When I set out on this trip I had a few questions in mind: What do I want in life? What do I want to do next? What do I want to learn? What’s important to me, and how might I bring it into my life? Where do I want to live? And most importantly, who do I want to be? No big deal. Just small potato questions, right?
Well, I’m six months into this eight-month trip and I have learned a fair amount about myself and some tiny fragments of the world. While I have a couple ideas about what to do next (up until April anyway), I’ve yet to answer most of my big questions.
Frankly, I feel a heavy doubt in my chest that I’m missing the point. My wiser self knows that I’m avoiding truly confronting the core beliefs that are holding me back from being fully myself. I can see my own shaky foundation as if from a bird’s eye view, and yet it’s slippery and exhausting to address. That foundation, which I’ve neglected for as long as I can remember, is self-love.
Here’s some honesty for you: over the year before I left on my trip I let my confidence and happiness slip and get beaten down. I think I might even be depressed, I’m not sure. Despite incredible opportunity, adventure and beauty around me, I’ve struggled throughout this trip to open myself up and enjoy it fully. I’m very quick to conclude that something going wrong means that I’m a shit person and not worth knowing. Intellectually, I’m pretty sure this isn’t true, but it’s difficult to really believe it in my gut.
It’s time I dig into and reinforce my shaky foundation because even after these six months I sometimes wonder what I’ve actually gotten from this trip. I often feel like I’m not making the most of it, and fear that I won’t be in a fundamentally different mental place by the time I get back to Canada.
So in an effort to acknowledge how I’ve grown over these past months, I wanted to take some time to reflect on what I’ve learned thus far. I’ve framed these skills as practices, because I think a practice better describes what it means to “learn” something, because it’s become desperately clear to me that I’ll never be done. So here they are, the six practices that are challenging me to grow during this trip.
I’m practising adapting.
This trip has taken me to four countries now, and I’m becoming more aware of the process of landing in a new city and the adaptation that follows. I know now that when I get to a new city I tend to dislike the first two or three days. I struggle to find my footing and feel uncomfortable and insecure in my new surroundings. This is worse if I don’t have my own space or a structure through which to direct my energy. But I know now that this tends to pass. It makes me wonder if I’m good or bad at change, and if I’m bad at change, why do I seek it out? I’m starting to see that my problem isn’t that I struggle to adapt to my current situation but rather that I’m trying to escape it. I’m starting to think that adapting is just being present regardless of one’s surroundings. When I let my mind settle back into my body I don’t need to do anything but enjoy where I am, and in doing so I’m suddenly at ease in whatever situation I find myself.
I’m practising patience.
I’ve become relatively comfortable getting through finite periods of time. It’s important that I qualify my patience in this way because while I’m patient in these finite situations, I can be incredibly impatient in open-ended ones. During this trip I’ve practised patience through a 10+ day silent meditation retreat, and through a 42-hour bus ride from Dharamsala to Kathmandu. My patience practice continues to be a challenge for me when it comes to my life in general. I’m impatient to know “what I’m doing with my life”, particularly as my trip enters its final two months.
I’m practising minimalism.
I’ve traveled for six months living mostly out of a 22L daypack and an ~8L purse-backpack. Of those six months I’ve spent about three living in one place where I could temporarily settle in, but the restriction of having to pack up all my things and move to the next destination has forced me to check any gut cravings of buying new, beautiful things along the way. Of course, I would have loved to collect gorgeous items in India and Nepal, and now in Turkey where there are incredible fabrics, tea cups, lamps, artwork, jewelry, tea, specialty foods, and so much more. I would love to one day live in a home decorated with the treasures I’ve found around the world, but it’s been liberating to mostly write off the possibility of shopping and collecting trinkets. The small items I have purchased (postcards for my collection, some jewelry, and some Tibetan Buddhist flags) stand out to me as special because they were the exception.
I’m practising slightly less vanity.
Like most people, how I think I look affects how I feel. And unfortunately, how I think other people think I look affects how I feel about myself. But travel, and particularly minimalist travel, has allowed me to release some of this preoccupation. A combination of being around people I’m unlikely to see ever again and the necessity of packing light have encouraged me to ditch mascara and basically wear the same five outfits for the last six months. It’s liberating to release the concern that someone will care that I wore this outfit yesterday, or that they always see me in the same shirt. I also enjoyed three months of not bothering to buy conditioner or hair mousse and when I chose to buy these again in Greece the silky smoothness of my hair was glorious. A pleasure I’ve largely taken for granted.
I’m practising teaching.
For me, teaching is a practice of empathy, communication, collaboration, vulnerability and patience. Mostly my teaching practice has been in the form of leading yoga classes for refugee women and teenagers, and other volunteers on Lesvos. But it was also in the form of simple conversations in my volunteer role, helping people who came into our office with English speaking and writing, computer skills, and creative skills. Describing this as teaching doesn’t quite capture how it felt to me. It was practising self expression, listening, and applied empathy; parsing what’s important and what’s not, and giving guidance; making myself vulnerable to being wrong and foolish; and seeing myself become less self-conscious and more playful with time.
I’m practising connection.
For most of my life I thought it was really obvious that I was an extrovert. I see myself come to life when I have a role to play in front of and with a group, and feel energized around people I trust. Over the last few years, however, I’ve noticed that I feel an uncomfortable, restless itch when I don’t have space of my own or time to myself (why do I like traveling again?), so I started to think that maybe I’m an introvert. Of course, extroversion/ introversion is a spectrum not a dichotomy, so I probably fall more in the “ambivert” middle, but the realization that I’m not strongly extroverted has challenged my assumptions about how to connect with others in a sustainable way.
I’m not particularly good at meeting new people, or rather, I’m not very good at turning new acquaintances into more meaningful relationships. Most of my friends I’ve known for years if not decades, and making new ones is an almost intractable skill that mystifies me 95% of the time. I have done pretty well in connecting with loved ones from afar via messages, email, social media, and FaceTime hangouts, and I’m so incredibly grateful for this. But meeting new people and developing those fledgling connections is a weak skill that will change my life if I master it. Doing so will mean practising vulnerability, self-confidence, curiosity, and love for others. When I let fear and insecurity take over when I’m craving connection, I retreat from my largely extroverted nature and undermine my ability to gain energy and strength from the people around me. They say that loneliness is worse for your health than smoking so this is one of the most important practices for me to strengthen.
I’m a firm believer that shame is the ultimate nemesis to growth, joy and connection; this belief is a fundamental reason why I want to share my thoughts with you in this blog. Sometimes it makes me nervous to be so open in a very public forum, but I know I’m not alone in struggling with self-worth, self-love and self-confidence. I’m also among the majority who struggle with vulnerability, connection and belonging. So I hope that sharing this reflection might make you feel less alone in whatever you’re struggling with, and with whatever you’re practising.