By Valerie Brown
“…even before you sat down with them,
broke bread and drank wine,
wiped the wind-tears form your eyes:
pilgrim they called you again. Pilgrim.”
—David Whyte, from Camino
The Pilgrimage of El Camino de Santiago is filled with symbolism, metaphor, and meaning. The physical effort of walking to reach the pilgrim’s goal is interpreted as a metaphor for the human and spiritual journey, full of sacrifice, wonder, awe, heartache, and unforeseen joy and adventure.
Pilgrimage as Transformation
I began walking the Pilgrimage of El Camino more than 17 years ago, and was deeply transformed by the experience. The pilgrimage led me I realized that the career I had carefully prepared as lawyer-lobbyist was no longer who I was. I had to re-invent myself and that began by looking deeply, asking open questions, and listening for what was waiting to emerge. Through walking El Camino, I was able to listen for what was waiting for growth and rebirth within me, and this listening brought me to founding Lead Smart Coaching, and offering Walk in Beauty Pilgrimages to El Camino for the last five years. During these years of offering Walk in Beauty, I have led doctors, lawyers, accountants, college professors, clergy, educators and many others along El Camino toward a path of deeper meaning in their lives.
Recently, I returned from leading two pilgrimages along El Camino: the Camino del Norte, the Northern Route and the Camino Finisterre, Western Route to the Sea. Both are remarkable journeys that immerse the pilgrim in the sensual world of nature. Preparation for the pilgrimage is a significant part of the Walk in Beauty experience. Long before we arrive in Spain, we begin building community through reflection on community agreements, poetry, and prose. During the pilgrimage, we continue to explore these agreements, savor journaling, engage in small and large group dialogue and reflection, and invite daily open questions to walk with. It’s said that in walking El Camino, the road itself is the best teacher, and for me, the road offered many lessons on the ‘inner life’ of leadership.
During my high-pressure career as a lawyer-lobbyist, I believed that effective leadership was about a set of competencies that privileged technical skill and expertise, power, status, and control. I believed that leadership was largely about positional authority and superior technical competency. The person at the top of the organizational chart was the leader. I played by these rules for decades, believing that if I had the right educational degrees, the right skill set, and right experience, I would be a successful leader.
Today, working primarily with leaders across professions, I’ve learned another language of leadership. Leadership is about self-awareness, emotional intelligence, integrity, and trustworthiness. In the face of complexity, ambiguity, and uncertainty, leaders are called to be adaptable, to embrace paradox, and to hold unsettled tensions. El Camino provides the perfect setting to explore leadership, resilience, adaptability, complexity, and change.
In leading with a focus on the ‘inner’ life, I notice that this gives others permission to do the same. My individual leadership became our collective leadership as we each took turns walking in the front, the middle, and the rear. What emerged was a genuine sense of care, a vulnerability to accept not being in the lead, and the willingness to support each other unconditionally as an act of leadership. I learned about the inner journey of leadership by welcoming others and making space for everyone to become an integral part of the journey. Everyone mattered. Ultimately, we collectively created a wholehearted learning community on the pilgrim’s path. The path itself became a symbol of community, of caring, of challenge, change, and transformation; each pilgrim was invited to discover the deeper meaning of El Camino and of their life.
Join us for Walk in Beauty: Pilgrimage of El Camino , the Kinder Camino. Portuguese Coast Camino , October 6-17 and the Camino Finisterre, October 22-31, 2020.