2013-11-15 / Sports

Jen’s Fitness Forum

The Way of Saint James, A Continuation: Mental & Emotional
By Jen Font de Bon

Walking fifteen to twenty-five miles a day without music or much distraction left me a lot of time to connect with myself. In life, I’d always lived with a forever growing “to do” scroll in my head that continuously repeated and changed as I checked off responsibilities, obligations and commitments. If I didn’t get to something as quickly as I’d hoped, stress and guilt would flood in.

On the Way, from the first day, this list disappeared from my head. My mind was still, and by the time I approached the end of my pilgrimage, a weight had been lifted. On the trail, even when I tried to think of my “regular” life back home, something didn’t let me. I felt like a child and embraced the wonderful feeling of being reset. My heart, mind and soul were open, and I soaked up my surroundings like a sponge. The Way was my teacher and I was its enthusiastic student! I listened the best I could all day long with my entire body in and out, and at night I reflected by writing down everything that had happened.

It was interesting how distance affected mental and emotional states. Personally, reaching the halfway mark helped me overcome a big mental obstacle. As I stepped past the 250-mile line, my feelings about the Way transformed almost instantly. I’d graduated one class and moved on to the next level. The distance I had walked was equal to the distance that remained, but since I’d already done it once it all of a sudden didn’t seem so big. The 250-mile mark definitely loosened me up. Halfway to the “finish line” made it feel like the end of the school year when each step taken is a step closer to summer vacation. There was more camaraderie among the pilgrims. My husband and I started to cross paths with people we’d met at the beginning of the journey and hadn’t seen for days. The emotions were incredibly intense and reconnecting was like seeing old friends after being distanced.

Landscape played a role too. I typically felt best in the mountains and rural areas, whereas urban settings and long straight roads paralleling highways proved to be the most difficult. The desertlike Rioja region was also a challenge. Hot, dry days made it nearly impossible to walk during the afternoons and forced us to leave earlier in the mornings, break at noon, and continue on later when the sun wasn’t as strong. Resting for so long in the middle of the day was difficult for me since I was used to working hard until the job was done and kicking back only after. It took me a few days in Rioja to get past my “work first, play later” attitude and actually be able to enjoy our breaks.

Treating the pilgrimage as a school helped me stay excited and positive through the majority of my journey. But, like most pilgrims, I couldn’t help feeling a bit overwhelmed at times. For me, getting past mental and emotional obstacles was all about listening, staying connected with what I was doing, and remembering how incredibly lucky I was to be on the Way.

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