“Our happiest moments as tourists always seem to come when we stumble upon one thing while in pursuit of something else.”Lawrence Block
Cultivating a beginner’s mind: Why I travel and why hands-free levitation is almost the same thing.
I first went out of the country when I was about 13. I went to Germany and France on a school trip, and I remember thinking how weird everything smelled. I stayed with host families, and their cooking smelled strange, their houses smelled strange, even their cars smelled strange.
And I loved it, because it was new. I never felt like Kansas (my home) was my place. Ever. And that first trip to Europe had me hooked on the new, because it jolted me out of the “normalcy” of weekends spent at movie theaters and malls in the suburban Midwest, and shook up all the ideas I had been taught about what life was all about (and how it should smell, apparently).
From then on, going against the skeptical words of caution from neighbors and family members, I set out on adventures as much as possible and for as long as possible, in an inexhaustible search for all things new that were nothing like Kansas. And now, two decades in, I’ve built a life around mapping the globe for retreats, trainings, study, and pleasure.
But (my grandma sweetly asks) why the need for all this travel?
It’s a good question. I’m older now and don’t have the same intense teenage revulsion to my daily existence or to the people and culture surrounding me—which, I’ll admit, is a literal ocean away from my hometown in Kansas, and this time is self-chosen. Even the pitfalls of my lifestyle—of having long-distance relationships (or no relationship at all), no secure nine-to-five income, and not even a fixed place to call home—don’t stand a chance against the prospect of uprooting myself a few times a year.
But again, why?
Let me tell you.
You are not in control of your life.
Traveling constantly reminds me that I have absolutely no control of my life, of my experiences, or of outcomes. This, to me, is the most important.
Amidst the frenzy of travel—my passport might get stolen, my plane might get struck by lightening, lose power, and free-fall for a few excruciating nanoseconds—I might get lost and end up in “the wrong neighborhood” and get mugged or hassled, or at least get a couple catcalls. I might have to camp out in the streets of a big city after losing all of my money and my credit cards. I might wake up from a week-long bout of dysentery to be informed that I am now married to a local Indian farmer, with a forged marriage license to prove it. All of these things have happened to me, and I’m okay.
And more than that, I find my life pretty hilarious, and wouldn’t have wanted my life to happen any other way. Acknowledging (or getting slapped in the face by) the humbling fact that we have no control, allows us to sit back and enjoy the ride a bit more easily, and maybe even have a couple of laughs as the chaos unfolds.
The fast-track to letting go is stepping off the plane straight into a place that is so different than our existence as we know it, about which we can’t possibly have any expectations. This is where the fun begins, and where this vital lesson can best be learned.
FOTU and FOMO
Fear of the unknown (FOTU) and fear of missing out (FOMO) prevent us from realizing the opportunities that appear once we step away from the churn of daily life.
Humans come up with lists of reasons why they shouldn’t try something new or do things a different way once in a while. Realizing that some of the best things in my life were once new, scary ideas I labeled and judged and resisted, I now make a routine of burning my lists that hold me back from making big life changes or traveling for a few months.
I still sometimes catch myself worrying about losing my job (there will always be another job) or missing an event (and other events), or worrying that my one distant, possible love interest, who doesn’t even know I like them will decide to get married and I won’t be there to be asked to fill the position, and so on.
But when I practice gratitude for the life I live, I remember that I wouldn’t be where I am today—happy, healthy, and curious—had I never left home.
If we can relearn to see ordinary activities as intensely interesting and new, then we have cultivated what the Buddhist’s call beginner’s mind.
How many times have you been pleasantly surprised by something unexpected coming out of going to that staff party you had no interest in because you “see those people everyday,” or realizing, as if for the first time, just how gorgeous your partner truly is as you watch him read the newspaper or brush his teeth for the thousandth time. I travel to stay open to new ways I could be looking at my life, to new people I could be sharing my time with, to new habits and ways of thinking. If we can continually remind ourselves to stay open to the new, open to change, open to possibility, then only good can come of our experiences.
I began traveling to escape the life I was living. My motives have since changed, and I travel now to understand how the universe works, how I work (and don’t work) within it, and how I can change the truisms I’ve taught myself to believe about the world, and myself.
As I travel, I’m constantly chipping away at my fears and judgements to see if there is any truth behind them at all (and most of the time, it’s a resounding, “No!”). Every time I come back to my home base, I get a little bit better at staying awake. Being truly present. At taking a different route, mixing up my routine in little silly ways. And in remembering that nothing will work out the way that you expect it to.
Life is full of confusion, and getting lost, and losing things, and letting go of people you would rather keep around…and all of that is completely beyond your control, so it’s best to just sit back and enjoy the crap out of all the messiness, all the chaos, all the beauty of life, no matter where on the planet you are.
Oh, and if you can’t travel, just levitate upside-down instead. All positive outcomes listed above can also result from a frightening no-handed-handstand as well—give it a go if you don’t believe me!
*This article was originally published in Elephant Journal