Down to the 0 kilometer marker, I have come farther along the Camino that I have before, the last few days taking me through enchanted forests that are characteristic of Galicia, but here near the coast, there is salt air and eucalyptus. It is cool, damp and herbal, and the sound of crashing waves when the path weaves near the shore is reminder of having come as far as it is possible to come this way. There are signs of change in this largely untouched place. In the last kilometers, cresting a 1000 foot hill before descending steeply to the shore, huge wind turbines are being erected, and swaths of trees have been cleared for massive power lines. Tucked against a cliff is a multi-level modern wave of glass and metal construction overlooking a pristine white sand beach just before Muxia on northern Spain’s Atlantic shore. I made my way into town, feeling that these are the last steps of three Caminos experienced in four years. I know it’s time now to turn around and start my trip home, and I ask myself the kind of unanswerable question I always ask, “Did I get what I came for?” This has been more of a quest than a holiday.
For almost a week, I have been bogged down in my writing, plagued by a section on anger. Anger has become almost a defining feature of working in or being served by our health care system. It often circles around feeling disrespected or a sense of helplessness. We are sensitive—as we should be—to explosive expression by our patients as an indication of being overwhelmed. For providers of health care, such expressions are regarded as a root problem itself, evidence of fixed character flaws like narcissism, rather than as a messenger. The reaction to these outbursts is part of drawing a line around the behavior to condemn it. I am afraid, however, that without a willingness to venture beyond the “We’re mad as hell, and we’re not taking it anymore” stance, we will remain locked into a dynamic of rage.
I’ve been dwelling with Roshi Joan Halifax’s notion of “edge states,” those places where adaptive, constructive feeling states move into personal distress and become harmful to ourselves and others that I shared in the last post, Fostering Compassion. I reread Harriet Lerner’s rich primer, The Dance of Anger, in which she reminds us that anger is a signal, like pain, a call from ourselves that we need to hear, and at its core is often the task of defining ourselves and balancing that sense of self in relation to others—at home, in love, at work, in the world. The work, however, begins at home. We cannot bank on changing the world to our liking, but we can come home to ourselves. We can discern what we can or cannot do, what we are willing to do, and in the light of this most honest appraisal of ourselves, we might be able to more comfortably accept the consequences of our choices and feel less helpless, less victimized. Lerner also advocates and offers guidance for addressing anger productively, which she might define as ways that open the door to realigning relationships rather than perpetuating the status quo.
Then, as if on cue, my magician friend Alberto sent this, from Thich Naht Hahn:
Don’t try to force, manipulate and control others.
Become your own master and let others be what they are or have the ability to be.
Settle in the silence and harmony of the entire universe.
This, then, is the real journey home, the emptiness and totality of the 0 kilometer marker, the silence and harmony of the entire universe.