After Larrasoaña, Pamplona was now a manageable sixteen and a half kilometres away and we had a beautiful walk right up to the bridge over the río Ulzama, which leads to the outskirts of the city. On the way we zigzagged five times over the río Arga and then, close to the fortified old city centre, crossed the famous Romanesque Puente Magdalena, modified over the centuries like most historic structures are. That amounted to six bridges in one day!
The sun was bright and the air was crisp and what a difference this made compared to yesterday’s dreary day! Shade covered most of the path, and, as this was a Sunday, many strollers were on the way and many ‘Buenos Dias’ or, in short, ‘Bon Dia’ were exchanged.
Uta and I had previously stayed in Pamplona, so I just visited the familiar sites again, had a tortilla in the bar we frequented during our previous visit, sat for a while in the cathedral during high mass and changed a plaster on my heel on Plaza Mayor. There was sufficient time left in the afternoon to walk to Cizur Menor where a very comfortable albergue, managed by an elderly mother hostelleria, was perfect for the night. I was the first pilgrim to arrive and had the good fortune to receive a lecture on how to lace and tie my boots in order to prevent sore heels and I never experienced blisters again. The secret appears to be to tighten laces quite loosely, especially above the ankles. We then spoke about the inclement weather as well as the mud and steep up-and-down paths. The good lady described that the Camino is just like our path through life: one must learn to deal with the many different conditions one encounters and overcome the obstacles that present themselves.
This made me appreciate that the way we handle every day’s ups and downs has serious influences on the way we live. Is our conduct rational towards others, can we stay focused when the wheels come off? Can we concentrate on the essence of a problem and find solutions, or are we lamenting and despairing, accusing and blaming? Life is not meant to be a bed of roses; it is like a compulsory school and a curriculum is obligatory to all of us. Some may find their lessons manageable, they are consequently less burdened by ignorance, prejudice, defensiveness and anger. For others life is hard and challenging, and work is to be done.
In order to apply awareness, we need to catch up on missed classes, learn to avoid self-created downs and better manage the problematic behaviour of others. Social complications become less burdensome and life experience will be more rational. At our present stage of human development, however, as we still have so much to comprehend and implement, we are destined to experience upheaval.
If we are sufficiently open-minded to take note and face challenges, we may notice shortfalls which require our attention. Mirrors, if I may use this metaphor, reflect our problematic nature. Without being confronted by the mirror we would remain ignorant, unaware of our disposition. There would be no reason to question ourselves and apply change. We would have no cause for transformation and would not grow.
Coping with our problematic nature constitutes part of our lessons and added to these are challenges triggered by others. These might be justified or not, and if we experience them as accusations and criticism, they cause us pain. If we master criticism that previously was debilitating to us, accusations will affect us less negatively. However, if we are unable to aptly respond to any finger pointing, we should learn from the way we react and reply.
Pain and confusion experienced in life are almost always the product of an array of complexities, hardly ever caused purely by one person (with us claiming to be the innocent victim). Many elements contribute to encounters and without separating one’s emotions when entangled and accepting that misunderstandings can be present, we may perceive that we are being judged. Reproaches from others can make us feel disrespected, maybe even abused and violated, which hurts. In most cases we respond with counter-blaming, adding further tension and pain. To overcome these hurdles, greater awareness of reality is needed.
When wanting to change and refrain from contributing to negative altercations and blaming, every person must take responsibility for his or her own involvement. The solution is not found in counter-accusing and prolonging the pain, knowing how to be circumspect will foster accord rather than disturbing the peace. By us changing, we will approach conflict with harmony in mind, adding to our wellbeing and that of our partner. Indirectly this will also have a positive effect on humanity.
Strength comes from being aware of our and others’ fears and vulnerabilities. The more inner strength and integrity we possess, the less effort will be required to deal with these human weaknesses. We will have more freedom for compassion and will deal more appropriately with human conduct.
Inner strength also guides us if unavoidable personal hardships befall us and we grieve. We become enabled to accept and acknowledge the circumstances around these hardships and may mourn more focused; with less devastation and hopelessness. We may find resources to come to terms with tragedy and in time regain the power and resilience required to live a normal life. Reaching a more mature level of mindfulness allows us to face what is inevitable and part of life.
Having further elaborated on my thoughts related to communication and human emotions with their effects on life, I continue with Dr Bolte Taylor’s description of how our lucid functions operate:
After the stroke she had to re-configure her left brain. The bliss experienced without the analytical circuits of the left brain during its dysfunctional state was great, but she had to re-connect old memory circuits and re-load basic data in order to function in society. During the healing process she consciously avoided loading negative emotions and desires and concentrated on re-establishing her more beneficial characteristics.
She defines neuron patterns and their controlling ways in some detail, but to link my accounts of human behaviour with the way she describes our brain functions neurologically, I make use of my own words.
Our brain consists of an endless number of neurons. Millions of these combine into neurological response circuits, which bring about our actions. The many combinations of neuron circuits relate to all incidents in life and in the context of this diary I call these ‘patterns’ or maybe I should refer to them as states of our mind. These create our responses to everyday stimulus. When we repeatedly experience similar conditions, patterns develop. The more often these patterns are negatively charged, the more impulsive are responding and hard to control ‘kneejerk reactions’ with their related unpleasant consequences. They engulf those present and have an especially devastating effect on people in close relationships.
Some neuron circuits, for instance, protect us when we automatically react to physical threats. When touching a hotplate, our reaction is an automatic reflex. The stimulated neuron patterns, primed by previous experiences, act automatically.
Similarly, when familiar patterns have developed in emotional situations, we might falsely regard the relevant circuits as protective devices that prevent us from being harmed. Negative emotions in that state may overcome us, we experience an attack on our psyche and defensive responses arise.
When interacting with others in a healthy way, when we sense goodwill, compassion, love and support, our circuits are positively charged, bringing about contentment and happiness – neuron circuits and our state of mind are ‘calm’. With negative emotions the picture changes and self-control becomes problematic.
Our ego system is also affected by these circuits. In a calm and harmonious state the ego is hardly active. Our needs are met and outside influences have less of a bearing. The more problematic we experience life, the more our ego desires and defences are raised. They may appear to be emotional safety barriers, but they also have a deliberate nature which causes selfishness and a perceived right to entitlement. These can lead to domination and manipulation with their greedy, ruthless, immoral, possessive and jealous traits.
Perhaps we can compare emotional patterns with drug abuse. Cocaine and other drugs form addictive neuron circuits. The more often these are stimulated, the deeper these circuits become established – craving satisfaction. Can one consequently also talk about drug-like effects when describing our emotional patterns? After all, as with drugs, some emotional reactions also result in a form of satisfaction – a feeling of having control over the other.
By gaining awareness, destructive but human sensitivities and certainly our deliberate actions can be overcome. By understanding this process, change is possible. Every one of us has the ability to achieve calmer emotions and further gains in this lifetime, although changing humanity will probably take many life-spans.
Returning to Cizur Manor on the Camino, one by one the other three pilgrims, Noelia, Dominique and Eric, trickled into the albergue while I scrubbed the mud off my boots, washed my clothes and had a good sleep. In the late afternoon I went in search for food. In Larrasoaña Noelia had cooked noodles for us and now it was my turn to make dinner. I decided to prepare pasta with tomato puree and lots of onions, adding dried sausage cut into chunks for protein. For dessert I bought an oversized slab of chocolate.
With my washing still in the tumble dryer, I had little to wear under my tracksuit and during the shopping trip I became uncomfortably cold. By then the sky was overcast again and temperatures had fallen to freezing or below. I hurried back to our albergue and abandoned any attempt to visit the old and interesting looking church close by.