A couple of years ago Sacha and I were walking the Camino De Santiago, an 8ookm pilgrimage across northern Spain. An incredible journey, one of the best experiences of my life. Rich, rewarding and certainly challenging, it became a walking meditation that we just didn’t want to end.
It’s an old Catholic pilgrimage route but people of all faiths and traditions walk the route, and many walk it simply for the joy of hiking across a very beautiful country. On average it takes between 4-6 weeks to complete – plenty of time to reflect on one’s life, connect with the land and challenge my body. I met one guy who runs marathons regularly who was struggling, another who was 74 years old with prostate cancer, overtook me while carrying a 20kg pack.
The Camino became a leveller – we were all simply travelling this route together, recognizing we were sharing this amazing journey and that for most of us it was an extra ordinary time in our lives. I felt part of a tribe. Probably the biggest teaching I had from the Camino was just that.
All my life I have been taught to be better. Being exceptional was good: being in the top class at school, being the best at sports, best job, better this, better that. Our economic system depends on competition – offering something better than anybody else. In our culture, being extraordinary is celebrated.
On the Camino it was such a relief not to have to be better than anybody else. Not to have to be extraordinary, but just be me. Just walk. How good it felt simply to be ordinary with no pressure to be better. It felt like I was finally joining the human race. And perhaps all spiritual teachings worth their salt would teach something similar – that we are born equal, we are equal and to let go of any need to be extraordinary. It’s just another form of separation isn’t it?
I remember my yoga teacher Donna Farhi saying that the practice was culturally and economically subversive! One teaching from the Yoga Sutras says that cultivating contentment (being satisfied with what is), is the surest way to happiness (II,42).
Of course we are all unique – we all have something unique to offer, just as every snowflake is unique (but no snowflake claims to be better than, or more extraordinary any other snowflake!). It’s not only useful to let go of a need to be extra-unique, but it also removes a huge weight of pressure too! I remember one story: a disciple says to the teacher, “I just want to be special”. The teacher replies, “You are special, and so is everyone else.”
Blessings and peace to you,