17 December 2012 § Leave a comment
It’s not the expensive food, or the rude cab drivers that can make travel hard; it’s the loneliness. From the formers I’ve learned important things like when in doubt, be quiet around xenophobes, and always try first to communicate in the local language. Lessons like those feed my soul wisdom like finger food. And, as with any lesson, it’s up to us to take note and integrate, or not. We swim in the special sauce of ego and individuality all the time, but the viscosity is thicker when we’re off our turf, and don’t have our countrymen to mirror just how ‘right’ we are.
When all that surrounds me is the unknown, I turn spongelike: all of my senses work on overdrive. That’s why a day of simply walking around a city can be so exhausting. Never do I sleep better, or dream more vividly, than when I’m on a trip, mid-movement, taking in the sounds of new streets, the murmur of people who pursue happiness in different ways than me echoing between glass or bamboo buildings, and into my subconscious. I swear I’ve learned languages while falling asleep in hostel beds practicing how to ask where the bathroom is.
It’s been said many times that what shapes character is not what happens to you in life, but how you deal with it. Rarely is this more true than in simple exchanges; the kindness in saying ‘thank you’ gets you father than any airplane will.
It is the smallest, most important necessity to one who travels alone that he learns to be with himself for long periods of time, and to get along well, if not swimmingly, with his own personality. When I hitched across Europe in winter, I didn’t consciously mean to leave my monkeymind at home, but had a latent hope that it might opt out of the trip anyway. A thousand miles down the icy road, it caught up with me – tapped me on the shoulder, and said “hey, where’d’ya think you’re going?”
I felt it in my chest first. Then, the realization that I hadn’t actually escaped anything sunk from my stomach into my intestines, nuzzled in and got comfortable. If I was going to do anything on the trip from that moment on, I had to deal with myself first. My tendency to be anti-social led to missed buses and trips to airports and hospitals. For months before the trip, I waded through stagnant puddles of self-pity at home, and nothing had changed but the hemisphere. “This isn’t traveling,” my journal notes, “this is just being miserable in a different town.”
Indeed, one can feel the most intense loneliness in densely populated cities. What better cure for loneliness than seeing a bunch of people who seem to be perfectly normal, functioning humans? They’re in their element, taking care of business, going about their happiness en masse. It is never more clear to me than in Times Square, or on a busy street in Budapest, that I am alone in this, and that until I reach out, no one is going to know I exist. Even in the music shops and book shops I seek out in new places, I am just another customer. But the moment I step out of my shell (a well-protected hell), and ask a question, I have a chance at serenity.
When wilderness is my destination, whether at home or abroad, I consciously sign up for the solitude. The woods represent to me, especially in U.S. American culture, freedom, strength, and self-reliance. The rugged mountains are to me a romantic vicissitude from normal life. I thrive in them. Yet when I’m in the throes of a new culture, I like to play observer, and take on more of an “if it happens, it’s meant to” philosophy. I avoid the wild because I’m more familiar with my feelings for it. There, I know that solitude is what I will find, almost no matter what happens. In a city, the choice is mine. So in the absence of decisiveness or initiative, travel for me can be relaxed and relatively uneventful.
In the beginning, it wasn’t supposed to be that way. I mean, it’s about the adventure, right? Adventure means flying upside down, rallying rental cars, and stilt-walkers in unicorn suits. How could there be time to do nothing? How can there be time to sit with one’s Self to see what comes up? There are experiences to have! the little boy in me tugs and begs, Come on, let’s go!
But sometimes the train doesn’t leave for hours. The roads get snowed in, or the snake museum is actually closed on Saturdays (damn you, Lonely Planet!). Trains are fascinating for the first couple of weeks, and then the 17-hour days (sleep, write, granola bar, sleep, go through photos, apple) start to blend whole nations together in a politically-cooked primordial soup. And occasionally there’s the great injustice in thinking I just got screwed by someone who may not make the twenty bucks he stole from me in a month of working a more honest job. I’ll come up with anything to keep from thinking of home.
To some, all travelers are rich. Because, if you can afford to travel around like that instead of working all the time, then you must be fabulously wealthy. And the truth is that the budgets of many backpackers, even the shoestringers, do equal great wealth in some places they travel through. (And we would argue things like I worked super hard for the money that I have and choose to spend it where I will, or the point is to Go to poorer countries, if not to live cheaper than we might at home, but to see how other people deal with poverty.) One point of acceptance I’ve reached is that there is a unique distinction between noticing the differences between someone I encounter and myself, and judging that difference.
I think I’m still not getting to my point, which is this: those who travel don’t “find themselves” in Scotland, Southeast Asia, or Patagonia, though they may look in those places. If they’re successful in their search, they’ll find what they’re looking for within themselves, in the midst of a conversation, or staring out a bus window at the Caspian Sea.
The stories we form while traveling are usually those we tell at home, but how often in our travels do we monologue tales of home? The fun thing for me has been in seeing in what situations my true self comes up: where I once thought I thrived alone (in the wilderness, for example), I have found that I’m much happier around people, and discovered truth in the proverb that talks about experiences being best shared with others.
The longer I denied that trait in myself, the more I wondered if I was just putting on a façade for others, and if that mysterious charisma I felt was narcissism, or worse, vanity. I couldn’t tell. I didn’t know how to gauge my own honesty – which was in itself a bad sign.
I’m just learning to now – which says something, but doesn’t make travel any easier, or less desirable.
10 December 2012 § Leave a comment
On the Gratitude Trip to California (a fantastic journey south for Thanksgiving), I danced my legs from under me, had nightly epiphanies on the state of my world (some contradictory to others), said more “until next times” than I care to count, and finished a novel. In some ways it was the end of an era – my first year in festival culture and introduction to soul family and tribe (whom I’ve been subconsciously looking for all my life), but I prefer to think of it as a crux: the universe presented me with all I’ve ever wanted, and stood back to see how I would handle it.
A few days ago, I watched my good friend and dance partner Sacha – standing thumbward on the side of the road in rural California bound for the Himalaya in four days – shrink in the rear view mirror. In the eight months before, I played my part in the evolution of a counterculture that operates on the sole principle of people Being at their best. And I know these goodbyes are just beginnings. A seasoned gypsy asked me at Burning Man how long I’d been on the road. I told him. “Oh, you’re just getting started. I see it in your eyes.”
It’s my time to step up, to redefine myself as a man.
I am part of an undivided world – one that will flourish from my – and your – contributions. We have a choice. I’ve been playing one side of it for twenty-six years, and become well-versed in the ordinary, in self-deprecation, in fear of my potential. It was all words. Declaration after declaration pronounced in luscious, poetic, passionate language – all meant to pretty up the stories I was raised on.
I’ve fallen in love so many times I’ve forgotten what all with. No one ever told me there was more than one love (there’s a lot no one told me). I was well-practiced in the physical form, but didn’t know what to do with it in my heart. I’ve caused confusion and suffering in myself and others. I’m not sure that I’ve broken the habit.
In return, I have received only forgiveness and love, even gratitude. Such kindness does not bode well for a heart that once wished to remain foreverfractured. That’s not what I want anymore. I’m tired of resisting change, and am only weaker for it.
So -in light of the winter solstice, the end of the world, the Mayan Calendar, 2012, and my first quarter century or so, this is my promise to myself: I’m taking Running Away off the table. I will no longer use fear to option out of life, love, or happiness. I will communicate with clarity, compassion, and truth. I will pursue what I love, and my highest potential, whether it be traveling, writing, climbing, music, dance, or things I haven’t yet discovered. I accept peace into my mind. If I falter in these, I will be gentle with myself and others.
This is not a new year’s resolution; this is a portal – one that allows abundance and grace augmented by unfiltered, unabashed creativity and lagniappe. I am lifting the asphalt of my path and straightening it to my will. If it is to the peril of others, my deepest apologies and love be with them. They have done their part in getting me here, a place of constant growth and learning. There’s nowhere I’d rather be within myself.
6 December 2012 § Leave a comment
I’m learning to appreciate this day. Heeth’s deathday comes once a year, a tragic clockwork. Every year, around the evening five o’ clock hour, no matter the setting or company, my mood spirals, fast and downward.
For everyone’s sake I usually try to avoid people for the whole of the anniversary; I’ve ventured to mountaintops most often, hoping against my dismal Christian upbringing that I will be closer to my dead friend that way. Too bad, the Church says, suicides don’t end up in Heaven. It’s been my excuse for eleven years to be alone today. This time, I spent it with Heather, trying to remember exactly how love felt even yesterday, and how it might again tomorrow. If you’re familiar with the concept of ‘holding space’, that woman is a master. She holds the world in her palm for me with a smile.
She gets it.
2012, by nature or circumstance, brought more change through my life than any single period of time, ever. It has been a lifetime containing many. I am grateful for every. single. one. “Time to lean into our edges,” said Sophia. I’ve done that at shovelpoint all year long, Panama to Miami and Asheville, Alaska to Burning Man, Vancouver to the Bay and Big Sur. And the Places – the myriad memory dots I connect to tell myself the story of my life – they’re just the beginning.
I hope that 6 December will be left out of the post-Mayan calendar. Solstice will be my redemption. If the world explodes and fire rains down, I’ll be on a snowy crag watching the world burn, smilingly.