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.)