Lessons from The Walk: Simple Happiness

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I recently returned home from my second walk along the Camino, and am going to attempt to describe the indescribable as I share some of my experiences with you over the next few weeks. The path and the people who walk it never fail to inspire and teach me. And while that remained constant this time around, this experience was very different from my last.

As I reached Madrid, I began thinking about the meaning of this walk. What had hit me hard enough to change something within me this time around? As I pondered the question, I crossed into a busy part of town, and came face to face with a sign that read:

“Be Happy.”

And that was it. Nothing complex. Nothing to overthink or figure out or work on. Just simply being happy. That was what this walk was for me. Being open to the people and the events that came up during my walk. Being open to taking wrong turns, taking chances, and just being. Choosing to let go of my expectations and story lines and to let the journey unfold itself.

In life we set all these goals. We have big, beautiful dreams, and they give our lives deep meaning. Often, though, we lose sight of the reason those dreams bring such purpose to our lives: they give us a reason to wake up, to keep going, and to be. Because of our dreams, we walk forward; we take paths that open our eyes and meet people that bring joy to our hearts. And that’s what we’re actually here to do: to live. We’re not here to get a trophy, win a marathon, or get a raise. We’re here to experience life.

I could have fixated on my end goal: get to Santiago, get to Santiago, get to Santiago at all costs. I could have put on my blinders and gotten there much more quickly. I could have taken a jeep or a helicopter. But why? That’s not why people walk the Camino. And it’s not why we live life. We don’t live life so that we will die. That’s just what happens at the end. And we don’t walk a path just to reach the end. We aren’t supposed to put on blinders and avoid experience for fear that it might slow us down. What kind of walk would that be? What kind of life would that be?

Instead of worrying about the future or ruminating on the past, we could open our eyes and look around. Notice the sounds, smells and sensations and the beauty that abounds on the earth. Listen to our intuition and let it, rather than our mind’s harsh regimens, guide us, even if for just a moment.

Happiness is not about being bubbly or popular or rich or comfortable; it’s not about being positive at all times. No one goes through life experiencing only positivity. Stuff- really difficult stuff- happens, to all of us. Happiness is about how we respond to it. How quickly can we come back to the present moment? How willing are we to feel our pain and then let it go when it’s ready to go? How willing are we to let go of our ideas of perfection and accomplishment, so we can just be? How badly do we want to truly live right now?

We can strive for and accomplish our goals while still remaining patient and open to life’s ups, downs and plateaus. And while it’s an art that is not easily mastered in our rat race culture, it is possible to learn it, at any point in our lives, by slowing down- even if for just a moment- and practicing acceptance of life as it is, not as we expect it to be.

This walk was full of miracles, which I’ll share more about in upcoming posts, but perhaps the greatest of all was the simplicity in my experience of just being and letting this path unfold the way it unfolded.