‘During the first days on the camino, I thought I was going crazy. As soon as I started to walk, the racing thoughts began. It was as if all thoughts I had suppressed for years wanted to come out simultaneously. They were fast-moving, and I couldn’t stop them. They seemed to be insignificant and random scenes from the past. They had in common that they were not pleasant thoughts; an unpleasant conflict with my boss, a recurring argument with my husband about him not paying enough attention to me, and a nasty discussion with my best friend. By day three, it was so bad that I was about to quit. When I told this to a fellow pilgrim in the evening, he advised me to continue anyway.
This fellow pilgrim turned out to be a camino veteran. He walked the camino every 3 to 5 years. He called it periodic mental maintenance. He had experienced racing thoughts during his first camino. ‘Your mind does a big mental cleaning, he explained. All the crap has to come out first. Hang in there; it will get better,’ he assured me. And indeed, after the first week, it got better. By week three, I was experiencing tremendous inner peace. The racing thoughts and the physical stress that it evoked were gone. I walked, I ate, I slept, and I enjoyed myself. No more and no less. Everything seemed to slow down, and I felt calmer and more relaxed. Delightful! I couldn’t remember the last time I had felt like this. I could have easily walked on for weeks more. But finally, I arrived in Santiago de Compostela, and the inevitable moment came that I had to go home. Everyday life began again.
On the first day back at the office, the hustle and bustle of work immediately pressed upon me. Suddenly, I realized that walking the camino was like jumping off a speeding train. Now, I had to jump on it again. On the camino, I had experienced peace, and because of the contrast, I now saw and felt the difference. I had never noticed that before. How on earth would I manage the stress and preserve the inner peace I had found? I also wondered why I hadn’t realized before that I was experiencing so much stress that I was cut off from my inner peace. I thought I managed stress well. I always thought people who got sick from stress were just wimps. Above all, I looked down on the young colleagues, the millennials I worked with. Many of them, in my eyes, could handle stress poorly.
But I see now how much harder it is than when I started working. The younger generation has to jump on a train already at full speed. I was like that frog in a pot of water that was slowly brought to the boiling point. When I started working as a junior employee in the early nineties, there were simple desktop computers without internet. We didn’t have cell phones and email. I can hardly imagine now how we worked back then. We had landline phones and internal letter mail. The fastest thing around was the fax machine. Work was 10 times slower then, and it stopped as soon as I walked out of the office. I slowly climbed up through the years to a management position, and technology evolved. Technology would make our lives much easier, we were told. So easy, in fact, that many people were afraid of losing their jobs. But the opposite was true. The flow of information kept getting bigger and faster, and there was only more work to be done. The stress increased insidiously, and the contact with the inner peace slowly extinguished. During the camino, I restored that contact, also now that I am back to work again.
With my work comes stress. That is a given. But I approach stress differently now. I do not mind stress as long as I can manage it well. Because now that I had reconnected with my inner peace, I didn’t want to lose it. But how was I supposed to do that? I then remembered the fellow pilgrim who walked the camino every 3 to 5 years. That was not an option for me. What I could do was walk for a couple of days every few months or after finishing a busy assignment. I read the book The Salt Path by Raynor Winn [link], which inspired me. Now I walk a section of that path every time I go hiking. The experience is not as intense as walking the camino. Still, it is enough to reduce the racing thoughts and stress if I do it often enough, and I regularly connect with my inner peace.’
Carla (36, The Netherlands): Recovering from burnout while walking the camino
Sofia’s (54, Brazil) camino story: ‘At Cruz de Ferro came the sadness’
Nagela Alexa’s Camino Story: ‘The Camino changes your life if you allow it.’
Andre’s story (58, Belgium): ‘On the camino, I had to face the hard fact of how horribly I treat myself.’
Fabrice (38, France): ‘I realized that walking the camino itself was self-imposed pressure’
Emma’s story: ‘I learned to say goodbye on the camino (and in life)’
Maarten’s story: The power of vulnerability
Agne-Henrik’s story: ‘The camino changed my life’