Claiming Your Whys

(from my soon-to-be-published book, Just One Step: The Journey to Your Unstoppable You)

Last week I shared some of the specific whys that I experienced and claimed on my Camino journey. This week I’m sharing a few more why’s that I experienced on the Camino, as well as a discussion on the importance of claiming your whys.

There are three other whys that showed themselves during my Camino journey – none of which were really planned or expected, but all of which I clearly was meant to experience. These three were letting go, God and grief. Yes, I’d contemplated and planned to bring along a couple of stones for things that I wanted to let go of in my life, but several of my letting go moments that occurred on the Camino were unplanned and unanticipated. One, a relationship, I thought that I’d already let go of, but it was only on the Camino that I realized that there was more to let go, and I did let that last bit go.

The God why was differently unanticipated. While God is a definitive part of my life, beliefs, faith and journey, I had no idea how profoundly and often the God why would surface, but I’m not at all surprised. This kind of profound aloneness and often silence is precisely the time when I’d expect God to speak to me the most – in the stillness and in his still, small voice. In Chapter 3 (Just the Facts), I shared with you my early experience with God in the midst of the lightning and hailstorm while walking along the top of the ridge on my first day. That moment – asking for God’s assurance that he “had this” and feeling the immediate relief of knowing that God had it and me in his hands – was the beginning of so many different God moments throughout the Camino.

I shouldn’t be surprised that God kept showing up for and with me throughout the Camino journey, whether it was answering a prayer for comfort, a sense that I was protected throughout the journey or the many people and experiences that were a part of my every day on the Camino. I felt a palpable connection to and with God throughout my journey, and this wasn’t something that I had anticipated or looked for. God just kept showing up, which is precisely how I believe that God works. So, God was a why for my Camino adventure and experience, even though I didn’t realize it until later. As I read many years ago, when Joseph Jaworski was asked whether God was a part of an experience that was being discussed, he answered: “Whether invoked or not, God is present.” (Synchronicity: The Inner Path of Leadership, 2011). And God was definitely present (whether invoked or not) and a beautiful why on the Camino.

The most unexpected why for me on the Camino was the why of grief. Grief wasn’t a key element of my life before the Camino, and I had no thoughts about grief before I began my journey. Yet grief became my constant companion on the Camino, starting with waking up on the second morning to the news of my Uncle Chuck’s death. It continued with a conversation with Dennis (the Anglican priest) on the third morning, who shared with me that during his Camino journey, a virtual stranger had held him while he wailed with grief from the recent death of his father. Grief presented itself again later on when I walked with Henry from Germany and he shared with me that his mother had died while he was on the Camino, yet he’d chosen not to return home, trusting that their relationship had been healed before he left and that she knew he was right where he belonged.

Grief also hit close to home on the sixth day when I got a text that the son of one of my good friends had died suddenly (only in his thirties). I couldn’t imagine the depth of the pain of that grief, and I was sad that I wasn’t there to support him. I was also angry at the death of such a young man. I remember feeling again the connection with grief on this journey, and I wrote in my journal: “Grief is stalking me on the Camino.” Shortly after this news, I met and walked with a twenty-one-year-old named Damian (from Poland and England), and we talked about life, careers and choices. Damian was so full of life and had already traveled extensively throughout Europe, and I realized that he was the answer to my sadness and anger about my friend’s son.

My Camino was a walk with grief, another unexpected why, and little did I know that grief would soon become my almost constant companion as a close family friend (Carla) passed away six months later, my Mom passed away seven months later, two other friends passed away within weeks of my Mom’s death, my Uncle Gary passed away nine months after the Camino, and my Uncle Ivan (my Mom’s last sibling) fifteen months later. While I’d certainly experienced losses in my life in the past, most notably my younger brother Gregg’s death in 1980, grief wasn’t a regular part of my journey, but grief came into focus on the Camino and it has been a nearly constant part of my life since then. Without knowing it, intending it or planning it, grief was a why that showed up on and in my Camino experience, and I’m deeply grateful for it. I wouldn’t have wished these many losses on my family and the other families involved, but I’m grateful that grief was one of my Camino companions and teachers. The grief why of the Camino helped prepare me in so many unexpected ways for the losses that have come to me over the past two years, and this why will continue to be with me for the rest of my life’s journey.

Claiming and Allowing Your Whys

As you can see with my Camino whys, there are two basic types of whys. There are the whys that you intentionally claim for yourself, and there are the whys that you allow to present themselves to you and inside of you. And there are combinations of both.

When I saw the movie The Way and listened to the intuitive message that said that I’d walk the Camino, it wasn’t something that I consciously thought about or intended, but it showed up in the form of the movie, and I allowed it. I then claimed this why and set my sights on it in the form of intentions, commitments, planning and action. Thus, the calling that I experienced through The Way was a why that I allowed first and then later claimed.

In contrast, the many whys that I experienced on the Camino (e.g. letting go, grief, facing fears, God, etc.) were all whys that I was open to and which I allowed. Since returning from my journey, they’ve become conscious and intentional whys that I’ve claimed for my life and for me. I’ve made them part of my whole life journey, while they originally showed up on my Camino journey. There’s no good and bad, better or worse when it comes to claiming and allowing whys – there’s just a difference in origin.

Certainly, you can decide to embrace and claim a why in your life and then set your intentions, commitments, plans and actions around it. If you experience some new why through any life experiences and you’re open to allowing it, the key question is whether you’ll also claim it so that it stays a vital part of your remaining life’s journey. While you may experience great clarity and deep awareness when you allow a why, embracing it in your life (the act of claiming) is critical if that why will serve you and walk with you on your journey. 

For example, I experienced profound insights and clarity on the Camino through the whys of solitude, disconnection, pausing and letting go. However, if I didn’t purposefully claim these whys in my continuing walk through life, then the impact of these whys would be relegated to moments and memories from the Camino. It’s only when I claim them as ongoing whys that they become an integral part of my day-to-day life experiences. The great part is that it ultimately doesn’t matter whether a why comes to you through claiming or allowing, but it does matter whether you choose to claim your whys, no matter what their origin.

There’s a funny thing about whys: sometimes we choose them, consciously and intentionally, and sometimes they choose us, if we’re open to them. Our whys serve us in so many beautiful ways. They compel us to keep going even when it’s scary or hard. They help us carry on even when it’s painful and uncertain. They allow us to move past and through obstacles and challenges in our life experiences. Your whys are at the heart of your ability and willingness to overcome whatever it is that you need to overcome. Your whys allow you to continue in pursuit of your dreams and goals no matter what events, circumstances or people seek to get in your way. My Camino whys allowed me to continue and finish the journey despite the painful injuries I’d experienced, and they were in many ways the wind beneath my wings that carried me along on the Camino. 

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