How the Camino taught me to decide 8

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. 

8 thoughts on “How the Camino taught me to decide

  • Elizabeth

    Thank you Jennifer for articulating so beautifully my own ‘arrow’ experience which is sometimes physical sensation and sometimes much subtler. You gave me language to share.

    All best wishes along the path, Elizabeth

    • Jennifer Hofmann Post author

      Having the language is so helpful. If for no other reason than it validates that what we know is *real*. Thanks for commenting!

  • Pat Warrick

    “I’ve spent a lot of thoughtful moments discerning what an arrow feels like in my body”

    Jennifer, this is such a profound insight and poetic way to express it. I also know this method, but I don’t always remember to trust it. Thank you for the reminder. May your body’s arrows fly true for you always,

    Pat Warrick

  • carol routh

    So well said, Jen. It’s beautiful how tuned in you are. I wonder if I could do that. Thanks for articulating it so clearly.

  • Kim

    Thank you for this. I am learning a lot about paying attention to how my body is speaking to me and what the sensations mean.

    My friend practices energy medicine and has taught me a lot about the mind/body connection and the importance of not ignoring physical signals.

    I also practice yoga and meditation daily-both keep me connected and grounded and have been enormously helpful in keeping my monkey mind more steady and focused. Admittedly, I find it more challenging these days to keep calm given the state of our country. What I am discovering, however, is that I have become a sounding board of hope for others who feel despair. This, too is a sign-a reminder to activate my “third-eye” for others.

    Thanks for reading this long comment. El Camino is an experience I wish to have someday. In the meantime, my best friend and my sister-in-law are considering a trip to Prince Edward Island. I understand that it offers a similar walk-about.

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