Day 13 – Triacastela to Calvor (20.7 km)
Just before seven the next morning I was on my way to the monastery in Samos. It was still pitch dark, which enhanced the brightness of the stars. Everything was quiet except for a rivulet faintly splashing on the left of the road and Amadeus the owl hooting in the distance somewhere in the forest. Slowly the sky changed to bluish-gray which made the valley and the forests appear to be even more black and solid, but suddenly I was able to distinguish individual trees and from there on it became light rapidly.
My morning timing had now changed. Near León the landscape was flat and getting up early in order to miss the midday sun was imperative. Since reaching the mountains, however, leaving too early makes walking on uneven paths in the dark a challenge, although today the first stretch was a tar road. One also does not want to miss seeing the more beautiful landscape and by being over 300 km further west from my starting point, the sun appeared noticeably later, which also changed the timing of the morning routine.
The monastery in Samos, 11.7 km past Triacastela, only opened for visitors at 12:45 – I have no idea why so late, maybe the monks attended prayer sessions. I had coffee, toast and croissants with Antjana from Finland. She was equally disappointed by the late opening times. We both were keen to know the history of this rambling place and see its interior, after all, we had made a five kilometre detour instead of taking the direct route to Sarria, to get there.
Initial structures of the monastery date as far back as the 6th century, when funds were made available by Visigoth nobles and kings to start construction. The Nobles probably trusted that their support would ensure them a place in heaven. However, the early monks and the community they supported were obliterated by the Moors in the 8th century. A new complex with central cloister was built in the 12th century. When I descended from the mountain into the valley, I saw the complete complex with the later renaissance addition, which is considerably larger than the medieval part, and the impressive baroque church behind. On my way down I stepped over a mountain stream from which a small aqueduct delivered water to the monastery. Quite innovative ‒ but no longer in use.
The medieval part of Samos Monastery
Antjana left the bar first and when I followed and passed the monastery once more, I noticed that the large church door was now open. I went up the many steps to the elevated forecourt to enter and found a group of Spanish women speaking quite animatedly to the priest. A little later a Benedictine monk took them on a tour through the monastery. Before the church doors were locked again, three pilgrims and I were asked to leave or join the guided tour. We joined and walked around the sacristy with its ornate cupboards containing a number of monstrances in one part and priests’ robes in another. Next we entered the cloister of the Renaissance structure and I thought it most odd that modern, and in my opinion kitschy murals were decorating the walls: very colourful, with leggy, quite sexy angels and contemporary scenes mixed with religious historic motifs. This was not what I had expected to find in a convent dating back so far.
We pilgrims could not understand any of the monk’s words to the animated Spanish ladies and the visit turned out to be something of a mission. Finally, after two hours hanging onto the ‘beehive’ swarming about the monk – it appeared that the ladies were quite fond of their rather dashing-looking guide – we were finally ushered to a side exit and this was a relief. However, I did solve the puzzle of the colourful wall paintings: the Monastery had burnt down and was redecorated in 1951. This was not the first destruction; in 1533, during the reformation, the complex was sacked as well and at the beginning of the 19th century it had been plundered by Napoleon’s forces.
We still had sixteen kilometres to go before reaching Sarria but I was lacking my usual good spirits and my walking became laborious. My legs showed signs of weariness and stiffness; after yesterday’s speedy walk I had run out of energy and today my body refused to cooperate. I had obviously overestimated my stamina and fitness, and today I was paying the price.
We got to an intersection where the path of the Camino to Sarria branches off to the right, leading through the countryside for a further fifteen kilometres. However, the tarred road continued straight on to Sarria and the distance was marked as nine kilometres ahead – now what? Persuaded by others and in the spirit of the Camino, I took the long route, only to question my decision as I staggered along and became even more exhausted.
In life many crossroads require a decision and the seemingly obvious advantage of one over the other might dictate our actions. But what if the initial obvious choice proves to be the mundane tar rather than the more rewarding country path? I, like everyone else, have been at numerous crossroads – was forced to make choices and live with the consequences. We will never know if our choice was right: after all, we only experience the results of the chosen path; we can never know the consequences of the path untraveled, so we cannot compare. The best we can do when we reach a junction is to evaluate our position with balanced emotions and follow what our instinct – the voice of the blueprint combined with our intellect – tells us. Once we have made a decision, we should move on without regret. This is not something I am good at, ‘perhaps I should have’ is a common notion with me.
Crossroads are everywhere. Even when interfacing with others we can choose ways to communicate. Providing we are relaxed and not thrown about by emotions, we are likely to interconnect sensibly enough. There are some basic principles available to manage dialogue. Respect could be shown in the form of a nod, a grunt or words like ‘I understand’ or ‘I am listening’ or something similar. It does not mean that we agree with the other, it merely confirms our attention. In a more heated discussion, this form of confirmation may be useful to create a momentary gap before replying, maybe long enough to avoid a knee-jerk responses.
When stirred emotions are present, and we are convinced of our being correct, any response, rational or not, can lead to confrontation which raises the question whether we always need to reply. Could we not simply ignore a question or statement? I would think ignoring a question is like turning ones back on the other person, and not regarding him or her worthy of a reply. It would leave the other in limbo. Nevertheless, irrational statements need careful responses. Maybe we can skirt around the subject, perhaps long enough until emotions have calmed.. Whichever way we handle the situation, we ought to find ways and use gestures that are not hurtful and condescending.
Some people, when feeling ‘driven into a corner’, will try to ‘escape’ by bringing up unrelated and unsolved matters of the past. This immediately blocks the chance of resolving pertinent matters. We should listen to sincere dialogues, sensitive or not, with respect, and aim to comprehend their gist before replying. If our response is triggered by just a word or phrase that has caught our attention and aroused our emotions, we will respond to a select content and judgement is purely based on a snippet. It is not likely to reflect the speaker’s intended overall meaning and this would leave both participants puzzled, even frustrated.
It is impossible for anyone to formulate each phrase and select each word in such a way as to withstand the listener’s detailed scrutiny. Gaining the full gist before responding requires patience, maybe even tolerance if the speaker has the tendency to ramble. We should aim to speak clearly and to the point, presenting our words in a form of a proposal or suggestion rather than insisting that we are right. In this way we invite responses by not closing the door.
Another aspect of creating confusion is caused by our perceptions. When relaxed and composed, they are likely to be level-headed enough, truthful within our human meaning of the word. But when vast arrays of emotions are present, perceptions become distorted. They reflect viewpoints of the moment and we insist on being ‘right’ when we clearly are not. In extreme cases arrogance is the outcome which greatly hinders dialogue.
I keep referring to being relaxed, which brings me to another subject. To be relatively successful in whatever we do and say is important. We must feel adequately understood and respected and be granted the space to pursue satisfying activities on par with our abilities and fields of interest. It is as if we must be at least 50% of the time successful in soliciting positive feedback, although this is just a notion and we all have our own benchmark.
Praise is also vital. It confirms our achievements and confidence develops when others rate us to be successful. Without praise our ego will starve and crave satisfaction from less credible sources. Is praise not also a form of gratitude, even an expression of love? Giving praise where it is due is probably one of the foundations of life and relationships. We all have our faults and problematic sides which are frequently pointed out to us. Maybe they need to be, wherever possible, offset by praise. An imbalance will affect us negatively and could create resentments. Genuine praise in a partnership will enhance love, and in daily activities it will add sympathy. If we do not find sufficient reason for praise, then the other does either not deserve it or, more likely, we are unable to express our appreciation. There are some that never see grounds for praise.
The amount of praise received also plays a part. Some may be satisfied with little praise or confirmation for their ways of being while others need far more reassurance. Positive persons are easily satisfied whereas lack of confidence puts us on guard, vigilant to criticism and displaying an irrational need for acceptance and praise.
In order to achieve positive responses we should try to raise honest questions, thereby initiating positive conversations. Do our emotions generate subjects to which we anticipate a predetermined response and exclude differing opinions as unacceptable? Do we ask questions to which we actually know the answers but still feel compelled to raise them in order to satisfy some egocentric reasons? In this way we may solicit reconfirmation in order to feel better. Maybe we subconsciously enquire purely for the purpose to be set right, seeking punishment in a masochistic way.
Maybe we even expect the other to know our needs without communicating these. We want them to reply according to our expectations and are surprised, even hurt, when they do not. The human being is a complex creature with many competing or contradictory attributes and in order to feel good and sufficiently appreciated we can go to extreme lengths. The only way in which we can achieve truthful living and reduce being overly dependent on praise is by developing awareness and self-respect. In this way our reactive emotions diminish and we can choose more wisely when we come to crossroads.
An extra six kilometres and at least one-and-a half hours of added time is quite taxing for weary legs. Should I have been more realistic when choosing the country path to Sarria?
The deciding factor was that the direct route is on a regional tar road – no villages – whereas the path of the Camino leads under trees, alongside a small river and past three settlements with Romanesque churches. Old statues adorn their altars and the seating is for merely a handful of people. I believe that walking the Camino path was the right choice in this case: we are walking in the footsteps of pilgrims from centuries past, and just because other roads have been built since does not mean that we should follow them.
The day was long and difficult and in the end I only did about twenty one kilometres and did not reach Sarria. A new albergue, not mentioned in my guidebook, showed up just in time. The facilities were modern: there were only eight beds per dormitory and a tiled bathroom was attached. We were four pilgrims in our room – a real luxury!
Months after the first draft of Journey of a Stickman was completed, inadvertently I came across ‘My Stroke of Insight’, a book written by Dr Jill Bolte Taylor, a teacher and researcher in the field of neurology at Harvard Medical School in Boston. As a scientist she is practical, factual and driven to perfection, until at the age of thirty six, she had a stroke and her book, published by Hodder & Stoughton in 2008, describes her initial trauma and related experiences.
During the process of her recovery, she consciously compared her healing process with her knowledge in neurology. Some of her findings contribute to, clarify and complement my views on human behaviour. In the comparison I largely describe these using my own words and metaphors.
Although the haemorrhage had seriously damaged her left brain and she was partially paralysed and speechless, her still-functioning right brain allowed her to clinically observe what happened during the various stages of her recovery and she realized that there are far more dimensions to life than factual science.
With her right brain fully intact, she experienced life intuitively and without the intrusion of any judgement from her left brain. She observed an intensely peaceful existence, although this one-sidedness distorted her comprehension to such an extent that she could no longer function practically. She discovered that her right and left brains needed to operate jointly and in harmony with one another to cope with everyday life.
For instance, with her right brain she come across peace and tranquillity and observed wonderful pictures. However, her body movements, logical thinking and all other left brain tasks failed. At the same time, constant ‘mind-chatter’, with its criticism, impatience, anger, frustration, fears, anxieties, moods and trepidations, discontinued and she came into contact with much calmer feelings and thoughts. She saw the value of this tranquil state and wanted to preserve it during the rehabilitation and recovery stages.
The right brain, she explains, is free to think intuitively and ‘outside the box’. It sees pictures of the present moment without being inhibited by any comparisons with the past or contemplations of the future – which are created by the left brain. Through the right brain we understand the here and now in an uncensored way – the naked truth ‒ facing the moment without distortion and discoloration. From this we can conclude that our creative right brain by its design is truthful, spontaneous and carefree. It has no burden of judgement and is liberated from complex analysis.
This means that if two persons could simultaneously think and respond to one another solely through their right-hand brains there would probably be no misunderstandings. Both would speak the relevant truth applicable to that moment – in that slice in time – without analysing what it means in the wider context of the past and the future. At the same time, the two would disclose whatever is in their right, intuitive brain and mind without considering the other persons’ feelings and this would, under these circumstances, be quite acceptable. There would be no negative emotions, no egos, no awkward feelings and the participants would not need to be considerate or apprehensive of saying the ‘wrong’ thing – tip-toeing around the other. The exchange would be bare of fear and prejudice and everybody would be perceived as an equal member of the human family. This might sound marvellous, but as Dr Bolte Taylor points out, both hemispheres are designed to complement one another, each fulfilling essential tasks without which we cannot survive. Both have their input on just about every action we undertake and every aspect of our intelligent comprehension. One of the functions of our left brain is to string the time slices of the right brain’s pictures together and in this way create a movie which adds meaning.
The interaction between the two halves of the brain can best be compared with the operation of now obsolete Super-8 movie camera systems. Similar to what the right brain does, the movie camera takes 18 individual pictures (frames) per second. Each frame on the celluloid film is visible as a still picture, representing a slice of time – taken in a particular moment during filming. When we view these movies, the projector, similar to the left brain, transfers each picture onto the screen and this again happens at a rate of 18 pictures per second. This sequence of frames offers an illusion that we are watching an uninterrupted scene ‒ whereas in reality what we see is a progression of still motives.
When only the right brain is active, without the functions of the left brain, this moving experience would not exist. There would be no continuous projection of pictures and we would see single frames – momentary slices.
With the left brain functioning in a normal way, it continually compares each new picture from the right brain with the previous one and strings the differences together. It then draws conclusions based on the ongoing momentary disparities. In other words, it allows us to compare and evaluate the experiences of the past with those of the present. It provides us with depth-of-life occurrences, which are our memories as well as future desires. Maybe this can be compared with observing a 3-D movie: we can see valleys and hills of our past and future.
However, this would still be a picture in black and white, except that the left brain mixes emotional differences from the right brain into the picture sequences and these may be positive or negative. We now see the bright colours of love and happiness, the dark colours of fear, greed, resentment and despair and all colours between the two. We can see the total composition perfectly assembled by the left brain and are stimulated to be creative and passionate which may be advantageous or destructive.
Without having the left brain’s ability to draw comparisons and deriving at conclusions, we would miss out on all expressive pictures, including our positive and intensely loving emotions with its kaleidoscope of feelings. We would not want to be without these, nor would we want to be without sexual desires and its passionate actions.
With the left brain isolated, we might experience love, for instance, in a nebulous way, or rigid and with ups and downs that we are familiar with. Maybe love experienced purely through the right brain makes us exaltedly happy, but with the left brain dysfunctional, we could not act out this rose-tinted illusion in any practical way.
On arrival in Calvor I met Bruce, a retired restorer of historic architecture from Sussex, England. Bruce was seventy one years old and was the oldest pilgrim I had encountered so far. He had previously walked various short sections of the Camino and had enjoyed every one of them. Before retiring, Bruce was a consultant to the government and to the private sector in Britain, providing advice on the restoration of historic castles, country houses and mansions. He was responsible for work being carried out according to original practices and historically correct. We touched on history, shifted to music and spun a yarn about how the famous composers such as Bach or Mozart, for instance, earned their often meagre living, and how their music was ordered by high society and wealthy patrons. It provided a typical example of the way societies were and still are controlled by the elite and the well-to-do’s: Mr Average is just a foot soldier. Bruce and I contemplated and dreamt for a long while and I enjoyed just letting the mind paint pictures and bantering with someone of similar disposition. In the evening we joined the communal dinner
I was the first to leave the next morning and said goodbye to Bruce. I never saw him again and I now regret that we missed exchanging email addresses. The other two occupants in our room were Francine and Miguel, the French couple I had mentioned before and who always greeted me with a hearty hug.