Ever since I took that hike to Cascade Head, I’ve been gradually coming out of a year-long post-Camino funk. I’ve been reading a lot and talking to others about the muddled sadness that can follow an intense life experience and the choices that aid in coping and thriving. Whether completing service in the Peace Corps, doing a tour of duty, or ending a long-distance walk like the Pacific Crest Trail, people seem to be affected in similar ways afterward.
First there’s elation of having accomplished something so momentous in terms of time, effort, and impact. The achievement creates a glow around the person–especially if the experience ended positively.
Then a feeling of stunned-ness sets in. Within a few days or weeks, a sense arises that the powerful experience is out of alignment with one’s current life conditions. A bright fog descends in which it’s difficult to discern where one is or what direction to go in. Well-meaning friends ask How was your trip? without realizing that the experience can’t be conveyed in 20-second soundbites. The recency of the experience’s end also prevents the journeyer from even conveying what has happened; they don’t know yet. This takes time. Recounting tales of the journey is valuable, but stories of challenges and people met only scratch the surface of the experience.
Shortly thereafter, the journeyer’s audience dries up, having moved on to other interesting topics. For the seeker, this can feel terribly isolating, for the journey hasn’t yet been processed. Are they supposed to move on? Pretend it didn’t happen?
Often, a crash follows.
Depending on one’s character and available support, this crash can lead to behaviors that gloss over the discomfort without addressing the underlying questions. It can also lead the seeker to plan future exhilarating opportunities in an effort to re-experience the highs. For others, a deeper transformation takes place that assimilates the insights gained, though this is a much more difficult path. Sometimes people choose a combination of these.
It’s worth mentioning that popular Western culture is so powerfully opposed to deep reflection, those who go this route often feel more isolated by their efforts to seek meaning and integration. Very little guidance is available–especially outside of formal religion–and the way feels like walking blindfolded through muck and brambles.
My next Camino (figuratively speaking)
At the moment, I am researching what practices help seekers walk through this murky undergrowth, to find a path for the soul in the wake of a life-changing experience. I have a lot to learn, but I’m finding guidance from writers like Barbara Brown Taylor, Sue Monk Kidd, Sera Beak, Rumi (is it belittling to call him a writer?), Jack Kornfield, Barbara Kingsolver, and others.
I’m taking the entire month of August to begin what will be the first of three books about how to bring heart, mind, and soul together in service to one’s pilgrimage – before, during, and after. I’m loving the process. I’m attending at least one (but possibly two) workshops in the fall about writing nonfiction. I’m giddy, honestly. I am so excited about this project. Terrified, too–not unlike how I felt before leaving for Spain.
If this book series is anywhere near as powerful and helpful to other seekers as I hope it will be, it will make this last year of struggle worthwhile. It will be my next Camino, for sure.
Want to come with me?
If you’re at all curious about what I’m planning, I’m starting a list. Just leave your email address in the comments and I promise to keep you posted. (And I’ll delete your info after I add you to the list so you don’t get robot spam.) Look for an email from me.
And now – I’ll recommence posting my stories from the Camino. We’re more than halfway there!