Camino de Santiago: A Life Changing Walk
In August of 2012, I decided to buy a plane ticket to Spain and walk the Camino de Santiago. At that time, I did not own a backpack or hiking shoes. I filled in the blanks over the next three weeks. On Sept 14, I began a 500 mile walk that began in St. Jean and ended in Santiago. Those million steps changed my life. I would like to share my reflections with you in this guest blog post.
I had no eureka moments on the Camino. At kilometer marker 348.6, I uncovered no little vault with all the answers to life. Instead, just like life, I experienced a series of meaningful and small insights. I believe we all have an internal light, and the Camino acts as a rheostat to greatly increase the intensity. With care and awareness, I hope to keep that light glowing brightly until my last breath.
I continue to treasure the small moments that make up each and every day. A simple smile, a nice cup of coffee, a beautiful sunset, or some random act of kindness provides fuel for my light. When it all becomes too hard, I still use my “Refresh” move, walking in a circle, with or without my walking stick, to get a completely new perspective.
I am letting go of worry. Chronic worrying is detrimental to happiness. It is impossible to be happy and to worry at the same time. It is like trying to view a sunset with pirate patches covering both eyes. A friend sent me a simple poem about worry from an unknown author that sums up my newfound attitude:
“For every problem under the sun
There is a solution or there is none
If there’s a solution go and find it
It there isn’t never mind it…”
For many years, people had extolled the virtues of deleting worry from my life. This was easy to say, but difficult to implement. During my million steps of reflection on the Camino, I spent some quality time focusing on the significant portion of my life that had been completely wasted on worrying about things outside of my control. The only thing we ultimately control is our reaction to events in our lives. I am spending much more time aligning myself with what is happening as opposed to trying to control what will or will not occur.
We all have our strategies for preventing worry in our lives. For starters, I eliminated all network and cable news from my life. Cold turkey! This is not a plea for putting your head in the sand. But reading a few headlines from the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and Washington Post provides me with ample material to stay abreast of current events. The best part of reading is that I get to choose how to react instead of being told by a talking head. This liberation has taken my heart rate down.
Another of my foundations for keeping the light aglow is to live in the Now. It is impossible to eliminate the past or avoid all pleasant or unpleasant memories. However, when I visit my past now, I try to go in, learn, and get the hell out! I am not going to be anchored by some event or trauma from my past. The same goes with the future. While hopes and dreams for a bright forecast are always present, I refuse to walk the rest of my life with eyes solely focused on the horizon. I yield to the current moment.
Signs and faith in signs were very important throughout my journey. Walking nearly 500 miles through a foreign land without a map, dependent on little yellow arrows, can wrack anyone’s nerves. By letting go of the worry and placing trust in the arrows, I became confident that I would eventually arrive in Santiago. No need to question or overthink these little arrows. There were two times that I lost the Camino, each lasting for less than one kilometer. Within 100 steps, I knew in my head and heart that I was on the wrong path.
In the busy world of today, there are signs everywhere that will lead us down a path of contentment. Be open to the signs, listen to your heart, and act on the message. If you are in the wrong job, wrong relationship, or wrong country, there is probably a big neon sign begging you for change. Listen and change. There are an equivalent number of neon markers that point to a positive path. While going through life, pay attention to these affirming signs and keep marching forward with passion and enthusiasm.
On the release date of the book, I have been home for 11 months. During that time, the journey continued at a feverish pace. I never expected to write a book, yet I have spent hundreds of hours working on this project. I never expected to be a public speaker, yet find myself in front of audiences on a regular basis.
The best part about all of this is that I am enjoying each day and savoring the moments. I am content learning new things, meeting new people, and spreading an uplifting message.
After retiring early from his job as a successful sales executive for a Fortune 500 technology company, Kurt Koontz volunteered in his community and traveled across Europe and North America. He never considered writing a book until he walked nearly 500 miles across Spain in 2012. Those million steps were so compelling that he returned home and began writing and speaking about his life-changing adventures. He lives and writes on a tree-lined creek in Boise, Idaho. Kurt Koontz is the author of A Million Steps, a book about his journey on the Camino de Santiago. You can find out more on his Website and his Facebook.