Finding Myself on El Camino
by Alina Wilson
Sometimes, those moments that present themselves like irony are actually fate. In the past year, I’ve walked El Camino, started a life-changing independent study project, found someone who has repeatedly forced me to think, and avoided all possible opportunity to think and to discover. And now I’m tasked with writing about the topic of finding yourself. In the novel The Alchemist, which I have recently begun rereading, one quote sticks out to me and millions of other Tumblr users, “And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you achieve it.” The universe must really want me to find myself. Better yet, deep down, I want to find myself and the universe is making it happen.
Now, I can’t say anything about the general topic of finding yourself that hasn’t been said before in novels, on Tumblr, or on Facebook.
Instead, I’ll speak about my own journey of self-discovery. I’ve heard quite a few important nuggets in my 17 years (wow, 17, that’s new); most of which I’ve ignored. The important nuggets I do remember primarily occurred in the last year. One of my favorites came from a graduation commencement speech given by Sterling K. Brown: “Excellence is an unselfish act.” Possibly one of the hardest questions I’ve had to ask myself is why I want to achieve. Quotes like this one remind me that I do not have to be motivated by pride or selfishness. I can achieve in order to show others what is possible. I remember hearing that quote while sitting in a chair in a large stadium with thousands of proud parents, siblings, and family members. I could’ve been the only one in that stadium. And I knew in that moment that the universe or maybe God was pushing me, guiding me on my journey to finding myself.
Hearing Sterling’s speech was one moment in a rapid succession of life-changing events. A couple days before that, I walked El Camino de Santiago. Although my friends predicted that I would die from heat exhaustion on the trail, I found something else entirely. My bones became weary, but I was filled with greater insight. Without distractions, I finally had space to think. My mind made more distractions, of course. I listened to music, talked to my friends, and tried to avoid thinking by any means necessary. Eventually, I made peace with my own mind, allowing myself to listen to it. That was one of many discoveries I made on El Camino and possibly the most important. I always believed that “the idle mind is the devil’s playground” –ever since I heard it in my sixth grade classes’ production of the Music Man. It fit perfectly with my philosophy then; I believed in continual movement, and I hadn’t questioned that philosophy.
So I did. Or I started. It’s funny what you can learn about yourself when you actually begin thinking. Me being me, I was hoping finding myself was like homework or maybe a class project. You start on it. Work on it. Finish it. Unfortunately, I learned that it is a lifelong process, for we, as humans, keep growing. Actually, self-discovery is not so unlike the quest Santiago undertook in The Alchemist. A Personal Legend. And discovering our own Personal Legend, like excellence, is an unselfish act. It shows others what is possible and may inspire them to find their own.
On El Camino, pilgrims and albergue owners bid each other “Buen Camino.” Directly, translated from Spanish, it means “good way,” but these words hold deeper meaning. The phrase also acknowledges the spiritual journey toward “perfection” and finding one’s best self. So to all my fellow pilgrims and soon-to-be pilgrims, I share the same words: Buen Camino.