a reader submitted a formidable writing prompt a few weeks ago that inspired this post. “maybe you can write a post like top 10 lessons of the francigena” I held off on a response, because my immediate thought was really - in the words of John Lennon - the more I see the less I know for sure. and yet, I want to try. if anything, I hope what I can say will inspire you to see more. so here’s what I’m offering - my (8) life-altering lessons of the Francigena-
freedom is something you give yourself
I think it’s easy for people to look at my life from the outside and say, it makes perfect sense that I would make a long walk right now. I’m pretty young, unencumbered, have a passport, and save. yet, I was in this situation for a while before I decided to leave. I was just waiting for a more favorable situation - more money, more future, more youth- to travel. I often looked back and wished I studied abroad as a 20- year old student. I looked at how other people made things happen and thought I needed that exact situation. The day I looked at what I actually had and saw possibility was the day I decided to act. I realized no perfect situation would exist for me in the future, I must always work with what I have. I changed my idea of what I needed to start, decided to worry about the rest as it came. nothing about my situation changed but my attitude, but that was enough to set off.
it all flows from you
have you ever read inspirational accounts of people who start with nothing or overcome great adversity, and become huge successes in the eyes of the world? have you ever thought about your greatest accomplishments in life, the things you hold most precious, and realize that you literally got to that point from when you once were a helpless baby, crawling on the floor? Every person in the world has an amazing and unlimited capacity to grow, change, create and connect. Instead of looking at the good things I had found in life so far- friends, a place to live, work- as reasons to stay where I was, I realized, that once, I had none of these things, but everything within myself to make it happen. I trusted would not lose this by venturing into something new.
there are infinite possibilities, you only need one
once I actually started walking the francigena, my life and thoughts became drastically simple. where was I going to sleep tonight? what was I going to eat? walk, walk walk. I used to be overwhelmed by choice in my normal life - what’s the best place to eat? the optimal place to make a booking? Is my hair conditioner doing the most? Am I tired of boring salads for lunch? When I was walking, I stopped running these little analysises and learned to make the most of what life gave me. I stopped comparing all the possibilities, and just appreciated the many choices. When things were uncertain, I reminded myself that there were a lot of good options out there - I only needed 1 place to sleep and - 2-3 things to eat, and I was grateful for the ones that life gave me. Everyday day I woke up healthy and rested to continue, I figured whatever I found had worked out great.
barking dogs ≠ biting dogs
from the reaction of the people around me when I decided to of walk, to the last days of my actual walk, I encountered a lot of barking dogs. Naturally, I felt scared! But I learned literally and figuratively, a dog that barks in not necessarily a dog that bites. There was a golden retriever I met in a lonely town in northern France that I took a few pictures of from behind a fence. He literally started barking when I walked away, because he liked the attention. There were dogs that weren’t confined by fences in Italy, that ran at my heels while I walked, and barked so close I could feel the sound and breath of them on my ankles. They were trained just to defend the house they lived around by barking, and weren’t going to bite me or follow me past their territory. It’s scary to learn this in the moment, but you have no choice, and the next time it’s certainly much easier to stay calm.
the first day I was walking, I met a tiny rabbit that was stuck in a wire fence. Rabbits are terrified of people. But I like animals and feel empathy towards them. I was horrified to see it panicking when it got stuck; trying to push its tiny body against the strong wire of the fence to the point it could barely breath. When I found the eventual solution, to carefully use a nail clipper in my backpack to carefully cut the fence and set the rabbit free, my looming presence terrified the rabbit to more suffocating pushing, but eventually worked. It reminded me of something I learned surfing. When you are held under by waves, the only way you can help yourself is to stay calm. The official term is “rag doll”. You can’t try and fight your way to the surface or you will use all your oxygen quicker and drown. you must stay calm to survive.
higher consciousness is perceptible
Another thing I learned from my encounter with the tiny trapped rabbit; was a very plain and non-mystical way of thinking of “higher consciousness”. I have a different consciousness than the rabbit, I understand how the fence is made and know that nailclippers are strong enough to solve his problems. I have a higher, or different consciousness than the rabbit that actually helps him. In another scenario, I am helpless when I arrive in a foreign place and begin to look for a place to stay or eat, but someone local who has a higher or different consciousness can help me with what is beyond what I know.
people are kind*
yes, “ faith in humanity” and the “goodness of people”. this was something I believed in from the start of my walking. I never felt like my “faith in humanity was being restored”, because people and life have showed me a lot of good things before my walk. but the asterisk is really important. People did not help me 100% of the time when I needed help. I needed to also help myself. I also needed help from above. The asterisk* represents one the most important things that I’ve learned, and constantly remind myself navigating the world of people and personal relationships. PEOPLE CAN ONLY GIVE YOU WHAT THEY HAVE TO GIVE. And actually, they almost always will give you - what they have to give. But sometimes we need or ask for things of people, that they simply DON’T HAVE, and then feel discouraged or betrayed when they do not give them to us. For example, if you ask someone for directions in English, and they don’t understand English, they might not help you. Not because they aren’t good - they simply don’t have the words. On the other side, many people were incredibly kind and gave me things that helped me greatly - a place to stay, a home-cooked meal, friendship, a telephone to make a call - because they could. This principle seems to apply to long-time friends as well as new acquiantances. I learned years ago that just because someone cares about me, does not mean they will run marathons with me. It would be silly for me to feel personally hurt by someone declining an invitation like that. of course creativity and energy is limitless- it’s not always impossible for someone to train for a marathon to run alongside me- or to find a translator app to help me - but it’s much easier for me commit to be the kind of person that stretches themselves to help other people when they ask for something I can’t easily give them - than it is to demand that exceptional reaction from others. does that makes sense?
little steps add up
and now for something completely obvious; walking from Canterbury to Rome taught me little steps add up. You can cross four countries and mountains in no time at all if you are willing to take millions of little steps in the right direction.