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Walking the Camino, a mindful pilgrimage 

What does it mean to walk mindfully and let go of disruptive patterns of thinking? Here's an insight from Baptist minister Shaun Lambert


CaminoI went on a section of the Camino pilgrimage walk to Santiago de Compostela in Northern Spain recently to lay down new pathways in my mind. In that daily pattern of walking I also wanted to let go of old pathways in my mind, patterns of ruminative thinking that were anxious and catastrophic.  
The daily walks ranged from 15 to 25 kilometres, three to six hours walking a day.

I was also walking the way of St. James to leave behind psychological and spiritual waste that had accumulated over the last seven years. I knew this was possible because I had been using short mindful walks as a form of emotional regulation – moving from a place of dis-stress to calm, mindful states of mind. The longer walks would reach the dross that lay deeper within.

I didn’t want to walk mindlessly, on autopilot, in my head, playing all my automatic scripts. I didn’t want to spend the day in mental time travel ruminating about a past I couldn’t change, or worrying about a future I couldn’t control. I wanted to take a holiday from thinking, come to my body and its senses which are always in the present moment, non-elaborative, attuned to reality, and do not tell distorted stories.

In other words, I wanted to walk mindfully. I was going to practise the insights of mindfulness for health and mindfulness of God.


  • To be in the present moment intentionally

  • To do this by inhabiting my senses

  • To move from thinking to awareness, my embodied senses are streams of awareness

  • To understand all my thoughts and feelings are held in awareness

  • To exercise my capacity for attention and awareness

  • To notice my judgemental attitudes, let them go and cultivate clear seeing instead

  • To mindfully wick my emotions

  • To go deeper into the Jesus Prayer and Lectio Divina, a slow immersive reading of scripture.

The most important thing I wanted to exercise was the flabby muscle of attention. This begins with focused attention. I focus on each step, sensing the soles of my feet. As I do this I become openly aware of the sun on my face, the wind in my hair, the smell of pines, and mint and wild garlic. Of course my mind wanders in mental time travel to automatic scripts, and anxious thoughts. I’ve got a cough…it’s going to stop me walking…the pilgrimage will be ruined…will it become a chest infection…perhaps pneumonia?

The next key insight is to catch the first thought before it becomes an old record playing an old tune. I recognise that my thoughts are not facts; they are just passing mental events. If I am to do that I need to use meta-awareness, the capacity that one part of your mind can notice that another part of your mind has wandered. I notice that my mind has wandered and what it has wandered to.

And then I direct it back to the walk, the focus of my attention. I find again that place of open awareness. Just as the robin by the side of the way pecks at the ground, she is also aware of me and the farmyard cat in open awareness. If she can do it, so can I!
The bees, butterflies, brooks, bicycles and bluebells bring me back to this moment in time. The smell of mint, wild garlic, pine and gum trees, the earthy scent of small farms, of cattle and dung, the crowing of roosters all root me in reality as it is now not as I am imagining it distortedly.

These are some daily insights from my journal:


Day One

I’ve just done the first day of my six day walk along the Camino from Sarria to Santiago de Compostela. At 24 kilometres it is the longest walk I have done since a teenager. In preparing for the walk people advised me to push enough in the training to find the hot spots, the parts of the foot that blister first. I was then given two tips, one to use special plasters that act like second skin, and the second is to use Vaseline on your feet to stop rubbing.
In the stress of life we can have hot spots, certain events that make us anxious, or sad, or angry. Mindfulness doesn’t take away stress but it acts like a second skin plaster, or like Vaseline to reduce the friction that causes us to react rather than respond to difficulties.


Day Two

One of the reasons for doing this pilgrimage is to let go of the psychological and spiritual waste I’ve been carrying. I was inspired to do a longer walk through the daily practice of short mindful walks. On this longer walk I have chosen a hat, socks and shirts that can ‘wick’ moisture – move moisture away from the skin. I have found short mindful walks act like emotional ‘wicking,’ and very important in the day-to-day regulation of emotion. My belief is that the Camino walks can allow the baggage of the last seven years to trail behind me.

As I become emptied of psychological and spiritual waste, I can be filled with hope, love and faith.  


Day Three

As I walk the Camino on a misty morning and reach higher ground I realise the mist is not generalised as I thought but localised in a valley. I become aware of higher ground free of mist. When the mist of anxiety falls on you it limits your mind. You perceive the feeling is the only reality.

Mindfulness takes me by the hand when the mist of anxiety falls and leads me to higher ground. I reperceive the anxiety as a valley in my mind not the whole of my reality. I come out into the light.


Day Four

I have seen people with all sorts of wet weather gear, some fit for purpose and some clearly not. I have mindfully discerned that I am missing a cover for my small rucksack (or a poncho that covers it), gaiters, and a water proof pouch for my passport. My coat is waterproof but not breathable, another thing I need to change.
What I’ve realised is that we make do with the internal wet weather gear we have inherited through family scripts, or that have become our own automatic ways of coping or not. This gear may not be always fit for purpose.

What I’ve learnt from mindfulness is that its theory and practice can upgrade our internal wet weather gear until it is fit for purpose. It won’t stop thundery showers or rain, but enables us to thrive as we walk through them.


Day Five

Yesterday was a day of ecstasy. I wasn’t expecting ecstasy, agony certainly…I was trying to work out why.

It could have been grace

maybe it was flow

maybe it was good stress

It came on while I was walking and stayed all day.

maybe it was the walking

perhaps we are made for walking

perhaps it was the soft Galician countryside, and the small farms I was walking through

I know we have been given mindful states of mind, and one of those is an ecstatic state of mind.


Day Six

Yesterday was a resolute day, a day of intention. A day for turning ‘the face of my soul’ to God (Bernard of Clairvaux said this). A day of the Jesus Prayer and prayer rope, ‘Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me a sinner.’  

Packing my case in the morning slightly tweaked my back. I have a joint that jams on the left and sends the muscles into spasm. My body started sending me helpful messages like ‘bus, taxi, chiropractor’ rather than walk 20 kilometres. But something takes over when you start walking in this pilgrimage way. I think your soul moves from background to foreground, it becomes the figure leading the way.

As I walked I prayed that I would be emptied of my small self, that a larger self would begin to emerge, green blades rising.

May I be emptied of my small self…
May I be filled with a larger self…
May you…

I think the two greatest things on this pilgrimage walk were the gift of mindful ecstasy, and the realisation that my soul had been in the background in suburbia, but had come to the foreground in northern Spain.

On the last difficult day, the soul was willing. It carried my body.

Shaun Lambert is a trained counsellor and psychotherapist as well as being Senior Minister of Stanmore Baptist Church. He is the author of A Book of Sparks – a Study in Christian MindFullness, and Putting on the Wakeful One


Baptist Times, 23/05/2017
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