Winter Camino – day 13 > excerpt 2

Castrojeriz is an unusually stretched-out town. It nestles along the base of a conical mountain with the impressive ruins of a great castle above. To warrant this size of castle and this rather large village, there must have been considerable fighting around here, probably first between Muslim and Christian forces and at a later stage between Castile and Aragon.

To my surprise I found a supermarket in a room smaller than our lounge at home, but size did not matter. In the excitement I bought far too much – queso, smoked chorizo, ham, jam, fruit and a box of biscuits – to celebrate my last night.

Further on I stumbled across a bar that served menu del dia inclusive of a bottle of wine. The place was small and cozy, and the bar looked rather quaint with lots of bottles displayed against the wall behind the counter to the left as one entered. Opposite the entrance was a passage to the back of the building, probably to the owner’s living quarters. On the right was the dining area with three tables and an adjacent storage space, full of crates and bottles. Every inch was used, but this did not detract from the cosiness, and the pleasant proprietor couple added to the warm atmosphere.

The owner proudly showed me a picture of himself and Paulo Coelho, the Brazilian writer who had walked the Camino and wrote the best-seller ‘The Pilgrimage’, which relates to his experiences on the way to Santiago and takes the reader through some rather esoteric thoughts. Some believe he never did do the walk or that he never stayed in albergues, (there were only a few albergues in 1986) and that the book is a fake. However, here was a photo of the author at the entrance to the bar with the owner at his side. Irrespective of the rumours, this proves that Coelho had been in Castrojeriz.

I felt well fed and satisfied, and while reading in my bunk on returning to the albergue, I had several biscuits to conclude the day – my last night on this winter walk was relaxing.

The importance of the way our emotions affect us and the part that neurology plays warrants a closing comment from Dr Bolte Taylor on this subject. She maintains in her book ‘My Stroke of Insight’ that it is possible to control neuron responses under certain conditions. Scientists have established that, when buttons are pressed and our emotions are sensitized, chemicals are released and activate the emotional reflexes that derail interactions. The more neuron circuits are negatively charged, the more chemicals are secreted, causing further aggravating volatile responses. The good news is that in about 90 seconds these chemicals are filtered out and ‘fight or flight’ responses, which our neuron reflexes can be compared with, are no more. After 90 seconds, nature’s emotion-stimulation dissolves and from a neurological point of view all is calm again. Afterwards it is our choice whether to continue with the initial momentum, or whether we can let the matter be. We cannot alter the design of our neurological system and the way in which it may affect us and others, nor can we change the chemical process, but we can distinguish between that which nature has provided with some purpose and how we use our mind. It is a matter of neutralizing heightened emotions after the aggressive chemistry has dissipated. We can stall our reactions when involuntary chemical anger and aggression or unwarranted despair are triggered and after 90 seconds prevent the brain from continuing on its intended course.

We could make it a habit to create a gap between hearing and reacting: perhaps we can take a deep breath and delay the result of our brain functions. We could make it a point to verbally confirm our interest, or just verify our attention with a grunt or ‘hmmm’ sound. This might use up some of the 90-seconds. Perhaps we can learn to hold back our emotions for a while ‒ or for as long as possible. It could be compared to sitting on one’s hands when tempted to throw a punch. In so doing we may respond like balanced human beings.

For those on the receiving end, the book The Seat of the Soul, written by Gary Zhukov and Linda Francis, suggests creating a gap between hearing and responding. They advocate that in this gap, pictorially speaking, we literally ‘catch’ the words spoken to or hurled at us, examine their contents, discard what is not appropriate and accept only that which is fitting. This is one way of handling responses; however, in reality and in the heat of the moment most accusations create counter accusations and neuron circuits of both parties are in fullest action. Finding appropriate ways of dealing with upheavals is difficult but worth pursuing.

On another matter; with our left brain comparing the past with the present and drawing conclusions by evaluating differences, we continually arbitrate and analyse. This makes us judge and assess where we stand in relation to others. We attach labels of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ to people and life experiences and our ego may add desires or resentments. For instance, we might be compelled to compare our social and financial standings, our appearance and habits and many other aspects of life pertaining to the people around us. These stimulations can be beneficial or detrimental, and again the outcome depends on the way our neuron circuits are configured – positively or negatively.

      Obviously, the more effectively we can initially prevent negative build-up in neural systems, the less the chemical effect and inappropriate emotional conduct will come to the fore.

Dr Bolte Taylor confirms my own thoughts that neuron circuits are either neutral, positive or negative – that positively charged neuron circuits create positive memories and actions, and negatively charged circuits create negative emotions which result in lack of understanding and disorder. Neutral circuits represent the balance between the two.

In her book she states ‘our ego is the driving force and our mind is the voice, the interpreter and the negotiator’. In our mind we repeat, even exaggerate experiences stored in sensitised circuits. We need to become aware that, even if our ego initially protests, when we become more adaptable and accept our responsibility, we are on the path to reduce negative charges.  ‘Even negative events can be valuable life lessons if we are willing to experience them with compassion’ is another quote. On recovery of her brain she confirms that: ‘Now that my left mind’s language centres and storyteller are back to functioning normally, I find my mind not only spins a wild tale once more but again has a tendency to hook into negative patterns of thought. I have found that the first step of getting out of these recurring loops of negative thought or emotions is to recognise when I am hooked into them. Learning to listen to your brain from the position of a non-judgmental witness may take some practice and patience, but once you master this awareness, you become free to step beyond the worrisome drama and trauma of your mind, the storyteller.’

In my words: when others ‘attack’ us, we need to become courageous matadors: as the bull approaches, we step aside, avoid the horns and let the danger pass. We might experience two bulls in the ring; one is our own, nervous and reacting to our oversensitive buttons. We can harness him, make sure that we have far better control of our behaviour, and manage any untoward behaviour of others. The other bull is beyond our control and all we can do is avoid its horns, should he behave irrationally.

Dr Bolte Taylor furthermore states: ‘I always end my e-mails with a tag-line quote from Einstein. I believe he got it right when he said, ‘I must be willing to give up what I am in order to become what I will be.’ She continues: ‘I learned the hard way that my ability of living this life is completely dependent on the integrity of my neuron circuitry. Cell after cell, circuit by neuron circuit, the consciousness I experience within my brain is the collective awareness established by those little entities as they weave together the web I call my mind. Thanks to their neural plasticity and their capacity to shift and change their connections with other cells, you and I walk the earth with the ability to be flexible in our thinking, adaptable to our environment, and capable of choosing who and how we want to be in the world. Fortunately, how we choose to be today is not predetermined and dependent on how we were yesterday’.

My stumbling over Dr Bolte Taylor’s book was again proof that when the mind is dealing with specific subjects, relevant information makes itself available as if guided by invisible powers. Uta claimed to have borrowed the book ‘My Stroke of Insight’ from the public library, but when wanting to extend the lending period, it turned out that it was not a library book at all and we had no idea how we had obtained it and where it originated from. Weeks later the puzzle was resolved: our daughter Nadja had left it at our apartment.

Posted in Blog, Winter Walk permalink

About Dieter Daehnke

Born in 1941 in Gdansk, Poland. In March 1945 the family fled the Russian army. Met my wife Uta in Hamburg and as she is South African, I followed her home. We live in Cape Town, have 3 children, and 2 wonderful grandchildren. I established an Engineering company and since its sale, I enjoy walking Caminos. I have recently completed my book 'Journey of a Stickman'.

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