I’ve decided to make peace with living in emotional technicolor. Hear me out. I know that sounds like a bad hipster band name. But I’ve had a lot of coffee, so I’m rolling with it.
Several months after my second Camino, I started having these wildly vivid dreams. The dreams themselves are pretty trippy. They usually involve me walking down a weird road and meeting Dr. Seuss-like creatures. I once called Ben on a bird that turned into a phone. In another reoccurring dream, I reach the top of a hill and sit in a circle with a group of “old friends” that ask me how I’m doing and tell me to come visit more often. All these dreams are incredibly vibrant. They’re in a color that I’ve never seen in real life. Everything kind of glows. Whenever I have them, I feel peaceful for the rest of the day.
It turns out I’m not alone in having these post-Camino dreams. Someone posted a question on my Camino Facebook forum several months ago asking if anyone else had experienced this. Is it something that comes along with extreme exercise? (I really think a psychologist needs to jump on this study.)
Somehow, and not surprisingly, the second hike left me feeling like Kristen Bell when she finally got to meet a sloth. I hear a pretty song, I cry, I see a pretty sunset, I cry. I wept at the end of Russian Doll and can’t pick up my favorite Camino book without turning into a blubbering mess. I’m by no means sad, it’s like a wonderful dam has broken and everything is overwhelmingly full of magic.
All of these feelings also make it more obvious when something is off. Ben and I are in one of those all-at-once life shifts. It’s a bit like Marie Kondo-ing your house. Once you donate the books and organize your socks, everything else looks cluttered. I guess that’s where we’re at right now but with our whole life setup. We’ve been caught up in the momentum of needing change and so we’re planning to move out of our comfy little suburb this fall.
Change is great, I’m excited that we’re shaking things up, but this also brings the terror of the unknown rushing back. I’ve been knocked off my bicycle — I was balanced, coasting along and suddenly realized that I had no idea where I was going and went flying over the handlebars.
If I were on the Camino, I would have already found some sort of bunny in the clouds or had a conversation with a tough British lady that would have put this angst to rest. But I’m not on the Camino. I’m at home, with my cats, working in my living room all day, where there is little opportunity for signs and signals to snap me out of this.
There’s a reason most people come home from the Camino spouting lofty platitudes. When you break your life down to a few simple tasks — get up, eat, walk, eat, walk, nap, clean your clothes in a bucket, drink wine, eat, sleep, repeat — there’s more space to check out everything else going on around you.
There are months when I miss the unabashed loftiness of hikers. Tell a fellow pilgrim that you spotted a reminder of your childhood in a pile of rocks and burst into tears, and they won’t judge you. They’ll yell, “Yes! Great!” and tell you about how they moved on from their divorce after falling into a pricker bush. Old, old stories of people seeing visions from magical gods make way more sense to me now. It doesn’t matter if they were “real” or “sent from the great beyond.” What matters is that the person was able to transform something simple into something extraordinary.
I realize how loopy this all sounds from the outside. I’d tell weird stories to Ben during our daily WhatsApp phone chat and he’d sweetly ask, “This is one of those stories that makes much more sense on the Camino, right?”
During my first Camino in 2009, my hiking buddy Claire came back to the albergue in Los Arcos to tell us about something strange that she’d just experienced. She was questioning going on the whole trip in the first place. While sitting in the town’s cathedral, a hiker at the front of the church stood up, unprompted, and began to sing. It was one of the songs from Claire’s childhood, one her mom used to often sing. She came back renewed and ready to walk again.
Stuff like this seems to happen all the time now. On my last hike, a passing hiker randomly handed off all her pain-relieving supplies the day I bruised a bone in my foot. Another time, I volunteered for a weekend of work and was randomly paired up with a woman who was on the fence about hiking the Camino in just a few months (she ended up going!).
I’ve been feeling particularly off the past week. “Lost,” is how I described it. It’s better than feeling in a rut, at least feeling lost implies that I am still in motion. Instead of the rich emotional stride I’ve had going on for a while, I’ve just felt angry, like something isn’t right but there isn’t anything I can do about it.
This brings us to an important side story. My parents used to produce outdoor theatre at a winery. I spent several summers sprinting through a pear orchard while doing costume changes in a barn full of horses. On Sunday, I shared a photo online after seeing an old Shakespeare friend’s show. The post brought a whole crowd of wonderful people from that era out of the woodwork.
I was a less-than-stable teenager during those years. I doubt anyone is on completely solid ground at 16 and 17, but my ground was far from solid. It wasn’t until I got to college did I realize how bad things had gotten. I’d tell friends stories from my childhood, their jaws would drop and they’d tell me that I was shockingly well-adjusted…something I’ve never actually felt, but, thanks team.
Anyway, getting this blast from the past on Facebook should have been more celebratory than it was. Instead of remembering all those nights laying in a field on top of a mountain, my mind flooded with all the stress I kept just below the surface most of the time. I lived in an opposite emotional state than I do now — muted, angry, completely unable to see that I needed help. Apparently I put on a good face, but that never seems to matter right?
By Wednesday of this week, I was tired of all the griping and moping around these memories were causing. The more I picked apart that weird, lost time of my life, the more I realized it’s quite similar to where I am now. Something doesn’t feel right; there is change in the air. I am living out a lifestyle that is about to go away, about to significantly shift. I used to stand in the wings (which in this case was an orchard), painfully aware that something was about to end but I didn’t know what.
During my second summer, I was in a production of Much Ado About Nothing (because, nepotism). My character, Hero, fakes her own death after her husband accuses her of cheating on him. Hero even has a big elaborate funeral scene. Now, imagine this in an orchard, on the edge of a mountain, at night in the middle of the summer with all the actors holding lanterns. And imagine you’ve split a bottle of really good wine while watching it. It was something.
The sound design is what really did it. My mom picked the most beautiful requiem to play as we trickled down the hill toward the stage. Months after the show ended, I kept this song on a playlist to transport me back to that summer. It always seemed to break me open. Over the years, time went by and I forgot about it.
Anyway, back to the present. Last night, I headed over to my weekly choir rehearsal after another day of not feeling quite right. I’m pretty proud to be in this choir. We’re just a bunch of grownup choir nerds rocking out to Rutter and I think we sound pretty damn amazing most of the time. Though most of us are volunteers, we have four professional singers that keep us from going off the rails. (Have a listen!)
I got to the parking lot far too early — another sign of how distracted I’ve been — so I went for a walk to get a cup of tea. I still got back to rehearsal with 15 minutes to spare. Without anywhere else to go, I headed into the church, where our super-soprano was rehearsing a requiem with our choir director. Can you guess which requiem it was? Yup, the same one from my fake funeral in our production of Much Ado.
I felt like Claire in Los Arcos in 2009. I needed a sign, a reminder that everything is linked, that everything comes full circle. The symbolism of it being a requiem is also not lost on me. I could have chosen to brush this off as nothing, fine. But why? It’s much more fun to believe in the magic of coincidence.
After my second Camino, I started to feel like I was living two separate lives. One as hiker Ginny and one as home Ginny. The more these two blend into one another, the happier I am, the more I dream beautiful dreams and the more I believe that life here can be just as vibrant as it is on the top of the Pyrenees or singing with 50 hikers in the middle of the desert.
As always, thanks for reading, friends. May you find messages in the shape of a pretty cloud or from a random song on the radio. Have a great weekend:)