Day 13 – Rabé de las Calzados to Castrojeriz (29.1 km)
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
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.