Today, The Camino in Galicia takes us to the highest point of the entire way – approximately 900 feet above sea level – across the boundary of Lugo, to enter the province of A Coruna, and continue towards Sobrado dos Monxes, where there is a monastery built in the 10th
century, run by Cistercian monks. We’ll be spending the night in a lovely rural manor – a palace, formerly – in Arzua.
Today’s reflection is from The Sound of the Genuine by Howard Thurman
There is in every
person something that waits and listens for the sound of genuine in herself.
There is in you something that waits and listens for the sound of the genuine
in yourself. Nobody like you has ever been born. And no one like you will ever
be born again.
You are the only one.
If you cannot hear
it, the sound of the genuine in you, you will never find whatever it is for
which you’re searching. And if you hear it and then do not follow it, it were
better that he had never been born. You are the only you that has ever lived.
Your idiom is the only idiom of its kind in all the existences. And if you
cannot hear the sound of the genuine in you, you will all of your life spend
your days on the ends of strings that somebody else pulls.”
Things happen to the body at this sea level. Especially a body under the stress of walking up hills. Especially a body which has been under stress, anyway, for a long time.
The simple truth is that I did not research well enough the different terrain of this land and therefore, did not prepare well for it. I thought we’d be walking, so I walked. I walked on pavement. I walked on dirt trails. I walked on flat surfaces. I walked in malls. I walked up slightly hilly surfaces. I sweated. I worked hard.
Nothing got me seriously out of breath or feeling dizzy or queasy so that my heart was pounding so fast and so hard I could hear it in my ears and feel it pounding through my entire body.
I was not prepared for the effect of walking up steep hills in high elevation. I take full responsibility for that. That's one thing I didn’t research. So, I didn’t prepare in the way I needed to in order to deal with these hills at this altitude.
But, I also know that I came here to do this walk because I knew, in that place of knowing, that I have been holding onto a lot of toxins. And, those toxins made it increasingly difficult for me to hear “the sound of the genuine” in me.
For me, there are two kinds of toxins. The first is chemical.
As a Hospice Chaplain, I work with people who have recently finished a course – sometimes several long courses – of chemotherapy. We are frequently advised to exercise and drink lots of fluid because our patients often perspire and/or exhale those chemicals as their body tries to get rid of them.
Sometimes, you can even smell it in the air in their room. When we touch them or lean in close to hear them, we can take small amounts of the by-products of the chemicals which, over time, can have an adverse effect on us, making us feel sluggish or out of sorts.
The other kind of toxin is from certain personalities and, especially, corporate systems. I suppose we ought not be surprised that the helping professions – medicine, nursing, psychiatry, social work, religious organizations, etc. – seem to attract toxic personalities, or that those toxic personalities might contribute to the toxicity levels in corporate systems.
It’s paradoxical, on one level, isn’t it? I mean, people ‘just’ want to help others. That’s pretty straightforward. They ‘just’ want to help, to ‘just’ be of service, to ‘just’ make a difference.
The question is “Why?” Why do you want to ‘just’ help?
Intention and motivation are important to examine. Let me give you an example.
There is an oncologist – a cancer specialist – who is described as “very aggressive” in his treatment plans. If you want to “fight cancer” if you want to “beat cancer”, he’s your guy. He will load you up with every cancer-fighting drug in his arsenal of cancer-fighting weapons and give you as many and as much as you can tolerate. And then some.
He doesn’t tell you how absolutely miserable it will make you feel, how it will compromise the quality of your life and only give you – maybe, maybe – a 30 or 40 percent chance of extending your life – maybe, maybe – another year, or two.
Then again, maybe you will “beat the odds” and live the rest of your life cancer-free.
It could happen.
The cost will be very high, but if you want to risk it, he’ll provide you with the means. The thing of it is, if you listen to him closely, he’s very clear to say, “I”. As in, “I can help you.” As in, “I can give you another day.” As in, “I can give you another year.”
So, if you start one of “his” medical treatment plans that “he” prescribes for you and the extra time “he” gives you, and you start to feel like, actually, you’d prefer quality of life over quantity of life, w.e.e.e.e . . .l.l.l.l.l.l., now you’ve got a problem, see? Now, you’ve insulted him. Now, you’re a quitter and he doesn’t work with quitters.
Now, you’ve made him angry and he will not shield you from his anger, not even in your weakened and miserable state. Not even if it makes you cry. Actually, that will just make him angrier, and he will storm out of the room.
And, no, he won’t refer you to Hospice. Never! You’re on your own, now.
So, I’m back to my question: Is that ‘help’?
One wonders about his motivation and his intention. Who is he ‘helping’, really?
That’s a fairly extreme example. There are others that are more subtle than that.
Like, the social worker who is just a great guy, you know, always asking team mates if he can help them in any way – change a tire, mow their lawn – what a guy! Then, one day, he says something inappropriate, something sexual, and he just doesn’t understand why you’re upset. I mean, he’s a great guy, isn’t he? You’re just being overly sensitive. And then, he gaslights you like a champ.
Lots of borderline personalities flock to the helping professions. Community-based helping organizations (including churches and temples and their affiliated organizations) get more than their share of passive aggressive behavior, lots of projection, and tons of “dysfunctional behavior”.
It’s important to remember that the “dys” in dysfunctional stands for “pain”.
Dysfunctional behavior is painful behavior. It is a person functioning out of a painful past that he or she is working out. I try to keep that in mind so that, first and foremost, I can be compassionate, but secondly, to keep a healthy distance.
Trying to ‘keep a healthy distance’ for a clergy-person, anyway, is a constant challenge. If you aren’t “all giving” and “always available” or provide the answer someone may want or need to hear, you are bound to hear a loud harrumph or soft weeping followed by, “And you call yourself a priest/minister/clergy person!”
It goes without saying that there are many priests/ministers/clergy people who are, themselves, dysfunctional. Oy, there are large, multiple minions of them! I have known clergy support groups that are comprised of dysfunctional clergy who support each other in their dysfunction.
I was part of one, briefly. It was awful. It would be hilarious if it weren’t tragic and sad. And, toxic.
In my experience, sooner or later, the dysfunctional person will attempt to re-create in you the turmoil and pain they are feeling. They don’t do this to be mean or cruel. They are doing it because it is the only way that they will know that you know how they feel.
Sometimes, the dysfunctional system will do the same thing. It’s called “corporate culture” and you either fit in, or you don’t.
One way of ‘survival’ in dysfunctional systems is to create ‘silos’ – parallel universes where one does one’s work alone, with concern for their project and then one “puts on a game face” to come out and interact with others.
In the corporate pecking order, the idea is everyone “below” is making the one “above” look good so you keep your nose to the grindstone and don’t make any waves so one day you, too, can move up the corporate ladder. You smile, you agree, you go along to get along and get along to get ahead.
The real mark of a dysfunctional system is poor communication. Everyone thinks the other person, the person lower than them, sent along the message. Another is that, when an “educational event” happens, the presenter cares less about whether or not the information was received and understood and more – much more – about whether or not everyone signed the attendance sheet.
One thing that over 30 years of working with church personalities has taught me:
Anyone who seems to work really hard at being nice is someone you absolutely ought not ever trust.
And, the amazing thing is that no one knows how transparent they are; how inauthentic they are.
I have long understood that, as a clergy person who works in hospice, I “live and move and have my being” in multiple sources and levels of toxicity. This is a core piece of why The Camino appealed to me as “good medicine” for me, giving me the opportunity to walk and sweat off the toxicity I’ve been holding onto and to drink lots of water to flush it out of my system.
‘Walking in Beauty’ is especially appealing to me for that reason. I think beauty is the strongest medicine to neutralize the ugliness of the evil that can build up in toxic people and toxic systems.
I have tested that theory and proven it correct. Indeed, I think I’m getting rid of lots of toxins on this walk. In fact, I know I am. All the toxins I’ve been holding in my gut are finding their way out. As they make their way out and make room, I am also releasing the toxins I’ve held in my mind and my heart.
It’s a long, terrible, awe-full, wonder-filled, process. I am blessed to have this time to do this important, transformative work.
The Camino is a wise teacher, knowing what each peregrino needs even before s/he knows what s/he wants or needs.
There’s a line in a Madonna song, “Beauty’s where you find it.”
Releasing long-held toxins to make room for more of the goodness and beauty of life is an amazing and healing thing.
It is helping me to rediscover the sound of the genuine in me.
Thank you, again, for making this journey with me. I'm so glad you're here.