As if I know how to answer that question. Yes, indeed, how do you adjust back to regular life after a powerful and altering experience?
I thought it wouldn’t be so hard. Before I left for the Camino, I was reading a lot of blogs from people who had walked, and something I noticed was that many people had trouble readjusting to regular life. I don’t think I’ll have a problem with that, I naively thought. I’m going to be so fired up about my experience that I’ll be able to make the changes I need to make. Or else, I’ll be so drained from all of the travel and movement and stimulation that I’ll want to come back home and just settle in.
I wanted to settle into my regular life for about a week. I cherished the early morning hours of lounging on my couch and nursing a cup of coffee. I loved seeing my friends and my family, I loved being able to cook for myself and eat lots of vegetables.
But then it got old. Fast. And all at once, about a week after I got home from my summer travels, I wanted to be back ‘out’ again. I wanted to be anywhere: on another Camino, traveling through Africa, exploring more of Europe, hunkering down in a small Spanish town and meeting the locals and learning the language. I wanted to hop in my car and take a cross-country road trip through the US, something I’ve dreamed of since I was 16. I wanted to spend a month on the coast of Maine, I wanted to spend a month crashing at my best friend’s place in Virginia.
I wanted to keep experiencing things. I wanted to keep experiencing life.
It’s a little over two months since I’ve returned home and I’m slowly getting used to this regular life, again. The intensity of the Camino has begun to fade a little at the edges, it’s no longer the first thing I think of when I wake up in the mornings. The seasons have changed and I’m accepting that I’m here, and no longer in Spain. When I first came home and strapped on my pack to go on a hike, I was frustrated that I couldn’t summon up my Camino feelings. What am I doing wrong? I thought. I have my pack, I have my shoes, I’m hiking through the woods, why can’t I feel like I did on the Camino?
Because real life isn’t the Camino. It’s taken time, but now when I put on my pack and go on a hike, I enjoy the hours for what they are: a hike through the woods of a nearby park. It’s easier, in some ways, to be more content with where I am; the incredibly restless feeling that I had in August and most of September isn’t so present.
And yet, I can’t just come back to life as if I never walked the Camino. I had that experience, and it affected me. So… now what?
Over and over I think about the words I heard repeated so many times during the last few weeks of my pilgrimage: “Your Camino begins when the walking ends.” And for me, this is, I think, where I’ve finally encountered my biggest challenge. I loved my Camino so much, and as I think I said once before, in some ways it felt like the easiest and most natural thing I’d ever done. I knew, without a doubt, that it was the best decision I could have made for myself this past summer. I was happy and filled and energized. I was pushing myself and getting out of my comfort zone, I was examining the lessons that the Camino was giving me, I was thinking about where I wanted to take my life when I got home.
Here were some of my thoughts- when I was on the Camino- about what post-Camino life would look like:
I’m going to go on dates, all of the time! It won’t be nearly as scary or as awkward as I fear it will be! (How many times on the Camino did I have a coffee or a lunch or a drink or a dinner with a good looking European man? These guys just appeared out of nowhere, and it was such a confidence booster to know that I could socialize in this way. But now that I’m home? Where are all the good looking European men?? Why do I suddenly feel so awkward again??).
I’m going to be active, and do so much more! Join clubs and groups, go out to bars and restaurants, meet new people everyday! (The Camino makes you believe that, like dating, this could be possible and so easy. Because on the Camino, meeting new people everyday is easy. In real life, this takes effort. A lot of effort).
I’m going to write a book! (I knew this with certainty on my third day of walking. I still know this and believe this, but now that I’m here, needing to sit down and actually write, I’m faced with the obvious but very real truth: writing a book is hard, hard work).
So here’s the thing: I know that accomplishing anything- dating and falling in love, making new friends, writing a book- it takes a lot of hard work and dedication. The Camino, if you let it, teaches this to you better than anything: I walked 500 miles across a country this summer. It still feels incredible to write that. Is it true? I really walked 500 miles?
I did. Each day I had to put in the work and the effort. I knew that I couldn’t get it all done in a day, or a week. It required time, and work, and sweat, and tears, and pain. I think that maybe anything worth it in life requires these things. So this is what is filling my mind these days: how to sit down and take the first steps with the next big thing in my life. How to live in the moment and let go of the endless planning and the worry and just take a risk and go for it. How to put in the daily steps even though the ultimate destination is still very, very far away.
I did it on the Camino, and completing the Camino is proof- if I need it- that I can accomplish something big.
So, how do I adjust back to normal life after the Camino? I’m not sure yet. Some days are great and fun and I love my routines and my home and my community; I love watching the falling leaves and grabbing a drink at Starbucks and cooking in my old and quirky kitchen. But some days my mind is filled with what comes next. I feel like I’m back in St Jean Pied de Port, holding my newly purchased walking stick that doesn’t feel comfortable in my hand just yet; standing in the middle of the street in the town and looking out into the distance and wondering if I’m going to be able to complete this journey.
Here’s to first steps: scary and hard, but absolutely worth it.
Geraldine K. says
Sounds like you know exactly where you are and what you need to do 🙂 I can relate to everything you’ve written here and agree with you – just keep putting one foot in front of the other, day after day, and the road will rise to meet you. Looking forward to reading more.
Nathan Mizrachi says
Nadine, it’s brave of you to share your struggles of adjusting to life post-Camino.
There is an EXCELLENT way to meet people from all walks of life, help others in need, and–I think this is important for you especially–to live vicariously through others’ travels til you can travel again. Have you heard of Couchsurfing?
Couchsurfing’s premise is that travel is more meaningful when you stay with local hosts instead of at hostels–and more importantly, the relationships you foster are real. There is no money exchanged. The couchsurfing network is based on trust; you leave public references for every person you host, and everyone who stays with you does the same. And in your case, if you host travelers, say, until next summer, you’ll be paying the kindness of strangers forward–so when you travel again and need a place to stay, others will already have vouched for you.
I really, really encourage you to try hosting–it will bring so many interesting, lovely people into your life. And I’ll even write you a reference to get you started 🙂 Here’s my profile so you have an idea of what to put on yours.
Like practically every other post I’ve read of yours, I agree. My arrival date is now 16 months behind me, and I still feel some of the sentiments you share.
Wen I got home I remember feeling mildly disoriented, and later pretty annoyed, that the arrows just disappeared when I returned. Now what? How does one find their path without spray paint and glossy tiles? It’s taken me the better part of a year to feel a direction arise out of me from some deep place. Like you, I feel called to write about the experience but there’s more happening under that.
I also keep thinking about starting a chapter of the American Pilgrims on the Camino in my community because of the like-minded, open-minded folks the Camino attracts (and hey, there could be a European guy who shows up!). 😉 If I can’t be in Spain, meeting interesting local people might be a great alternative.
Thanks, as always, for your writing. I so enjoy you!
Wow, this could have been me writing this, I mean every word was the same as I experienced and would be writing about myself. As I m 63 and single, walked my Camino Francis this last August thru September. Have the same quirky kitchen that I love, with a once in awhile guilty pleasure of going to Starbucks for a latte. Yes I will not be frightened to get out there and date, how not to be awkward when I m the only single at the party. I live where I can lace up my hiking boots and head out to a trail in 5 minutes with my bestie, my little girl shepherd. And yet it is so different, how do I get back to the rhythm of the trail, of the Camino. All I can think of is, that is what it was to be truly happy. Have ordered my book on the Camino Portugues. The Camino has not seen the last of me.
Sorry for the late reply to this wonderful comment, and thank you so much for taking the time to write. I’m so glad that you could relate so well to some of the things I wrote in this post! I love that you live in a place where you can be on a trail in 5 minutes, but even with that proximity… yes… it’s not the same as walking a Camino. I’m glad to hear that you’re heading back, the Portugues is on my list!!
Greta Keegan says
I see this article was written nearly 8 years old, but so much of this rings true for me. I returned from the Camino Frances 10 days ago and am struggling with the dregs between the here-and-now and there-and-then – the come down from such an intense and physically, linguistically, interpersonally and spiritually challenging journey has been abrupt I must say, but I feel a change slowly forming, though I know not yet what form it will take. Thank you for your words.