Finding Love on the Camino

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My favorite Camino buddy. He gave me kisses when I was having a particularly rotten morning.

Today, a work colleague asked me if I could boil down what I’d learned on the Camino into a simple statement or two. Of course I couldn’t, because I just got back, and I’m still absorbing all of the lessons that fell in my lap while I was walking 500 miles through Spain. However, I took a few minutes to tell her what I was thinking about today, and it was a good thought, so I figured I’d share it here with you, too. Here’s what I wrote:

“In regards to boiling down lessons learned on the Camino, I heard this amazing quote near the end of the trip that really resonated with me: ‘Every encounter is an encounter with yourself.’ I met so many interesting people from all over the world, some of whom I’m sure will be lifelong friends. You can get surprisingly close in a very short amount of time when your only duties are to walk, eat, and sleep.

I was reading The Dalai Lama’s Cat a little at a time, and happened upon the concepts that we’re all made of love, and that true happiness comes from being good to others. [I already knew that I liked to be nice to other people, and that serving others made me feel good.] But what I hadn’t realized before I left is how little I showed love and compassion to myself on a regular basis.”

One of the behaviors I started to realize in myself while walking is my great love of animals, and a need to seek them out on the Camino. I had some really intense interactions with all kinds of pets and livestock on The Way, and it became apparent to me that for me, having a good day was dependent on having these conversations with horses, feeding starving dogs, and giving belly rubs to barn cats. Eventually it started to dawn on me that this love I felt the need to shower on my animal friends was something that I desperately needed to be able to show myself, and that in these encounters I was giving back to me in the only way my subconscious knew how. Once that dawned on me, I started trying to apply that same rule to my human companions (sans belly rubs), and ended up getting the first hints of a message that I’m only now starting to really soak in and figure out.

In short, I learned that I am both capable of giving, and worthy of receiving, boundless love and kindness. Silly me, not looking more deeply into the words of St. Francis – “Grant that I may not so much seek to be loved as to love” – in the first place. Now it’s time to start gluing my thoughts together and making a better, stronger life out of what I’ve learned.

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