Samvega is a state of disillusionment with life that leads to a vehement and urgent search for truth, and an emergence from suffering, delusion and confusion (as stated by Stephen Cope in The Wisdom of Yoga. I couldn’t put it any better so I didn’t try.)
It’s basically the moment when you realise you are The Toad. The Toad that is sat in a pan of water on a hob, festering there, as the gas heats the pan which heats the water that gradually rises in temperature around The Toad. The Toad, being a toad, fails to notice the steadily increasing heat and is slowly boiled alive. This analogy came from a dear friend of mine after a particularly bad break up. I recall that when she first told me this I felt so sad for her and slightly disturbed. I had no idea that I too would come to relate to The Toad.
This tale ends well for both my friend and I. But the reason I bring this up is it occurred to me that I actually had my samvega moment years before I thought I did.
One Christmas a couple of years ago, I was sat with my parents watching The Way. This film features Martin Sheen walking the Camino de Santiago, a famous Catholic pilgrimage, from the French side of the Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela. He meanders through quaint Spanish towns, undulating green hills and forests filled with light and bird life. The film does not show the soulless horror of the motorways, the creepy dead towns along the way or the 100 bed dorms full of snoring, farting, Italian men (you know who you are).
Yes, you guessed it, I took myself off walking and not only was I daft enough to buy in, so were two of my friends. You see at that point in time I had ended my employment at a private law firm and was embarking on an alternative legal career. I felt disconnected, a little sad and also completely fed up of the noise and overload of information, people, and limitless things to do that my ever so lovely life in London provided. I was ungrateful and grumpy and I wanted to strip it all back.
We could only take 10 days and the full Camino takes about 6 weeks. We (I mean I, I was in charge) set ourselves the target of walking 202.5km starting in Ponferrada in 9 days. It was the most difficult, challenging, emotional and painful experience of my life (until I went to India for the 200 hours Yoga Teacher Training)! It was also one of the most enjoyable, and the sincerest bonding experience I’ve had with two wonderful ladies I can still call the best of friends. We squabbled, we limped, we popped blisters (one man actually named me ‘Blister girl’). We ate our body weight in croissants and downed Sangria by the jug each afternoon. We carried what little we needed on our backs, and each morning we packed up and trundled off to our next destination, to our next dorm room and our next plate of tapas.
When we arrived in Santiago de Compostela we entered the beautiful Cathedral for the mass which is held every day for pilgrims such as my friends and I. Every day pilgrims walk the Camino for different reasons, in different states of health, at different stages of life. I was amazed and humbled by the more elderly pilgrims we met along the way, by those who walk for their faith, for lost loved ones, and those like me who had just simply lost their way. For the first time in a long time, I felt the beauty of spirituality in the comfort of a church – a home for souls. This was the moment I realised how closed off I was, how isolated, how fearful of losing control that I had become. I realised that I needed to find answers in other places than in my work, in my friendships, in my relationships and I began an inner inquiry – finding meditation and yoga as sources of comfort and peace.
It’s a funny feeling when you realise that everything you were searching for can actually be found from within. And if I’d known then what I know now I could have saved my feet from all those blisters!
 I have nothing against Toads nor were any Toads harmed in the writing of this article or at any time by me or my friend.