always find us!