I recently returned from Spain, where I walked a section of the Camino de Santiago for 12 days. The entire route takes five weeks. This route across northern Spain has been walked by pilgrims for more than a thousand years and is well-marked and supported with places to stay, eat, and get water. Over a quarter million people walk each year, some for religious reasons, many for personal or spiritual motives. Walking 14 miles a day with a backpack holding all I needed gave me time to reflect on the connections to recovery. The 12 Step path is a pilgrimage—well-marked, traveled successfully by millions, with a guidebook and support throughout the way. There's no need to be in the wilderness of recovery, bushwhacking our way through unknown territory. We do, however, have to walk it to receive the benefits of awakening spiritually. To only read others' accounts or hear their stories is not enough for lasting change. The route I took, called the Camino Frances, does not require special mountaineering skills. It went uphill and downhill but mostly in a gradual fashion. What was required was stamina, which I had. So too in recovery. While the work to get and stay sober is hard, it's not beyond any individual's ability. The challenge comes in doing it all over again tomorrow, for my inner addict would love to have more drama and excitement than showing up sober, doing what I'm supposed to, and being useful to the world. Honoring stamina and consistency, watching miles or days unfold slowly, becomes a new skill. A spiritual teacher once said, "Patience is a beautiful path." People are willing and even eager to offer support, but usually I had to ask because no one can read my mind. When I wasn't sure where to go, I asked the first person I saw. When I needed help finding the right food, getting lodging for the night, or understanding something, I asked. I found everyone to be willing to listen to my rusty Spanish and offer assistance. People like to be helpful. In recovery, we have a kinship among us that transcends geography and other differences, but until I'm willing to ask for guidance (get a sponsor, ask for clarification on Step work, stick around for coffee after a meeting to hear someone's hopeful experience) I may feel alone and overwhelmed. Being a foreigner made asking for help easy. How can I be a beginner in recovery for the rest of my days? While being with others along the pathway was nourishing, fun, and essential, insight occurred when I was alone with my own thoughts and in connection with my higher power. The 12 Steps ask us to inventory ourselves thoroughly (Step 4) and daily (Step 10) and to spend undistracted reflective time (Step 11) noticing what's happening in our spirit. We have inner guidance flowing through us constantly. On the Camino, it comes in the form of yellow arrows or a seashell symbol to indicate where the path is. Any time there was a possible option, there'd be an arrow to show me the way. Soon I had radar for these signs and learned to trust the first arrow rather than need more. Similarly, I believe our Higher Power helps keep us on the path of our heart's desire, and that there are confirming signs all along the way if we have eyes to see them. I never had an advanced reservation along the Camino, but I always had a bed. I listened moment by moment to when to rest, when to stop, where to stay, and it always worked out. Learning to trust our intuition is part of the 12 Step path of recovery. While we might not get it right every time, distinguishing between the wily voice of the addict and the loving whisper of spirit becomes the challenge and joy of daily work. Being connected to something greater than myself allowed me to feel more alive, which led to gratitude and wanting to be useful to others. Because I was outdoors 12 hours a day, walking on gravel paths through olive groves, vineyards, and forests, I literally felt a connection to Earth I don't often experience in Minneapolis. I could see the horizon and the curves of the earth. Several times each day I stopped to soak in the beauty, turning slowly in a circle and saying, "Wow." Perhaps because the vista was so vast, my thoughts turned global and I contemplated people and places all over the planet. I fell in love with Spain, because it's easier to love specifically, but that movement of my heart filling with awe, wonder, and appreciation led me to feel connected to all that is. Recovery happens in community, and putting ourselves in the middle allows us to feel a sense of belonging we often sought through our initial use of substances that became addictive. Countering isolation, alienation, and rejection requires remaining open and real with those we encounter on this journey. Appreciation makes the time fly. I played little games, naming parts of my body I appreciated, remembering teachers, listing places that I treasure. When I focused on what was working, I had more energy than when I focused on an ache or the hot sun. I was blessed to not get any blisters, in part, I believe, because I thanked my shoes every morning before I put them on, much as I feel love for my car each time I get behind the wheel. Gratitude in recovery can be a sign of spiritual fitness, and self-pity and resentments don't thrive in an environment of appreciation. If we can fall in love with a home group, have an intimate relationship with a sponsor and sponsees, get vulnerable and tender with specific people and our higher power every day our spirit grows. When we do this, we add to global recovery, creating a ripple effect of possibility and hope that may reach people we will never know. Do not underestimate the power of resting. I stopped every two hours to sit, take my shoes off (sometimes my socks) and drink water. A 20-minute break completely revived me and I started walking again with fresh energy. The times I postponed resting were not worth it. When my body told me to rest it was best to do so as soon as I could. I also removed social media from my phone and found greater mental spaciousness and connection than I do when every spare moment is spent consuming information or images on a screen. In recovery, resting doesn't mean to stop doing the daily work that gives us a reprieve from addiction, such as going to meetings, calling a sponsor, working the Steps, praying and meditating, doing service. Our innermost self or spirit rests when we walk into a meeting eager to connect, or become honest about how we're doing, or answer the phone and listen without an agenda. Honor your heart's desires. I have wanted to walk the Camino for almost 10 years. I read memoirs, saw a movie about it, and talked with people who had done it. At the end of a documentary, the producers dedicated their film to anyone who "has heard the call" and I burst into tears. This was a call! Two years ago I planned to walk, but a family tragedy made me rethink the timing. I put the idea to rest until someone asked, "When are you going on the trip?" I burst into tears all over again, which told me it was more important than I realized. So I bought a ticket to Madrid, hiking shoes, and a guidebook. It's immensely satisfying to follow a dream and to accomplish even a small portion of a big goal. I walked 145 miles and hope to return and complete the route from Burgos, where I stopped due to time considerations. My body and soul would have happily walked the rest of the way. Recovery provides a foundation to do your life's work and to fulfill dreams that have been veiled, buried, or discarded in active addition. I invite you to take some action towards what your heart desires each day, utilize the support along this pilgrimage of 12 Step recovery, and enjoy watching your hopes manifest into life experiences.