"Deep down, of course, I realized the necessity of letting go as the only thing to do. Holding on too tightly to anyone or anything only deprives oneself of growth. Clinging too tightly to something squeezes the life out of it. Hanging on for dear life for security's sake prevents one from what the future offers. I did want to go forward. I did want to grow. So I walked out the door with hope in my heart, knowing that letting go involved a price to pay.
"It took just one day on the Camino to understand that I had barely begun the process of letting go. Leaving my familiar place at home was the easy part. Many other things required my acceptance. Some of them were unexpected little things, like thinking every refugio would have the kind of silence I experienced my first night on the Camino. There, at Roncesvalles, all the pilgrims dutifully kept the silence required in the refugio. The second night was a different story. Not only were there all kinds of conversation and noise in the sleeping area before the customary 10:00 p.m. silence, the racket continued long afterward. The noise made it difficult to fall asleep and aggravated my longing for solitude and quiet. The next morning the same chatty group of pilgrims arose at 5:30 a.m., talking loudly, slamming doors and clomping around in their hiking boots, seemingly with no thought for tired pilgrims (like me) who were still trying to sleep.
"After that experience I thought: 'Wow, letting go is going to be a daily challenge.' It was. Grubby showers and bathrooms, greasy food, refugios crammed with too many pilgrims in a small space, reconciling my age and inability to walk as fast as younger pilgrims, and maneuvering through piles of cow manure on the paths these kinds of challenges constantly presented themselves to me.
"When I wrote in my journal, I described places that lifted me out of my comfort zone:
"Another refugio was run by a middle-aged Spaniard who wanted to offer hospitality to pilgrims. The place was the absolutely worst, dirtiest place. A huge German shepherd sat by the entrance. Not far from this, a large old tin bowl partially filled with milk and pieces of food lay on a table outside the adobe hut. Another building and a small stable were nearby. A young woman with an apron appeared. Her clothes were torn and horribly dirty. She smiled and looked completely happy. I can't imagine staying there.
"I later learned of a pilgrim who did stay at that refugio. He slept on the dirt floor and felt quite content with the place.
"A lot of my struggles with letting go related to my expectations. Having traveled overseas considerably I never looked upon myself as the "Ugly American" but on the Camino my initial responses to situations like that refugio indicated I was living up to that description. I expected public restrooms to be along the well-traveled route. There were none. I expected toilet and shower facilities in the refugios to be reasonably clean. Most were dirty. I expected each place to have communal prayer in the evenings or mornings. Only a few refugios did. I expected restaurants and stores to be open for my convenience. Instead, they honored siesta and opened on their own Spanish schedule. I even expected the sun to rise and set at the same time as it did back home when Spain's two hours of daylight savings time created darker mornings.
"With some of these cultural differences, the challenge to let go was simply a matter of awareness and acceptance such as the silence in refugios or the time variation. Other situations like dirty restrooms remained a struggle for me throughout the entire Camino and humbled me with their ever present challenge to let go.
"Some of my letting go issues were not of external things but of internal ones, like expectations and desires regarding myself. I expected to push my body into doing what I wanted but it refused to walk too fast or too far without pain. I expected my memory to serve me well but it left me in the lurch on several occasions, with difficult consequences. I expected to always be a model pilgrim of love and good humor but there were days when I was grumpy and irritable. I expected to not get sick if I took good care of myself but I got sick anyhow. . .
"I wish I could say that letting go eventually became my natural response. Sometimes I did respond with little difficulty but other times I fell back into my old patterns of clinging and clutching. So much depended on my physical and emotional condition. What did change for me is that I became more aware of how much better the days went when I chucked my wants and expectations and accepted the situation for what it was.
"I learned again that no matter how tightly I grasp something I cannot keep it as it is or make it last forever. Holding on with a ferocious grip does not change a situation to match my wants and desires. This tremendous teaching about letting go became clearer to me on the Camino. It taught me not to grasp what's dear to me but to gratefully hold all I value with open hands. Life goes much better that way."