Little Camino: Day 7. Those Germans

I’ve been talking about my book with friends, family, and some book groups these past few weeks. And without exception, someone brings up my frustration with “those Germans” that figure often in the narrative. Those Germans who were so numerous, so efficient, so in shape, so arrogant, bossy– and got up earlier than the rules allowed at the albergues to get the best beds at the next one.

The Sixth Commandment of the Camino (see prior posts on these) is: The camino is an opportunity for a constant encounter of self with the other. I didn’t fully appreciate what this commandment meant until the very end of the pilgrimage. It was during the pilgrim mass at Santiago that I came to realize “those Germans” were me–both genetically, psychologically and spiritually.

My father’s family came from Germany in the mid-1860’s and settled as farmers in Iowa. I came from stock who were hard-working, physically fit and yes, efficient. And I was that as well. Unconsciously, I was seeing myself in the Germans who frustrated me. And that is where the psychological part arises. Of course, I was judging them. When I first heard in a college psychology class that the thing I most hate about another person is the thing I most hate about myself, I rejected that idea immediately. And then I took a little self-test using a person whose behavior I did secretly hate. With great chagrin, I realized the professor was right. It was a huge insight which I seem to selectively remember.

So the Germans were walking too fast. I hated that about myself too. They had cellphones to call ahead and make reservations. I wanted that phone. I wanted those reservations. They seemed to be so fit and having no physical problems. I was hating my back pain and how it hindered me. They were bossy. Oh, I could so want to be the boss and tell everyone how they should act.

The judgment was so great that it took me a while to realize that I had lumped all Germans into one profile. But, of course, I met several Germans who were wonderful people, particularly a young couple near Ponferrada. They were so excited to be able to make this trip and since they spoke excellent English, we shared our joys and troubles of our journey. We met them on the last day as well, and walked into Santiago at the same time.

The Camino was a constant opportunity to see myself in the other. And I did see and feel my judgment acutely–felt its affect on my body (it tensed up), on my mind (it felt righteous) and on my heart (it felt angry.)

But interestingly, my Little Camino these days, is being aware of the balanced way to look at my judgment. I need to have compassion for myself. In essence, we all judge. We get it from our history of watching and hearing people being judge or being the one who is judged. In fact, judging becomes this loop of judging others and judging self.

As Byron Brown says in his book, Soul Without Shame, “There is nothing wrong with judgment; it is common human capacity and activity. You don’t have to feel defensive about having judgments. But if you bring a degree of self-recognition into your communication that allows more space for real contact, the other can feel you in your judgment rather than just the judgment.”

I did come to some self-recognition about my judgment; I did hug the German woman who sat in the pew with me at the pilgrim mass and saw her as a beautiful individual, not one of “those.” But what I didn’t do then, which I strive to do now, is to not then criticize myself more harshly. There’s a good humility in recognizing the error of our ways and admitting it. But there is no healing if I take all that judgment I had for “those Germans” onto myself. I came home from the Camino with shame for my judgment for thinking and speaking so harshly of them.

With a more compassionate view now, I did encounter myself in the other in not just these encounters with Germans though. There were a myriad of ways that weren’t critical. I venture now to say that the Jesus-like nature of the hospitalero in Ventosa could also be a part of me. That I saw a part of me in the funny women who stood on their heads and sang Beatle songs to avenge the cold. Or the brave Brazilian grandmother who walked by herself. With compassion, I can see myself in the frustrated bishop who I bumped into as he was trying to recess. And as I write, now I feel like I could name everyone I met as an opportunity for encountering myself–just as they are, just as I am. That is what the mystical part of the Camino points to–we are not separate. We are walking down this road together.

There are thick books written about this subject of judging self and others. There is so much more to say. And in prior blogs I have emphasized how that inner judge is the biggest barrier to knowing our true selves and those of others. But I want to end this blog with the awareness of the Sixth Commandment of the Camino. I have the opportunity with every person I ever meet to encounter a part of myself. If I see a part of myself in this encounter, I am less likely to judge harshly and more likely to understand myself and also to understand them as fellow human beings.

I sit here thinking that this will be a very hard Little Camino. But “one at a time”, says a small voice from within. “One at a time.” And. “Compassion for when you don’t.”

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