This post was written at the end of March, but now feels like the right time to publish it…
It’s more than two weeks since my last blog post and what a two weeks it’s been – in all of our lives. How quickly the world and our experience of it can change. How effectively Life teaches us to embrace the contradictions of our humanness: fragile and resilient in equal measure; generous or self-serving, depending on our choices and our learned responses to challenges, stress and fear.
My ‘blog silence’ had two main reasons: (1) the practical task of writing and posting the blog while walking the Camino each day, with only a mobile phone and no access to a computer, was more challenging than usual and, perhaps more to the point, (2) I didn’t know what to say.
I knew that this Camino was going to be a significant one for me from the day I decided to walk it but, as is almost always the case, it’s turned out to be so in ways that I didn’t anticipate at that time. It’s confirmed for me something that I’d already come to understand is an essential truth in my life; namely that the things I fear the most (and do my best to avoid) Life will keep presenting to me in different ways, until I find the courage to finally face ‘the truth of what is’ and to consciously deal with it in a positive way.
Other people’s disapproval has always been a challenge for me and that’s seen me ‘bending myself out of shape’ in the past in an effort to try and keep myself ‘likable’ and inoffensive. I believe whole-heartedly in the principle of harmony and in trying to create it and sustain it wherever possible. And, although this does motivate a lot of my actions and decision-making, I’m talking about something different here. I’m referring to my tendency to be passive or to keep silent when I know I should speak, particularly in the face of passive or open aggression from others.
Last week I found myself facing such aggression from strangers on social media, when the story of me continuing to walk the Camino after Spain had officially closed the route began to circulate and spread on Facebook. I received messages telling me that my behavior was disgraceful, that I should be put in prison and that I was mentally retarded.
I don’t share this experience to illicit any sympathy, I played my part in the creation of it and I accept that responsibility without excuse. Neither do I share it to try and garner support or to reignite a topic that has now been laid to rest. I share it because it resulted in an experience that taught me something valuable that I was ready to learn about myself and which others may find helpful too.
I learned that everyone is doing their best at the moment to come to terms with the strange and fear-filled times in which we now find ourselves and that, every day, we’ll each be presented with choices.
I learned that some of us will choose to turn away from or against others (letting fear or prejudice dictate how we react and relate to those who we don’t know) while others will turn towards our fellow human beings, even when they speak or act in ways that feel different and/or difficult for us to understand.
I believe that we were each gifted with compassionate and loving hearts at birth. But that the world in which we live often encourages us to judge ourselves and others quickly, unfairly and harshly; as a way of masking difficult feelings of insecurity and inner fear that we’d rather not examine or face.
I believe this way of living gradually hardens our hearts, particularly in times of stress and uncertainty, and that it makes us quick to judge, shun and distance ourselves from those who appear ‘different’ to ourselves.
But I also believe that, for those of us who are honest enough to recognise that we all still have much to learn, there’s hope…and that hope comes in the form of our own fear, if we’re brave enough to look at it closely and to see it for what it is.
If we do we’ll see that, almost invariably, our fear is about the unknown. And, so strong is society’s terror of the unknown and its collective denial of that terror, that we demand the illusion of certainty in all things. We attempt to define and control all things, to keep our terror in the shadows and at bay. We turn our anger and our hostility towards anyone who challenges the controls, certainties or ‘status quo’ that keep us feeling safe and, in doing so, we distract ourselves from the truth that Life is always in constant flux and that its very essence is uncertainty and change.
And, in that respect, I see fear as ‘The Master Key’.
I believe it’s a key that we can turn one way (locking us ever more securely in fortresses of certainty and judgmental beliefs) or the other way, opening ourselves up to the unknown, challenging and potentially painful experiences we often do our best to avoid at all costs.
I believe that our experience and quality of life, in the brief time we’re here, will always be shaped, moulded and determined by how we choose to see the world and other people around us; and by how we choose to interact with them.
Fear is natural and human. It is an instinctive response ‘hard-wired’ into us and designed to keep us safe from risk and harm. But it has an immense and intrinsic power of its own; a ‘polar power’ with the capability to either unite and create new beginnings, or to divide, diminish and destroy.
If we fail to accept the reality that the fear each of us feels inside is generated by us, from within, then we will always look for external scapegoats to blame for our feelings of insecurity and, in extreme cases, choose to express that fear in verbal or physical abuse and attack.
We are fragile human beings because we will always experience fear, but I believe that we’re also an inventive and resilient species because we can learn how to harness and channel that fear to create rather than to destroy.
We are generous human beings (to ourselves and others) when we can accept that ‘getting it wrong’, stumbling on the stoney path of life, is part of how we all learn. It’s an intrinsic part of our very fallible ‘humanness’. And when we find the capacity within ourselves to reach out a metaphorical hand of understanding or a physical hand of help to others (most especially when we feel it’s undeserved) then we embody the generosity of spirit and compassion that is the best part of us. It’s the essence that lies at the very heart of us and at the heart of all religious and spiritual belief.
When I allow fear to stop me from speaking or acting, I not only silence the voice of my intuition, I also silence the spirit of Life within me. When I avoid saying or doing something that my intuition tells me I should, for fear of negative or aggressive reactions from others, I allow fear to make my choices for me, instead of consciously making them for myself.
When I choose to stand up to fear or to walk with it for a while, although it often results in painful and difficult experiences, I never regret the decision and I always encounter heart-piercing gifts of Grace. Gifts of Grace that bring me face-to-face with my human limitations, ego-based delusions, persistent vanity and the reality of my fragility. But which also constantly bless and protect me with unexpected good fortune and humbling acts of kindness and generosity from others.
And for those reasons alone, if no other, it’s a path that keeps calling me onwards and one I’ll keep choosing to take.