Heather Conn Blogs

spoutin’ about by the sea

Revisionist history on the Camino: whitewashed versions prevail »« Here’s why the movie The Way didn’t work for me

A thousand different pots of water: we all reflect the same sun

“[W]e are always charged with the vibrancy of a larger presence . . . the complexity of our humanity mirrors this larger presence. . . .  [W]e mirror everything living as we climb and stumble our way up the mountain to the cliff of yes. I recognize each person I come across because I am each on any given day. What matters is whether I shun those who bear my flaws or help them up; whether I turn away when this larger presence seems too strong or keep my birth-eyes open; whether I find a way to meet what is incomprehensible and somehow draw strength from it.”

 —    Mark Nepo, Seven Thousand Ways to Listen

Walking the Camino de Santiago functions like a giant mirror of our soul and personality: it reflects our light and shadow places more rigorously than regular daily life. The physical challenges of the route, combined with the array of people encountered, offer numerous chances to shun or embrace others.

I recognize how readily I judged or rejected those who irritated me along the way. My almost-instant ability to label, dismiss or criticize others—to focus on their shortcomings— reflects how I relate to myself inwardly; my insecurities and self-hatred separate me from that larger presence within myself and others.

I reacted most strongly to two women, each travelling solo, whom I met repeatedly throughout the pilgrimage. One woman, a middle-aged banker from Brazil, never carried her pack; every day, she paid to have it forwarded to her next destination. She always phoned ahead to reserve a room. She stayed in near-empty hotels rather than in hostels.

meal low-res 436

My German friend Dieter (left) and others at this table
made my Camino pilgrimage particularly memorable.

At one point, this woman told me that I should be wearing the straps on my backpack closer to my body. When I told her that I had adjusted the straps and it was better, she surveyed them and said “un poco (a bit).”

I felt judged. Who the hell was she to tell me how to wear my pack? I thought. She’s not even wearing one! It was difficult for me to see that she was trying to ease the burden of my journey.

One hot day, she approached me on the path after walking behind me and my German friend Dieter.

“Your pack’s leaning to the left,” she said. “You might want to readjust it.”

hospitaleros low-res 404

These are two of the many warm and welcoming hospitaleros, or hostel volunteers,
encountered along The Camino.

By then, I had walked for several weeks without discomfort from my pack. Doesn’t she have anything better to do? With some resentment, I stopped, readjusted my pack, and put it back on. After a little while, the Brazilian woman approached me again.

“Your pack is still leaning to the left. And it looks like your [pilgrim] passport is about to fall out. You don’t want to lose it.”

I took off my pack and angrily threw it to the ground. My passport wasn’t visible anywhere; she had mistaken a square, laminated image of a scallop shell, which I had added to the outside of my pack, for my passport.

She kept on walking. Dieter made some joke about how rigid bankers were. I was surprised at the intense level of my anger. Why couldn’t I see that she was trying to help? Instead, I felt unjustly criticized.

At the time, I recognized some envy on my part; I was slogging through the heat with a 20-pound pack while she was blithely strolling past with a tiny, near-empty day pack. In retrospect, it is easy to see that she reflected the perfectionist part of me that’s quick to point out the flaws in myself and others. She also symbolized my genuine desire to help others, a part of myself that I often find hard to see.

I tried to avoid another solo traveller, a brash middle-aged woman from Colorado. Whenever she arrived at a restaurant or hostel, she would loudly complain or demand immediate service and maintain a running monologue about herself and her needs. She seemed to treat any male pilgrim who accompanied her as if he was her princess’s footman, there to fulfill her wishes in any moment. Sometimes, while listening to her, I thought: I don’t care about the minutiae of your life. Get over yourself.

Why did she grate on me so much? She mirrored some of my own self-absorbed behaviour, the part of me that seeks attention and expects instant service from others.

Elke and Pam low-res 971

Pam (left) and Elke, new friends from Langley, B.C.,
made wonderful pilgrim companions during my final days on The Camino.

While on The Way, I realized that each person who made a deep connection with me, from my gentle, caring friend Dieter to my loving, generous fellow pilgrims Pam and Elke, mirrored these aspects in me.

I like what Indian spiritual leader Mata Amritanandamayi, known as “Mother,” says: “The sun shines down, and its image reflects in a thousand different pots filled with water. The reflections are many, but they are each reflecting the same sun. Similarly, when we come to know who we truly are, we will see ourselves in all people.”

March 3, 2014 at 10:10 am
  • March 11, 2014 at 1:07 pmPetrina

    Thanks for sharing so openly Heather. I think that anyone, with an open mind/heart, would be able to relate, I know I did! I love the quotes too.

  • March 5, 2014 at 10:20 amPam

    So happy to hear that we were two of the pilgrims who shone the light back at you 🙂 Sharing those final days on the Camino with you is something I will always treasure!

  • March 3, 2014 at 5:38 pmanneke

    well, Heather, good point. This one makes me squirm a bit, because I have many aspects of my personality which make me embarrassed and/or ashamed. And, for sure I have seen myself criticise other people for the same traits that I have also. e.g., lazy, self-absorbed. But, you see, it’s not my fault, cause my parents raised me with their values…..they were hyper-critical, and judgemental; products of their times. =o)

    Luckily, I do not see too much of these qualities in my son.
    {{He can do no wrong, in my eyes. He is such a Renaissance man!}}
    I think he took the best qualities from both birth parents, haha.
    So I guess I must have taught him some good ways to be~~ along the way.
    Hmmmm, I’m feeling all philosophical, right now.

    I just finished reading Margaret Atwood’s book called “PAYBACK(Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth). It’s a quick read, was written for the Massey Lecture series. Was recommended by our teacher in the ElderCollege class called “Biological Dilemmas” which we finished last week. Much to think about in that class, which touched on the inner workikngs of a cell, GMO’s, Invasive Species, Desertification, Ocean acidification.

    Good lord, a LOT to ponder in all that!!! Interestiing times we live in, eh?
    big hugs to you, Anneke =o)

Leave a Reply