Stephanie concludes her four-part series with this look inward along the Camino. She made the journey with her friend Eleanore. –Ed.
Camino of the Mind
“You are an overweight, middle-aged woman who has no business being here.”
“You are ridiculous!”
“You are alone and you’re going to die alone.”
These three sentences repeated themselves over and over during the first few days of walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain this past September and October. Away from routine and everyday concerns, my brain did not relax and enjoy the freedom. Instead, the monkey mind went crazy and went to all kinds of dark places. This created a lot of anxiety and that made me want to sit down in the middle of the trail and cry. I actually did do that one time. We were walking through empty fields and a group of handsome Spanish horses rode by, with their equally handsome riders. After enjoying that spectacle, we looked down and there was a tiny black cat, meowing and rolling. We fed her a good amount of beef jerky while she left dusty cat paw prints all over Eleanore’s backpack, and hurriedly walked away before she could notice we were leaving. The thought of this hungry kitty alone out in the middle of nowhere seemed unbearably sad to me.
I’m all for dealing with negative thoughts when they come up, but these were most unwelcome, and even inappropriate. Also, this is not the way I usually talk to myself. I have what I consider a realistic but basically accepting opinion of myself, and generally believe that the future will take care of itself. I did not want to explore these noxious ideas, nor did I want to give them any energy if I could help it. I knew I was going to regret every minute I spent dealing with them, so the quicker they left me, the better. I generally feel a bit depressed and discombobulated the first few days out of the country, but I wanted to push things along.
The third day, from Astorga to Rabanal was the hardest for me. It was lovely, but we were leaving the flatlands and climbing slowly to the highest point on the Spanish Camino. The gain in altitude was subtle but constant and took its toll on the body and mind after a few hours. “I’m struggling today,” I told Eleanore. She said she was too. My mind still would not be quiet so I tried yogic breathing, chanting Om on the inhale and Shanti on the exhale. I counted my steps to distract myself. I tried focusing on the scenery and rugged path before me. I tried not to look at the higher hills looming ahead of us. It all helped a little bit, and finally we made it to Rabanal, which was beautiful. We stayed in a charming inn run by the friendliest couple and had an awesome dinner of fried eggs and French fries, plus a couple of glasses of “vino tinto.” I started to feel better.
Later I emailed a couple of trusted friends and also talked to Eleanore. They gently chided me for my negative thinking and encouraged me to let it go. I made sure to eat well and drink a lot of water. I craved eggs, potatoes, soup and fish, so that’s what I ate. I normally don’t drink alcohol but I found a little red wine was very helpful. I increased my anti-depressant dose from maintenance to full on serotonin cascade, and also got some valerian for the anxiety. It worked! Very quickly all worries fell away and my regular life seemed like it had taken place in a different world. Except for a few tense moments going down steep and rocky hills, I was able to find the serenity and joy I had been hoping for.
If you’d like to hear more about our Camino Adventure, please visit Eleanore MacDonald’s blog Notes from an Endless Sea at https://eleanoremacdonald.wordpress.com.