Arguing with Reality (Day 15)

In Castrojeriz, I have an early pilgrim’s dinner at a restaurant with T, who is a really sweet nurse from Germany. We met on our first night on the walk in St. Jean Pied De Port and then coincidently ended up on the beds next to each other on the second night (much to our relief). It was a room filled with 120 beds squished a-little-too-close-together for comfort. And somehow we didn’t run into each other again until today, almost two weeks later.

It seems like she’s been having some issues. Over dinner, she tells me about an early morning when she was walking alone in an isolated area. It was still dark, and she ran into a strange man. He was staring at her from his car, and as she came close (there was only one path) he started doing donuts around her. Naturally, she got pretty freaked out. He drove away when he saw other pilgrims coming up from behind her and she walked with them until she felt safe. She got pretty shaken up at the time but seems to be admirably strong and committed to completing her journey right now. It’s unfortunate that a couple of folks can ruin it for everyone. We talk about being alert and using practical sense but not letting the fear get the best of us.

For the night, both of us stay at a place run by a colorful character named Resti, the coldest Refugio that I’ve stayed at thus far. There’s no heater, no hot water, no insulation. The damp walls feel cooler inside than the chilly air outside. At the fear of getting sick, for the first time on the walk I decide to forego showering and make do with washing my face with the freezing water. At night, I slip into bed with my sweatshirt and scarf on, along with the extra blanket from the Refugio, in addition to my own sleeping bag.

As I lay awake all bundled up listening to snores from across the room, it occurs to me that I haven’t had any “negative” thoughts for a while. Not that I'm complaining, but I try to recall the last time I felt stressed by something and it was about five days ago. I’m usually pretty cognizant of my thoughts and I don’t remember having a long continuous period where nothing bothered me, even (or especially) during silent retreats. When T was telling me about that guy, there was a part of me that almost wanted to be more upset but I just couldn't. (I still think it was a horrible thing and as a result we all have to be more careful now but I’m feeling unwaveringly calm about it.)

Thinking back to the times that I’ve had thoughts filled with impatience, frustration, anxiety – it all seems a little ridiculous now. Almost like a play. There's a feeling of "why would I have done that," as if I was an entirely different person. Whenever my body reacts with the slightest signs of stress, I know that I was really trying to argue with the reality of "what is." There was so much trying to control and have things happen in a certain way, that there was very little room left for emergence. (Not to be confused with passive, which is very different from acceptance and being genuinely open to the moment.) This week I feel like I’ve seen a glimpse of what’s possible when you're not constantly waging war on reality or trying to defend yourself from it. There IS another way of being. Perhaps this is the biggest lesson I came to learn. 

(From the Camino Journals, May 14th)

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