*Note- I’m still evolving the “form”, if you will, of this blog. I want it to be stylistically somewhat similar to the blog I wrote while I walked the Camino de Santiago, where I decided to intertwine two significant journeys I’ve undertaken over the past few years- the last 10 years of my marriage that ended in divorce, the year or two prior to walking the Camino when I began to take back my life and understand things with more clarity (therapy and my relationship with “Amanda” contributed significantly to this); and weave those two threads with a third: the physical journey that was my walk on the Camino de Santiago.
Only difference is, I ain’t walking across Spain at the moment. So, for now, I’m excerpting my blog (while doing a rewrite) and intertwining that story with some new experiences, thoughts, research, and insights that will hopefully resonate with some like some of the ramblings from the Spain blog. I guess I hope I can pass on something that’s at least a little meaningful to a few of you. At the very least, it may be a little funny and entertaining. Thank you for stopping by!
I headed off down the perfect, dewy, cobble stoned streets of St. Jean in a steady sprinkle, almost rain. We (my Korean companions Park and Im from the previous night, and I) hiked through the town, then up steep paved roads. After awhile the rain got a little harder, the clouds got a little thicker (you could only see a few hundred yards in any direction) and our clothes got a little wetter.
My clothes were just wet enough to bother me. You know what it’s like- you just don’t want the wet fabric to touch your skin, because, well, you don’t like it. It’s cold and wet. Part of it being uncomfortable is probably simply a reaction our brain has taught us to have, to protect us from the cold and wet. Like a lot of the emotions that hold us in their grip and make us do irrational things. It really wasn’t that cold. If we could only change our habits…
After a few hours, we came upon a little town, and the last chance to eat a real meal until Roncesvalles, our final destination that day. There were pigs the size of mini-coopers milling around out front, so I got a chorizo baguette for ironies sake, followed by an espresso. I sat down with a young, good looking Italian guy from Milan. It was his second camino. We talked about our countries, what brought us there. I told him that part of the reason I was here was because of a woman. How many times has that been heard on the camino?
I finished up and moved on pretty quickly, wanting to get some mileage in. I met some other folks from Norway, Poland, Italy. The camino is certainly a melting pot. Compared to the rest of the world though, and considering the diversity, every last person I’ve talked to so far is so nice and giving. Perhaps the United Nations should walk the camino and talk. Maybe they’d figure something out.
,,,I stopped at a sort of food truck for hot chocolate but by the time I was ready, the loose knit group I had been traveling with had gone. I tried to catch up but couldn’t find them in the fog. I walked alone for a long while. I got lost once, having to retrace my steps. I hadn’t been paying enough attention, my thoughts were distracting me. I felt like Pigpen, from the old Peanuts comic strip, with all that shit flying around him as he walked along. All that shit was the detritus of my life, everything that had recently happened, all the emotions that had recently been churned up, everything that brought me here.
I finally caught up with Wim and Elsa from Holland. I was stressing about trying to get this first post up, and then emailing and posting to Facebook, etc- trying to get some readers, get the ball rolling. In addition, it seemed that the one place to stay in the small town we were walking to (Roncesvalles) had only one large monastery where all the pilgrims stayed. I was pretty sure monks didn’t use the internet. in fact I’d heard that Roncesvalles isn’t really even a town. In addition it’s in the mountains. I was certain internet access would be non-existent. Hell, they probably wouldn’t even have electricity, running water, or indoor plumbing. God, what if I can’t check in on Facebook!?
I realized that one thing we do in life is we create these unreasonable expectations for ourselves, and then get frustrated when we can’t reach them. I mean, I want to move forward in my writing career. I wanted to make this blog great, get a fan base, turn it into a book. It’s why I spent too much time in my Madrid hotel room rather than checking out a beautiful city I’d never been to. But really, what would happen if I post a day or two late? I’m pretty sure it won’t be a disaster. Oh, and Mark, by the way, make sure you ignore the awesome adventure you’re having at the moment. Ahh, the moment. I think everything eventually returns to…the moment. This moment. Being in this moment.
I got to Roncesvalles drenched and I couldn’t wait to take a hot shower After walking up to the second floor I found bunk #234, my home for the night. Shivering due to my wet clothes, and having switched from my hiking boots to my wet flip flops (due to the fact I had smartly hung them on the outside of my pack) I rifled through my backpack for my one other pair of long pants which were…drenched. Seems i had ignored putting the rain cover over the pack, reasoning that the backpack was pretty waterproof. Guess not.
So I went to take a shower which was nice and hot. I finally removed myself from the comfort that can only be found in a warm shower, and maybe the womb. I turned the shower off and went to grab my towel. Except I forgot the lesson I had learned (obviously not very well) the night before in St Jean- that auberges don’t have towels. Note to self: buy towel.
So I used my wet shirt. It worked. Then I got dressed in what I had that was dry, which is why I’m writing this from my top bunk, looking out the window of a thousand year old monastery where my other long pants and wet underwear are drying, wearing the only other long sleeved shirt i have that’s dry- a black $150 John Varvatos button down (that I brought to wear in Madrid) over a lime green t-shirt with a picture of a gorilla riding a bike, and a pair of O Neil board shorts from Costco.
And I am happy. And I am grateful. I am especially grateful to those I am dedicating this blog to: Janice, Amanda, and Hannah, and the other women in my life who’ve taught me the lessons i’ve needed to learn, and who continue to show me the way.
I had drinks with Amanda the other day. We talked. Like we always do. Like we did around that tall white table-clothed drink table in some woman’s backyard while the two piece combo drum machine band played “Down on the Corner” and the music and everyone else faded away, so long ago….
We talked about her. We talked about me. We talked about her kids. We talked about mine. We touched some of the places we used to. And we talked about what was going on in each of our lives. And i reached out, tried to help. It’s funny, back in the day, she was the one who helped me. I’m trying to remember the person she was, who I was. It’s weird, the sense of self. We always feel we’re more or less the same person at the core. And I guess maybe we are.
But those two people who sat across that table and talked about everything and anything, who subsequently layed in bed and poured themselves into each other…they were there, but they were not. Not sure what’s changed besides…everything. It’s funny, it used to be that Amanda would be the one to help me. Probably because I was the one putting more of myself out there, trying to figure things out. I was ready to heal, and she was the catalyst to push me down that path. And that was probably because she is empathic. And she needs to help others heal.
It’s part of the reason I would often write in the Spain blog “…and of course, she was right”. Even if I didn’t want to admit it, because usually what she was right about was something about me that i didn’t want to face. I think her heightened state of empathy makes her take on a little too much, whether she knows it or not. One might think being empathic is an awesome thing. After knowing Amanda, I have to think that, well…maybe. It seems that there might just be a down side to being empathic.
If you believe in energies and the like, you could postulate that those with certain energies would be drawn to people like Amanda. Those who need help. And, she has always said that that seems to be the case. Not only humans, but animals as well. And what happens is, the empathic person takes on the emotions of others, to help them understand those emotions. And like Amanda, empathic people are usually strong, resilient, so they can handle it. But they also open themselves up to a lot of stress by doing so.
What seems to happen is they end up having two conflicting voices in their heads. They are constantly feeling the good and the bad, the negative and the positive. And so they become overwhelmed. Which is why they build walls. And have to become resilient. It’s natural to assume that if they can take on the feelings of others, they’re gonna get the whole package, the good with the bad. So they use the walls and resilience to shield them from the bad. And when they have really bad stuff happen to them they have to build really thick walls.
I’ve been told I’m empathic too, and maybe that’s one of the places Amanda and my deepest bonds lie. We like to go to that level, talk about those things. And maybe that’s why we enjoy each others company, Amanda is the first woman I’ve met who thought about these things, or at least had an instinct as to how things worked and wanted to discuss it. And I think that’s one of the things she and I discovered in each other. By the way, what I am writing right now is so flowing from the back of my head to my fingers it’s making my head spin- It’s not even stopping at my brain. This isn’t some theory I’ve been working on, it’s just coming to me. Anyway, If I am indeed empathic like I’ve been told, it also might help explain my somewhat cynical nature, my mildly depressed state which I always wrote off to a quasi existential/there’s nothing else view of the world. Steeped in science but hedging my bets to ward off the throes of having to live a life of quiet desperation.
Back to Amanda and I. She used to be the healer. And when I think back, it may be because she wasn’t ready to work on herself yet. As I mentioned though, she was the catalyst that helped me move into the stream that is now pulling me along, forcing me to see the ever changing view, and incorporate that new view into my life. But now it seems the tables are turned. In the off times we see each other, I find myself offering up suggestions for her more often. If she’s asking for advice, she’ll do it in a subtle way, gently changing the subject to something that concerns her. She will never really ask for help. She can be like a dude on a road trip lost at a cross roads in the middle of nowhere staring at a unfolded map, mind confused, refusing directions from all who pass by.
Anyway, I think maybe we also share a sadness from this empathy, and our experiences. Why does this negative energy even exist? I know. It’s what we need in this crazy life to teach us lessons. The ultimate example would be trying to make sense of some of the most absurd things in life; a mother losing her child, genocides in other countries, etc. But looking at life with that in mind doesn’t fit into most mindsets. Maybe it does in mine because I had to create a Universe that is sane so that I wouldn’t go off the deep end.
Some research I did says that a side effect of empathic people seems to be that one is often exhausted and fatigued from what you are feeling, and the negative energies that you absorb. This sounds sort of like depression. I know when I was going through some of my most stressful times, I would be at my desk working, and I would literally crawl to my bed, roll up in a ball, and “hide”, exhausted at just trying to move forward.
And another thing. I think being this way leaves you open to being taken advantage of. I think it did with me. But I don’t think others necessarily do so intentionally. But I do think the instincts of a certain type of person will cause them to take advantage of anothers’ weaknesses. As I’ve said before, I think this is simply what we all do in life: we do what we to get what we want/think we deserve. How we go abut it is what leads to tears, fights, wars. But as I often also say: what the f*%k do I know?
It’s funny, I also read that the dark side of being too empathic is knowing that you willingly neglect both your body and mind for the sake of others. A neglect that builds over the years, eventually resulting in the need to go soul-searching once again, a practice that we only take up when we feel completely lost. Sounds a lot like a guy I know who went to Spain to search for his soul…and in fact when I met Amanda, one of the first things she did was “clean me up”. Why? well, because at the time I didn’t give a damn about myself, was totally neglecting my body, mind, spirit.
Last thing- Empathic people need to learn to distinguish between emotions that are their own, and emotional energies that are impostors. They need people who understand who they are, people they can talk to and who will listen. They need to be able to let down the wall they’ve built up around their feelings so that they can let their empathic selves do good in their own life, but they’re afraid if they do they will yet again succumb to an overwhelming love. But then again, if they don’t, they’re destined to fight a war within themselves that never ends.
Hmm..I guess there’s only one thing left to say: Party on Garth (and happy birthday Mike Meyers)!