Post-Camino culture shock

Is it me?

Being back home after the Camino is strange. Everything seems different when held in the light of comparison. It’s not just culture shock, it feels like priorities shock.

For example, after greeting shopkeepers across Spain with an “Hola, buenas dias.” (Every single time. This is just how it’s done.), I walk into a store in my town and am ignored. Not even eye contact. My greeting is not returned. I feel invisible.

Or, last week, when I walked for five miles around my neighborhood, exactly one person said something friendly to me in response to my hello. At least a half dozen others went out of their way to avoid meeting me or making eye contact.

Or how this week, on my way to work, a woman tailgaited me for two miles and honked when I finally made my turn. I felt so threatened by the closeness of her car to my bumper that my hands shook for fifteen minutes afterward. I actually cried in despair. Why do I matter so little? Why such a hurry? Why so angry?

The distinction between there (the Camino) and here (my town) is jarring.

In praise of the Camino life

Obviously, not everyone has been changed by my pilgrimage. It would be unreasonable and borderline insane to expect that. My glow isn’t necessarily contagious (though wouldn’t it be cool if it were?). Right now, my heart is just open and trusting and vulnerable.

If you’ve walked it, you know that the Camino isn’t utopia—there are spiritual sleepwalkers and selfish people everywhere—but it does give you an experience of how truly kind humanity can be. For weeks, I was surrounded by people caring about each other, having conversations about deep and meaningful topics, and sharing a common goal. We all tried to take good care of ourselves and looked out for each other.

In the Real World vs. Camino matchup, there’s a clear winner. It’s hard not to feel a bit despairing when comparing the two. As a remedy, I’m only going to places that are friendly. I’m driving less. I’m reaching out to loved ones near and far. These are ways to care for my tender, open pilgrim heart.

The devil you know

The other issue I’m facing post-Camino is the person I was before I left. In the weeks that elapsed before I flew to Europe, I had a mighty list of To Dos going. Honestly? I actually had two lists of To Dos—one for Camino-related tasks, and one for everyday life and work responsibilities. I had no less than 44 items on the regular To Do list and 57 on the Camino list. Dear reader, this level of focused output isn’t sane or sustainable.

At the time I thought, This is perfectly normal. Look how efficient and organized I am. I can definitely get all of this done before I go. I’ve got to. This must be done before I go. This is the voice of my Inner Tyrant. And she scares me.

For contrast, my Camino self got up around 6:30am and just walked. Later in the morning (usually after a good cup of coffee), I’d figure out where I wanted to stay for the night. No stress. My gut usually told me where I needed to be—or a pilgrim gave me a great recommendation. Day after day, I took things one moment at a time, one step at a time. I trusted there would be enough—food, beds, meaningful connection—and there always was. There was no reason to hurry or plan beyond the next few hours. I was free to enjoy the moment, the people, the place, the sensations of the moment—and I did. Over and over again. For Type-A me, this extended experience of non-attachment and not controlling was a revelation. I experienced firsthand how to live in the moment and feel deep peace with “not knowing.”

Unlike after my first Camino, this groundedness feels deep and enduring. But how do I know for sure that Manic Me won’t pop up again and take over at some point?

May the real self please stand up?

Maybe a lot of pilgrims experience this push-pull after walking. How do you integrate into life while honoring the slower, more grounded, more trusting way of being? I want to be more mindful and intentional with my time. I want to be less tech-obsessed without alienating my loved ones. I want to be productive without writing scary To Do lists.

One step at a time, I’m finding a way forward that isn’t exactly graceful, but it’s honest and true to my Camino’s gifts. Starting with body and home care, I’m developing regular rituals for maintenance and nourishment. Since last week, I’ve started adjusting my work schedule to create sanity and healthier boundaries. My next focus will be on meaningful connection with loved ones and setting aside writing time. It’s coming.

A note on writing: In case you didn’t know, I’m working on a memoir about the personal transformation that took place in my life after my first Camino. If you want to be kept posted about that project, here’s a link to sign up for news and info.

In any case, shifting back into “life mode” after my second Camino has been so much easier and less stressful than the first time. No comparison. I’m enjoying the process so much more.

And

If you have thoughts or insights on how you shifted back into life after significant travel or other life-changing experiences (or tips for dealing with aggressive tailgaters), I’d love to hear about them! We’re in this together, pilgrims.

11 thoughts on “Post-Camino culture shock

  1. I can totally understand even though I have yet to do my first Camino. Some years ago I moved to a third world country. I had always planned this sabbatical at some point in my mind. For two years I learned to find and practice my natural rhythm, moving and sensing in ways I had not known. Life became so simple and uncomplicated making magical connections with people, in ways it was going at my pace that I became me. I didn’t realize until after returning for some time that removing all the props in your life that identify and hold you up your job, status, security, reveals the real you.
    Lifting the veil, once you go there it’s hard to go backward. When I returned I could not drive on the freeway. I had not driven a car for two years, I was nervous every time I had to go on the city streets. I was never more aware of how fast everything was and it was all so difficult to readapt. I returned to my spiritual group and did some healing energy work that was very supporting and helped me with reentry. I never dreamed or maybe I did that I would find yet another journey to take me back to my soul yet the Camino has beckoned me to come and my spirit is longing for a renewal. Be gentle dear soul all is well.

    1. Wow, Azure, I feel calmer just reading your words. Your experience is really moving. “Removing all the props” is a mind-blowing expression and concept, but that’s exactly what it is. Who am I when I have nothing and no one familiar? It can cause the prepared to dig deeper into their True Selves. It can just freak out the rest of us. 🙂 As you say, it is hard to go back. I tried to go backward after my Camino and ignore the changes in me for more than a year, and I’m living proof that it doesn’t work. In fact, it’s very dangerous for the heart and soul.

      How wonderful that you created a whole new kind of support when you returned home (that may not have felt much like home) and were about to be the You you discovered in the third world. It occurs to me how we (the Western world) are transformed in places whose infrastructure is lacking, but find there what we truly need in abundance. Thank you so much for your comment. Buen camino, peregrina de vida.

  2. Ahhh, bless your heart, Jen… Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts & experiences. Two things come to mind: 1. Even though I’m in California, I DO recall, there ARE kind people in Oregon…keep the faith, m’ dear. Hopefully, more of them will show up 🙂 and 2. When I read your last comment: “…We’re in this together, pilgrims.” I felt soft laughter coming up & out of my mouth, as I flashed on all of the “To Do Lists that I have!!” Too much stuff! I’m happy to listen to any “remedies” you discover/uncover/create…. 🙂 Welcome Home–Really 🙂

    1. When we look for kind ones, they’re there. It starts with me. ❤ A hint on the to-do lists? Let them go. Just for fun, get up one day with nothing to do (on purpose) and see where it leads you!

  3. It is hard to show the way… And you are showing the way, Jen. So keep glowing, keep shining, keep glowing. Yes, glow is contagious, but not in the blink of an eye.
    Unfortunately, the more shiny you are, the more some people will be mad at you because they are just too deep in their shadow, unhappiness… You glowing can be felt as an aggression to them. But I think it helps all the people you meet, even those people. I am lucky to live in a town where people make eye contacts, say hello just because it is the second or third time you cross each other, and I can tell you it is warming in more difficult days. So be that person ! You can do it !
    And concerning productivity, well… I am French and so never quite understood why productivity is so much important than quality of life for your country… Productivity is for machines, we are beings ! So maybe a bit of Europe infused in you 😉
    Hugs ❤

    1. I’m laughing and taking solace in your words, Muriel. We *are* beings, not machines. I don’t know why my culture is in such a hurry. You can see where it’s getting us! Europe, Spain, the Camino–all of it–is infused in me. Once a person travels, she can never go back to being just a citizen. It changes you. In fact, now when I drink my coffee, that is all I do–not three other things at the same time. It is a revelation! 🙂

      Let’s both keep on shining in the world. ❤

  4. Oh yes. Just like that……… I have hardly had the radio on in my car since returning from my first Camino in 2013, it feels like an intrusion after the peacefulness and space when walking.

    1. Yes! Me either! Who wants to listen to all that drivel–the ads, the commentary, the bad news and worse lyrics? I’d much rather listen to my own musings or singing to whatever comes into my head (just like on the Camino). Thanks for sharing, Derrin!

  5. Beautiful Jen. It makes me realise why I love Spain and the Camino. And why I have the itch to walk the pilgrim way again – from Portugal next time. Camino friends have visited me from Scotland and Europe, there is a connection that continues something sustained in the sharing of being a pilgrim. My best wishes and when life gets hectic take your mind back to the quietness of hearing your footsteps and looking up to the sky and across the country and let others rush along as they will. Joy

    1. Hi Joy! The depth of connection in this shared experience is profound and heart-opening, isn’t it? How lovely that you’ve stayed connected with those you met–and with Who You Are. Buen camino–wherever the Way takes you!

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