The Way Back

Five weeks ago, I had tears in my eyes as I boarded a flight back to the United States after having walked the Camino de Santiago over 800km (500 miles) across Spain. I’ll be sure to write more about those adventures (some actual jaunting!), but first, some thoughts about reentry. I always have this sense of sadness, of mourning when a grand adventure comes to a close. I had it when I moved back from Cambodia, after my trip to Australia – after most big trips I’ve taken, really. Depending on what I think I’m returning to, that sadness may be tempered by the joy of returning to a loving home, to adored friends, a beautiful romance, or simply a fresh perspective on life.

I’ll always be grateful for the anticipated joy that tempered this most recent return, because I’m not sure I would have boarded that flight had I known how this would all feel.

I can only describe it as someone having taken a cheese grater to my skin. Each step of the Camino was like a mala bead, repeating “open, open, open,” each of those million steps somehow scrubbing me raw. I now feel so raw that even simple suggestions, questions, and differences register as criticism or personal attacks. Only the most soothing things are welcome, and sometimes not even those.

But that rawness exposes all the wounds that need lovingkindness, beauty, self-compassion… and a bit of work.

When I have told others about this, somehow it gets interpreted as fear, grief, sorrow or other emotions. But no other word seems to sum it up better than just discomfort. And I know in my sensitive heart that this discomfort comes primarily from a lack of good fit, whether that’s with people, with work, with personal belongings, with my body, or anything else. And I don’t mean a fit with expectations, but with a fit for who I actually authentically am and the life that I hope to lead in alignment with my own values and priorities.

This current discomfort does feel a bit unstable, though, as if I am living that quote attributed to Frida Kahlo, “She was not fragile like a flower; she was fragile like a bomb.” It is not comfortable to be around a bomb, as there is usually at least some measure of collateral damage when it (she…) explodes. I am no longer protected from the outside, and others are no longer protected from me.

As I’ve been sitting with all of this, I have started re-reading Pema Chodron’s When Things Fall Apart. Her writing always hits close to home, but sometimes it hits in a way that feels a little too close to home. Recently I found myself repeatedly slamming this book into my lap and shouting “Fuck! Fuck Fuck Fuck Fuck FUCK FUUUUUUUHHHHHCCCCCCKKKK!” after reading the following passage:

When that … fell apart, I tried hard – very, very hard – to go back to some kind of comfort, some kind of security, some kind of familiar resting place. Fortunately, I could never pull it off. Instinctively, I knew that annihilation of my old dependent, clinging self was the only way to go.

also Pema Chodron in “When Things Fall Apart”

In the past, I’ve done so much “going back” to comfort, security and familiarity in so many areas of my life during moments of transition. I’ve “pulled it off” to a certain extent – I’ve fit back in, made things work. But now I know I have to sit in this place. In discomfort, uncertainty, and the unknown. Annihilation hurts. I watch myself, with curiosity and with piles of self-compassion and self-care, as I try to find the ground under me.

Yet I know that this groundlessness, rife with the possibility of transformation, is exactly where I need to be.