When we return from the pilgrimage of the Camino de Santiago, we return transformed. And while we’re aware that we are profoundly changed, we are equally – perhaps painfully – aware that our environment has not. Below, we’ve listed some practices for those who have completed the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage and are integrating back into their communities, their family lives, and their work.
1. Know that you have changed. A common expression in physics is: “The cat that leaps is not the cat that lands.” It refers to investigative or experimental situations where you embark on a deep and vast exploration. When you emerge, however, you’re in a completely different place from where you expected to be. Chances are, now that you’re back from your Camino de Santiago pilgrimage, you’re experiencing something similar.
2. Expect some physical discomfort at first. The rhythms of life are different than when you were on the road. If you walked for a few hours each day, you may need to continue experiencing a high level of movement when you return. Perhaps you now get up early every day to run, walk, or bike. Or you could be experiencing the opposite effect: Your body’s telling you to sleep, rest, and repair. Listen to what your system is saying, and take time to ease slowly into the physical routines that your present environment demands.
3. Process the experience mentally and emotionally. If feasible, take time off before entering back into your daily routine. If that’s not possible, set aside a certain amount of time each day to reflect upon and capture your experiences in a journal. Describe what your senses pick up as your mind and body adjust to regular life:
- Describe how you feel now that you don’t see the familiar sights you encountered during your pilgrimage. Make a list of what you became accustomed to seeing on the road, and what you miss about not experiencing that visual stimuli anymore.
- Describe how you feel as you eat the familiar foods that you ate with your family, your coworkers, and your colleagues before you went on your pilgrimage. You may find some of those foods boring – or perhaps you’ve brought some spices back from your trip and have found new ways to prepare or experience those foods.
- Think about all the different smells – of nature, hotels and hostels, restaurants and resting places – that you encountered while you were walking the Camino de Santiago. It may feel strange not be confronted by those smells. And now that you’re back, you find that certain food smells trigger memories of camaraderie as you shared meals and swapped stories with other pilgrims.
- Lastly, describe what it’s like to experience the sounds of your old environment again. For example, if you were consistently immersed in other languages on the road, hearing the rhythms and dialects of your own ethnicity and culture may almost feel unusual at first.
4. Share the experiences you had on the pilgrimage with others. While many of these will be warm, exciting memories of the places where you stayed and the people you met, there will also be hardship stories about challenges you overcame. Perhaps you recall the times that you bonded and banded together as a group to overcome these challenges.
5. Compare the cat that leaps with the cat that lands. Make a list of what you do differently now. Describe how you now perceive or respond to events at work and around your friends and family. For example, after keeping track of your things on the road, you may have found that you simply don’t need so much “stuff.” You may eat your meals slowly to savor the taste. You may even have more patience with others and with yourself. And lastly, you may want to spend more time with others – or you need more time by yourself.
6. Apply the insights you encountered on the Camino de Santiago to your everyday life. You may wish to recapture some of those evenings when everyone sat around at meal time, talking, listening, and singing. Or you may have picked up on new sustainable and eco-friendly practices that are immediately applicable to your everyday life. Lastly, you may have discovered new roles you took on during your Camino de Santiago journey. Did you find yourself looking out for others or did you develop a keener sense of self-awareness? Did you emerge as a problem solver, a collaborator, a listener, or a leader? Select those positive roles that you found most gratifying, and continue to explore them as you integrate back into your community.
There’s no denying it: Although everyone’s Camino de Santiago experience is different, there is one element that returning pilgrims have in common – you are not the same as before. Use the techniques described above to explore the depth and breadth of those changes, and how they enhance your experiences during your adjustment period and throughout your life.
If you have any questions about walking the Camino de Santiago, or anything else, please contact us. We’ve been through these life adjustments ourselves.