Insights & opinion

Camino Pilgrimage

Johan shares his personal experience of walking the Camino after leaving rehab, highlighting the profound impact it had on self-worth and perseverance. He also reflects on the lessons learned, challenges faced, and the potential for deepening relationships, encouraging readers to consider the transformative experience of walking the Camino.

April 2, 2024

In 814, the discovery of St. James's tomb in Spain marked the beginning of Santiago de Compostela's significance as a pilgrimage destination for the entire European continent. Over time, the popularity of the pilgrimage has fluctuated, experiencing a substantial revival in the 20th century, largely propelled by the efforts of the Spanish tourist board. Santiago de Compostela, situated in the far western corner of Spain, serves as the final destination for a network of routes across Europe, with the most frequented one spanning approximately 500 miles from just inside the French Pyrenees, traversing the North of Spain.

Historically, people undertook the pilgrimage for religious or spiritual reasons, especially during the Middle Ages when Catholics walked the Camino to receive absolution for their penance. The church also encouraged participation as a means to rally support against the Arab and Berber rulers occupying much of Spain during that period. Today, diverse motivations propel individuals to embark on the journey, with many finding some form of spiritual or enlightenment motive behind their decision.

Reflecting on my own experience, I walked the Camino years ago, having recently left rehab and entered early recovery. What began as an adventure, fuelled by the aimlessness that often accompanies early adulthood and recovery, turned into one of the most profound and enduring experiences of my life. Despite not initially intending it, the physical and psychological challenges I faced during days and weeks of walking beyond my comfort zone solidified a sense of self-worth and perseverance, serving as a lasting reminder through subsequent failures.

The Camino doesn't demand extraordinary fitness or agility but presents barriers that require reserves of motivation and willpower, pushing individuals beyond expectations and reinforcing self-concepts that may have previously eluded them.

In a conversation with Andrew McCarthy, a former Brat Pack actor turned director and author, he shared his journey on the Camino with his 19-year-old son, Sam, chronicled in his book 'Walking with Sam.' The month-long expedition provided a luxury of time, allowing for meaningful conversations and a deep exploration of thoughts and feelings. McCarthy, a man in recovery, demonstrated a profound understanding of himself and his process. Reading the book proved humbling, challenging my perceptions of fatherhood and inspiring a reevaluation of my interactions with my own children. It prompted a desire to deepen each individual relationship by questioning my approaches and embracing the opportunity to do things differently.

Despite the yearning to walk the Camino again, I've hesitated, citing time away from my children as an excuse. Now, I realise that confronting my own fears and exposing my vulnerabilities to my children may be a crucial aspect of undertaking 'The Way' again. Acknowledging imperfections, navigating challenges, and seeking their help could potentially strengthen our bond, as few things endear a parent more to their children than allowing them to witness those genuine, human aspects.

If you ever find the opportunity in your life, consider walking the Camino. It's one of the few experiences I can guarantee you won't regret, promising to enrich your sense of self in profound ways.

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