How Walking the Camino Taught Me Not To Suffer

About 5 minutes to read

This past week two events occurred with the potential to cause me suffering, if I allowed them to!

The first was the much anticipated and welcomed visit of my dear friend Donna whom I met last year while walking the Camino.  The second was learning of my uncle’s murder in his home in London.

The common element of these two events is my attachment to the people involved.

As human beings, we seem to have a strange need to attach ourselves to people, places, and things.  The Buddha said, “To be free from suffering, free yourself from attachments.”

This seems as futile as trying to leap to the moon from my chair!

However walking 900km across Spain in the blistering heat and summer thunderstorms opened my understanding to the truth of this teaching. 

The Camino, in my experience, is all about the people you meet and the relationships you forge.  This includes meeting yourself and building a strong, loving relationship to you.

A strange phenomenon occurs along the Camino; within moments of meeting a total stranger, you create a deep and lasting soul bond.  You feel as if you have known this person your whole life and that your souls are irrevocably and intimately intertwined.

You experience immense love, compassion, empathy, trust, acceptance, and support for them.  You might even find yourself wondering why you are doing that while knowing that in daily life, you would never be so open to strangers and yet you cannot seem to help yourself.

Likewise, as you fall in love with your new tribe or family you sense, even from a great distance, who the people are that you should avoid at all costs!

In the past year, I have tried to understand this phenomenon, asked others their opinions, tried to make sense of it and I cannot.  I simply accept it for what it is – me seeing and loving the best in others.

There is a golden rule to walking a successful and happy Camino.  Each must go The Way, Their Way!

This is very difficult when you are creating so many wonderful connections along The Way.  You want to stay a while, settle, and hold onto the moment, the person, and the place.

You forge attachments.  Then your suffering begins.  Perhaps you start walking too fast and injure your feet, shins, or hips.  On the other hand, perhaps you say goodbye and wish that you had not.  You begin obsessing where your new friend is, will you see them again, and why did you not connect on Facebook or get their last name.  Caught up in your thoughts you are no longer present with yourself.

Reading this, you may think that I am a stalker of sorts, but I assure you this is not the case.

This is attachment and Camino suffering in its purest form.

Since I form deep connections to others this was the first type of suffering that, I experienced.  There was also my attachment to places.  When I arrived at a beautiful town or city, a longing set in, I wanted to settle, noted similarities to other places I loved, wanted the fun to linger longer than necessary.

I also noted the suffering of my mind.  I was deeply attached to thought patterns, processes, past and non-existent future events.  I was suffering in my bad attitudes, in my love for those passed on, in my strongly held beliefs and in my mental drama about my physical pain.

It was when I realised that pain is inevitable, but suffering optional that I could start halting my suffering.

I learned that:

Detaching from attachments is a choice

We all have things that we love to hold onto.  The question is do they bring us joy?  Do they bring us freedom?  Do we experience our best selves by remaining attached to them?

In my experience, the answer is no.

I continue to learn that I need to make strong choices.  I need to let go, be it people, places, thoughts or things.  I am by no means saying that I want to live my life not caring about the world around me.  I am saying that I am choosing not to hold onto things that should be free.  In doing so, I am experiencing more freedom within.

There is much “truth” in suffering

When we observe the mental and verbal arguments and justifications around our suffering, much of it is true.

Yes, the child did not deserve to die so young, yes, the love of your life should not have beaten you, and yes, there is no justification for murder etc.  All of this is true.

What I have found is that the “truth” can also take us on a tightly wound downward spiral.  Becoming so attached to our way of thinking, we fall into a sinkhole of truth.  There is no way out.

Sometimes you have to catapult yourself away from your truth by choosing to let it go.  This does not mean that your truth is no longer true; it means that you will not allow yourself to suffer any longer by holding onto it so tightly.

Freedom is not free

There is a price to pay for freedom.  It is not free.

Freedom is the only condition for happiness but we have to choose freedom.  We have to make that choice.  Nelson Mandela and Aung San Sun Kyi taught us that we could be free in mind, body, and soul while physically imprisoned.

This was their choice – letting go of attachments, to set themselves free.  This can also be our choice.

Why would Donna’s visit and my uncle’s murder have caused me suffering if I allowed it to?

It is simple; I wanted them both to stay.  I wanted the pleasure of enjoying her company and his life longer.

I wanted to create more memories that are beautiful together, to hold onto a moment to forge deeper attachments.

She could have stayed longer – this is true.  The person responsible for his murder committed an evil deed – this is true.

I felt sad as my friend departed and I wished that she lived on this continent.  I felt numbed, shocked, and utterly helpless by the heinous event that took my uncle from us and yet I had to make a choice.

I had to let go!

Suffering is the consequence of our lack of choice.  While I feel deep emotions about the events of the past week, I am choosing not to suffer through them.  I feel the pain, am grateful for the lessons I continue to learn but I choose not to surrender my happiness through enslavement to attachments.

In the words of Thich Nhat Hanh, “Letting go gives us freedom and freedom is the only condition for happiness.”

Buen Camino!

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