When I leave the house and shut the door, I leave one portal for another. I turn around and walk inside out, bag in hand, casting my eyes toward the horizon with content. I’m headed into the unknown, even if I think I know where I am going, a sense of adventure washes over me. I am a “lover of leaving” as Rumi writes. “Come! Come! Whoever you are ~ wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving. It doesn’t matter. Ours is not a caravan of despair. Even if you have broken your vow a thousand time, come, yet again, come!”
When I read this, I hear an invitation to come back to the path. I also interpret it as a call for the open road. I “get the urge for goin..’” as Joni Mitchell says. I can’t say that it’s an escape, nor can I say that it’s not. I don’t leave my troubles behind – they are a part of me. I want to transform them. I want to throw my doubts to the wolves to be dissected, chewed on and spit out. Sometimes all we need is a change of perspective. A good walkabout is nourishing for the mind. We walk our dogs, because we know they need it. We walk ourselves, because it pumps the heart. We rarely walk our mind, which needs it the most.
In search of wakefulness, there are many paths. Sitting still calms the mind and aligns the breath and we feel centered. One has the opportunity to develop a practice and be committed to creating a spacious mind without going anywhere. Daily meditation practice is one of the keys to a sane life.
Traveling offers a different practice. It tests us. We see ourselves in relationship to the world. It shows us where we are strong, where we are weak and where we fit into the family of things. We are thrown into unpredictable situations that require a response. We might feel insecure, hypersensitive, unable to handle the chaos of a city or sleeping in a different bed. Some people don’t even like to be away from their own toilet. Even though we may feel on the edge of our comfort zone, somewhere it feels good. It pushes and expands our edge. We gain confidence that we can relax, and easily stretch our personal boundaries to include more. How do women birth babies? They breathe them out. Travel takes the labia and stretches it over your head. It can be painful, but it opens your awareness to discover a whole new you and a bright new world full of wonder and beauty. If you can get past your local café as your destination, i.e. the norm, you will encounter numerous life-changing experiences.
Moving along in a foreign country can be like improvisational theater. We weave ourselves into the culture with great vulnerability, curiosity and a mixture of fear, excitement and overwhelm. We comically gesture our way through at times. Everything and everyone is different and we don’t know what’s going to happen next. Everyday things are different; how toilets flush (or is there one?), how windows open and close, even something as simple as crossing the street or saying please and thank you can be challenging. It’s like..the twilight zone.
Maybe you are an intrepid traveler. Walking through the maze of the medina in Marrakech, for instance, or the back streets of Delhi doesn’t phase you. There is something to be said for scratching a place that itches. Getting off the beaten track does that for me. I am not only out of my country, no flag or familiarity to protect me, I am alone and out of my comfort zone, face to face with my own vulnerability, naked, with no GPS other than my intuition and sensibility to guide me. In these times, I become hyper aware. The point is to notice how we are in relationship to everything. How do we respond when someone stares, says hello, or begs? How do we resist shutting them out or ignoring them? We make room in ourselves that other people and situations exist other than the safe confines and proprietary aloneness of ‘me’. Me is also other. Other is also me. A nod of recognition is enough. A hand over the heart. Personal boundaries are respected. Yet, we don’t sail through the city in a superior way. We consciously integrate our subtle and gross differences, remembering to be grateful and count our blessings. This also creates a sense of peace.
After all, why do we travel? It’s about surrender on some level, loosening our grip on what we think we know, or who we think we are, to discover something new. That we are capable beyond our wildest dreams and the world is actually a beautiful place full of richness and heartfelt human connection, in spite of what the newspapers tell us, and we can send this prayer on the traveling wind.
Photos by Peggy Markel 2014