Lessons from the Camino de Santiago: You Find What You Focus On…Good or Bad

Why did we get so upset last week?  It wasn’t like him at all to behave the way I’d thought, and it wasn’t like me at all to behave the way he’d thought.   It was like other people, though,  and it was exactly like our worst fears, and that’s what we saw.

It doesn’t really make sense now, and it would be a hilarious tale of epic failure, one in which technology turned against us.  Only, when you think you’ve just lost someone really special, it’s not so funny.  It’s downright cruel.    But eventually, we discovered that it was a communication snafu brought on by a failure with phones, email accounts, geographical distance, and diametrically opposed work schedules.  Basically, two people each thought the other had dumped them and was refusing to communicate.

Something had already happened last week that made me extra sensitive to how one person might respond to another, based on my past history, so a part of me was squinting into the eyes of repeated history, expecting it, fearing it ridiculously.

I’ve had time now to think it over, and here, almost two months after walking the Camino de Santiago, I am suddenly finding those life lessons from St. James’ Way popping up everywhere.  Early on the pilgrimage, I learned to watch for the painted yellow arrows pointing the way.  There were times when I really had to look for them to make sure I didn’t head down the wrong trail and get lost from my loosely-bound group of fellow pilgrims.  After about a week on the trail, I got into  a strange headspace of not really thinking about the arrows but almost looking for them by rote.  They would register without much thinking on my part, and I’d head off in that direction.  I had set an expectation for myself that I was looking for yellow arrows and I was well-trained within a week to see them and move in their direction, whether they were in stone, painted on a tree or barn, or even made of yellow heads of flowers that pointed the way down an obscure path next to open farmland.  My focus was on the yellow arrows and I just kept moving that direction.

Just as my focus was on the how it would look or seem if the other person decided to cut me out of his life.

Another scenario popped up in the last week to remind me that things are not always as they seem because I might be looking so hard for something that really isn’t there.  It’s often easier to see our mistakes reflected in other people’s experiences, so after not really understanding it myself  when I was the one seeing things that weren’t there, another situation was spotlighted for me, even though it happened a year ago.

My younger daughter was back at college when she realized she’d left her computer cord in my home office.  Her dad was to visit her within a day, so she reluctantly asked me to drop it by his house rather than overnighting  it to her.  Uh….  I reluctantly agreed.  I’d never stepped foot in my ex’s house and didn’t care to run into him.  We are civil to each other, but I have no desire to be in his presence.  She assured me that he would still be at work at that time and all I needed to do was to leave the cord on his front doorstep and she’d have him retrieve it when he got home from work.  Okay.  Okay, that I could do.  I wouldn’t even have to see him.

I found the cord easily and then, already dressed in my workout gear, feeling good, happily down 25 pounds since I’d see him last, and my mind filled with thoughts of this sweet new man in my life,  I powerwalked that cord down to my ex’s house and started to leave it at the door when the front door opened.  He was dog-sitting for our other daughter and when he cracked the door, out came the dog, which was pee-all-over-you eager to see me.  What happened next was uncharacteristic of just about every interaction between my ex and me for the last decade, including the last years we were married.  I handed him my daughter’s computer cord and we had an unusually nice two-minute chat about our daughter.  Just then, the dog did something funny that made me laugh…made us both laugh.  We were a good 3 feet apart, the closest we’d been in years, and having a conversation not punctuated by anger or hurt.  And it was at that very second that we both laughed that his then-girlfriend drove up.  She got out of the car, angry and demanding to know what was going on.  I didn’t think much about it then, except that I thought her behavior was…bizarre.  I mean, given my history with my ex, she had to know hell would freeze over long before we will reconcile.

Several people told me she was jealous.  I blew them off.  Of what?  I’m the last person on the planet who would take him away from her.  More recently, since their break-up and since finding her sitting  in her car in front of my house a few days later and hanging out in my neighborhood, I’ve learned from multiple sources that she really was jealous of me that day and of imagined liaisons that were…definitely imagined.    As it was pointed out to me over this past week, she was looking for signs that he was with someone else and all she saw were signs that confirmed her insecurity.  Even though I know that nothing was “going on,” she was focused on it and found it–or thought she had.  She followed those arrows without really thinking where they were leading her.

She was so sure she had reason to be jealous, but I knew there was no reason.  Seems simple to me in this case.  But in my own case, I know now that there was nothing to prove out my fears in my own relationship, even though it looked so obvious at the time.    The lesson I take from this and from the Camino is that if I look for reasons for a relationship to fall apart or to be left behind, I will find them–even when there’s nary a whimsy of truth to it.


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