Keeping to my pledge to write thirty-four blogs, one every Monday, on how the Camino continues to affect my life– the same number as the days I walked the 500-mile pilgrimage)
I’ve been thinking about the definition of the word “problem”that I read online last week, but try as I may, I can’t find it again. But it has slumbered in me. So I ask forgiveness in not naming the source, but I want to share it with you. It traces its lineage back through the French, then Latin, but ultimately to early Greek. It literally means “to throw in front of.” But that particular author felt its meaning was more precise than that; it meant “the stone God throws down in front of you.”
I have lived my life so long as one who works on problems, solves problems, avoids problems, dislikes problems and considers problems in a nutshell as negative. Who wants problems–mine, others’, the world’s? Success seems to be defined as having a problem-free life. The capacity to deal with anything that arises and say nonchalantly, “No problem.”
The trouble is, of course, that problems are endemic to living a human life. Rather than resisting them, this new definition of the word has opened me to seeing a problem as connected to the work of the Holy in soul transformation. If I perceive it as a “stone God throws down in front of me,” everything shifts. Here is an opportunity to not resist the problem and try to get past it, but rather guidance on where I need to be wake up from the illusion of the ego that tells me problems are a problem. Maybe they are gifts in disguise. Or portals to deeper understanding.
I am going to use an example of a problem that always gets my reactivity up and helps me to so clearly see my ego–calling the help line of my local internet provider. The first problem is that I feel inadequate about technology and the terminology. So I’m already feeling defensive. I call and say I have a problem with my connection. The tech person doesn’t understand my problem. I feel myself tighten. I don’t want to admit it might be my problem. Then I get self-righteous about my right to have what I pay for every month to work flawlessly. When the tech support person keeps repeating the instructions I’ve already tried, prejudice and judgment arise, just as it did so often on my days on the Camino. I like to think I’m a person open and welcome to immigrants, but I judge that the tech support person doesn’t really know what they are talking about because English is their second language. I begin to feel superior. I begin to talk in clipped tones. I just want the problem to go away. I hang up and feel like a jerk immediately. It was like I couldn’t stop myself. I have this ego ideal of being an understanding person and then within five minutes of things not going my way, I behave exactly in the way I so despise in others–uncivil, demanding, unkind. More confessions.
I didn’t want to be cold or tired or unable to find a bed for the night on that pilgrimage, and I resisted and resented these problems. But what has changed gradually since I walked the Camino, remembering these confessions, is that I am beginning to see problems as opportunities–opportunities to not react in the old familiar ways. Those stones thrown down in front of me may indeed be the things that the Universe in all its wisdom wants me most to see, so that I can change from living from my little scared and wounded ego and be more of who I really am.
It seems hilarious to me now to remember how I so wanted the Camino to be easy and go according to my plans. That has never been the description of a pilgrimage! There were a lot of problems with my body, the weather, the Germans, the housing. And yet–guess what? The Camino from St. Jean to Santiago went exactly according to my plan of 34 days with 2 rest days! And all those perceived problems are the very things that transformed me and that made for the best stories! If it had been easy, I wouldn’t have come face to face with so much of my egoic patterns or sensed the depth and sacredness of this ancient path.
My little Camino these days is not easy; it is living into a life where problems are not to be avoided, but to lived as practice for enlightened living. It isn’t a straight line. I’m better in some areas than others. I sometimes start out being calm and contemplative about the problem, but lapse with impatience before it’s resolved. But sometimes, on a good day, I see the problem as an opportunity and I feel a shift, stay relaxed.
I can’t exactly say I look forward to the next time my internet doesn’t work, but I will ask for grace, breathe and recite the mantra, “this is a stone God has thrown in front of me” before I dial tech support.