I am a really busy person, both personally and professionally; often juggling more than one position at the same time. For example, I lecture at the University of Edinburgh and am also Head of Cowgate Under Fives Centre. I seem to thrive on this way of living and, on reflection, always have. I often use my holidays to present at a conference, or visit a far away early years setting. This year, significantly different from many other years I discovered I had two weeks annual leave to take, and I had no conference scheduled! I was wondering what to do with this precious time.
I was sitting in the hairdressers the first Saturday of my holiday, with still nothing planned thinking perhaps I should just stay in Edinburgh, potter around my home and just enjoy being there. Serendipitously, the person getting her hair done beside me began talking about her recent walking trip to Spain, she had walked the Camino de Santiago.
She was very animated about the experience, expressing it was the best thing she had ever done, and wanted to do it again. My interest was piqued, and when I returned home from the hairdressers I explored the internet to learn more and began to ponder, ‘would it be possible to organise a trip to walk the Camino de Santiago at such short notice’? There was one possible date that might work, week beginning 4 August. I chatted with my partner Davy about the possibility of going, he thought it sounded promising. We booked and left the following Monday!
There is something about walking through nature that is unlike any other environment – Friedrich Froebel, the early years pioneer, believed that experiencing nature was an essential means for the physical, intellectual, social and emotional development of all human beings.
The Camino de Santiago in the north of Spain takes place between secluded hillsides that lead onto spectacular landscapes and panoramic views. I found this walk life-transforming, for example, as said, I work hard and continuously, this experience encouraged me to re-think how I rush from space to place, walking quickly through Holyrood Park to get to work, not really seeing the beauty of the landscape. I made myself promise to walk slower and to take in the beauty of the world around me. The physical challenges of the walk brought out mindful thoughts about both my personal and professional experiences, past and present. The rigours of completing a Phd, developing my publication profile and producing conference papers tend to require a fairly sedentary life. Hence, the walk, whilst enabling me to rise from my desk for many hours each day to improve my fitness, also provided opportunities for cognitive stimulation and much needed aesthetic medicine. What I mean by this is, not any clinical procedure, but the benefits of environmental philosophical aesthetics, as the beauty of nature enhanced my overall feeling of well-being.
Despite walking with my partner, Davy (and many other walkers), I often found my thoughts drifting away, as I walked through the forests, or climbed steep banks only to be greeted at the top by breath taking panoramic views, time and time again I was overwhelmed by the beauty of our vast, complex and boundlessness world. Simultaneously limited and limitless. I was aware of being connected to my physical self, my soul.
Being in nature does that to me, it makes me hopeful for the future. Away from my computer (for a whole week!!!!) I was able to return to my essential self, where my mind was open and free from any preconceptions about the world. I wandered through little villages, where the occupants greeted each walker like a long-lost friend, offering water from their fountain, or fruit from their fields.
The trip restored my faith in the world as I made visible what was often invisible to me in my hurried life. It made me appreciate silence, beauty and companionship of strangers. I am already planning my next trip…I think I will go coastal next time.
Walking the Camino de Santiago was for me, and I know for Davy, an extremely therapeutic experience. It gave me the opportunity to stop, take stock of life and what is important. It encouraged me to pay attention to the curvature of the plants and trees, the colour of the sky, the shape of moving clouds. Existing, moment by moment, sometimes alone, sometimes with others, my faith in people and life was restored. Preparing myself each morning to tackle, the sometimes, challenging terrain, I developed new skills. After a satisfying day walking, having a hot shower and a good meal, made me appreciate the simple things of life.