An experience on the Camino de Santiago – Following our Dreams and Self-Actualising

I’m a big fan of a lit­tle book by Paulo Coelho called the Alchemist. Many book snobs would like to say Paulo’s writ­ing is sim­plis­tic, but I quite like his under­stated style and as with a good song, why com­pli­cate things with too many words!
Paulo believes we all have a per­sonal call­ing, a spe­cial role to ful­fil on the earthly plane. When we fol­low our per­sonal ‘leg­end’ our actions are filled with enthu­si­asm for we are fight­ing the good fight.
But he also states that many for­sake their dream. They accept the ordi­nary, the dull ache of not fol­low­ing their true call­ing. Later in life many look back with a sense of regret. The small flame of their dream still burns inside them, but they lacked the courage to believe their own inner calling.

When I recently re-acquainted myself with an ebook ver­sion of The Alchemist, I found an updated intro­duc­tion where Paulo dis­cusses the four obsta­cles that stop peo­ple fol­low­ing their dreams. I would like to dis­cuss these four obstacles.

Have you ever asked a child what they want to do when they grow up? With beam­ing eyes they will state with con­vic­tion, “I want to be an astro­naut”, “I want to be a doc­tor”, “I want to be a famous pop singer!”
As a young child, they still see the world as an expan­sive place, a uni­verse open to their grand­est dreams. As they grow older, par­ents, class and colour can crush their call­ing. We are told to take the ‘safe’ option, the option ‘within our means’!

Sur­pris­ingly, Love can some­times hold us back from our dreams!
As chil­dren, our duty and respect towards our par­ents, can some­times mean we accept their dreams for us, and for­sake our own.
As life con­tin­ues and most find a part­ner, the yoke tight­ens, with many for­sak­ing their own inner desires to please their part­ners and/or devote their lives to their chil­dren. Of course for some, this may well be their dream, to raise a fam­ily. But for many, their may be a sense of regret, a sense of obligation.
Paulo believes love should never be a rea­son to aban­don our dreams. And that by fol­low­ing our dreams, we are actu­ally help­ing those around us. They share our joy and enthu­si­asm, they see the pos­si­bil­ity to ful­fil their own per­sonal calling!

If we do sum­mon up the courage to fol­low our inner voice, it is often shad­owed with the con­stant mur­mur­ings of hes­i­ta­tion, from both our own fears and those around us.
It is hard to fol­low a aspi­ra­tion, when all those around you tell you it will fail. It can make every lit­tle stum­ble along the way seem more sub­stan­tial than they really are.
Paulo states that fol­low­ing one’s call­ing will not remove one from chal­lenges and dif­fi­cul­ties. This is all part of the journey.
He says we have a choice, we can take up the good fight and live with enthu­si­asm, believ­ing in our end goal.
Or we can accept the dull ache of let­ting our dream rot in our gut. Of wak­ing late in life with a bit­ter feel­ing of hav­ing squan­dered our gifts. Not hav­ing the faith to try, to believe, to be happy, a shin­ing light to others.

An inter­est­ing para­dox can hap­pen when one achieves their dream. Nag­ging doubts can under­mine one’s hap­pi­ness. ‘You don’t deserve this, you will always be poor, black, old, ugly, stupid!
We have all heard of the rock­star, actor, suc­cess­ful sportsper­son, with the world at their doorstep, who seems to sab­o­tage their suc­cess and good for­tune with the nulling effects of drugs and alcohol!
They have made it in the eyes of the world, fame and for­tune! But the nag­ging voice of fail­ure still echoes in the cham­bers of their heart. They don’t feel wor­thy, sur­rounded by snig­ger­ing cow­ards, unwill­ing to ful­fil their own noble voca­tion, whis­per­ing defeatist beliefs!
Paulo believes this is the most dan­ger­ous of obsta­cles, because soci­ety instils an almost vir­tu­ous belief that to renounce one’s own dreams is good for the sake of the group.
Ein­stein said the most impor­tant deci­sion one will ever make is whether they believe they live in a friendly or a hos­tile uni­verse! This deter­mines our mind­set, will the uni­verse help us, or will it beat us down? Or is it really just our thoughts that man­i­fest this reality?

I remem­ber read­ing another book by Paulo Coelho, about his pil­grim­age along the ancient Way of St James. I was fas­ci­nated by the myth and his­tory of this mys­te­ri­ous path. Par­tic­u­larly the fact that many who did the camino expe­ri­ence a ‘spir­i­tual awakening’.
I decided I too would walk the Camino, and doc­u­ment my jour­ney in film. As a com­mit­ment to my new found pur­pose, I decided I would not cut my hair until I had com­pleted the jour­ney. Like pil­grims of old, who would burn their clothes at Fin­is­terre, I decided I would not ‘rebirth’ and shed my locks, until I had reached ‘the ends of the earth’ by foot.
It is fas­ci­nat­ing how things tran­spired. Every­thing seemed to fall into place. I ended a rela­tion­ship, so had no feel­ing of duty to another. I got a short term well pay­ing con­tract, which pro­vided the funds. And there I was, over­weight and with no phys­i­cal prepa­ra­tion, on the French/Spanish bor­der, not really know­ing what the hell I hoped to achieve!
When I first tried talk­ing to cam­era, I found it a daunt­ing expe­ri­ence. I really didn’t know what I was doing and felt very self con­scious. I had never spo­ken Span­ish, so my attempts at nam­ing towns and events along the way were utterly cringe­wor­thy! But I bat­tled on, through rain, mud and blis­ters, deter­mined to reach Santiago.
I started to feel a sense of achieve­ment. ‘Damn it, I was liv­ing my dream!’ I was pro­duc­ing my own doc­u­men­tary. Doing some­thing I had wanted to do for the two years prior. With no fund­ing, no sup­port, and at the start…. no idea!
None of this mat­tered. I was there, I was doing it, and it so hap­pened that the uni­verse con­spired to help me. I met heal­ers, poets and sages. I met lovers, allies and scoundrels!
When you take that first step, your fears sub­side. You realise you can han­dle it. You realise you are on YOUR path, and you feel an amaz­ing sense of expan­sion and joy. Your heart and soul sings the song of the universe
I remem­ber the moment, the day, I became com­fort­able in front of the cam­era. It was on Cruz de Ferro, where I talked about the rit­ual of car­ry­ing stones up the moun­tain and plac­ing them on a Cairn. And in this process, exor­cis­ing prob­lems from one’s life.

The cam­era had become my con­fi­dante and I shared with it my thoughts, with­out fear of recrim­i­na­tion. The all know­ing eye of the lens, like HAL in 2001:Space Odyssey. It didn’t judge me, it lis­tened, and in the know­ing silence, I found the answers I seeked on my pil­grim­age, from deep within.
I have stud­ied psy­chol­ogy, and this day reminded me of Maslow and his hier­ar­chy of needs. The idea that we can reach the pin­na­cle of our poten­tial and self actualise.
I felt a great sense of joy and con­tent­ment as I crossed the thresh­old of the high­est point of the Moun­tain. Was I in the eupho­ria of a ‘peak expe­ri­ence?’ A state Maslow believed self actu­al­is­ing peo­ple can reach, whereby they feel at one with the uni­verse! Was I liv­ing my per­sonal call­ing, on the road to my full potential?
I dropped into a com­mu­nity where a fol­low­ing had formed around one indi­vid­ual and his vision of the knights of old, guardians of pil­grims. An attrac­tive young women approached me and told me I was the most beau­ti­ful man she had ever seen. I found this unusual, but my mood was tran­quil, so I just thanked her for her courage and hon­esty and con­tin­ued on my merry way.
Any lowly thoughts of tak­ing sex­ual advan­tage of this sit­u­a­tion were far from my mind! No women has ever said such things to me before. What was it about that moment, how I looked, that made this women go out of her com­fort zone and make such a bold and brave state­ment to a stranger?
And I think it was because I was buzzing with life. I was ALIVE! I was liv­ing with enthu­si­asm, a true sign I was fol­low­ing my per­sonal calling.
I can’t really watch my camino film now. I find it embar­rass­ing to see me bar­ing my soul to cam­era. But what I find fas­ci­nat­ing is the num­ber of peo­ple who love the film. That my lit­tle jour­ney to doc­u­ment my own search for spir­i­tual mean­ing res­onates with so many others.

Maslow stud­ied the lives of those he believed to be self-actualised and found these indi­vid­u­als shared com­mon traits:

*EFFICIENT PERCEPTION OF REALITY — Being able to cut through the bullshit!
*COMFORTABLE ACCEPTANCE OF SELF/OTHERS/NATURE — Accept­ing the short com­ings of the human condition
*SPONTANEITY — engaged in the moment, will­ing to change course.
*TASK CENTERING — Focused on tasks or prob­lems out­side of themselves
*AUTONOMY — resource­ful and inde­pen­dent, free from a reliance on others
*CONTINUED FRESHNESS OF APPRECIATION — To keep the eyes of a child, an inno­cence of vision
*FELLOWSHIP WITH HUMANITY — Hav­ing a deep iden­ti­fi­ca­tion with others
*COMFORT IN SOLITUDE — To value time alone and be com­fort­able with it
*NON HOSTILE SENSE OF HUMOUR — To be able to laugh at them­selves, a play­ful humour that doesn’t aim to hurt others
*PEAK EXPERIENCES — Spe­cial moments where one feels ecstasy, har­mony and deep mean­ing. At one with the uni­verse; stronger, calmer.

To have seen eso­teric lit­er­a­ture, psy­cho­log­i­cal the­ory and an ecsta­tic expe­ri­ence all meld into one on the road to San­ti­ago was a mem­o­rable experience.
Do you fol­low your per­sonal calling?
Do you have strate­gies to help you become self-actualising?
Tell me about your own expe­ri­ences below?

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2 thoughts on “An experience on the Camino de Santiago – Following our Dreams and Self-Actualising

  1. Mark,

    Youre awesome matie!! Im sitting in porto Watching this video. Ive procrastinated for 3 mOnths! I flew to france, and started pet and house sitting! It was miserable end of may with rain…then july and august to crowded…and now im dog sitting in porto! Obtained my “passport” yesterday at the Cathedral, so sep 10 is it.

    All the “changes you decided to make” are what happened to me on my Return flight from Peru and Ayahuasca! Quit my job, sold my house, my car….no Harley! Id rather have a boat! The port way sounds beautiful, maybe cause im a water sign….i like the idea of seeing the ocean along the path, with its constant flow and change. My back alrea hurts from the bed here. Dont know hiw im gonna do it!! But you”re work is inspiring, as even a young buck like you felt the pain!!

    Buen camino!


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