this is an excerpt from a blog called headinclouds by Phil Brown. It resonated with me.
I recently read an article on happiness and well-being that got me thinking again about why a pilgrimage walk is such a good experience, and also a catalyst for change and even a metaphor for life. While part of power of a pilgrimage is that it is full of positive experiences (landscapes, cheese, wine and new friends spring instantly to mind), it has done something deeper than simply provide an interesting set of photos.
The walk is over, but I continue to draw on more than memories. In the article I read Carol Ryff (1989) proposed six dimensions of well-being derived from previous work on how to measure happiness or well-being. The walk was an opportunity to grow and develop in each one of these areas:
We all walk at a different pace. I grew in self acceptance as I found my pace, my fitness, and my strengths (and weaknesses). I felt positive about what I had done so far and I want less to be someone different. I walked alone for several days, I am comfortable in my own company. Over time I found others who are also comfortable in their own skin.
2. Positive relations with others:
From a short greeting and chat as we pass, to the deepest of conversations about life and it’s meaning, there are opportunities each day to connect with others, to show care when someone stumbles or needs some first aid (band aids and beer fix many things). The highlight of many days is an open table, where we can celebrate together and talk about what is to come.
I am doing this, with my determination and ability to resist the pressure to stop. I am keeping up with no-one but myself, I set the pace and I aim for what I determine is a good goal for me.
4. Environmental mastery:
There is only so much preparation and training you can do. Google won’t help me master the road ahead, even if it does provide excellent directions and photos. I can cope with a limited ability to communicate and only general directions about where to stay and what to do in between. I don’t have to have all the details in order to keep taking steps in the right directions. Things sometimes don’t work out but ‘the camino provides’, at least for those able to keep an optimistic eye out for it. It’s also true that 90% of success is turning up. As a result of this I’m more confident in taking on things that seem hard.
5. Purpose in life:
Walking the camino sharpens the focus of each day: Face towards your goal and take steps in that direction. Rest and eat when needed. Rinse and Repeat.
I have come back with a clearer sense of purpose and I now have more confidence to keep walking in that direction, even when my current circumstances show little evidence of it. I know that you can cover a lot of distance by taking consistent steps in the same direction. I’ve also found that it’s more enjoyable than wandering in circles, waiting for the change in life to happen.
6. Personal growth:
Someone high in personal growth ‘has a feeling of continued development; sees self as growing and expanding; is open to new experiences; has sense of realizing his or her potential; sees improvement in self and behaviour over time; is changing in ways that reflect more self-knowledge and effectiveness’ (Ryff, 1989, p. 1072).
Every day the walk provides opportunity for personal growth. Perhaps one of it’s strengths is that it continually provided points for reflection; from sitting in churches to sitting at tables sharing stories. Reflection helps me to see those changes along the way and to want to continue. It has encouraged me to keep going after the new and the challenging.
The camino gave me the opportunity to grow in all six of those dimensions, it’s no wonder so many people find it a transforming experience. A walk can change your life, or I suppose more accurately: you can change your life.
I don’t need to go on another pilgrimage to keep growing in these dimensions of well-being, though both still sound like good ideas. I can focus on any one of these dimensions and grow in my sense of well-being. Some of the changes in direction that I’ve made since returning from the walk are about doing all six at once, and that feels good. And a little scary, which is good too.
Ryff, C. D. (1989). Happiness is everything, or is it? Explorations on the meaning of psychological well-being. Journal of personality and social psychology, 57(6), 1069-1081.