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.