What Walking the Camino Taught Me about Gratitude
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This past Sunday I went hiking with my partner and friends along the Eggeweg hiking trail where we live. This is a beautiful 75km hike through forest and farmland, which we have decided to walk in three parts.
We hiked the second phase of this trail in less than ideal conditions. It rained most of the day, with various degrees of hardness, at times, it was windy and cold, and there was no sign of sunshine. The trail was muddy and slippery, the forest eerily mysterious, and we were the only hikers underway.
The conditions for misery were perfect. There were moments when I wondered why we were doing this to ourselves and then I remembered important lessons in gratitude that were reinforced along the Camino.
I remembered where I was a year ago – on the Camino, making my way up to the highest point – Cruz de Fero, an important day for most pilgrims.
There is a tradition amongst pilgrims to take small stones or rocks with them that they carry until reaching Cruz de Fero. Situated on a mound, each day thousands lay down their stones at the base of The Iron Cross symbolising their hopes, dreams, fears, burdens, sorrows, and joys.
I actually did not know what to expect when I arrived there. In the distance, I heard a group of Irish Pilgrims singing raucous songs and I felt grumpy as I slogged my way up the mountain. I had been grappling with some deeply personal questions for a few days and felt irritated and sceptical that the moment would have any significance for me.
Arriving at Cruz de Fero I realised that even to the most secular amongst us, this is a sacred place, of deep significance. An inconsequential, humble cross, confronted me. I remembered thinking, “Is this what all the fuss is about?”
Yet somehow, I knew that was the place to lay down every carried burden be it physical, emotional, or spiritual.
I arrived at Cruz de Fero carrying three stones. I was unsure of their significance, knowing only that three was the number to carry. I stepped onto that mound with a fair amount of uncertainty; sending up a silent prayer, I asked for guidance and clarity.
I had a deeply emotional and spiritual experience under that little cross. As it became clear to me which burdens, I was laying down I stepped off that mound knowing three things for sure.
Gratitude takes us places
Many times life is unclear. We literally cannot see the forest for the trees. Our fears and insecurities overwhelm us and we become immobile in our doubts.
When we practice gratitude each moment of each day it takes us places. It gives our life momentum, it brings us to our answers, and it shows us our destination.
The energy of gratitude is not egoistic but rather humble. It helps us create a different perspective of our world.
We are not all grateful for the same things as our life experiences are different. However, whatever you or I are grateful for, we should express it.
I have found that having a gratitude mantra helps. While walking the Camino, it was Thank-You with each step I took. This was my vehicle, the simple way gratitude took me places.
What simple gratitude mantra could you practice today to take you to new places?
Gratitude is not a feeling, it’s a choice
Many times, we think we should be grateful when we are happy. When the sun is shining, the birds are singing and all is well with the world.
Actually this is the worst time to practice gratitude as it is based on emotion and not choice. I am not saying that we should not be grateful when we are happy; I am saying that we choose to be grateful when we are not.
The energy of gratitude is greater than the given circumstance and by choosing to align with it, we elevate ourselves above our present circumstances be they happy or not.
In which areas of your life will you choose to practice more gratitude today?
Gratitude defeats criticism
We are often our own worst critics. If we made public our self-conversations and condemnations our shame would be complete. Most of us would never treat a dear friend how we allow our inner critic to treat us, and yet we do.
When we practice gratitude, it defeats criticism. Gratitude closely aligns with the energy of love, joy, harmony, peace thereby squeezing out the critic, the one who wants to bring us down.
This is not only true for our inner selves but also in our relationships with others. When we practice gratitude and appreciation towards others, we become more loving and kind towards others.
Can you defeat your inner critic today through gratitude?
In this past year, the lessons in gratitude have continued. It is not always easy. Often I become caught up in the drama within or around me and forget that gratitude is actually my life force. It is the strongest choice I can make each day.
Regardless of the circumstances, only for today I will be grateful. How about you?