October 16, 2019

Making Ourselves by Walking - 10 Things I learn about Adult Development from Walking the Camino de Santiago Pilgrimage (Part II)

Written by Akasha SaundersAkasha Saunders

“…But your loss brought you here to walk
under one name and one name only,
and to find the guise under which all loss can live;
remember, you were given that name every day
along the way, remember, you were greeted as such,
and treated as such and you needed no other name,
other people seemed to know you even before
you gave up being a shadow on the road
and came into the light, even before you sat down,
broke bread and drank wine,
wiped the wind-tears from your eyes:
pilgrim they called you,
pilgrim they called you again and again. Pilgrim.”

– David Whyte, excerpt from Pilgrim

In part one of this three-part blog series, I shared five things I learned about adult development from walking the 500-mile Camino de Santiago pilgrimage. In this entry, I present four lessons. I cover the 10th lesson in a separate entry. It is that important to you. You will understand why. Here are lessons 6-9.

  1. Development is not a race to the top (there might not even be a top)

During the early days of my pilgrimage, I wanted to get ahead of everybody. I was in Burguete on the second morning, after walking from St. Jean Pied de Port the previous day. I remember waking up before 6am to the clumping sounds of footsteps and the clicking sounds of walking sticks hitting the asphalt road. I had planned on starting out at 7 that morning. I thought it was a good time to start walking to get to my next destination by 2pm that afternoon. That was not my only motivation. I also thought that starting at 7am would put me ahead of my fellow pilgrims. So, I was surprised and disappointed to discover that people started their journey so early, and ahead of me. I had the immediate impulse to get dress and catch up with them. Well, not just catch up with them. I wanted to get ahead of them. I wanted to be the leading pilgrim as though I were participating in an enlightenment race and that a special prize awaited me at the end just because I outpaced all the other pilgrims. Sad. I know. I eventually slowed down, partly because my partner and fellow pilgrim complained for two straight weeks that I was going too fast for her. The message eventually got through to me and fortunately I still accomplished an important prize at the end – some self-knowledge, without too many blisters.

As on the pilgrimage, with adult development getting ahead and being ahead is not the same as arriving. Arriving at a developmental stage requires inner work that leads to deeper self-knowledge and genuine collaboration and getting ahead is outer work that is about egotism and competition. Arriving is not exactly completing a stage, as we also need to develop horizontally.

Slowing down can help us arrive more fully. As with many other things in life, slowing down will likely be more rewarding that speeding up and getting ahead. If you hear Jennifer talks about adult development, you will likely hear her mention that development is not a race to the finish line. There’s no prize for being the most self-transformational on your deathbed or the first in your high school class to become self-authored. Development isn’t just about this theory or these forms of mind; it is the journey of our lives, the way we come to see and re-see the world around us. With adult development, irrespective of the theory or model, we truly arrive step-by-step, or stage-by-stage. We may see glimpses of more advanced stages, but so far as we know we need to develop horizontally or fill out each stage before we experience the depth and wisdom of subsequent stages.

There are many small towns and a few large cities along the Camino de Santiago. I enjoyed walking through the small towns and getting a lay of the land and the people. Walking through and learning about big cities took a lot more effort and time. There was no way I could cover those larger territories in one evening. I think of each developmental stage, level, or form of mind as a big city with many attractions and promising encounters. Racing through a city only allowed me to claim that I had been there and not that I know the place. From that experience, I now see how beneficial it is to put in the time and effort to know the terrain of each developmental stage without rushing to get to the next one. There is more at risk with attempting to rush through development than with rushing through physical places. Rushing through the developmental stages might get us somewhere, but we might still end up in over our heads in meeting the demands of our world, relationships, work, leadership, and our learning. So, slow down to fully arrive.

  1. Support from others is essential

Walking the Camino is both a solo and a communal journey. We each have to take our own steps. However, walking with others provides energetic support. It is also helpful to have someone who is familiar with the route and the terrain point out the way.

Support along the Camino

It was a blessing that I had someone in my life that knew the developmental terrain very well. Susanne Cook-Greuter provided me with invaluable support during this period. She understood what was going with me. She held me with much love, support, and challenge. She was like an Aikido master compassionately using my own developmental energy to support my growth and integration, which eventually brought me some peace. Although she told where I likely was, she left it up to me to choose the path I wanted to travel on. She never once told me “Go here” or “Go there.” For that, I am grateful. There were others who embraced me without trying to fix me.

I learned from the Camino and Susanne that it helps to have support from someone who knows the way. In one of her academic articles, Jennifer wrote that finding and pushing beyond our developmental edges to grow “sometimes requires a guide and staying there requires support”. This is one of the reasons why I am committed to being a support to others on their developmental journey. It is the journey of a lifetime.

  1. Contemplative practices, such as meditation, supports the journey

Walking 500 miles was a contemplative practice. I also developed a consistent meditation practice on the Camino. I started with 2 minutes and kept doubling the time until I was meditating for 30 minutes by the time I arrived in Santiago.

A few months after the pilgrimage, I had a series of experiences during my meditation that lead to profound peace and being embraced by love. One experience on December 17, 2017 led me to declare:

Oh what Love! What expansive Love. The weight of it. The infinitude of Love. The beauty of Love. The Allness of Love. The satisfaction of Love. Love has blocked out all else. It is All! To share that Love with all creation. There can be no, absolutely no greater work, no greater service. Oh how grateful I am to have experienced this Love. To have been this Love! What joy, infinite joy to surrender to Love!

Although contemplation and other spiritual practices can support developmental shifts, I realize that they do not guarantee it. I believe developmental readiness paves the way for contemplative practices to catalyze individual growth. From taking on these contemplative practices I have come to see pilgrimage and adult development as providing greater capacity for more expansive love.

  1. To journey on a pilgrimage and through development is to open up to a more expansive love

Being a pilgrim means that the traveler has opened himself or herself up to discovery. The focus here is not so much on what pilgrims have opened themselves up to, but the beingness of being opened. The state of openness creates room to hold self and others in new ways. This practice of holding more dimensions of self and others is to be open to love. Holding self and others is an expression of love. I met a man from Valencia on the Camino who was on his fourth round walking pilgrimage. He was on his way to walking close to 4,000 miles. He walked it the first time and just kept going. Back and forth. Back and forth. I asked him why he was doing it. He said that after walking the first 500 miles, he felt open and more connected to himself and to fellow pilgrims. So, he decided to keep walking until he felt it was time to stop. He seemed so happy. He was glowing. I experienced a version of this opening up to self and others. As I walked, I embraced more and more of what I saw as my imperfections and my authentic ways of being in the world that I once suppressed and denied. For example, before the Camino I hid the truth that as much I found some value in Christianity, Zen and Advaita Vedanta spoke more to my worldview and experience of being in the world. The more I accepted my perspectives the more I was able to accept some Christian values.

Perhaps, as some developmentalists suggest, as we advance developmentally we have greater capacity for inclusivity and acceptance. It is not surprising, then, that as we mature our capacity to love expands. We include more of ourselves, more of others (appreciation for diversity), and more of the world. This profound outcome is one of my greatest motivations for supporting adult development. To support the development of others is a great act of love. This act multiplies the practice of universal unconditional all-encompassing love and realizes individual and collective liberation. I have a vision that any space where the intentional development of others is happening is like a Buddhist Stupa where profound support and any subsequent growth combines in an unspoken mantra that circumambulate the person and magnifies and transmits

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