In August 2017, my wife and I walked a portion of the famous pilgrimage, The Way of Saint James to Santiago de Compostela or the Camino de Santiago.
We intended this to be a simple holiday – no flights, no buses, no schedule of activities, and no stress.
We began the pilgrimage from the small town of Aire-sur-l’Adour in France, then crossed the Pyrénée mountains and into Spain.
Each day was the same. We grabbed our rucksacks and boots and hit the road, one foot in front of the other, marching our way to the next hostel. Then we washed our clothes, ate some lentils and slept.
There were no museum queues to wait in. No rental car to worry about damaging. No traffic to sit in. And no wandering around looking for a restaurant that had a vegetarian option. It was wonderfully peaceful – exactly what we had hoped.
Little by little, step by step we covered 400 km in two weeks.
On our final evening, we skipped dinner and collapsed into bed at 7 pm.
We took the train home to Paris the next day for a well deserved rest.
While using the toilet on the train, I felt a squidgy lump in my lower abdomen, the size of a tennis ball emerging from within me.
“Cancer.” I immediately thought.
I didn’t hesitate to visit my doctor as soon as I returned to Paris.
“I’ve looked at your scans and you don’t have cancer,” Dr Xavier said.
“That’s great to hear,” I said, relieved.
“But, you do have an inguinal hernia. Your intestinal wall has split open and your intestines are leaking into your abdomen. It’s just a little hole but you’ll need surgery to mesh the hole closed.” Dr Xavier continued.
It wasn’t the daily hiking of the pilgrimage that had ruptured my abdominal wall. It was carrying 13kg each day in a poorly designed rucksack.
Each day, I tightened the waist support to take weight off my shoulders.
While I’d been admiring the beautiful green rolling hills, fields of yellow maize and sunflowers, mountain peaks and scorched plains, I’d been slowly squashing my intestines a little more each day, until they couldn’t take the pressure any more and exploded.
It was a hard lesson to learn how minor overlooked actions performed regularly can bring about dramatic changes – positive and negative.
Just as long lasting positive change happens through small steps, taken regularly, over time, the same happens with our bad habits. They can easily creep into our lives unseen. Then slowly, over time, they build until they’re carrying enough momentum to negatively affect our quality of life – or disembowel us. And it’s only then that we notice them.
The practice of any unhealthy habits usually has a beginning a long time ago. But once we’re aware of the bad habit, no matter how destructive it’s become, we can gently phase in new healthy habits and let the bad habits fall away.
It’s all about gradual change. A tiny act of self-care, repeated regularly, over time is forward momentum. As healthy habits grow, you’ll squeeze out the unhealthy ones.
Just keep going, little by little, step by step. Eventually, those healthy habits will become as automatic as brushing your teeth or noticing the first frost in autumn.