(Originally posted on 28 August 2016)
Preamble: In an emergency situation on a plane, mothers traveling with young children - out of maternal instinct - are often tempted to give the oxygen masks first to their children. But to maximize the chance of survival, mothers should give the oxygen first to themselves and then to their children. Because if the mother collapses, her child will not survive.
Other pilgrims, family members, friends or virtually everyone around me often ask me: why? Why I chose to do El Camino, and why I am doing this again. It is understandable how frequent I get these questions. After all, the suffering from walking without rest for weeks does not appeal to everyone.
So here are my answers.
Regarding the first one, I did my first El Camino just because of a childhood dream. It took me a long time to finally start it, for sure, but once I reached St. Jean Pied-de-Port I realized it was the right thing to do. And arriving at Santiago de Compostela has been one of the best moments in my life.
Regarding the second one, there is no vision or dream behind it. I just realized - after a very tough year - that I needed to rejuvenate myself, and the Camino appeared to be the perfect match for me. Not only because I already did it once and loved it, but because I could meditate while walking (pretty good choice for hyperactives), meet new people from all over the world, consolidate my spiritual core, and spend some time in nature. This does not mean that the Camino is good for everyone. For some, to rejuvate means a yoga retreat in Bali; for others, it means night life at Formentera; and for others still, it means fishing for days on end.
The core, however, is not where and how you choose to rejuvenate, recharge or replenish; but your decision of doing it.
You certainly can find various reasons not to start: your job, your family, the money you are going to spend, etc. But whatever the reason, you risk seriously damaging yourself and your world. Without the period to recharge, you are less focused, you are more nervous and inclined to complain, and your performance is below your usual standards. You burn your yuan chi (元气, a Chinese term for describing your irreplaceable inner energy).
I had two choices in front of me. The easier one would be continuing with my ordinary life, ignoring the signals sent by my mind and my body. The other option was loading my backpack and starting walking again. I chose the latter and the harder route, and I am grateful for my choice. Not only have I found time to breathe again, but I have reaffirmed my belief in something I already knew to be true: taking care of ouselves is the best act of love for those around us.