one woman walking is about self-healing through walking.
one woman walking is a narrative of: thoughts and feelings that came to me; things that happened to me and things that I made happen; discoveries I made and fears that I overcame; sufferings I endured and wonders that I experienced; animals that I met; and perspectives that emerged while out walking.
one woman walking includes reflections on experiences such as: the pain I endured on some walks; the pleasure of connecting with animals, insects and birds; the wonders I encountered when I was lost; the disappointments I learned to shrug off; and the huge sense of getting to know myself differently, of beginning to like myself and starting to know my own inner truths.
one woman walking demonstrates from experience that: women need have no fear and can find their own freedom; that emotions can be embraced, understood and put to one side like turning a page; that achievement is not another milestone but more like self-esteem growing with every footstep; and that ageing does not mean more cover-ups, but rather finding an inner, peaceful grace and being grateful for what and who you are.
one woman walking is an evolution of experiences such as: learning to appreciate beauty and respect nature and the natural world; seeing with new eyes and hearing with new ears; gaining a new understanding of love and compassion for self and for others; shedding fear and understanding freedom; and connecting with everything in the natural world and benefiting from the healing that it brings.
Walking solo works positively on the mind, body and soul to release fear, guilt and anger enabling us to attain a genuine sense of freedom - a sense which needs continuous renewal as new challenges arise with unsurprising frequency. Walking facilitates the shedding of negative emotions to regain a true and lasting sense of self-worth, peace and happiness.
Walking the Camino de Santiago twice as well as various other long treks has proven to be a constant source of unsought revelation on deep-rooted emotional issues enabling the author to: understand and take responsibility for her emotions; discover a lasting calmness and confidence; learn how to listen to instinct; understand how to be a better part of the natural world and the human race instead of feeling separated from them.
But walking is not just about mitigating negative emotions. Appreciation of the outer world is the key to understanding and accepting the mystery of our inner world. If the outer world is but a reflection of our inner selves then, surely, we would want to make it a truly, beautiful reflection? Walking reconnects us with nature and, as we take our true place in the natural world, our feelings and emotions make a shift carrying us from uncertainty to absolute knowing.
“Walking gives me an outer space that allows me to detach myself enough from everything going on in my life so that I can find the calm, inner space from where I can reflect on life more clearly. Whether it’s the Camino, a long trek or another pilgrimage, to me the point of the long walk is to allow the trail to enable me to reflect, to become aware, to make observations, to let go. And in doing this, each time I set myself freer than I could previously imagine. Freedom is expansive. And, free from fears of the past and the future, I find both inner peace and happiness.”
“The only way to feel complete is to be myself. To have unearthed an awareness of who and what I am, and to continue making new discoveries as I dig further within each and every day of my life, to be content with who I am, what I am and what I do, is a form of love. Self-love. It’s taken me many years to realise how desperately important this is, how fundamental, how critical, it is for each and every one of us to be able to show love for ourselves.”
“I inherently knew that I was supposed to achieve something big one day, to be someone special, to have a purpose in life, something to be proud of and consider eminently worthy of doing.” This is the birth-right of every human being on the planet.
Early one morning in mid-March 2015, I was stood in an albergue kitchen in northern Spain, looking out of the dirty window into a rain-splashed and drab, cloud-blackened street in Triacastela, waiting for the light to grow just a little bit more before I set out on that day’s leg of the Camino de Santiago. I raised an eyebrow as I heard a rare, early morning riser enter the kitchen behind me. Undoubtedly Spanish at this hour. Only the Spanish and I got up so early. We quietly shared our holas and I returned to pondering whether the rain was going to stop, just for once, on this hitherto bleak and cold Camino trek or whether I would once again be wearing my plastic poncho in an attempt to fend off torrential downpours over the next ten hours.
Unexpectedly, the fellow walker cleared his throat and asked me if I was English. By his accent I could tell he was Spanish. I turned and saw the serious, brown face of a weather-beaten man in his late fifties. I said yes. He then asked me if I walked alone. Again, I said yes. He asked me how far I was walking each day. I replied anywhere between thirty-five and forty kilometres. He looked me dead in the eye before, quite suddenly, he burst into a broad smile and then proceeded to ask me if he could shake my hand. I smiled wryly and wondered which detail in particular had caught his imagination. My mind filled with a kaleidoscope of visuals from the past two weeks: sometimes walking bent over double into the relentless, westerly wind; many times soaked to the skin and freezing, screaming aloud my curses up to the heavens as I stomped my way through four hours of unyielding rain; clumsily trudging through two foot of fresh, crispy, untouched snow up and down both sides of O’Cebreiro. In this man’s face, I saw the honest warmth I’d seen in many other welcoming smiles as I checked into a different albergue each night, foot weary, thinking of dinner and glad for a dry haven. And I thought of how I – and the others – would set off in short-lived dryness in the twilight of each dawn, praying to the heavens, in the humble hope of a sunny day ahead. And how I could never quite shake off the oh, so pervasive cold, a cold now instantly tempered by the shake of a hand and a warm flood of achievement. Well, not quite achievement yet. There were still 120 kilometres to go but 660 were now behind me. The Spaniard downed his coffee and left the room, leaving me feeling somewhat shaken yet proud. Proud to be me.
When I completed the Camino for the second time in March 2018, I arrived at Santiago only to find that the Pilgrims’ Office had moved since my last visit. Santiago is not a big place and it didn’t take me long to find it but emotionally I was in a bit of a strange place and so it took me longer than it should have. On this particular trip, I had saved the final seventeen kilometres to complete on my last morning and, for the first time in three weeks, the sun bore down on me as I walked… in minus five degrees. At least it was dry, I thought. Cold and dry was both different and welcome. And yet, as I walked under the clear blue and rainless sky, my eyes were continually tear-filled, so much so that it blurred my vision. As I paced out my steps, I tried to rationalise what was happening, to understand just why the tears were falling at all.
Upon finally arriving at the Pilgrim Office in Santiago de Compostela, I was, to my mind, admirably managing to control my emotions as I handed over my credencial to the clerk for him to date stamp, sign and approve, when suddenly a truly endearing, matronly woman moved in alongside me and asked if I had walked alone. I crumpled and my eyes filled with fresh tears as I looked at her calm face and said yes. She must have seen the raw emotion in my eyes, in my face, my entire body and demeanour because, without further word, this lovely woman moved towards me with welcoming arms outstretched and, as tenderly as she could, hugged me with such genuine kindness it made my eyes well up some more. Such was the pent up emotion of spontaneous contact, of arrival, of having walked over 780 kilometres, and spending three weeks outdoors in in the worst weather conditions I could remember. The tears were due, in part to the sudden recognition of the mental anguish I had endured dealing with this for ten hours each day and, in part to the crowning release and out-pouring of the physical pain I had suffered in order to accomplish my approximate forty kilometres per day. I cried some more until I could breathe calmly. And then I thanked her.
I said yes, I was solo. I explained that I had covered about forty kilometres each day because many albergues were shut and stopping to rest in non-stop, gale-force wind and rain had not been an option. But, I added, I liked to walk alone. It gave me time to think. And time not to think. And she hugged me again. She told me I was home and took my backpack from me for safe-keeping while I went to the cathedral and participated in the pilgrims’ mass. I had a mild and momentary panic as suddenly I felt naked without my pack. But I inhaled deeply and forced myself to relax so that I could relish the new-found lightness this woman had given me. I was home. That’s what she had said. I had done it. I had journeyed inside and out and now I had arrived home. It made me think of the poem by the Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh: I have arrived. I am home. I breathed a profound breath as I realised that, on this Camino occasion just as the last, I had been on and through an extraordinary journey of self-discovery. And not only had I survived but I also felt calmer, lighter, more aware and peaceful for just being me and for knowing me a little bit better.
Almost instantaneously a distant and vague memory came to mind, arresting my thoughts, dragging me back in time to recall another place, on another journey, in another reality.
When I was thirty-three, I sat down on a rock to die.
I’d had enough of life and people and I couldn’t face them again. Actually, I didn’t want to face them again. That was the difference. I’d spent a miserable life of tears and pain, guilt and suffering, and I didn’t want anymore. I’d been so sick for so long of the poison that was in me and had become me that now I was emptied and had nothing left to give. I was become numb. I had retched myself to an obscure non-existence, a vacuum of nothingness, and all that remained was the husk of a bruised body devoid of mind and thoughts and soul.
I’d walked out of the front door up into the hills behind my home. Ha, home! That was a joke. Wasn’t home supposed to be a place of safety and security? Wasn’t home supposed to be a protected haven to which we retreated when outside things got too tough and painful? Where had my safe home been all my life? Too late for questions now. I no longer cared.
I’d climbed up through the fir trees oblivious to the snagging undergrowth that gouged indiscriminate bloodied lines across my legs. I saw a huge rock jutting out amidst the firs and aimed for it. Perfect. Cold and grey meets cold and emotionless. I clambered up and sat down on it, not knowing, not aware even, of how cold or uncomfortable it was. I just wanted to sit and, as I sat, I willed my body to shut down, bit by gradual bit, until every last breath was squeezed out of my lungs. Time no longer existed nor did I care. My only focus, if I still had one, was to stop living, to stop breathing, to stop being. I wanted to die. And I did. I died.
I was dead.
These experiences are what one woman walking is all about. It doesn’t start with the Camino and it doesn’t end with it. But without the Camino it could never have been written.
“If you think adventure is dangerous, try routine; it is lethal.” Paulo Coelho