You don’t see many Bystanders walking El Camino de Santiago.
Just in the act of being there, pilgrims have become Advocates. Each has a personal purpose for making the journey, and walks within a community committed to a shared goal.
While walking The Way in September, I spoke with many people from around world about their perceptions of power. As we walked and shared experiences, I observed many Archetypes interacting in the stories they told and in encounters on the path. We all have each character inside of us. Like the parable about the two wolves, the one that grows strongest is simply the one that we feed.
Returning to the US from my journey, I was ushered into JFK’s customs/immigration hall with the discharge from about five other international flights. Televisions blaring images of bombings in Syria flickered around us while we waited. By the time I reached home in Arizona, mass media images had been replaced with those of the latest school shooting, and the public outcry and finger pointing that followed it.
Which world did I live in? That made of up Advocates, full of purpose and social connection, as on El Camino … or that of the Bystander, Bully and Victim who appear to dominate broader society.
The answer, for me, is the reason I write: I get to choose which one I create, by simply being an Advocate in my own way.
I can also remember a time when, despite my good intentions, I slipped into the role of Bystander for an extended period. This most recent US school shooting brought it vividly back. During the Columbine massacre, I was head of global research for the entertainment industry’s most powerful lobbyist. By nature of that position, I was thrust into the US government’s investigation about violence in movies. I began to question my life.
Self-doubt, lack of purpose and a series of environmental factors (including the Bush/Gore election debacle and September 11th) contributed to my disempowerment and anger-turned-apathy.
It took chronic physical pain to reactive my Advocate with purpose. My body (in the form of a birth defect in my hip) could no longer tolerate the stress of remaining stuck in Bystander mode. My goal became avoiding the invasive hip replacement that two top Manhattan surgeons were recommending. I began to take action again with a heavy rotation of physical therapy, yoga, meditation and life coaching for personal growth.
Poco a poco, paso a paso, as we say on El Camino – little by little, step by step. My hip was not healed in one day, neither was a clear sense of purpose. But, every day, I spent more time as an Advocate. Enough so that I was able to transform my life into one of passion, purpose and connection. And to walk my first 400 miles on El Camino de Santiago, powered by my natural hips.
Following is an exercise that has proven highly effective in developing the clarity and purpose that personally define an Advocate. The process is called meditative self-inquiry:
Select a question around which you would like clarity (eg., what brings me joy? what is my purpose? or who am I?)
Select an activity that allows you to quiet and focus your mind (eg. meditation, hiking, yoga, running, swimming, etc.)
Schedule a minimum of 15 minutes at least 3-4 times a week to do this activity, focusing your mind during that period on your question
Take 5 minutes after completing the activity to journal about what thoughts arose
Consolidate your journal entries into a list of components in answer to your question
Mindful exercises like these are just as important for your overall well-being as physical ones. They enable you to gain deeper self-knowledge and self-mastery. These qualities ultimately fuel your power to live a purposeful and connected life as an Advocate.
Personally, I have found no better place to practice being an Advocate than El Camino de Santiago. It provides a rare experience of setting and achieving goals, overcoming challenges and practicing the art of connection, love and compassion.
I’m looking forward to another journey along The Way next September. Buen Camino!