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A Lesson Learned from My Camino

May 21, 2024

“Solvitur Ambulando ………………..It is solved by walking.”


                                                                                        - Saint Augustine


June 1, 2024, marks my tenth anniversary of completing one of the most remarkable experiences of my life, when I walked the Camino de Santiago


Popularized in the United States by the movie, The Way, starring Martin Sheen, the Camino, or the Way of St. James is a 500-mile trek across northern Spain which begins in western France, ascends up into the Pyrenees mountains and then descends into Spain for the duration of the journey.


For most who embark upon this journey, it is life changing.  It certainly was for me




Since my Camino, I have reflected often on the many lessons I learned during my 29-day trek, which had me walking 17-18 miles per day, carrying all of my belongings on my back and experiencing a number of memorable and life-defining experiences along my solo walk across Spain. 


It is often said that the way you do anything in life, is the way you do everything.


This is also true for the Camino as, “The way you embark upon your Camino, is probably how you journey through your life.”  This was truly the case for me.


For those that know me, it is probably not a surprise that I approach most challenges with a dogged determination to get things done.  While this has served me very well in life, especially in the way of martial arts, athletic endeavors and business, there also comes a time when realizing the value of slowing down and getting in touch with the present moment can be one of life’s greatest gifts.


I admit; I first approached my Camino with that same “get it done” attitude that I had approached so many other things in my life.  Rather than moving into my journey with the introspection and quiet self-discovery I had intended, I jumped in with both feet, treating it as an athletic event that needed to be won. 


Each day, I would awaken around 5 am to beat the other peregrinos (pilgrims) on the trail.  Although I would say that I loved the quiet time of the morning, beginning my walks at sunrise (which I did), what really drove me was getting to the next destination in record time, sometimes doing what most would consider an entire day’s worth of walking by lunchtime. 


This all changed over the course of a couple of days, beginning when I first entered a village around and 9 am one morning, well before the locals were busy into their days.  During my walk through the town, I was intently focused on my estimated time to my next destination when I walked by a most peculiar place.  Having seen it out of the corner of my eye, I went about another 10-15 paces before I felt the call to go back to check it out. 


Upon my return, I looked at the sign over the door which said Refugo para los Pereginos (refuge for the pilgrims).  I began to step inside when suddenly my “monkey mind” took over, and I began to tell myself,


“It’s probably a tourist trap.”


“I won’t make it on time to my next destination.”


“What if it’s dangerous inside?”


Succumbing to the voices in my head, I stepped back outside and began to once again to make my way on the trail, determined to reach the next village by my projected arrival time.


Two days later, I was in another village and walked into a restaurant alone looking to have a quiet dinner by myself.  As I entered, I noticed a table of familiar faces waving me over to join them.  It was a group of friendly Americans and Canadians I met along the way, having shared a room with a couple of them a local albergue (hostel) the night before. 


After getting myself seated at the head of the table and ordering my meal, one of the pilgrims, a very affable man from San Francisco, posed a question everyone, “What has been your most memorable experience on the Camino thus far?” 


He paused for a moment and then went onto say, “I’ll tell you what mine was……Did anyone stop by the Refuge for the Peregrinos the other day?”


My ears perked up as he mentioned the place I had decided to avoid two days before.  Then my heart sank inside my chest as he went onto share,


“It was the most amazing time I have had.  I went in and they were playing soft music and had a warm fire in the fireplace.  They offered me cookies and tea.  I sat there for over two-hours reading and enjoying the experience and connecting with the host.  It was the most wonderful thing I have experienced on the trail thus far.”


Now slumping in my chair at the head of the table, I began to realize how I had hurried myself through the first two weeks of my journey and felt the regret of possibly missing many other wonderful experiences along the trail because of my default to drive my way through things rather slow down and experience the wonder and beauty around me. 


Feeling the distinct need to “come clean” in that moment, I sheepishly raised my hand and shared how I had avoided the refuge in the days before.  I then vowed to slow down and enjoy the rest of my journey. 


After this proclamation, magic began to happen for me on the trail.  Rather than race though my walk each day, I made a point to stop each morning at a local café and have a cup of tea and enjoy a chocolate croissant.  Rather than hurriedly eating my lunches on the trail, I would stop at restaurants and interact with my fellow pilgrims.  I also began to slow down my walking pace each day and take in the beautiful sites along the way.


As a result, I began to more appreciate the beautiful landscape that is northern Spain.  I met incredible people from all over the world.  I had deep conversations with total strangers that seemed to bring me the exact message I needed to hear.  And I felt a lightness inside of me that I had not experienced in some time.


In sharing this story, I am reminded of the freedom I felt in that realization and how I can still unconsciously drive through life, rather than slow down and appreciate all the gifts that are around me. 


This week, I challenge all of us to ask ourselves the question, “Where is there an opportunity for me to slow down, be present and connect with those around me?


You never know, the destination you are looking for may be right in front of you. 


Chris Natzke

Black Belt Leadership Speaking & Coaching

PS:  If you are looking to create powerful and positive change in your life, click the link below to set up a 30-minute discovery call to discuss my upcoming Breaking Through Coaching Program.


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