During the first two miles of walking my very first Camino, I broke down into tears on-camera and openly wept. Having just left Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port on a 40-day pilgrimage across Spain, I was suddenly hit by an overwhelming sense of gratitude while hiking through the charming Basque countryside.
The late summer cornfields, pastures and rolling hills at the foot of the Pyrenees were more beautiful than I imagined them to be, and it felt surreal to have manifested my dream of walking the Camino de Santiago.
That tender moment of crying and sharing my heart so vulnerably was a powerful step toward an even greater liberation of my soul during that transformational journey.
Months earlier I’d reached a cataclysmic turning point when I walked away from the companies I had been working with; they felt extremely fake and full of ego.
The Camino seemed like the perfect place to cleanse myself of that inauthentic energy, each step purifying my spirit while walking The Way of Saint James.
I had intended to make the quest with an open heart, welcoming all emotions as they emerged and the lessons as they presented themselves.
Additionally, I embarked on a transparent mission sharing 2-3 videos daily with thousands of friends, family, and strangers on social media platforms. From day one, I sought out opportunities to engage in vulnerable conversations with the pilgrims I met, often with emotional rawness.
At first, I had to push through the initial hesitation of self-doubt and perfectionism; I was scared of looking bad and fearful of being ridiculed, both in-person and online.
Every morning I began recording my adventure exactly the way I was, scarcely looking in a mirror, no make-up, wild hair, puffy eyes, caring less and less about allergies or a runny nose, if I flubbed a sentence, or what unflattering angle the camera caught me in.
In the past, I’d redo footage until pure eloquence was captured, plus great lighting that accentuated my face and didn’t make me look chubby. On the Camino, there was no time for my own bullshit; I had mountains to climb, food to locate and lodgings to acquire. Every evening I felt humbly grateful to survive the day, and whatever I’d captured on camera was posted consistently in nightly videos. The lack of a hairdryer, flat iron or deodorant was shortly forgotten, and I quickly became comfortable with this new liberated routine.
Living an example of vulnerability and openness inspired other pilgrims to do the same. Interactions with fellow peregrinos were heartfelt and honest. Pilgrims confided in me things that they hadn’t shared with anyone else, from life stories, deep wounds, heartbreaks, mid-life crisis, and the death of loved ones. I felt incredibly honoured for these new friends to share their hearts so freely.
Camino life serves up involuntary realness; everyone suffers usually both physically and emotionally, and there’s something deeply humbling about the commonality of pain.
Travellers from around the globe seek this profound journey, and what’s truly amazing is the sharing of hardships and triumphs with complete strangers who, on many occasions, instantly become friends-for-life. Unless one chooses a secluded luxury pilgrimage, it’s difficult to avoid the forced vulnerability of sleeping in a room full of stinky, snoring peregrinos, often changing clothes in front of each other, nursing wounds, causing noise disturbances, solving language barriers, and getting on one another’s nerves.
Chock it up to the adventure, because I was completely enchanted by the kindness I’d observed of pilgrims helping pilgrims. When someone gives you food from their own pack, lends you medical supplies, sings songs and breaks bread, wipes away your tears or buys you a much-needed cold cerveza, you tend to focus on all the good times.
I’ll never forget the day my personal journal was stolen; I deeply valued it for private thoughts, epic ideas and my soul expressed on paper. The loss of that journal felt like taking a punch to the stomach, and my emotions flowed freely into the day’s video post. What happened next was remarkable, as I was blown away by the outpouring of love, helpfulness and empathy from friends in-person and online. This event showed me that by being vulnerable and open, I could work through my anger and sadness publicly, thereby instigating others to contemplate certain things they desired to release in their own lives.
Spain’s late summer and early fall provided a variety of weather conditions; I walked in high heat, gusty wind, and relentless downpours.
The vicarious adventure for friends and family authentically showcased my injuries and blisters, hangry and sleep-deprived moments, bothersome bed bug bites, hilariously embarrassing situations, and startling incidents of visceral fear.
During a strenuous 33km sunburnt day, I found myself worn out emotionally and physically, atop a mountain in a tiny pueblo population of 12. I felt so utterly thankful to have a bed that night, and even though the only food on the menu was tuna empanada, my least favourite, I was humbly grateful and ate every morsel.
With each passing day, I felt freer to authentically be myself, and more peaceful to share my heart with the world.
Did I experience any ridicule or criticism that I initially feared during my highly-public adventure? Yes, although at a minimum; as the overwhelming majority were messages of appreciation from both friends and strangers, telling me they felt they lived through the Camino with me because I was so authentic, and they felt what I felt every single day. My acts of courage and vulnerability inspired others to do the same.
I discovered by removing the ‘mask or armour’ that I thought was protecting me from criticism, how liberating it was to allow myself to be fully seen.
Harnessing the superpower of vulnerability was one of the greatest gifts I received from the Camino. How I’ve applied it in everyday life has been astonishing, as it has improved my overall confidence, harmonious relationships, upped the ante on my level of inspirational storytelling, and I am far more accepting of others, after first accepting truly myself.
Before I began walking my first Camino, I was inspired to name my purple backpack, “Maite,” which means “love” in the Basque language. This trusty backpack has voyaged with me upon six Camino pilgrimages, on three different routes, and every single one of these profound journeys has deepened the wisdom of self-love.
If you plan to walk the Camino de Santiago, check out my book, A Wild Woman’s Guide To The Camino de Santiago. I share everything you need to know before you begin your Camino. Read at A Wild Woman’s Guide To The Camino De Santiago or click the link below.