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.