Reflections: Camino Comfort Zone, Maps, Arrows, Plans

September 25, 2017


What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us. (Attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson, with a little controversy).

I love this quote. What does it mean to you?

Hola, Amigos. The Camino continues. This blog is a catch up combination of two. It’s a long path that might need a stop for café con leche, freshly squeezed orange juice or chocolate and churros. Thank you for walking with me, especially when it’s been filled with surprises and change.

I said adiós to A Coruña, spent time in Finisterre and Muxia and am now back in Santiago for one night in the Albergue Seminario Menor after a 6:30 a.m. bus ride. I’m on the third floor of this old building and with two 15 minute walks down the hill to the Cathedral, ice cream and a visit to the awesome Pilgrim House, to thank Nate for his help in finding care for my injured leg, and walking with a friend in the labyrinth near the albergue, I added 18 kms to my daily distance.

My train to Madrid for my last two days in Spain, departed at 5:15 a.m.. I’m sleepy just thinking about these early and dark mornings. It’s a whirlwind of time, but most of those days have been healing and restful. It seems like yesterday that I arrived.

Manuel from Madrid and Julio from Toledo, amigos I met at the albergue, and I shared a 4:45 a.m. taxi to the Estación de Tren. Native speakers, they navigated calling the late taxi and our fare share. We took pictures and they honored me, 71! Julio told me my name means Peace. When we parted, we hugged and I felt warm all over, even this cold, foggy morning. Sometimes these beautiful encounters make me cry. This is the Camino.

We all have different perspectives on time. For some, two hours climbing rocks by the sea, listening to the music of waves crashing and gulls singing, or waiting for a bus or train, seem to speed by. The same two hours for another person, impatient to move on, drags and lasts forever.

The Hungarian psychologist and author Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, writes about time, flow and happiness. Listen to one his TED talks! He describes the mental zone of flow where time seems to disappear. Artists, writers and poets, athletes, people highly engaged in something that makes them happy, describe this mental state of concentration. And scientific and social research tells us that being in nature and walking, both improve mental and physical health. All of time is focused on the task. Happiness is increased.

These are the benefits of walking on the Camino! That’s the mini-thesis. Have you experienced flow? How many Pilgrims have walked in the state of flow? Sometimes on the Way, I’m lucky to walk the Zone, even my bag feels amazingly light and my thoughts are focused or in a meditative state of calmness. Often walking at home I’ve been able to be there. I hope to return to the camino flow, one foot in front of the other. Just thinking about where to sleep, what to eat, the basics. Ah, Nirvana, escape or a dream? And I won’t be greedy. I’m always grateful for even an hour or a day of flow. (And by the way, I’m much better and able walk longer distances. There’s a story to tell another time about diagnosis and treatment. And why a second opinion is a good idea).

Often though, the Zone could be short, because there’s a certain amount of concentration and attention on walking in the right direction and knowing where your feet are. As a Pilgrim, I join my fellow walkers in looking for yellow arrows and signs pointing in the “right” direction, maps to help plan for a day or a lifetime.

What do we have in common? We all look for signs along our Way, to know what makes us feel comfortable and safe. Or not. When we see blue arrows or possibly dangerous paths, we might be out of our Comfort Zone, on the Camino or at home. And we pay attention to weather signs, those spectacular, but ominous clouds that could blow away or challenge us with their natural power. So many Pilgrims I’ve met have shared their rain-soaked walking stories. My first Camino hike over the Pyrenees was my initiation.

I’m not a fan of walking in the rain, but I’m not in charge! So far the sun has appeared, after the storm.

Wow! We are complicated beings to be able to live life with so many surprises and changes! The simplicity of The Camino is an important element of my comfort zone, what’s yours?


The Camino is unique in constantly giving us new experiences and challenges. Are they simple, compared to the multiple level decisions we make at home? Take care of the same basic needs each day. Some variations, but if there are no injuries or big surprises, this is the Camino. Or is the Camino life? It can be a routine: eat, sleep, wash your clothes, take care of blisters or other physical needs, shower, walk, be with Camino friends. In what ever order you choose. Maybe catch up on keeping in touch with family and friends. Or writing a blog or posting pictures. Perhaps some variation, but all you need you’ve brought in your backpack.

Back at home, life is more complicated! Leaving our comfort zone is a great teacher. And learning to let go, that we are not always in charge or even in control, spiritual lessons. The Camino is just the journey to test how we meet the unknown. It’s around every bend. And sometimes it’s just plain amazing.

New experiences, food and friends


A little uncomfortable in my comfort zone

You’ve probably thought about how one decision had a domino effect, changed so many future experiences. And what if you hadn’t made that decision or it hadn’t happened? It’s the alternate universe poem, what if?

If I had acted on my initial discomfort in A Coruña and moved on, I would have missed chocolate and Churros, tapas and the Tower of Hercules. I wouldn’t have sat by the sea with an ice cream cone or met kindness and generosity.

Wouldn’t have been reminded that in daily life, as on Camino, we communicate beyond words.

In the beginning of my Camino, if I had only stayed in private hostels, pensions and rooms, I might have missed meeting some amazing people at Albergues. Or if I didn’t talk to people I didn’t know, how that would change everything!


Surprises around the bend

Last year I remember being tired and hot. Actually, every day. Nowhere yet to stop, but right around the bend within a matter of hours or maybe a day, two reminders of kindness and beauty. And the unexpected. The surprises in life and on the Camino.



Signs everywhere prepare us for what’s ahead.

We love those yellow arrows. This year, after Rabanal, occasionally I found remote areas where there were no arrows at forks in the road or both yellow and blue pointing in opposite directions. Hopefully our built-in compass gets us to our destination. One of my favorite things about the Camino is NOT getting lost. Disoriented, maybe. Lost? No. Perhaps it’s perspective. Feelings are personal. We’re both in the same place, not on the right path. One person feels lost, the other feels the need to find a map or ask for help or look for clues.

Yellow or blue? Might be confusing unless you know to continue walking forward and don’t become disoriented or turned around. On the Camino de Francés, follow the yellow arrows to Santiago. Blue, if you want to backtrack? On the Camino de Portuguese blue arrows point towards Fatima.


How did this Roman soldier leave a footprint in what is now León? Humankind has always. been walking and wandering.

It’s reassuring to know we are walking in the right direction.

I began training and planning my 2017 Camino after I returned from my September 2016 Camino de Francés. This was to be a highlight journey, perhaps the Ingles, Muxia-Finesterre, Portuguese or parts I missed on the Francés. My bag was lighter and I was ready. Wasn’t I in for a surprise! This was a highlight journey, after all. Once again a new map and arrows pointed in a different direction. New miracles and mysteries. And what is so meaningful to me, meeting new amigas and amigos, friendship for an hour or a lifetime. Be ready. Life is always changing.

Ultreia, Irene

8 thoughts on “Reflections: Camino Comfort Zone, Maps, Arrows, Plans

    1. I would love to hear your experiences. I read his work for my thesis on Creativity and healing. That flow was/is key in some transformative personal growth, for cases in my study and my own. Thanks for connecting. Ultreia. Irene


  1. Maybe when you come home you could take people out for a California Camino. Start out with day trips until you are stronger. You look so happy.

    My favorite shot here is the one of the rocks with walkers, in shadow, dwarfed by them.


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hola Roz. You are so thoughtful. Isn’t it wonderful to have such beautiful country to visit. I thought about how much you’ve seen in Spain, maybe I’ll get to Toledo. Buen Camino, Irene


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