I have to confess, I did something really stupid.
You see a couple of weeks ago I set out to prove to myself that I wasn’t who I thought I was and I met up with a friend in Spain to do the last 120km of the Camino de Santiago, walking from Sarria to Santiago.
I have spent a large part of my adult life asking the question “Who am I?” I have been on retreats and done workshops and spent time and money on trainings, books and experiences, all in an effort to know (and define) who I am. The Camino I kept hearing, the Camino, that’s where you go to find yourself. I resisted. A lot. For many years.
You see, the Camino doesn’t really fit with who I am because, I would often describe myself like this:
– A bit of a princess
– Doesn’t like to exercise
– Likes to control the outcome
I could, of course, do the Camino on those terms because it’s possible to get a travel agent to pre-book the whole trip, including couriering your luggage from village to village, but the perfectionist part insisted that was cheating (she’s quite judgey) and part of a pilgrimage is to suffer (inserts eye roll). So, if I was going to do it, it had to look like this:
– Carry your own backpack
– No pre-booking
– No travel agent
You can understand why it took me so long to do it, right?
When I look at the list of who I am above, it gets me thinking because am I really those things or is that a character I play? One part of the narrative of who I am that gives me some familiar and comfortable place to rest? I mean, am I a princess? Sure, I like nice things but who doesn’t? I’ve never had a tantrum because my food arrived cold or the store didn’t have my size in stock.
I’m a yoga teacher for crying out loud and I love to hike, how is that someone who doesn’t like to exercise?
Perfectionist? Well that’s a tough one, I do aim for perfection but I’m also realistic about what’s possible. And as for controlling the outcome… well that’s something we all try and do to some extent, the mind is programmed to look to the future and predict the outcome.
There’s no doubt that I carry within me a flicker of all those things but they aren’t all of who I am.
These insights came to me as I walked. I realised that the character I’d been playing wasn’t really who I am at all. The pilgrimage allowed me space to be with myself without distraction, without my responsibilities, and without my mask. I realised on those long days, carrying everything on my back, feeling the discomfort in my feet and body that I am indefinable. There is no answer to the question “who am I” because the moment I try and define myself I limit myself.
I am more than the character that was assigned to me, that I chose for myself, I am a constantly evolving and growing being.
As a yogi I spent many years trying to answer – who am I – and as a life coach I have spent many years trying to break free of who I believe I am. As a pilgrim I realised that none of that matters. As a pilgrim I realised that all I have is the present. Nothing exists outside of this moment. The moment I checked to see how much further to the next village my feet began to ache and my backpack felt heavy. When I surrendered to the moment I was pure light.
All the personal growth work I’ve done allowed me to be present to the experience. Years of meditation, introspection, and learning to be curious about myself and the world allowed the pilgrimage to be what it needed to be. The perfectionist part of me was expecting fireworks and revelations, great discoveries, and a new understanding of life and the world (set the bar high much?) but what I met was a quiet contentment. Unexpected joy in hanging laundry out to dry and watching it flutter in the wind from my window. I found deep peace when a blind monk squeezed my hands with joy repeating over and over “Sud Afrika, Sud Afrika” amazed that I’d come from so far away. It was the sweetest, most magical bite of an apple directly off the tree. It was a sense of deep satisfaction taking off my shoes after 26km and the pride, relief and disbelief that I’d made it through day two.
There were no fireworks. But much like the painting outside the Treehouse Studio at Hanya House there was a realisation that real life happens in the tiny moments, the laundry, the laughter, the snatched eye contact with a stranger. The mundane IS the magic.
But perhaps the only learning that truly mattered was this: I am everything and I am nothing.
If you’re on a journey of self discovery I highly recommend a pilgrimage, or a laundry day, or smile at a stranger, or really taste that apple you’re eating. Life happens in between the fireworks, that’s where the magic lives.