To be completely honest, writing this blog and sticking to descriptions of what happened each day is much easier than trying to make sense of what happened after my Camino. But I want to try.
Lately I’ve been reading Jack Kornfield’s book, After the Ecstasy, the Laundry. In it I learned that peak spiritual experiences are often followed by serious doubt, angst, and depression. Reading his wise words is bringing me reassurance that the feelings I’ve had this last year are completely normal.
When I left home last year in April, I couldn’t have imagined I would gain so much from walking for seven weeks in Spain. I went with the simple intention to be changed by the experience, and in some ways I got more than I bargained for.
While in Spain, I had a breakthrough on an issue that had been stuck for over ten years resulting in forgiving myself and a past love. I got better at knowing and setting boundaries. I felt grateful for practically everything — and when I wasn’t feeling grateful I knew with certainty that the purpose of difficult things would be revealed in time. I felt present and alive and joyful in an almost childlike way.
When I returned home, this elation persisted for a few weeks along with a stunned sort of disorientation. Like a character in a cartoon, that first month felt like unknowingly stepping off a cliff, suspended in midair for a few moments before falling.
I fell into secrecy. Some of what I experienced on the Camino was so raw and unfamiliar that I thought I couldn’t share about it until it made sense. I made a dark pact with myself not to talk about any of it. This secrecy was the primary source of my misery.
I fell into pretending. I felt so uncomfortable with all these unfamiliar feelings that it was easier to just act like I was fine. I felt scared inside, but telling others about my questions and doubts felt even scarier.
I fell into despair. I became convinced that I would never be able to create the kind of open friendships or feel that sense of community ever again.
I fell into longing. All I wanted to do was go back to Spain, to walk again and again.
I fell into depression. I stopped moving. I ate everything. I spent too many hours online and on my computer.
I fell into fantasy. I found myself thinking a lot about someone I met on the Camino. Because she had seen the best of me, my joyful self, I thought I couldn’t be that happy again unless I was with her. As a result, I stopped showing up in my relationship with my partner. I felt ashamed of these feelings and I was a mess.
I fell into anxiety. I worried about everything. It seemed constructive at the time, but it made me physically ill. I finally went to a doctor for a remedy (which is helping).
There were days where I honestly thought I was cracking up. Closed off to myself and unwilling to ask for help, I couldn’t go back or forward.
The fact is, in spite of these negative feelings and the year-long swath of muck this journey unleashed, I wouldn’t change a thing.
What I see now with perfect clarity is that my pilgrimage brought me an opportunity to choose what is real. The intensity and real-ness of the Camino burned away so much bullshit. The flimsy, “close but not quite” life I’d constructed just wouldn’t do. I struggled to make that leap, feeling afraid of what I’d lose or who I’d hurt. But this knowledge wouldn’t leave me alone. Because I had experienced what it feels like to be whole and alive, I couldn’t go back to being my small self again. It took me this whole year to begin sort things out.
I also realize that this struggle might have resolved sooner if I had refrained from editing myself to only what I was “supposed” to feel. Avoiding hard and messy feelings only makes them persist. I now see the value in going toward emotions instead of hiding them. I now understand the importance of going all the way to the bottom of my feelings — no matter how scary this is — for I can return to my life purged of their power over me.
What I know now is that the open, compassionate, joyful person I discovered in myself cannot exist only in Spain or with certain people. I can’t stuff my expanded heart and soul into the tiny box they previously occupied. Not if I want to remain sane, anyway. I have to claim this as my authentic self. Nothing less will do.
Which brings me to a quote attributed to Saint Augustine, “Solvitur ambulando.” Translated from Latin, the phrase means It is solved by walking.
And so it is. Following an intuition, I took a solo hike up to Cascade Head on the anniversary of completing my Camino in Finisterre. Last weekend, my partner and I walked 5 miles to Pamelia Lake. Yesterday we hiked 6 miles to Marion Lake with a reflected view of the mountains. Now we’re talking about taking a hike into the woods almost every weekend this summer and possibly doing some backpacking overnights together.
All this walking happened so organically I couldn’t possibly have planned it. The real miracle is that as I walk, the lingering questions and incongruities the Camino raised in my life are resolving. The physical movement is helping me get out of my head and re-occupy my body. I’m reconnecting with my partner openly and honestly. I’m starting to heal the split between who I think I “should” be and who I truly am.
It isn’t solved by worrying or giving up or pretending. It’s solved by forward movement. It is solved by being outdoors in God’s creation which puts everything in perspective. it is solved by walking.
Mistakenly, I thought that being that happy was a result of people and place, but it’s not. Joy is about choosing to be where I am and being grateful for what’s here right now. It’s about showing up in my life — just like I did on the Camino.
After a year-long struggle, I am finally re-claiming my authentic self in my life today. I’m probably the only one surprised to discover that the answers were here in me all along.
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This post is one of the most revealing and vulnerable I’ve yet written and I’d love to know how it resonates or moves you in the comments below.
And now… this morning’s Divinely-inspired earworm… (“You” in the song is the real me.)
22 thoughts on “Post-Camino insight: Solvitur ambulando”
Jen, this is the MOST honestly inspiring thing I’ve read, maybe EVER. Your courage to put all this out there leaves me at a loss for adequate words. I can’t help wondering what the world would be like if more of us had this depth, thoughtfulness, openness, compassion, and bravery. My heart opens and I want to wrap you in my arms and say “Thank you!” I wish I were more like you in a lot of ways. You are just simply The Best YOU on the planet. Thanks for sharing your very precious Self with the rest of us.
Thank you soo much, Carol. I was pretty nervous to hit the Publish button. BUT, if I’m going to be authentic I’ve got to speak my truth now, right here, today no matter how scary.
I’m convinced that many pilgrims struggle with similar feelings and thoughts after their walk. Maybe speaking up with help others know they’re not alone.
I’ll take you up on that hug any time! ❤
Thank you Jen for sharing that. Look like you narrowed the gap between your everyday life and what your higher-self is (don’t know if it makes sense with my shaky English). Keep walking 🙂
I think you’re absolutely right, Muriel. Finally, finally the gap is narrowing — what a beautiful way to put it. Thank you for being here to witness it. You are and have been an inspiration to me on how to keep walking toward creating the life I want today. ❤
Remember when we talked about bringing the camino state of mind in our everyday life was better but harder to just go back there…. Well I think that you made it ❤
Hi Jen! Ditto Carol’s comments. And you’ve now lived a favorite quote that spoke volumes to me long ago is:
though I’ve traveled the world over — I’ve come to know home for the first time!
Thanks Kent! ❤
I appreciate the intimacy of your shared journey. I particularly like the device you used so effectively to create impact on your reader: a steep descent into a hell of your own making: “I fell …I fell …I fell ” deeper and deeper until thud, splat, kerplunk. And then, getting back up and extending the metaphor into a waking and walking one, up and out of the mire into fields, seeing yourself as nature and nature in you, at home and at peace. Thoroughly believable. Thoroughly thoughtful. Totally inviting. Thanks!
Thanks for commenting, Tim! I’m glad to know it spoke to you. ❤
Wow, Jen. Wow. This is so huge! I want to say I’m proud of you, but there’s so much more than that here. I’m sad for you. I’m happy for you. I see you blooming. And I think I can never say it as eloquently as Anaïs Nin: “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”
So yes, that. I am honored to bear witness to your journey, wherever it takes you. Welcome, friend. Welcome. ❤
Yes! This exactly. It’s time to blossom. Thank you for witnessing that, dear one. (hug)
This is courageous, beautiful and so real. Thank you for sharing! I would love to chat with you more. I also hope that you hear from these comments and in your journey that although some of what you went through, you hid, you really can’t do it alone. From your posts, I hear that community has really opened some pieces and I hope that also is not lost in translation…that can also be a part of the real you. 🙂 Love you!
Indeed, Court! Thank you for this observation about community — for it was my connections with others that catalyzed the learning and breakthroughs. I hid from it for a while, but for the sake of wholeness and further evolution now I want to be known deeply *every* day, not just in Spain. ❤ So let's keep talking!
Yay! When can we do lunch next week?
Buckets and buckets of hugs and love for you! I hear you, appreciate, and understand ❤
Thank you, Crys!! I feel the love!
You are the most wonderful advocate for all of us who are traveling to self discovery and awareness, reminding us that we are not broken and we deserve to be spoken to gently. It is surprising how challenging this journey can be for each of us inside our own head and heart. In speaking your truth you have allowed us to give you the gift of witness that you so graciously and generously provide to your friends, your students and your colleagues. While I would not see you suffer, it seems to have lead you to a place of understanding, vulnerability and passion that you might not have come to without the suffering. The response to your sharing was loving words. No bolts of lightening, no rejection or judgment but admiration, honest responses and acceptance. What torture we inflict upon our own gentle souls as we travel the path to be authentic and true to ourselves. Walk on brave one, there is peace, resolution, connection in the walking.
You are… wow. Thank you so much for this comment, Melanie. I’m so touched. I so agree with you about the place of suffering — or rather struggle — and how it’s been grist for the mill of my soul. I’m both glad to be on the other side of it *and* really glad it all turned out the way it did.
Sounds like your Camino is just starting. Take a ride for pleasure take a walk for joy someone once told me. And there can be no joy without despair. I was writing my blog – a reminiscence of a walk I did some time ago – when I came to a grinding crash at the day 10 mark. I am still trying to work out why I have become frightened to revisit what happened next over the following 27 days. Your brave description of the leap you are taking has inspired me to go back to my journal.
In any case – there is no substitute for a good walk in nature. Especially if you can share it with someone you love.
Hi Tim! Thank you so much for your thoughtful and heartfelt reply. I too would be interested in hearing about the 10+27 days of your journey for I have found that the best insights come from those things we resist.
Thank you also for the encouragement and kind words. Ultrea and buen Camino to you!
Jen, this post brings such special healing to me today. I made it to Santiago, May 2014, and I have felt stuck a lot of the time since returning to the states. I “knew” that my Camino could be anywhere, anytime, but that longing you described has been intense at times – I have put a lot of energy into looking back, recounting, remembering, re-reading, watching YouTube Camino videos and reading blogs like yours – it was almost like I couldn’t get enough, yet, never with full resolution of my own experience. I wanted to share my experience with everyone a few weeks after I returned, but most seemed to lose interest after just a few minutes (it wasn’t their experience) and I wasn’t ready for that.
I too appreciate your writing style, but even more so, I appreciate your courage to share your heart and vulnerability in this post and in the rest of your blog. Thank you reminding me of how tough the Camino was and how there were many days when it wasn’t all that pleasant (it truly sucked at times), but of course a shower, clean clothes and some chocolate/wine seemed to always help!
I know it’s a Camino cliche, but I a few months after I returned, I did quit a very lucrative job and moved 600 miles to be closer with my daughter and grand-kids. It took me close to 6 months to secure employment and I will be making approximately 1/3 of what I use to, so it’s been an adjustment. I haven’t been in my own bed for 6 months because I’ve been “in-between” and I’m currently staying in a friends basement in an extra bedroom. Sound familiar? One of my new colleagues continues to reminds me “Your’e still on your Camino, Jonathan, keep walking!”
I hope to return to Spain someday, but who knows? There are so may wonderful placed to explore, many of them in my own “back yard”. I’m inspired by your getting out back in nature and hiking again – I think that’s a great idea that could help me bring all of this together.
Thanks for motivating me once again to keep “showing up in my life”.
It’s really that simple. Solivtur Ambulando.
“Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.” Jeremiah 6:16
Wow, Jonathan. Your comment could not have come at a better time; just this morning I was getting down on myself for having made so few changes in my life since my Camino. I had all these huge insights and resolutions—what happened to them? Of course, writing this blog is the most visible way that I’ve changed. I’m not concealing the truth of my experiences the way I used to. Reading about the leap you’ve made to be closer to family is such an inspiration to me. It sounds like you’re starting to live the insight that life isn’t about money or stuff—it’s about quality. Each of us gets to decide what that looks like.
I’ve been researching the phenomenon of post-Camino blues, and the same aimlessness and longing you mention happens for post-PCT hikes, post-Peace Corps service, and post-military deployment. The fact is, these experiences bust us open from the inside. For good or ill, we happen to live in a culture that would rather be amused than awake—which makes the transition (integration, actually) that much harder. No one I know can really relate.
I commend you for looking back and attempting to feed the part of you that awoke on the Camino. May you always be inspired by the memories you recall. I know I am. The longing we all feel to return, to remember, is, I believe, a calling toward integration. It’s a calling that allows us to use the baffling, astonishing lightness and freedom we experienced toward some specific good. Often this path involves deep inquiry and being present with difficult emotions, but when we come out of it, true wholeness is our reward.
Another way of saying this is that the first journey, the actual Camino, is a process of going out (into the world) in order to go in (and discover something important about our spiritual selves). The year or so *after* the Camino is a process of going in (to look at the difficult things the Camino revealed to us) so that we can once again go out into the world, whole and aligned with our purpose.
You got me on a chatty evening. 🙂 If you ever want to talk about this in real time, I welcome the opportunity. Just know you’re not alone in your longing or your search for what’s next. Thanks so much for your comment.