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  • William Platt

I walked alone

Updated: Sep 23, 2022

In the morning we say good morning to someone be it a spouse, a child or the shopkeeper. The most crushing existence I can imagine is having no one to talk to, no one to share anything with, no one to even say hello to. This is the reality of many older people, a life of quiet loneliness.

As rich postmodern technologically savvy people we can substitute a real world with a virtual world. We turn on the radio or TV, we check Facebook, Twitter, newsfeed and emails. We go to school or work, we listen to the car radio or CD or plug in the earphones and the MP3. Stimulus, noise, endless clatter to fill the void in our lives.

What would happen though if you took a break from such clutter, I mean a real long break?

A thought provoking experiment described what happened when 68 volunteers [aged 12 - 18] were “deprived” of the internet for 8 hours

I speak English, in France they speak French and where I was hiking in southern France, Occitan.

In the first 30 days I had no more than five actual real life face to face - longer than 1 minute conversations. I had a Kindle and my phone but no internet and no MP3 player. Silence was to be my personal companion.

France is a big country and walking is a slow way to cover vast distances. The guidebook described the route as “solitary” and it was, it was also unrelentingly boringly ordinary.

In the first few days I was strong and very excited, the adventure was new and the weather unexpectedly sunny and very hot for early April.

After a few days I found I was losing concentration, missing signposts and being forgetful. Like a butterfly, my mind couldn’t sit on one flower of an idea for any length of time, it would flit from to another and another and back again.

There was only quiet background sounds and so my ears made up their own incessant white noise. It was like putting your ear to a sea shell and listening to the “roar”. Even as I tried to sleep, a gentle ... ssshhhhhhhh.

When I came to any human habitation I was so excited to see total strangers, If they smiled and replied to my “bonjour” I was inexplicably happy, if they ignored me I was plunged into misery and anger. I found my feelings, like my head, ping ponging from happy to sad and back again. Getting lost, even for just a few kilometres, would send me into an insane rage from which I would recover slowly.

Oh and the songs, the endlessly playing loops of half remembered snippets, round and round, hour after hour. Not lots of songs but one song, all day just one chorus of one awful catchy tune, like “Agadoo”. Listening to my personal internal radio play the worst music I have ever heard in my entire life. Disasters like “The Night Chicago Died” or “Shadduppa Your Face” it was indescribably tortuously depressing.

Then there were the arguments. I was talking to myself, and even worse, arguing, “is it this way?” and I would reply, out loud “no you idiot it’s that way”. I relived past confrontations where I had felt hurt or hard done by, but now, in my new altered state of reality I would tell those people exactly what I wanted to say. I won every argument and put those bastards in their place. I had become like one of those old homeless alcoholic guys you see chuntering away to themselves in the high street.

My mind was straining because of the lack of stimulus. Like putting a car into neutral and slamming your foot on the accelerator, lots of noise but no movement. I felt like I was going mad.

I wanted to give up. I was utterly miserable, depressed even. I hated everything. I kept asking myself [out loud] “Why are you doing this? Give up?” and I would reply “no, I’m not giving up, I want to carry on, I want to do this”.

“You don’t really want to do this, you are only doing it because you think it looks good. You only care what other people think about you. You don't need to worry about what they think, lie to them, you’ve always been a good lier, do it again. Then you can stop walking, go and sit on the beach in Barcelona, you know you want to, no one cares, no one has ever cared, why keep doing this to yourself? Give up son, give up, stop walking take a rest you know you deserve it”.

I was so tired, so demoralised, so fed up and I was so so tempted to do just that, give up and lie. Lie to me and everyone else, I have no idea why I didn't. These almost schizophrenic conversations lasted into my third week.

And then one day, the bad “me” really did shut up. It was so sudden and so noticeable, I stopped and listened, looking around, as if the "bad me" had just nipped behind a tree for a pee and would appear again in a moment.

The imaginary noise in my ears had stopped, the endless loop of songs and arguments had stopped. There is no other way to describe it other than, it was if “I”, had finally arrived. At last the speed of my mind had slowed to the pace of a man walking.

For the first time in my life I was at peace with myself, and it felt good.

#camino #theway

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