Apart from my struggling with the clay, the walk was wonderful and lonely. Not lonely in an unpleasant sense, but wonderfully peaceful – I felt on top of the world. This might give the impression that being alone is the preferred state – that I or we pilgrims are burdened in the company of others. Obviously this is not so, in fact, in time I, and surely most of us, would regard absence of company and lack of communication debilitating and distressing.
Communication in general and being able to communicate effectively is a major subject which I would like to examine in the context of awareness and honesty: When awareness is applied with all its attributes, it automatically raises our level of honesty. In communicating, does this mean that when we have reached a higher level of mindfulness, we have to change the way we interconnect? Do we have no option but to be totally honest, straight-forward and to the point? Can we no longer phrase statements in a less than truthful way, wrapping them in flowers for instance as is often the practice? Or should we avoid sensitive subjects so as not to press buttons? Should we alter a topic to avoid an honest reply that might hurt, or may we no longer flatter others for the purpose of making them feel good? Are we perceived to be rude when our approach is based on total and heartfelt honesty which may be construed to smack of dispensing reprimand?
Social niceties, flattery, white lies and concealment, which could also take the form of lying by omission, do not constitute the truth and are equivalent to forms of dishonesty. At present they are part of everyday interactions and without them, and in our present state, we could probably not survive. I imagine that, once everyone has gained in mindfulness, different values and priorities would apply, although it would take a giant leap of change before we were to reach this state and notice the benefits. In the meantime, if the words spoken during an awkward but necessary discussion are truly meant, are prudently selected and bare of emotional distortion, a calm atmosphere and better understanding are achievable.
Even if only a few individuals at present can bring all these attributes together without creating resistance and tension, this is a worthwhile target. Should we, including politicians and those in power apply high levels of honesty and tolerance, life in this world would be transformed.
Why do I even bother talking about this and why do I seem to question the way we communicate – or the way our mind works?
Our words are invariably coloured, and this influences our actions and interactions. People miss-represent themselves, exaggerate who they really are. Some embellish their capabilities and achievements, others undervalue and diminish their worth in a masochistic way. Both create a front behind which they feel safer.
The way we portray ourselves and think reflects our imaginary world. What we might honestly and with total conviction believe to be the truth may only be our individual truth, whereas conscious truth is universal, not based on perception.
Between loving partners, as mentioned, emotions are far more powerful and intertwined than usually is the case. As an example, what lovers say or do is more intensely examined than normally. Words are scrutinised more intensively for perceived ‘incorrectness’ and expecting answers which might never emerge can be testing. Criticism where none is intended and good intentions and sincere advice offered may be taken the wrong way and if misunderstandings occur frequently, they may develop into perpetual patterns. The best we can offer under these circumstances is to remain truthful to ourselves and convey our answers with compassion.
The more we allow our emotions to shape our responses and dictate interactions, the less we are able to be straightforward – we talk past one another, are irritable and ill at ease.
Maybe, by maintaining a light-hearted approach to life rather than being stern and critical, we can also achieve beneficial results. Maybe, by being friendly, generous with our compliments and prudent with criticism, tension can be prevented. Offering responsibility in a spontaneous way is always helpful and prevents stress, even if this seemingly incriminates us. We are the judge of our own integrity and if a confession is applicable, and therefore undertaken, this will not violate us, in fact it will be liberating.
A Pilgrim’s Rhyme
To be open and receptive,
Positive in perspective
Lets true intentions emerge
And the love that we deserve.
Learn to be honest, do this for your soul
And you will joyfully reach your goal
Keep this in clear perspective,
In this way you will serve the collective.
Avoid being raucous
Or timid in focus
There is no benefit to attain.
Consciousness provides the gain.
Remember that others,
Your sisters and brothers,
Travel with you throughout life,
Some supportive, some with strife.
Thus we need love and devotion,
No misplaced emotion.
This will give us elation
On our journey to salvation.
I now crossed the Meseta, the plateau that stretches from Burgos almost all the way to Leon. At this time the landscape was lush green from the young sprouts of wheat in the fields, stretching as far as one could see. During my summer walk in September the wheat was cut and fields had resembled dry straw.
When I say ‘a plateau’, this is relative. The countryside is still undulating and my winding path would often disappear behind the immediate hills and then become visible again further in the distance, snaking along.
Yesterday it was raining quite hard for most of the time, but today the sky was grey, the rain had ceased and walking was definitely less strenuous in drier conditions.
My next albergue was in Castrojeriz and to reach it was a long 30 km stretch. I passed through a number of villages, all around six kilometres apart, which helped to break the distance into manageable chunks. The entrance into Hontanas was steeply downhill and once more the path was covered with the inevitable white clay. I managed to get through it without slipping, but I am convinced that this treacherous stretch is, quite literally, the ‘downfall’ of many pilgrims in rainy conditions.
As I entered Hontanas, I saw someone carrying a baguette under his arm and I hoped to find the bakery – but no such luck; I should have asked him for directions, but this was too late now and there was no one else around to assist. As usual, the village appeared to be deserted. In these small places shops are often invisible – unlike to what we are used to in our parts of the world. Sales outlets may be found in house entrances, stretching into converted living rooms, but, without one knowing their locations, they cannot be spotted.
I arrived at the ruins of Convento de San Anton and after passing through the double arch spanning the road, I found a seat on an elevated manhole-type structure. This was in the afternoon and I ate my last pieces of bread and cheese and the first energy bar and gel brought along for energy-depleted conditions. I hoped this would give me vigour for the last push to Castrojeriz, only about five kilometres away.
Ruins of Convento de San Anton
When I got up to leave, the seat of my pants was moist and I was puzzled: the manhole lid did not look wet when I sat down and I was amazed that my backside could generate condensation.
My walk was rapidly coming to an end. On the following day I would reach Fromista, the town where I would finish my winter walk. The last night on this venture – and the last albergue – was in Castrojeriz. When I arrived, the door was unlocked, and although there was no soul in sight, I made myself ‘at home’. There is only one dormitory, about the size of a smallish sports hall and there were many beds to choose from. In my usual fashion, I selected the one in the furthest corner of the hall – where the ceiling lights would least disturb me and where other pilgrims would not walk past while I was resting. I always went to bed earlier than most, so I had to guard against being bothered. I need not have been concerned in this case, I was the only pilgrim for that night, just as I had been the previous night in Rabé, and the night before in Santo Domingo de Silos. I had lost Eric on arrival in Burgos and Noelia and Xavi on leaving Agés. So, for the last three nights and days I had not seen another pilgrim!
Castillo in ruins