(Keeping to my pledge to write thirty-four blogs on how the Camino continues to affect my life– the same number as the days I walked the 500 miles)
If you want to watch a brief video guaranteed to make you laugh, just go to YouTube and search for, “bear sees self in a mirror.” I found myself watching it over and over, totally amused by the scene of a black bear wandering in the woods and coming upon a large mirror. The bear’s reaction is immediate and explosive; he ends up tearing the mirror from the tree and stomping on it. A comment attached to the post read–“That’s what I feel like when I look in the mirror in the morning.” And I laughed again.
Just as this person who commented, I sometimes can only muster a sideways glance, a little afraid to see what a night’s sleep has done to my hair, my face, my eyes. If I’m feeling courageous, I look full on, wondering when that particular wrinkle showed up or what caused the puffiness of my eyes. I survey my hair, wincing to think it might be bit thinner. While I have not yet torn the mirror down from the wall and stomped on it, I usually turn away with relief and try to give myself a little positive, yet half-hearted, affirmation like “True beauty lies within.” Or “Well, you look pretty good–for your age.”
As I walked the Camino, I don’t remember so much about looking in mirrors in the morning–and often, there weren’t mirrors where we stayed–but my book relates over and over the many ways that I was reluctant to look into the mirror of my soul. My Inner Critic was walking right beside me, always commenting on how I wasn’t keeping true to the intention of being relaxed or trusting or confident or even kind. The chatter was so severe I did want to tear down that mirror and stomp on it like the bear. Yet I was walking like a martyr many days of the pilgrimage, lashing myself with barbed remarks about how wasn’t present, had missed the beauty around me, was pushing myself too hard or not pushing myself hard enough (the Inner Critic can work it from all angles.) By the time I reached Santiago, I was very discouraged with myself and certainly not wanting to glance in the mirror. All this despite the fact that I had indeed walked the 500 miles and done it in exactly the thirty-four days that our guidebook suggested. When I was asked to speak about my experience to a women’s group a few months after I returned, the first thing I said was, “I failed the Camino.” The women laughed, but it was the truth in the mirror to me.
As friends and family have now read my book, several have said that when I returned from the trip, I didn’t want to talk about it, or I would say simply, “It was harder than I thought.” Almost to a person, they wondered why I had all these remarkable experiences and yet never told them anything about them. Truth be told, I didn’t realize this. The Inner Critic is a master of shame. I did enjoy so much during the walk, but the overriding sense when I finished was of disappointing myself and God. Why would I want to talk about that?
Fifteen years later, I no longer feel that I failed the Camino. It was only my reliance on egoic pride that told me I had failed. My soul had the journey of its life! So much was seen, excavated and released. So much was inspiring, expanding and revealing. And yet, I am still being tempted to listen to that old cynical voice of the Inner Critic each day. In my work in the Diamond Approach, where the inner Critic is named using the psychological term of Super Ego, its definition is “any voice that makes you feel less than.” And to follow up on that, “It’s not the voice of Truth.”
Of course, I realize that the bear in the video didn’t have a Super Ego. Instinct for survival was the reason the bear attacked the image. But it is interesting that the Super Ego starts out in us by the age of 6 or so, as a psychological structure that is trying to get us to behave, and thus assure survival and love. It’s just too immature to be wise however and it never grows up. Living between the lines is a lean life. And a very poor resource for realizing our full potential.
Lately, I’ve been amused at my Super Ego, amused as I might be seeing a small child trying to be the “boss”, thinking it knows best at age six. Hearing all its critical comments as a six-year-old with a loud voice makes me laugh. And my body and soul relax.
My “little Camino” this week is waking each morning and looking in the mirror with kindness instead of judging. Just gazing into my own eyes and letting love arise. One of the spiritual teachers in the Diamond Approach, Alia, is often quoted as saying something to the effect that, “We are infinite, boundless beings of Light and Love, going around believing we are milk trucks.” I want to live into that deeper vision of my self. To smile at the reflection I see in the mirror, love its aging as beautiful and see more deeply the Light that shines within. I want to gaze upon this mirror fully, with appreciation, with interest and no urge to look away. Not at all.