Still here!

As fun as it is to tell the stories of what happened on my Camino, my main interest with pilgrimage resides in the inner journey, the interior terrain of the heart and soul where transformation is possible. When I write about this deeper aspect of the journey, I’m reminded of an archaeology excavation, with discarded piles of dirt everywhere, tedious scratch-scratching in the soil, and a few treasures pulled out and dusted off for show.

I mention this because I want to express my gratitude to the several readers who have commented here or mentioned privately how much they appreciate my honesty about my inner experiences on the Camino. In my everyday life, I’m not a fan of making a mess – literal or metaphorical. It’s uncomfortable for me to revisit and expose the emotional intensity of my last days on my journey for I still feel embarrassed – even shame – about them. Unpacking the Camino is messy sometimes and I often get lost in the layers as I dig into them. I appreciate your witnessing as I do so.

This is partly why it’s been so long since I last posted. As dig through the memories of my next post, I notice how much more time it takes to tell the truth, rather than to just report the facts. I write with the thought that finding my own words brings healing and perhaps assists other pilgrims. That’s my hope, anyway.

Shifting into the new year

Here’s the good news: my post-Camino writing and reflection is bearing fruit. Since my last check in and the arrival of the new year, I’ve begun to see several idea-seeds beginning to sprout that were planted during and soon after my Camino.

I’m writing

Ever since my two writing retreats in October, I’ve been making significant progress on my first book about the Camino. Over the holidays, I started doing some intense research (so fun!) and writing actual chapters. It’s all very rough and clunky at this point, but I’m making progress toward this new endeavor.

Everyone asks if I’m writing about my own journey, but that isn’t the plan. Although I’ll reference my experiences, the book is about about what happens for pilgrims after they return home. My research is revealing that many pilgrims struggle with unfamiliar emotions like confusion, sadness, unease, and loneliness starting a few weeks or months after their Camino. I have a lot of theories about why this occurs. My book focuses on practices that returning pilgrims can use to ease their transition and bring the best aspects of the Camino into their everyday lives.

I’m really enjoying the challenge of writing it.

I’m simplifying

As the gravel crunched beneath my feet and I listened to the distant birdsong on the Way, I slowly started to know things – what I really wanted in my life, what I wanted less of, what I wanted to refine. This knowledge came not as checklists or specific tasks, but intuitive insights to carry home with me.

Among those insights was a sense that my professional work wasn’t nourishing me. I could feel a longing for something deeper and soul-fulfilling – something more on the edge of my own skills.

A year and a half after my Camino, the time for pondering has ended. I’m taking some personal risks and gradually releasing long-term responsibilities in my work. This brings up a wide array of feelings from guilt to fear to curiosity. I’m proceeding anyway because I accept the profound truth that if I want room in my life for what’s coming next, letting go is essential. Feeling afraid isn’t a reason to stop moving forward.

I’ll admit that doing this feels a little surreal and illogical, because I don’t really know what will move into that empty, new space. I’m choosing it because I want my work to line up with the me I discovered on the Camino. I learned in Spain that if I pay attention, the path I need to travel will reveal itself – with or without spray-painted arrows.

I’m farming (kind of)

If I was touched by anything while I was on the Camino, it was the small farms outside of Villafranca. All those neat rows of onions and potatoes delighted and inspired me, fanning my longing for my own plot of land. I want an orchard so badly, I have to hold myself back from looking at catalogs of peach varieties for fear that I’ll order a dozen or more. I have nowhere to plant trees.

But, just yesterday, I planted two sticks in the ground.

Let me explain. Several months ago, Muriel and I had an inspiring conversation about my deep longing for a farm – and I despaired at the (seeming) impossibility of making it real in my current situation. She encouraged me to start living my dream now, even if in small, simple ways.

I took her advice. Two weeks ago, I began a 66-hour training offered by the OSU Extension Service to become a Master Gardener. Among the diverse topics are sessions on pruning, organic practices, and orchards. Yesterday, we learned about plant identification, dirt, and how to prune grape stalks and plant them to form new vines. Now I’ve got my own two starts (one red table grape and one green) which will leaf out in spring. I’m elated. This, I can do!

In last week’s class, I also met, by happy accident, two members of a local beekeeping organization and was invited to attend their meeting at the end of this month. I’m obsessed with honeybees and this community (100 strong!) will help me decide whether I’m meant to become a beekeeper too. I’m feeling ridiculously happy as my dreams are coming true today, rather than years from now. (Thanks, Muriel!)

I’m rooting

While those grape sticks are putting down roots, so am I. My word for 2015 is Root.

Despite all the things I accomplish in my life, I’ve been noticing how mostly everything I do seems to deplete me. It gets to the point that I’m running on fumes and I start feeling resentful of intrusions and surprises. To buck up would be one solution, but not one that would last or even resolve the deeper issue.

So my intention this year is to find and experiment with practices that nourish me (at least better than chocolate and Facebook do). I’m journaling almost every day, for example, the way I did on the Camino. I’m making plans to hike (and go backpacking), because the Camino taught me how good it feels to move my body. I’m in physical therapy to heal an injured shoulder and I notice that the exercises help me live more mindfully in my own skin. My partner and I are learning to use a communication technique called Compassionate Commuication which is making our connection stronger and more loving.

These are all tiny examples of tiny changes, but my hope is to support myself and take better care of my own soul. From this more rooted place, I hope to bring a more resourceful, less reactive, and more loving presence to the world in everything that I do. I suspect that it will also help my book be more meaningful.

A tall order, perhaps, but if this nourished, resourceful state of being was possible for me on the Camino, it must also be possible in my life.

How are you? I’d love to hear from you and what’s happening in your life in the comments below.

8 thoughts on “Still here!

  1. Jen,
    I can relate, entirely, to your longing for a garden (with orchard and honeybees), and know that Camino solidified that want in me, too!
    Walking all those miles helped separate the real longings from the imaginary ones, and I came home feeling a lot more clear about my goals in life. I also came home feeling less apologetic for wanting to fulfil those goals. So, I prefer to spend hours digging in the dirt instead of hanging out with friends at a party–so what?!
    Before Camino I would have condoned myself for being antisocial and feared I’d end up friendless. After Camino, I realised that the garden stills my heart in a way that few friends ever touch. So while I have a garden, I don’t feel alone, even if there’s no one around.
    The heart knows what the heart likes. The heart wants what the heart wants.
    If we can be brave enough to give in, the blessings and rewards are enormous!
    I salute you on your ‘giving in’ and wish you continued success. It can only be great!

    1. “The heart wants what the heart wants.” This is so true. I can argue and whine and cajole, but there it is waiting, plain as day. Thanks for the cheers and your companionship in my inner journey. ❤

  2. You’re walking on the path, and your deep listening is bearing fruit. I am studying something called “Appreciative Inquiry. It’s an approach that asks open ended questions about what is working and what is the core purpose of an organization or individual. The Camino provides us with something of a template to do that, I think. Look forward to hearing more about your writing project.

    1. Hi Beth! I will look into this practice; it sounds so valuable.

      I promise to keep you posted on the writing project. It’s going really well and shortly I will be looking for folks to interview and for volunteer readers. Let me know if I can rope you in. 😉

  3. Thanks for the update, Jen, I’ve been missing you on here! 🙂 I’m so glad to hear about the changes you’ve been making for yourself, and the work you’ve been doing- what incredible and soul-nourishing projects. I need to take a page out of your book (maybe quite literally) and get my butt into gear with my ideas.

    Happy New Year!

    1. Awww! Thanks, Nadine! I feel touched to have been missed. I kept saying to myself, “I gotta post! But I don’t know how to say what’s coming next! But I’ve gotta post!” You know the drill. I’m doing the inner work as I find the words to describe what happened. Fruitful? Yes. Crazymaking? Also yes. 🙂

      Thanks for cheering about my projects. You haven’t been back as long and I’ve found it takes a surprising amount of time to assimilate it all enough to take action. Your process may differ, but butt-kick gently, okay? ❤

  4. I have loved your self-revealing posts about the Camino inner journey – it’s the most important part. But I do understand your embarrassment. Sometimes I’ve published a post about the inner journey and felt the same – and shame and great vulnerability, yet these kinds of posts are important, are they way we connect in a real way. So thank you for sharing! I have loved the journey of your heart and soul along that path in Spain. I hope there’s more to come.
    So happy for you that you are writing! One day we will find the commitment to do that.
    And happy for you for all the changes that are arising within you and within your life. It all sounds very juicy. And real.
    Alison xox

    1. Hi dear heart! I’m so touched that you commented with all you two have going on right now. Thank you so much for the encouragement, validation, and love. Writing, I’m learning, does not have to just report what happened, but can be a tool for discerning and healing too. Yay for depth and inner adventure along with outer! ❤

      Hugs and healing to you both.

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