Just one of the many animal friends I met along the Camino de Santiago. He was so soft!
Today’s Daily Post prompt asks us to share a quote that we return to again and again. Mine is “Every encounter is an encounter with yourself.” To me, that means that every creature you meet in life is a reflection of you. How you see them is a direct result of how you see yourself, and how you treat them says a lot about you.
I left to walk the Camino last October right after I’d been diagnosed with anxiety and depression. I’d known for some time that things weren’t “right” with me, but I’d had trouble expressing it to others. I was locked inside myself in a way that I’d never been before. Walking in Spain was not a luxury – it was a necessity. I needed those long days in nature to help untangle my thoughts, and to start finding a way to love myself again. I needed the exercise to learn how strong I could be, and had always been. I needed the people that I met to learn how small the world really is, and how much love is available if we just open our hearts and minds to it.
I met this sweet dog after a particularly sad encounter earlier that morning with a litter of sick kittens. We hung out for about a half an hour, and he kissed me the entire time. Definitely made my day better.
But I didn’t figure this out while I was walking. In fact, my mind was strangely blank for most of 30+ days I spent hoofing it through Spain. At times I despaired, in fear that I wasn’t “figuring IT out” – whatever IT was supposed to be. No matter what, though, every day on the trail I met at least one animal (sometimes more), and every time that happened I felt compelled to slow down, take a break, and shower that cat, dog, horse, etc. with love. I was lucky to be walking with people who understood that I needed this, and that they shouldn’t try to hurry me along when my animal encounter of the day happened along. It was moments like this that I most felt in tune with my favorite saint, St. Francis of Assisi. It started to dawn on me that his deep love for all creatures wasn’t just a symbol of his faith, but of mental health, and an understanding of our interconnectedness with all beings.
There were so many starving and abused animals on the Camino, and it broke my heart. I saw this sweet lady looking in the window of a cafe, so my friend Jakob and I stopped to feed her our lunch rations. She was scared of Jakob, so we surmised she’d not been treated kindly by men. However, she let me pet her after a bit, and I made sure she ate until she was full. I worry about her still.
It was only after I’d gotten to Santiago de Compostela that I read the quote “Every encounter is an encounter with yourself” and it suddenly hit me that I’d been showering animals with the love I needed to feel. I needed that kind of unconditional caring, and I’d shown myself that I was capable of giving it to to my fellow creatures – so what was stopping me from doing the same for myself? It was a huge moment in my life, for many reasons. I suddenly felt such deep respect and love for my walking buddies who had intuitively known that I was in deep need of these love lessons, and helping me nurture that time each day. I felt an even greater love for the animals that I met along The Way, and for the lessons in acceptance that they’d taught me. Most of all, I could finally connect my ability to love others with what it should feel like to love myself. It’s a really big life lesson, and I’ll be working on it for the rest of my time here on the planet, but I’m so happy that it finally got through.
My current endeavor, The Hobbit Walk, is an extension of the lessons I learned on the Camino. Click through to find out how you can help.
Pablo was one of the last Camino cats I met. He ran right up to us on the trail, so I sat down and cuddled him for awhile.