Wherever you go…

Lessons from the Camino            


27 April 2022. We were sitting at a table in the pizzeria Il Fornaccio in Arzúa, Spain. At that point, Corey and I had walked about 460 miles from France across Spain. We were on our 27th day of walking the Camino de Santiago. Arzúa would be our last stop before reaching Santiago de Compostela the next day, 24 miles away.

I’d first heard of the Camino de Santiago in 2000, while I was studying abroad in Spain my junior year of college. Corey and I had planned on walking it in April of 2020 for my 40th birthday. We were set to go. We had our plane tickets, the first few nights of hotels booked, and everything we were planning on taking set on the bedroom floor beside our backpacks just in case of some last-minute sorting. Then Covid came on the scene, and we had to postpone the trip. Two years later, we were on our way.

During that interim, and even years before, I read books people had written about their experiences walking the Camino. Many of them would speak of moments of breakthroughs, insights, or deep healing in these really intense ways on the walk. I don’t deny that there was a part of me that very much wanted that. To gain some grand insight while walking a pilgrimage route that people have been using for 1,000 years. Or maybe even better, to find some healing of old, deep wounds showing up time and time again in some guise of overwhelming fear or doubt. As our trip kept drawing closer, though, I tried to let go of that desire. I didn’t want to put that kind of pressure on the Camino. And decided to do my best to allow it all to unfold as it would.

By our second to last day in Arzúa, nothing all that dramatic had happened. No big insights, no breakthroughs, no sense of deep healing and okayness around the things that would have been nice to find healing and okayness around. Actually, instead of clarity or insights, a lot of my time walking was spent not thinking of anything at all. Which was unexpected and amazing in itself. Simply being present for step after step, not mulling over things that I’d find myself mulling over at home. Just walking.

The walls of Il Fornaccio were covered in words in all different languages and colors of ink that other pilgrims walking the Camino had written over the years. Some introducing themselves and where they were from, others were bits of poetry or sayings. High up on the wall in front of me, surrounded by so many other people’s writings, someone had written “Wherever you go, there you are.” I knew those words well. I’d seen them in different inspirational settings, and the book of that very title by Jon Kabat-Zinn had sat unopened on bookshelves through a number of moves since I’d bought it in 2005. It was sitting, still unread, on a bookshelf at our place in Missoula that very moment.

Though I’d never actually read the book, the way I’d always interpreted the title had to do with being present. “Wherever you go, there you are.”  In that wherever you happen to be, that is where you are, so practice being present in that moment. Reading those words that day in Arzúa, I suddenly had a completely different understanding of them. “Wherever you go, there you are.” In that wherever in the world you go, whatever struggles, hurts, wounds, doubts, fears, whatever it is that is within you will be there until you actually go in, face it, acknowledge it, be with it to heal it. It doesn’t matter where you physically go, because you will still be there with all your stuff. So, just because I was on an ancient pilgrimage route in Spain didn’t matter to all the things I was holding inside. It’s speaking to a big inner journey.

This idea wasn’t new to me. Through different teachers, trainings, and some study in shadow work over a number of years, I knew about this. I’d even worked with it to some capacity. “Reveal to heal” as one of my teachers says—we have to be willing to go in and really acknowledge and hold what is there to be able to heal.  I realized at that table in the pizzeria that there still was a part of me hoping for some miraculous moment on the Camino. Hoping that some magic of the Camino would work its medicine and all I would have to do is receive it. Instead, I was gifted the pretty uncomfortable clarity that those deep-seated fears and doubts could only heal if I found the determination and courage to go even deeper than I had before. A journey I’m currently on.

I also took Wherever You Go, There You Are off the shelf and read it. Turns out, I wasn’t too far off. Many of the teachings were about cultivating being present. The section of the book that bears the same title as the book itself speaks to the realization I had that day in Arzúa.  In that section, Kabat-Zinn says, “Have you ever noticed that there is no running away from anything? That, sooner or later, the things that you don’t want to deal with and try to escape from, or paper over and pretend aren’t there, catch up with you—especially if they have to do with old patterns and fears?…You cannot escape yourself, try as you might.”

It can be uncomfortable, it can feel embarrassing or scary. It’s going to be a long journey. But I’m totally confident that it’s worth it. And it seems the Camino, in a subtle way, gifted some insight.

Wherever you go…