I have arrived.
I made myself stand up in the middle of my living room and say it out loud just so I could hear myself speak the words. I feel very content in my life right now and yet with the contentment there is also an anxiety, a nervousness that sits alongside it. It feels like there is a task ahead that I am aware but unaware of and I am not quite sure what it entails or how it will unfold.
It reminds me of the feeling I had last month when I boarded a plane to Santiago de Compostela, Spain. I was setting off to lead my fourth European retreat of the year and this one was different. This one would require me teaching, holding space and also taking part in the 120km walk leading us to the Cathedral of Santiago.
The Camino or Way of St James has become a rite of passage over recent years for many people. The walk has many routes, the most famous one beginning in France. It stretches for 800km through cities, towns, villages, across mountains and through the forests of France and Spain eventually leading to the sacred city of Santiago de Compostela. We were taking a road less travelled; the coastal route, walking from the northern borders of Portugal and Spain along the coast and then heading inland towards the city in our final days. This section is quieter these days than the French route. Our Spanish guide, Francisco told us that over the last twenty years the number of people or "pilgrims" has increased from 30,000 to over 300,000 a year. That’s a lot of people all walking into one Spanish city!
So what is so special about this journey? I was excited and nervous to find out.
We began our walk in Oia and day one was pretty relaxed. My group of 15 women all walked together, with Fran leading the way, and we began to chat and get to know eachother. Most of the pilgrims we met couldn’t believe we were doing yoga and hiking on the same retreat but we were a lively bunch of Irish and English women so we powered on through the first and second days. At the end of day two the blisters began to appear, hiking boots that had been comfortable suddenly felt like dead weights on our feet and on the morning of day three spirits were pretty low. We began our walk inland, joining the inner Camino, where the two Portuguese routes meet in Spain and suddenly the terrain changed. And it wasn’t just the terrain under our feet. I broke away from the group needing time by myself to walk and every step I took my feet felt heavier. My left foot was aching and as I pushed through the pain I felt a range of emotions. I could hear my mum in my head saying "feel it all". There was anger, sadness, frustration, tension and an immense feeling of wanting for it to be over. So I focused on putting one foot in front of the other, tears streaming down my face and as I walked I suddenly felt surrounded. I could feel the energy of the women in my family all walking beside me powering me on. I began saying prayers and my mantra kept popping into my head and so I kept chanting it over and over again.
As I reached the second section of the hike, about two hours in, I sat on a stone beside one of my retreat goers and asked her how she was doing. “Not so good today, I’ve cried for most of it this morning”, she stated with a resigned weariness. With a sigh of relief I said: “Me too!”. We had an apple, a hug, a few words and on we went. We reached our hotel later than the previous days and as we regrouped for our yin yoga practice it was the same story for a lot of the group. People were tired. Feet and shoulders ached and there was a need for a long slow practice to restore our spirit. Retreats have a funny way of creeping up on us. We are excited to get there and are all for diving in. We begin to land physically, energetically and emotionally and for some of us there can be a release during this phase. Our spirit catches up to us and begins to scream at us to stop, slow down and take it easy. We are being asked to let go and to release what no longer serves us. The tears of day three were a stepping stone, a way to shift stuck emotions, to release them without analysing them and simply walk on.
Along the Camino, the challenge became identifying what each of us needed for ourselves. We began to recognize that in our own need to meet the needs of the group by walking together, walking faster then our pace or walking slower than our pace, we were ignoring what our own spirit wanted and needed. Our intention changed every day and became about acknowledging what we needed to do so that we enjoyed the journey. On day four we walked at the pace that was right for each of us. We were glad to walk out of Pontevedra and onwards to Caldas de Reis. Energetically we all lightened. We stopped for tea and chatted with fellow pilgrims, took pictures and laughed with eachother about random things. I realized in my walking I was competing with other pilgrims so I could get there before them. Where “there” was I am still not sure but the competitive side of me wanted to make sure I passed as many as I could and got there quickly. And so I challenged myself to slow down and enjoy walking at a gentle pace that day. I embraced connecting with people, stopping for a break and simply being present to each step. Day five I received the gift of walking with strength and determination and a few of us kept moving all through the walk and felt great at the end of it. Day six we slowed down. It was the biggest hike of the week. We had 25km ahead of us and in allowing ourselves to slow down about eight of us sang our way along the path. We sang every Irish song we knew, we entertained numerous Spanish pilgrims and we did it climbing steep hills we hadn’t seen all week. The hike flew by and at three o’clock we walked into the square of Santiago to see groups of pilgrims lying down staring up at the Cathedral or taking pictures together. I was overcome with a sense of gratitude, accomplishment and joy. I turned to Dee and Katy and as we embraced it was as though there was a sense of arriving.
We had arrived.
We were standing at our destination and it felt amazing. Over the next hour or so the rest of our group arrived in and we sat eating ice-creams, taking pictures and chatting about our week-long journey that had brought us to this particular spot. Shortly after we made our way to the hotel to check-in, shower and get ready for our evening meal. It was on to the next part of the day and the next step in the journey. The feeling of having arrived passed, unbeknownst to us a new destination had been set and our journey began again.
When I stood this evening and said; “I have arrived” and I heard the words on the call I was brought back to that feeling I had in the Square. When do we take time to simply acknowledge that where we are now is perfect? It is exactly where we need to be. In our world of following our dreams, achieving our goals when do we simply stop, take a moment and accept that we have arrived.
“The truth is, of course, that there is no journey. We are all arriving and departing at the same time.”
There are times we feel arrival as I did under the blazing sun in front of the Cathedral with my group by my side. We savour the moment. We are totally present and then it is time to walk on. There is a sense of departing, taking the next step wondering when will we feel that feeling of having arrived again. In truth it is about coming back to the present, being in the moment and having goals and dreams and allowing them to simply unfold as they are meant to without pushing or forcing the process.
“As you start to walk out on the way, the way appears.”
Stand in your own space today, place your hand on your heart and connect. Whisper the words; “I have arrived”, over and over again until you feel it in your heart, your mind, your body and your spirit. Allow yourself to embrace your arrival, acknowledging your own divine presence and exactly where you are right here, right now.
YOU HAVE ARRIVED!