I have often agonized over making decisions, afraid that the wrong choice would send me off a cliff—real or metaphorical—and do irreparable harm.
So, before I left to walk the Camino de Santiago in Spain, I bought maps to ensure I wouldn’t get lost. Although I had heard that every intersection of 500-mile trail is marked with arrows of yellow spray paint, I didn’t trust it.
When I got there, I saw these arrows on everything—from pavement and trees to stone fences and telephone poles. In moments when I didn’t know where to turn, there was an arrow. When I zoned out and forgot where I was on the map, there was an arrow. Again and again, yellow arrows provided reliable guidance in moments of uncertainty.
As the days passed, I started leaving my maps in my pack, trusting that the arrows would lead me where I needed to go. It was a big deal to let go of control, but learning to trust them was a profound spiritual experience. Indeed, they led me all the way to Santiago.
Within a few days of arriving home, it felt disorienting to suddenly have no arrows to follow. What can I trust for guidance? Am I headed down the wrong path? How would I know which choice is the right one? I humorously considered spray painting my house with arrows.
In the years since, I’ve spent a lot of thoughtful moments discerning what an arrow feels like in my body. It isn’t sirens and lights for me, but very subtle physical sensations.
For example, I’ll feel the slightest sense of my abdominal muscles relaxing. That’s a yes. Sometimes it’s a fist of strength in my chest and a huge YES! Other times, it’s my jaw suddenly unclenching and eyes filling with tears, oh yes. The opposite happens when it’s a no: my abdomen clenches, my heart feels tender, and my jaw is tight.
It’s different for everyone, but the sensations are real and provide another kind of knowing. The more I pay attention, the more guidance I receive. And, just like on the Way, I’ve learned to trust those inner arrows of sensation. Time and again, these sensations have steered me right.
To be sure, I haven’t abandoned rational thought completely. I’m curious and research-oriented by nature, so I still seek to learn as much as I can about a situation and my options. But instead of deciding something with logic alone, I also trust what my body knows and communicates to me.
For me, a recovering perfectionist, the Camino taught me to heed my inner arrows. It has given me the relief of knowing the next step to take and a more authentic way to move forward through life.