Keeping dreams alive one dream at a time – my dream to walk the Camino

I’ve had to work hard at keeping my dreams alive. Haven’t we all? 

One of those dreams I’ve had for like, ever.  It was something I’ve wanted to do since my early 20’s but I never knew it was a real thing until many years later.

I was in my late teens when I first came across author Paulo Coelho. I was given a copy of his book “The Pilgrimage” and I devoured it – loving the sense of wonder and adventure of the spiritual journey he took the reader on while he himself walked his own spiritual journey.  Coelho is also the author of the best seller and ancient fable, The Alchemist, my all time favourite book in the entire world – I know, that’s a big call.

As I wandered through the pages of The Pilgrimage, where Coelho took me on a journey through Spain, I thought that putting on a backpack and walking day after day sounded like an amazing dream.  I had no idea at the time of reading that the walk he did was a real walk and that the book was autobiographical.  I’d paid that little attention at the time.

I held this dream for over a decade – dreaming of this imaginary walk and wishing there was a way I could do something like this.  I didn’t even own a backpack and hiking wasn’t in my repertoire of pursuits.

 

Follow the arrows
Follow the yellow arrows

Life happened for the next decade or more and I recall over time hearing about this walk in Spain and it was with amazement one day I put the two together.

I realised the walk Paulo Coelho did in his book “The Pilgrimage” was in fact the Camino de Santiago and it was a real thing!  In fact, the Camino de Santiago (the Way of St. James) is a large network of ancient pilgrim routes stretching across Europe and coming together at the tomb of St. James (Santiago in Spanish) in Santiago de Compostela in north-west Spain.

The most popular route is the Camino Frances which stretches 780 km (nearly 500 miles) from St. Jean-Pied-du-Port near Biarritz in France to Santiago.

I am going to do this walk.  I am going to put on my backpack and make my dream come true, and I am going to start this next week.

 

Backpack
It’s real and I’m packed

Have you ever held a dream in your heart for so long that when it finally looks like it’s coming to fruition, it’s almost surreal?  That’s where I am at the moment and it caused me to have a think about how I made this dream come true and how I fulfilled an (almost) life long goal.  Because you can imagine, taking off with your backpack for a couple of months to live in hostels and walk everyday takes some planning, some sacrifices and some deep commitment.

  1. Keep the dream alive – read everything you can about it. 

When I understood that the dream I had was a real thing, a real walk, I devoured every piece of information I could on it.  I read guidebooks – my first guidebook was delivered over a decade before I actually booked flights (needless to say I needed to upgrade to the latest version), I watched ‘The Way‘ movie once or twice.  Ok I’ve watched it over a dozen times now.  While I was never in much of a position to put the dream in to reality for all those years, I never lost sight of it.  I even started to learn to speak Spanish over 10 years ago – just in case I ever pulled this off!  It was always there, waiting for me to find the right time, the right place and to have the courage to take the plunge.

 

Dream Catcher - keeping dreams alive
How will you keep your dreams alive?

2. Know that there is a time and place

Up until a few months ago when I booked my flights, I knew I had no hope of doing this trip.  I had a life that prevented me taking the steps to get on over there for two months.  I chose those other things (like family and career) over this dream – all the while keeping it alive (see point 1) because I knew, deep in my soul, that this journey was meant for me and that when the time came, I would be ready.  That’s not to say there were times when I felt I would never turn the dream in to a plan and then subsequently in to a reality – there were.  But each year I would reaffirm my desire and wait until the time came that I could really start planning.

3. Hand it over to the Universe  – but also take action

In saying there is always a time and a place, and espousing my patience around this dream fulfilment, I did have to be proactive.  Keeping myself open to signs, I was also making plans that allowed for the dream to become a reality. Some of these more practical things were: saving up annual leave and long service leave balances; getting my family in on my excitement even if I had no idea when it might all happen; remaining healthy and well so that my body could handle the 800km walk; opening a savings account to quarantine funds especially for this goal.

4. Stop reading everything you can about it

Whatever your dream is, it is your dream and no-one else’s.  I know this contradicts point 1 above where I said to read everything you can about it, but one thing I realised as the dream became a plan and as the time to departure drew closer, was that I was at great risk of heading out on this journey with the expectations and desires and experiences of everyone else except me!  My advice would be to research enough so that you feel confident that you know what you need to know to get by, and leave the rest of the adventure up to the adventure fairies.

 

Long walk
The long walk after the long dream

5. Take a moment to realise you are actually doing this

That moment I clicked the purchase button on my flights to Paris was surreal.  I sat staring at my laptop screen for a while before I gave myself permission to actually celebrate.  A friend said to me “that’s it, the first step toward fulfilling you dream has been made – your flights are booked”.  No, I replied.  The first step was many decades ago, when I promised myself that this dream was for me and I would not, could not, let it go by the wayside because the time and the place wasn’t right.  I was on my way now and I could congratulate myself on getting this far.  The excitement level just went up a notch!

And I’m off.

So while I have less than a fortnight to go before I board my flight, I realise now how important it was for me to keep this dream alive and work toward it’s reality.  It has been a long time coming.  My backpack is ready.  My body is not quite as ready as I’d like.  My soul is champing at the bit.  My mind and spirit is open.  I am at peace with whatever this journey ends up looking like and I am so blessed to have had the foresight to keep the dream alive.

So, as they say, adios amigos and buen camino.

I hope you find a way to keep your dreams alive.

PS:  I love this poem by Spanish author Antonio Machado – it came into my life only 5 years ago.  Here it is in English as well as the original Spanish.

Wayfarer, there is no path (English)

Wayfarer, the only way

Is your footprints and no other.

Wayfarer, there is no way.

Make your way by going farther.

By going farther, make your way

Till looking back at where you’ve wandered,

You look back on that path you may

Not set foot on from now onward.

Wayfarer, there is no way;

Only wake-trails on the waters.

 

Caminante no hay Camino (Spanish)

Caminante, son tus huellas

el camino y nada más;

Caminante, no hay camino,

se hace camino al andar.

Al andar se hace el camino,

y al volver la vista atrás

se ve la senda que nunca

se ha de volver a pisar.

Caminante no hay camino

sino estelas en la mar.

 

“Let your life be your message” Mahatma Gandhi

Be your best self by asking these 3 questions

I’m a big proponent of growth and being my best self – in fact growth is my highest ranked value every time I do a values determination exercise (if you haven’t done this for yourself there are plenty of free and simple exercises you can do – here’s one to start).   

But being our BEST selves – that’s a big task, and how to be this, is a big question.  Three questions actually.

How to be our best selves?

 

Isn’t that what we’re all striving for? To be our best selves. To be the best you, you can be. The best me I can be.

I know that’s my quest.  

I’m past the days when I wanted to be someone else, or be like someone else. That was never going to turn out well – because as we all know, there are 7 billion people in the world and we are all individuals. We’re one offs – one of a kinds. Specially made unique gifts – to ourselves.  

I’ve been working on being the best version of myself for years now – I mean really, consciously working on it. I’ve developed and utilised a number of strategies and activities over the years – some have been successful and now form part of my daily routines, while others, well, lets just say they weren’t for me. Each has helped me to create a path towards being my best self.

It’s not a linear process and sometimes it looks more like a heartrate monitor output, but I trust that over time, I’m incrementally learning, growing and accepting, and heading towards my best self. Better than the day before. Better in some way – be that in what I feed by body, feed my mind or feed by spirit, or how kind I can be. How much I practice humility – taking no more than my space and no less than my place. How trusting I am. How committed to my goals I am. And the list goes on.

 

The great thing about striving to be YOUR best self, is that you get to set the rules, you get to decide what your best self looks like, feels like, thinks like. You’re in charge. There’s a freedom in that, and there is also a responsibility in that.

 

You get the set the rules

I love structure and systems so even though I’m in charge of me, and my efforts to be my best self, sometimes I create such complex structures around my own personal growth that I spend my time ticking boxes and analysing my every move.   I develop systems for myself, record these and follow them. I list what I want to become new habits in my life and check these off a list every day. I set goals at the beginning of each year, I break these down into actions and I try to hold myself to them.

With all of these rules and regulations and processes I put on myself in relation to my own personal growth, I find myself sometimes throwing my hands in the air and eating the entire family sized pizza by myself. It all gets too hard and when I notice I’m falling short in some areas (and I notice because of all the crosses instead of ticks), I feel like it’s all too hard. Like I might as well give up on this quest to be my best self.

 

My ok self is doing just fine – she can stick around a while longer.

So lately I’ve been getting to a point where I crave more creative freedom – less hard work around being my best self. Less systems and lists and ticking off.

But I do still want to strive to be my best self….so I’ve found a way to simplify this quest.

Just three questions.

 

Best Self questions

Three questions I am getting used to asking myself – about all my choices. Helping with my personal growth.

Simple. Effective.

Question 1 – How do I feel about myself now?

Question 2 – How will I feel about myself if I do this?

Question 3 – How will I feel about myself if I don’t do this?

I saw these in a book by Barry Mangione called No Easy Answers, which was focused on his recovery from addiction.

Immediately I knew they would help me.

Let me give you a couple of examples:

My choice – what to have for dinner – to eat the family size pizza or not?

Question 1 – How do I feel about myself now?

Well I feel ok. I’ve eaten well all day. I have a healthy dinner alternative I can have. But I feel like cheesy, hot, convenient pizza. I feel perplexed about what to do. I’m leaning towards the pizza.

Question 2 – How will I feel about myself if I do this?

I’ll feel like crap! I’ll be disappointed in myself for not nourishing my body well (which is one of my priorities). I will feel like a loser.  

But the pizza – it would taste so good. No doubt about that.

But how will I feel after the pizza?

Ok – I know I’ll feel bad about that choice. So bad that I am likely to skip the gym tomorrow because that’s how I do things – all or nothing.

Question 3 – How will I feel about myself if I don’t do this?

I’ll feel strong and empowered – knowing I have made a choice that nourishes me and serves my goal of becoming my best self.

I will feel in control of my choices around food – and I’ll go to the gym tomorrow to keep up the good work.

Ok that’s a fairly simple example but it’s one of the situations I used these three questions in early on.

Let’s try another one.

I’m on the boat, we’re about to go swimming in the deep, open water, with whales.

I am terrified of sharks and deep, dark water. I love adventure.

 

Asking these three questions – getting closer to my best self

Question 1 – How do I feel about myself now?

Well right now I feel safe – I’m on the boat and there’s no pressure for me to get in the water – even though that’s what I paid for and why I’m here. I feel very Libran – undecided about what to do. My fear is wrestling with my awe and curiosity. The water is cold. I feel unsure.  

Question 2 – How will I feel about myself if I do this?

I’d feel on top of the world of course. I would feel unstoppable – that I have faced my fear and put my brave on and because of that, experienced magical moments in the sea with these beautiful creatures. I would feel alive!

Question 3 – How will I feel about myself if I don’t do this?

I know without a doubt that once back on dry land, I’ll regret not taking the plunge and getting in the water. I won’t feel like I’m living my best life and being my best self.

No processes to complete, no ticks to put in a box, just three questions I gently ask myself.

So imagine you can apply these three questions yourself to some of your choices. Because you can.

  • Do you go to the gym tomorrow?
  • Do you start that business?
  • Do you leave your job?
  • Do you move to that city?
  • Should you climb that mountain?
  • Should you write that book?
Get in to the habit of asking yourself – checking in with yourself. Are you on the right track?

I hope you can find some usefulness in these three questions and that by asking them of yourself you too can simply and quickly make decisions that keep you on, or put you on, the path to your best self.

As an aside, they are great questions to ask your children when they’re struggling with a choice. Walk them through it, help them to articulate their answers and see where they go with it.

 

How will you feel about yourself if you do this?

How will you feel about yourself if you don’t?

 

“Let your life be your message” Mahatma Gandhi

 

3-2-1 Jump – Taking that leap of faith

Have you ever taken a leap of faith?

Have you ever bungee jumped?

If you’re going to bungee jump for the first time in your life, and you’re likely to only ever bungee jump once, which bungee would you choose?

The one that’s 47m high and sits on a bridge, above a flowing, wide and deep river, or the one that sits some 134m high in the middle of a gorge with a rocky, rapidly flowing creek at the bottom?

In fact, would you bungee at all?

It had been on my list of things to do for a long time – the only reason it hadn’t happened sooner was opportunity.  I can’t tell you why I wanted to do it – I just did.  I wanted to take a leap of faith.  I wanted adventure.  I always want adventure.

Here I was, earlier this year, in New Zealand, the home of adventure and bungee jumping, lined up with a few friends after a week of hiking, to take on the highest bungee jump in New Zealand.

This jump at Nevis is a title contender for the world’s most terrifying bungee jump. The build up alone is interesting – you start in a four-wheel drive bus and head up, up and up the bumpy mountain road until you arrive at the stark and stony Nevis gorge, in the middle of which, 134m up, hangs a cabin, blowing in the wind, which you reach courtesy of an open-air cable car.

 

Adventure has a way with me – leaping with faith

There’s that wrestling inside me, fear fighting with bravery, while adventure watches on – wondering what to do.  Take the leap of faith – or not.

 

To get to the crunch – here I am, standing on the edge of the platform that swings off cables 150m or so above the gorge. It’s swaying in the wind as I’m trying to keep my balance standing with my feet tied together.  It’s a novel experience.

I’m listening carefully to my instructions.

My instructor takes me through what I need to do:

Look at the camera.

Shuffle to the edge

Put your toes over the edge

Look outwards not down

Count to three and then dive.

Don’t jump.

Me – Why is it called bungee jumping then?

Not the time he says.

Ready?

Me – ummmm

 

Now or never – 3-2-1

3, 2, 1 Dive.

Done. I’m over the edge.

I dived off that platform, straight out like I was told and I’m falling. I can’t hear anything the wind is rushing past my ears so fast.

Or is it me rushing so fast past the wind?

I’m diving for a long time and there’s no tension on the ropes. In fact it’s a full 8 seconds of freefall that feels like much longer.

I am as close to flying as I have ever been. The screams I expect to come from my core don’t come. There’s no need. I’m flying and I’m as free as I’ve ever felt.

 

I forget to be scared of crashing to my death in the gorge. I forget to be scared of the ropes breaking. I forget to be scared of slipping out of my harness.

In fact, if I describe the free fall feeling, the word I find best to do that, is peace. I was at peace and I didn’t want it to end.

 

And I’m off…the leap has been taken

Gradually I feel the tension come in to the ropes until I slow to the lowest point, before being sprung back up in to the air from which I had come. Three times up and down before the winch is lowered and connects with my rope and starts to pull me back up to the cabin suspended over the gorge from where I’d come.

A slow and smooth ascent, upright thanks to my ability to follow the instructions for turning myself up the right way, and enjoying, in a very serene and peaceful way, the cold wind, the gorge, the views, the helplessness.

I was surprised by this adventure. I was expecting an exhilarating, hair raising, scream worthy activity where the adrenalin would be pumping through my body. Instead, I experienced a leap of faith, a sense of peace and freedom like never before.

 

They call it an adrenaline sport and I understand that – in the lead up there was definitely adrenaline pumping through my body.

But the dive, the fall – I’d call that a meditation.

Sometimes you don’t always get what you expect.

Sometimes you get what you need.

Adventure looked and felt different today.

What does adventure look like to you?  

 

“Let your life be your message” Mahatma Gandhi