One Year Later: What a 30 Day Pilgrimage Taught Me


Written By: Dana Sawatzky, RMT

To say my 30 day Pilgrimage in Spain was just another vacation would be a massive understatement. The ripples of change I felt throughout the journey will continue to shape me for years to come. Although it is difficult to condense a highly spiritual and emotional journey into a few points, I’ve made an attempt here to give you two little peeks into what The Camino taught me, and continues to teach me to this day. 

Don’t let Fear stop you

I started planning this trip two years before it actually happened. During that time I experienced every emotion and explored every fear I had about the journey. This was my first overseas trip. And I was going by myself. I didn’t speak the language and all I had was a guide book and my feet to get me from one place to another. What if this turned out to be a horrible trip? My parents, who have both seen the movie “Taken,” were not thrilled about me trekking by myself, but gracious enough to encourage me anyways. 

What I learned is this; all the fear we carry is about the unknown. A big unknown in our life is our future. And this blinds us to the wonderful things that have happened, are happening and could happen. We focus so much of our energy on what terrible things could happen that we don’t see what is happening.  

There was a point, about two weeks before my trip, when all my fears and anxieties caught up with me at the same time. What if I came back and all the clients I’ve been working with had moved on? What if I had to build my practice again? What if I get lost somewhere in Spain? What if I get kidnapped? What if this isn’t what I am supposed to do? I was frozen. My anxieties had overwhelmed me and I no longer wanted to go. I wanted to stay in my comfort zone where I knew what was going to happen, and I could anticipate my day. But that isn’t what we’re supposed to do. We are supposed to dive into life. Whenever we’re faced with an opportunity that our gut says is good, but our fear likes to contradict, we need to leap. This poem by Erin Hanson sums it up perfectly:

There is freedom waiting for you,
On the breezes of the sky,
And you ask “what if I fall”?
Oh but my darling,
What if you fly?

Open Up

Sometimes I describe the Camino as a huge opening in my life. An opening to new ideas, new people, new cultures and new experiences. Before this trip, I had been on a journey of purging ideas, just like every other 20-something year old. I like to use the metaphor of a room inside yourself that is full of stuff/ideas. Some are heirlooms that we’ve been given by our parents and family. Some we’ve gotten from friends. Some are bright, shiny things we’ve gotten from the media and society. Part of my process was going into this room and picking up each idea and examining it, seeing if it was useful, dusting off ones I hadn’t thought of in a while and tossing ones that I don’t need to hold onto. 

Purging ideas and beliefs I no longer needed or resonated with, created space within myself for new things. A lot of these new “things” came in the form of people. One such person I met on a very cloudy day. I was hitting my second wind of the morning and walking quite fast when I passed a man who was walking unbelievably slow. He said, “Hey!” and I said a short hello back, intent on continuing my pace. He continued to ask me questions and eventually asked if I would walk with him. 

I slowed my pace and agreed, my ego cringing each time someone passed us. My walking partner was an older gentleman, quite round and with a lovely british accent. His feet were covered in blisters and he relied heavily on his walking sticks. The pace we were walking was challenging enough. Then I found out that he was a Psychotherapist specializing in past life regression, and also a well studied astrologist. 

Life has a funny way of sending you challenging people right when you’ve decided to open up. He was not a mean or terrible person, but rather he held ideas that were completely new and foreign to me. Here I was walking in the middle of Spain, trying to figure out what my rising sun was, and exploring the idea of past lives, all the while my skeptical and pessimistic voice in my head telling me this guy was bananas. But I let myself be open, even just for an hour, to the possibility that what this man had studied for 30 years wasn’t all wrong. We discussed things I had never really explored, we bonded over both having read “The Alchemist”. While on this journey I opened myself up to the mysticism, and possibility that the ideas I have held onto for so long might not be the only ones that could ring true in my life. I meditated on what he told me for the rest of the day, and had one of my most memorable walks. The beauty of the Camino is that it’s an ancient pilgrimage that can breathe new life into you. The people I met, the challenges I faced, and the lessons I brought home have continued to open up new space in my mind and my heart. 

Taking the leap and opening yourself up to possibilities is terrifying. It will always be scary, but if we can recognize when the fear is talking and allow ourselves to move past it, we can create more space to experience new things, and new people. Maybe it will be then that we find connection and happiness live in that space. 

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