a reflection on being still

 

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Today´s reflection: Is it you or the ego calling the shots? What is the difference?

Water is falling out of the sky here, and it is provoking some fairly intense thinking about the weather, and aspects of its relationship to walking long distances. What happens when you want to move, but in fact, you have to stay still?

This morning, I kid myself into believing that it is actually feasible that I walk 20 kms to the next albergue. I get dressed, I pack the backpack, and I tidy the albergue for the next pilgrims. What pushes me at this moment is the residue of yesterday´s feeling that I can do this, that I have somehow begun to (finally) hit my stride on this journey. Nothing can stop me, not even the buckets of water fallling out of the sky. The objective of finishing is already beginning to call me, even though I have only just begun. I don´t like the tone of its voice on this day. It is demanding something from me, taking on a taskmaster-like quality.

Leaving the albergue, I continue to kid myself, although once I arrive at the bar to have breakfast, I begin to have doubts. There really is a lot of water.

In the bar, the voice of reason begins to manifest externally, from the mouths of others. Having been left with no choice, it is now trying to talk over the top of my ego, which, bless its soul, is still trying to keep the illusion (that I am stronger than this weather) alive. The bar owner, paco, speaks through the voice of reason the most clearly. He asks me ¨why?¨ When I can just stay another day at the albergue? These are excellent questions.

I finish and walk outside. By the time I have walked back up the street, my eyes have finally begun to register the amount of water draining down past me, flowing  towards the catchments in the centre of town. Indeed, at this moment, it coccurs to me that to continue walking at this point would be akin to torturing myself. Is this why I am here, doing this? Because if I listen to my ego -the voice that is most interested in things like ¨reaching goals¨and ¨doing things the right way¨and ¨being perfect¨- then that is what I will actually be doing. No, I am not here for that. This is supposed to be a journey with myself, for myself. This thought brings me back into contact with self-love and patience. The same way that the sun brings me joy and pushes me outside, the cold rain is a sign to stay within. Be still.  Be quiet. Reflect. Rest. I head back to the albergue.

An hour or two later, two pilgrims arrive at the albergue, absolutely soaked. They are ¨bicigrinos¨, from the Basque country, cycling from Almeria to Granada on the camino Mozarabe. Once they get dry and warm, we sit down together, have a cup of hot tea and a chat. Curiously, it turns out that one of the pilgrims is my friend Olaia´s cousin- so we send Olaia a whatsapp with a photo- lord, how small the world can be…………….the conversation turns to travelling and walking alone. In Spain, people grow up usually forming a part of a ¨pandilla¨- the core circle of friends. You do everything in ¨pandilla¨- as a child, you hang out together, get into trouble together. Into adulthood, you keep this circle alive, and form new ones as you move through university and beyond. As a child, I had my circle of friends, but I do not feel that there was the strong social expectation to maintain those friendships. I feel that this expectation is fed by a deeply social orientation to a life that is lived much more on the street than it is in Australia. A life that revolves much more strongly around the community, and which is seen manifest in bars, associations, clubs, and on the ramblas of cities, towns, and villages, where people go to wander, see, and be seen.

On the caminos of Spain, it is quite rare to see Spanish people walking alone. I have encountered the odd Spanish man (actually, the Basque pilgrims tell me that there is one bringing up the rear- about two days behind me), but as of yet, no Spanish women. I feel that this has a lot to do with the pandilla, and the protection that it gives women in public spaces. Like it or  not, up until not so long ago, machista culture kept women inside and fairly subservient in the sense that a woman walking alone on the street was either crazy or loose. There was no real space outside of the home for them to discover themselves as natural, wild creatures. As witches and healers. Thinking now of the arts -especially in the form of dance and song- to me, the essence of woman, as she appears in the myriad facets of ¨Spanish¨culture, is that she is strong. She is fiery and she doesn´t take no shit from nobody. She is the matriarch, the queen of the kitchen, the one who works in the field with her hands in the earth. But at the same time, the churches and the language show me that she is the virgin, the one who gains a sense of nobility and dignity from suffering, the one who knows the games she has to play in order to temper her latent wildness,  so that she can be   ¨conquistada¨- under control, safe.

In my family, I am happy to say that my mother and father were never overt in terms of having issues with the way that I have chosen to live my life. I believe firmly, however, that it was the immigrants journey, and a certain natural open-mindedness that molded their ways of thinking and doing. Had I been born in Spain instead of Australia, I wonder what would have happened. I am sure that my mother wishes I were not walking this camino right now. I understand this as the desire to keep the thing you love most in the world safe, and warm. At the same time, I know that she walks with me proudly, possibly wishing she could have done the same. There is a sadness in that for me. Yet I am also profoundly proud of my mother, for the crazy circumstances that led her to leave Spain against the wishes of her parents when she was only 24, to marry a man that she barely knew and move to the edge of the Australian outback to build a new life for herself. And this Spanish man, my father, so restless, so independent, so bull-headed. What a joyful sense of adventure they both had!  I connect now with this sense of adventure through my own footsteps on this walk.

Having spent most of my walking days last year lamenting the absence of solitude, I realise now, on this rainy day in Hueneja, how much I miss people. The absence of pilgrims along this way has brought into clearer focus the gifts of love I receive from my family, friends and lover.  And the strangers that I encounter of course. There is a sweetness in the ways that I see myself wholeheartedly engaging with the people that I meet, as if I had known them all my life. Take away the mundane, and walking like this can only show you what you are left with when the white noise is rendered silent. When you have to stay still. Knowing how and when to stay still is an integral part of long journeys on foot. These are the moments that you can make sense of what is happening and what has happened, building a stronger footing on which to take your next steps 

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