Karin Kiser: I love Spain and have been hiking all my life. I spent a semester in Sevilla in college but didn’t hear about the camino until more than a decade later when I read Paulo Coelho’s The Pilgrimage. That was 2008. After reading his book I knew I would be walking the camino someday.It took three years before wanting to walk the camino transformed into needing to walk it. My life was out of balance. I had two businesses and was working all the time. I was not fulfilled professionally or personally. I needed to step back and reassess my life. Six weeks along the camino seemed like a perfect opportunity to do just that.
Galiwonders: Did you have any expectations on how would it be like?
Karin Kiser: I purposely didn’t read anything about the Camino before going. I wanted to have my own experience, without any specific expectations or reference points from others. I didn’t take a phone or a camera – just a basic guidebook. I wanted to completely disconnect from technology and my daily routine and fully immerse myself in the present experience.
I did, however, expect it to be physically challenging. Although I have been doing day hikes for many years, I typically carry little more than my car keys, a piece of paper and a pen. So I knew having a backpack, no matter what it weighed, would be challenging. I was right. There were days along the camino where I ruminated for hours over the contents of my pack, taking mental inventory as I walked, wondering if I really needed that Ace bandage or that bandana others promised would be indispensable. There were moments when I became obsessed with identifying something, anything, to lighten my load, even if it meant donating a single safety pin to that night’s albergue.
Galiwonders: What was your main inspiration to write these books?
Karin Kiser: For years, I’ve been writing, brainstorming and even meditating while I walk. I get some of my best ideas and realizations when I am walking.
The idea for these books came to me during my second camino in 2017. I was working on material for my “Live This Moment” Mastery Program, which includes taking a small group along a three-week section of the camino. I thought, why not condense what I was already teaching in my programs into pocket-size books to make the material accessible to a much wider audience? With books I could potentially reach thousands of people, not just the handful that work with me personally each year.
My mission is to help people be more alive, more conscious, and more in harmony with nature. People who walk the camino seem to be naturally open to self-reflection and change. My hope is that more people embrace the contemplative aspects of pilgrimage and realize the unlimited nature of their own potential.
Galiwonders: What encouraged you to repeat the Camino, to share and help other pilgrims on route?
Karin Kiser: When I arrived at Finisterre in 2011 and stood at the cliffs overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, I thought to myself, “if only there were more land, I would keep walking.” I knew in that moment I would be back. There was much more to explore, both in terms of pilgrimage routes throughout Spain and in terms of my own personal growth.
As for sharing and helping other pilgrims along the route, I think sharing and assisting others is an inherent part of being a pilgrim. For me, it just happened organically. If you’ve lived in a large city like Chicago or New York you quickly learn to ignore virtually everyone you pass on the street. Everyone is going about the day within their own personal bubble. The camino is a stark contrast to that way of interacting. Because nearly everyone shares a common goal and purpose – walking toward Santiago – you can naturally relate to others. They are doing what you are doing. There is a common experience of physical, mental and emotional challenge. When people realize this, even if only on a subconscious level, it becomes natural to want to share and help others you encounter along the way.
Galiwonders: What Camino de Santiago routes did you hike? Which route was the one that fulfilled you the most emotionally-wise?
Karin Kiser: Apart from the sections I walk with clients, I have personally walked the camino three times. All of it on the camino francés. The first was with my partner at the time. The second time was alone. For the third one, my original plan was to walk the camino del norte after volunteering for two weeks as a hospitalera in Galicia. Apparently the camino had another plan for me.
Ever since my first camino I was disheartened by the amount of trash I saw along the route. I was determined to play a part in leaving the camino in better condition than when I found it. Unfortunately, for all my good intentions, the last thing I wanted to do while walking all day fully loaded with a backpack and trekking poles was stop and collect some rubbish. Bending down with a full pack seemed a Herculean task. So my cleanup efforts were limited to areas where I was already resting without the load of backpack.
Last year when I was volunteering in Galicia, I was finally free of the backpack and could begin to pick up trash in earnest. During those two-weeks I assumed responsibility for the 3km stretch on either side of the albergue and rounded up a dozen bags of waste. It was an incredible experience.
More than one passing pilgrim snapped a photo of me collecting trash, which I found bizarre. Another shot a video. And then there was the pilgrim who, upon seeing me in a ditch on the opposite side of the path, picked up an empty can from his side – with his backpack on – and approached me with a huge smile as he deposited the can in my bag. It was a moment in equal parts touching and humbling. It inspired me to continue.
Instead of writing along the camino del norte during my remaining time in Spain, I returned to Roncesvalles to continue my cleanup effort. I devised a three-day strategy. Day One: walk all day with my backpack, get a room for three consecutive nights and write in the evenings. Day Two: leave the pack in the room and walk back, collecting trash in the direction I had just traversed the day before. Day Three: walk ahead, clearing the path I would be walking tomorrow. Then repeat. I wasn’t able to cover the entire camino francés with this strategy, but I put a serious dent in the Roncesvalles-to-Pamplona, Burgos-to-Sahagún and Ponferrada-to-La Faba sections.
The experience was transformative. It added a new dimension to my work. I decided then that part of the proceeds from these two new books would be used to support maintenance efforts along the camino.
Galiwonders: Your Inner Camino reveals many tips that could be applied at any time of our life. Many of them are fundamental to find in some way the balance within our environment, to appreciate every moment of our life, to listen to every second of our existence and free ourselves from the negative comments that only dynamite our behavior and well-being. What do you think that influenced you the most and made you realize about this?
Karin Kiser: On the camino I experienced what being fully alive felt like, using all of your six senses. I remembered how to see the world as a five-year old does, where every moment is new, unexpected and full of wonder. Part of the magic of the camino is that for most of us, it’s a one-way journey. Each moment is new, never to be repeated. It’s a reference point I return to often in my day-to-day life outside the camino.
It’s liberating to realize that life at home is also a one-way trip. Just like we did on the camino, we can step out of our routines, habits and perpetual ways of thinking at home as well. You can feel more alive right now. You can change how you think and what you believe – in this very moment. Sometimes it can be challenging to modify habits and beliefs you’ve practiced for years. Unless you make a radical change immediately upon returning from the camino, it’s quite easy to get sucked into the same routines and personal dynamics you had before you left. I know this from personal experience, which is why I wrote After the Camino and made it pocket size. You can literally carry it around with you in your pocket to remind you of the lessons and joys of “the pilgrim way.”
Galiwonders: How has your life changed after doing the Camino? And after writing these books?
Karin Kiser: In the six years that passed between my first and second camino, I ended two personal relationships, closed two businesses, started another business, sold my home and wrote two books. They say the camino provides. They’re right.
What I didn’t anticipate during my first trek soon became clear six years later on the second. I was meant to be involved in the camino beyond just walking it. That second camino led to volunteering at an albergue, picking up 65 bags of trash along the camino francés last year and now these two new books. I’m excited to see where my camino journey will take me next!
Galiwonders: Who do you think this guide could be essential for?
Karin Kiser: Some walk the Camino de Santiago as an adventure or physical challenge. Others as a vacation or break from their lives. Your Inner Camino was written for those who want both the inner and the outer experience. People at a crossroads in life, those in transition from a career or relationship, people looking for something more out of life or even those who are not quite sure why they are on the camino will find the book a trusty companion. It’s a bit like having a personal coach, a comedian and a therapist all in one – right in your pocket for easy access while you’re walking.
The second book, After the Camino, is essential for anyone who has walked a pilgrimage route to Santiago – and especially those who walk for several weeks or more. The Camino de Santiago changes you. Returning home can be disorienting. My intention with this book was to help pilgrims incorporate what I call “the pilgrim way” into their new post-camino life. It offers strategies to ease the transition, simplify your life and add more meaning to each day.
Galiwonders: After reading your books, I think your experiences were very close to the Slow Life movement. You show us how important is to see everything in detail, from a present perspective. Not only in terms of “carpe diem”, but enjoying every second and connecting with nature. Trying new things and getting out from your own comfort zone. How do you think the planet could change if everyone understood and applied this too?
Karin Kiser: In today’s fast-paced world, we’ve become used to living from our heads. We repeatedly think about the past and judge ourselves and everyone around us through the lens of our past experiences. We also obsess about possible future scenarios, most of which never actually happen. Often without realizing it, we allow our minds to run our lives.
The camino offers us an opportunity to step out of that programming. We are forced to let go of our habits and routines and focus on each moment, on each step. Only when you shift your focus away from pondering the past or projecting into the future can you fully experience the moment that you are in, right now. There are no problems in the present moment. Abiding in the present moment is a powerful practice in self-mastery. I think the world would be a much brighter place if more people had that awareness.
Galiwonders: You have said that nobody knows your history at the Camino. Nobody is going to judge you, because nobody knows who you are, where you come from or anything about your past. The truth is that most of the time human beings are anchored to the past, memories that won’t allow us to move forward. Maybe it is possible to start every day from a new positive perspective, but… did you realize about this all before or right after walking the Camino?
Karin Kiser: For me it has been an ongoing process. Part of my work with clients is to uncover and upgrade limiting beliefs and stories. A belief is just a thought you have over and over. You can change the thoughts, beliefs and stories you tell yourself. The camino offers a great testing ground for this. When you step on the camino, you step out of your daily routines and roles. You can experience the real you that is underneath the roles you play as mother, father, son, friend, employee, boss, housewife, brother, American, conservative, vegetarian, senior citizen… the list of roles we adopt is endless. When you realize the authentic you is beyond all of that, it is easier to start each day from a fresh perspective.
Guide for life
Galiwonders: There was something that got my attention. We leave our comfort zone when we do the Camino because we meet people from abroad that we may probably never see again. People from distant cultures, who probably live thousands km away from us, so we must open ourselves to the world. We may find help in someone we do not see again. We may become a little more tolerant and stop making judgments about other people, without even having the chance to meet them… So do you think the Camino actually makes you a friendlier person?
Karin Kiser: I think the camino gives us an opportunity to make us a more aware person. You can become more self-aware – why you think what you think and why you do what you do. You can become more aware of nature and the interconnectedness of people and the environment. You can also become aware of the incredible commonalities you have with others, regardless of where they are from, how old they are or what language they speak. That awareness naturally brings to the surface an openness and a friendliness that is already inside you.
Galiwonders: All these books are a life teaching. They are not a guide of the Camino. Not even a spiritual guide. They are a guide for life. A guide to learn to accept others and also yourself, to see the opportunities instead of the problems, to appreciate every second, minute, hour, month and year of our lives. No self-awareness, just listening to our inner voice that leads us to a world without hard feelings.
Your books inspire us to see the Camino as a path of peace, where there’s no hatred, resentment or negative thoughts. They bring us together in order to allow others to travel their own paths without fear of starting a new adventure, a new Camino, a new Life! To overcome each obstacle with a smile and building the best version of ourselves.
It is not only the Camino as a pilgrimage route, it is the Camino as a way of life. It is a breath of fresh air to get up again and feel alive!
Karin Kiser: Absolutely. The Camino is an opportunity to see and experience our essential nature. The books offer that same invitation, whether or not you walk across Spain.
Get your copy
Galiwonders: Thank you very much for your time, Karin. It’s been a pleasure for us to have the opportunity to interview you. We hope you can continue sharing these experiences and more people doing the Camino could use your guide as a reference.
Karin Kiser: Thank you for such thoughtful questions, Silvia. It was a great pleasure, indeed. If your audience is interested in getting a copy of Your Inner Camino or After the Camino, the paperbacks are available www.CaminoChroniclesPress.com and the digital editions are available at www.Amazon.com. Part of the proceeds from the sale of these books goes toward maintaining the infrastructure and integrity of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage routes.
I look forward to bringing the green booklet on my Camino because I like to have something meaningful to read each day, yet the small size won’t weigh me down. I’ll read the yellow one when I return home, because the PCBs (post-Camino Blues) are a thing!
Oh, and they are available in Spanish too.