How to Grow Every Day, Even on the Same Path
Not all journeys are the same—even when you take the same path. This is true for life’s journey, as well as physical journeys we take. I’ve hiked on the Camino de Santiago multiple times, and each time the experience has been different. But the last trip I finished this Autumn changed me, making me grow in all new ways.
Unlike my first solo journeys, I led a small group from All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, California. The church wanted to offer a spiritual pilgrimage on this ancient walk and my experience attracted the leaders of the Transformational Journeys ministry. And I was intrigued with the idea of experiencing this familiar path in a new way, and to help others discover their own growth.
Four of the group were local to me and the fifth, lived in England—the brother-in-law to one of the four. Our goal was to walk the 70 miles from the town of Sarria to Santiago de Compostela, the busiest stretch of the Camino de Santiago.
We found that our goal was simply a placeholder for what we discovered in each other.
Seeking a New Way to Experience My Journey
I’m accustomed to hiking on my own and the Camino has certainly been those sorts of trips previously. I walked 270 miles of the Camino alone two years ago, and then 600 miles this spring. Sure, I met numerous people along the way, walking with them, sometimes for days at a time. But we never committed to traveling together as a group.
In those past walks, each of us acted like independent contractors or consultants. We had a common goal in mind, but we independently headed to it with our own approach and set of rules, even while to connecting along the way to motivate each other. This kind of behavior is what I’m used to in my work life, and how I often tackle large personal goals. And it seemed to make perfect sense in my journeys through France and Spain.
In contrast with this group, I was the guide, the motivator, the organizer, or you might say the sherpa.
I kept thinking, would this impinge on what I expected to receive, when I walked the journey in the past? I worried that my long walk would be reduced to a less mindful, less emotional, and less spiritual experience if I were focused on keeping the group together, motivated, and healthy.
We Cannot Always Lead from the Front
We met every morning for breakfast and prayers (remember, we’re a church group). Our walks would typically be in unison for the first kilometer. Then our various paces would cause some to go ahead and some to stay behind.
Interestedly, I wasn’t walking my normal, fast pace. Instead, I would hang back and make sure everyone was healthy. I just seemed to automatically do it. In fact, I preferred it vs. that earlier concern I had about looking after the group.
Moreover, I found myself in deep conversations with these new friends. And I learned so much.
I discovered how each person was strong, and also when they needed assistance. This made me realize that we could share the experience of leading the group, asking each person to lead with their strengths.
For example, two people were marvelous extroverts and fluent in multiple languages. This allowed them to bring other pilgrims into our lives. Another had a great eye for photography, which gave my own photos an added dimension. And then another was a smart foodie, who could easily find great places for us to dine. As a shared strength with several of the members, each could offer excellent prayers and meditations.
It became apparent to me on the walk, that in personal growth as in business, it’s important to surround yourself with people who are more skilled than you. As a group, we have a fuller, richer body of knowledge, expertise, and skill sets than any one person can have alone. Our differences made the experience stronger, in a way I couldn’t of experienced on my own.
When we believe in people, empower them to use their strengths, we become a much stronger leader. As I walked behind my group, leading from there, I found I had to be, and wanted to be, a good follower.
You see, leading isn’t always about staying in front. Sometimes it’s about following.
We All Gave so that We Could Receive
In addition to all of the pooling of talent, by giving and sharing of experience on this journey, I received much more than I thought possible.
Thinking I’d miss out on any self-focused practice, I stayed intentional about my journey. But I added another step. I offered my reflections, poems, and prayers with the group instead of just keeping them to myself. In turn, everyone was invited to add to these meditations with their own prayers and reflections.
Wow. The meditations were wonderful. They included new aspects for me—writers I had not heard of before, singing, and personal storytelling.
Rather than focusing my contemplations to myself, the self-focus expanded to include and benefit the group, to a larger sense of self, a community sense of self. I knew we as a group could grow together, as we each contributed what we could, to make this pilgrimage profound and meaningful.
I’m reminded of the phrase I’ve seen online so many times, “if you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.” We can always learn from others. Taking it further, we can also combine ideas and experiences into something new, to a much richer experience. And we should remember to always seek it out.
Giving and Receiving Every Day
Christmas is quickly approaching and thoughts of gifts and giving are on everyone’s minds. Maybe the giving, the sharing, and even the leading and following are all part of the Christmas spirit. And maybe that’s why I’m thinking about this Camino now.
My fellow Camino pilgrims shared what they had, and in the end we reached our destination with so many gifts for the heart. We learned to trust each other, welcome new experiences and to lean on each other.
We also discovered that as a diverse community of like-minded pilgrims, we could magnify the benefits of the journey. When you walk together arm in arm, you come out with far more than you expect. Our journeys can lead us out to new places, in the world, in our lives, in our hearts—with the help of others.
We only celebrate the holiday spirit once a year. But maybe we need to do our best to extend it from one season and from the comfort of our living rooms. And we don’t all need a Camino to find the same spirit that my group found. Every day we can look for it in the people around us.
This pilgrimage was extremely different than my previous solo journeys. It came with different lessons and experiences. I assumed that would happened. In fact, I needed it to happen. But through it all, I also noticed a previous theme continue with me in this walk.
No matter how far you walk, how long you go, one’s journey never ends. We learn, share, and grow every day, if we want to.
Mel Soriano shares additional advice and stories about his Camino experiences in these articles.
He also shares his 2016 solo Camino on the Living Your Journey podcast. He discusses his overall journey, learnings and how it changed his life. Take a listen.