man on camino

Taking steps to achieve our goals seems obvious, but this is something we frequently forget when we get busy in life and find ourselves impatient and in too much of a hurry. Yet when we have to walk somewhere, we accept that there is no option but to take the journey step by step.

In a recent interview with Journey Navigator founder and author of Your Unique Journey, Gideon Nielsen, he went into the depths of explaining this metaphor for life while walking a 5 month journey along the Camino trail.

Nielsen had been on a journey seeking truth from as young an age as 5, where he questioned everything.  Having been brought up within a very religious background, something had always felt off and he never quite fitted in.  He felt unseen and had such a strong pull to find his own truth, that he left his home of Denmark aged 24 with a view to perhaps never returning again.

He has travelled the world, never staying in one place for more than 18 months, on a constant adventure of growth and quest for truth.  He has walked The Camino twice before, but in 2020, in the midst of a global Pandemic, he felt called to travel it a third time, with an even longer journey of 3500KM.

The Camino, also known as The Way of Saint James is a route undertaken as a religious pilgrimage, but also used by hikers or considered to be a spiritual retreat from modern life.  Paths commence from all around Europe and the journey can begin from your front door, reaching a finale in Santiago de Compostela in North West Spain, where the apostle Saint James  rests in the Cathedral.  

Nielsen started his journey in Viborg, Northern Denmark, walking typically 20-25Km a day, through Germany, Belgium and France, to reach his destination in Spain.  He travelled alone, with a backpack, two walking sticks and a shell on his back, the symbol of the Camino.

I spoke with him just past three months, over 2000KM, and two pairs of walking shoes into the journey.  He had walked most days in conditions of extreme heat, wind, rain, and had to cope with events such as punctured airbeds, collapsing hotel beds, hunting for nightly accommodation and food, all the while still working to earn a living.

Asking him how you can keep yourself motivated to just continue despite the challenges, he likened the experience to what he believes to be the three phases of life.

The Physical Phase

“This is something that is always there and needing to be done every day.  It can be challenging to walk so far, but it is a superficial experience, where you haven’t yet gotten into why you are doing it.  You focus on the pain, the distance travelled, the destination, while not really experiencing the journey.”  He went on to explain that for the first two months of his trip, this was the focus and explained that it was more associated with the ego.

The physical phase, if we equate it to our daily lives, is one where we are always so busy and constantly distracted.  We don’t have time to reflect on who we are or look at life in any depth because we are engaged in doing most of the time.

The Mental Phase

“After working through the pain, it opens you up to starting to understand who you are, how you think, how your thoughts serve you.  You start to reflect on your past, what and who has contributed to who you have become.” Gideon explained.

This awareness phase is the gateway to consciousness, where we have had the opportunity to still our minds for long enough to see what’s inside us.  Once we see it reflected back at us, we can then determine what to do with it – embrace it or choose to change.

The Spiritual Phase

Gideon described this as the period of letting go, of moving beyond acceptance and starting to release attachments to the past.  “On such a long journey, walking every day, it is impossible to get away from yourself.  You have to face yourself and whatever needs to come out, will.” He went on to describe how he had been very angry in his past, mainly due to never being able to express his feelings, and yet through this long journey by foot, that anger was dissipating as he learned more about himself and released the past.

It is a period of unlimited potential and exponential growth if you are open to it. It is a period where we have the opportunity to feel appreciative for what we have experienced and are yet to experience in life, and a phase during which we begin to master the art of surrender and learning to be present.  We stop fighting so hard, and start being. We identify with our truth and tap into the collective Truth.

Gideon was called to walk this path and while he has days that feel heavy and less fun, he assured me that nothing was going to make him stop, certainly not regional lockdowns due to the pandemic.  There was an energy in his gut that was pulling him in that direction and he was compelled to just go with it to see where it would take him.  Other achievements in his life had felt empty in comparison to the growth and degree of fulfilment he was experiencing on his current journey, albeit challenging.  

While it is sometimes lonely and a mental challenge, he maintains a degree of curiosity about the outcome.  What helps to keep him grounded is that each day, no matter how long or how far he walks, he always arrives at a destination.  This effectively helps him to remain grounded on a daily basis, compared to travelling on a long haul flight, “where it can take several days to adapt when you reach your destination because the journey was so fast and not natural” he explained.

In his final words to me, he described his long journey as a metaphor for life.  “In life, we are always in a hurry and feel impatient.  I have learned that in order to reach my destination without feeling like I cheated, I cannot take any shortcuts.  I have to take each and every step, one at a time.”

You can follow Gideon’s Journey through his daily videos where he shares his experiences and thoughts of each day.

We can certainly learn from a man who would have walked almost 5 millions steps in 5 months. Every step is an interplay between mind, body and spirit, and each is as important as the next, but if we just keep taking them, we will arrive.  When we ground ourselves into the present moment, remove the distractions and release the past, the future holds true promise.

Dr Rana Al-Falaki is founder of Light Changes Coaching and host of the Be Free Be Fun Be Fearless Video and podcast series and helps professionals reach their destination by being rather than doing, achieving balance.