Whether I was taking long elegant strides or small, syncopated steps, each day I danced a passionate and very personal tango with my partner–ego.
The composition of a partner dance are equal parts lead and follow. Each dancer, with his or her own purpose, comes together in a dance of mirrors in order to achieve unity. If the lead moves forward with his left, the follow steps back with her right. A harmonious yin yang of communication, in which the most accomplished dancers use their physical connection to incorporate the creative suggestions of their partner into their own style.
Anyone who has ever tried to dance with a partner knows how truly complicated it actually is to achieve this unity. Thus, my dance with ego often looked more like the “white boy shuffle” than an elegant and well rehearsed tango. There were days where I strongly and confidently danced the lead. Other days I danced the follow, surrendering to my ego. No matter what position I took, when I followed the flow of awareness, the movements felt intuitive. However, when I tried to lead when I was supposed to be following, I would awkwardly trip over myself in a struggle for control.
I discovered very early in my journey that I was there to shed light and awareness on my ego. Guided by the teachings of Eckhart Tolle’s book, A New Earth, I embraced the challenge with determination and compassion. The 33 days that it took me to complete the Camino were very significant, because it was a sufficient amount of time to submerge myself in the depths. What’s more, the trail presented me with ample opportunities to come up close and personal with my dance partner.
My first tango was physical. As I laced up my boots on day three to set off from Larrasoaña, my left ankle felt as if it had been deeply bruised. The pain was excruciating and nothing, not even a good Spanish dose of ibuprofen (1 gram!) would make it feel better. The pain was hard to ignore and my ankle had swollen to epic proportions. Panic swirled in my chest, and the doubt began to eat away at me. I had anticipated knee problems and back problems, but not achilles tendonitis. I was scared, but felt that my spirit was committed to Santiago and I was going to march on. The friends I had made in that first week were my motivation to keep up. I needed them. I needed the feelings they made me feel–comfort and safety.
It wasn’t until the end of my first week as I crawled 30kms into Logroño, however, that I became cognizant of my ego. As a result of trying to keep up with my friends, I was doing physical harm to my body. They had planned another 30km for the following day, but I knew it was going to be impossible for me. My legs felt like lead and my ankles were turning into cankles…terrifying on many levels. As I woke with the herd of pilgrims at 5:30 am the following morning, I looked at my friends and began to sob. I had to do what was best for my health, and I had to be OK with the idea of slowing down. No matter how hard it was on my ego to admit that I couldn’t walk on with them that day, it was one of the most crucial decision I made along the Camino.
Bringing awareness to my ego began the journey and the dance. From then on out, any time I began to feel the ego surfacing, I knew that I needed to find unity with it. Sometimes the ego manifested itself as a big hill to climb or a physical limitation that forced me to slow down. Most times, however, it came as a comparison of myself with other pilgrims.
These comparisons often disguised themselves as small talk. How many kilometers had they walked that day or what time had they left the albergue whirled and twirled with my ego? Other times it was judgment of character that caught me off guard. When I found myself disliking other pilgrims for one reason or another, I had to ask myself, what is in them that makes my ego feel weak or challenged? What are they mirroring back to me that I am afraid of in myself? This question led to the most important question of all….
Who am I?
The ego, is essentially the I, me or we plus an identity tag. So, what is my identity and in what ways does this identity assert ego? More importantly, however, is there something that I can attach to my concept of “I” that neutralizes ego and brings balance and harmony?
Thankfully, the answer is yes.
Camino lesson number 2: “I am” energy and “I am” love.
Quite simple really. No further explanation necessary.