Going to Santiago is a wonderful stage of the Camino de Santiago… At once or in bits, for a (very!) long time or a few days, everyone does it his-her way and lives it intensely. But whether the Camino had been whole, fragmented, long or short, everyone is bound to be confronted to another stage of the Camion : the return!
Surprise, surprise! Even if it’s disregarded most of the time, returning to «normal» life is an integral part of any kind of journey… The Way is no different !
Let’s shed some light on this under-estimated side of the Camino!
A major change
Before, things were crystal-clear from the beginning. Whenever everything went right, going there meant back again. Any traveler going from A to B knew s-he also had to to the journey back from B to A. You may say today too, everyone takes care of the journey home. Yes, they do. But…
Back in time
… a pilgrim went back home by the same means s-he used to go. His-her pilgrimage might have ended in Santiago, but s-he still had to go all the way in the other side to return home! If s-he went by foot, s-he went back by foot. And if s-he took 3 months to go, it also took 3 months to go back. Let’s just say that the return was clearly and very consciously considered as a part of the pilgrimage that was just as important as the journey to get there. It also helped to prepare and take the return from the pilgrimage in. A whole external and internal journey took place to go back, sort of a soft landing into « normal » life!
…we still totally go ther, but back again is somehow lost on the way. We take the time to go to Santiago by foot, on a bike or horseback, but we go back home quickly by car, bus, train or plane. It sometimes takes us months to go, but we handle our return in a flash. Of course, there is no way around going home, but this stage of the journey is often considered like an annoying formality we have to deal with. Never mind, back again serve us well. No consideration for the journey home, no smooth preparation or assimilation of its effects. We rush back home and bypass its journey, sort of a violent crash into «normal» life.
Unequal facing the return
You may say again, not everyone reacts so badly to their return. True! Some go home without any problem and are even quite happy to be back, while others have a hard time with their return. Some go back by plane without any problem while the characters who do their return « old-fashioned » may have a very hard time to re-adapt… (Those are rare, very rare, but hats off to them!) Obviously, not everyone deals with their return in the same way!
Consciousness of the return
Generally, to consciously or unconsciously assimilate the return helps to deal with it better. I’m not talking about booking a flight or a train, but to give it a spiritual place to the return within the realm of the journey (as in inner; non-material). Those who take their vacation on the Way (as tourists) rarely feel blue when they go back home. They very well know they will go back once their stretch is done or their time over. Others can start to return before they are even arrived. They begin their inner way home before they reach Santiago, by making room again in their mind for their «normal» life.
The degree of disconnection with «normal» life and its habits also influence on the way one deals with the return. The more one lets go, the more hanging back in may be violent. For instance, returning from a «short» trip (short being relative) seems to be easier than returning from a long pilgrimage. Letting go on one’s «normal» life take time and a short trip usually doesn’t let enough time to fully get there*. Some may also travel for a long time without giving up on their «normal» life during their pilgrimage…
Whatever the way, some stages to go through
Everyone goes through different stages to assimilate one’s trip and return. Whatever we notice it or not, returning is a process in its own right: our modern and fast transportation tend to make us forget that fact. Once the pilgrimage is over, we hop on a place (or something else) and voila! We are almost instantly back at our starting point. If things were so easy, everything would be fine. But actually…
It obviously seems that despite our easy and quick means home, our head has some trouble to follow us! Returning from a journey, it’s first a bit like if our body got into a plane and went home. At the same time, our spirit stays in the waiting room and goes home his own way. It keeps strolling about while our body work on autopilot at home to manage our daily agenda. Curiously, our mind seems to take as long time to return as we (altogether) took to travel… Maybe our spirit goes back again in the old-fashioned way? Whatever it is, our spirit comes back home quietly and our body waits for it… Returning, at first, it’s a bit like that. It’s waiting for our spirit to catch our body up.
The problem with returning home, it’s when our spirit does eventually return home and catches up with our body, that did return home some time ago. Second stage ! Reunification is difficult, as it’s a bit like if body and spirit both woke up from a sweet dream and became aware of the reality that surrounds them. It’s exactly when we end up thinking that nothing is not going well, that everything is wrong, that everything is depressing… And that we would be better off on the Camino than stuck (again) at home! Blues, nostalgia, little (or great) depression, there’s nothing we can do. Just accepting this gloomy moment, hanging in there, keeping busy, making some eventual adjustments and wait for the storm to pass…
… because it does! It’s all about not wallowing in the rain. Morale and life are like a strange swing. Sometimes they are up, sometimes they are down. They don’t necessarily swing regularly (no gravity for them!), but they swing. And what is nice about it, please take notice, it that even if there are downs with swings, there are double ups! We just have to avoid to catch ourselves in the down…
The last stage of returning home goes smoothly, sometimes even without we notice it. Our morale goes up again, the fuss of our body-spirit’s reunion has calmed down. Life regained its balance again, we can go on to the next adventure!
Because returning doesn’t necessarily mean «returning to the exact same self we were or same life we lived». Returning, it’s to assimilate the Way to one’s life and go on our merry way… As pilgrims say it so well, Ultreia e suseia: always further, always ahead!
And you ? How did you return? Were you surprised by your return? Did you feel like going through similar stages? 😉