Something I have learned about travel, especially alone, is that it forces us into the essential.
In basic survival mode—or acclimation mode since it’s not always so dire—there is little time for the frivolity of the mind that is available in the cyclical comfort of daily life.
I just came back from India, you see.
It was my very first foray into the world of solo travel—the kind of travel that is not based around a schedule of seeing stained glass windows and going to all of the necessary museums for days at a time. This is good travel as well. There is a lot to be experienced and actually, perhaps the same lessons can be learned through that method as well; it just happened not to be the road I selected this time around.
I decided to go to India for almost no particular reason. I actually invented the purpose just to give me a suitable excuse to buy a ticket. Ostensibly I went to further my study of the origins of asana yoga, and though I practiced every day, it was not even close the focus of my trip.
In reality, just like 80% of the travelers I met while there, a broken heart was actually what propelled me to buy my ticket. But that felt like a sorry excuse at the time. Now…I’m not so sure. Almost any reason that gets us into an unfamiliar environment, even if it begins as an escapist route, most likely will prove to be a useful experience (if we are open to the possibility of needing something useful).
That nearly 80% of the travelers were there because of a broken heart is true by the way. I thought that was sort of funny. I think it especially amusing since India is a self-described big hearted country. But then again, what better place for all of us moping foreigners to go then to a country with heart to spare!?
The first day I discovered this mini-factoid, a bunch of us from the ashram in Rishikesh were squished around a small sticky booth in a small sticky cafe known as the Office. Due to lack of space, we had to share a booth with an unknown Canadian.
As we drank our ginger-lemon-honey teas and crunched down our meusli-honey-yogurt-fruit salad, we all began to share our little anecdotes as to how we got to this place to begin with. Like duck duck goose it went: break up, break up, break up, quit my job (break up), break up, break up, break up, thought it might be cool. Every little history each person told was completely fascinating too.
This was miraculous to me. I had gotten to a point in my life where I was completely un-fascinated by everything. “Oh, you discovered a cure for cancer? That’s nice. Pass the salt.” Life was a yawn. And it was all my fault. The real reason I went to India I discovered later, much much later.
After three weeks of wandering up and down the ghats of the Ganges, I started to get a clue as to why I had traveled at all. The answer was I needed a restart. I left the country because I was out of juice, and I was so addicted to my habitude of thought and action that I had to completely remove myself from all of it to have a chance at rediscovering my sense of curiosity and whimsy.
I went to India to be stripped naked.
I didn’t have to go to India to achieve this I am sure. I could have gone to New Mexico or Austria, but there is something to be said for complete isolation—and that includes isolation of language and culture and timezone.
I selected a place where every single North Eastern American creature comfort was removed—down to the beds. I remember the first time I set eyes on an Indian pillow actually. I thought for sure there must be some mistake—so flat…so very, very flat! But it was no mistake.
My habits that were making me miserable ran so deep, in order to transition the Universe declared I could no longer cling to even the familiarity of a bed. Fine. Take it all away! For five weeks I traded in my sense of style, the hours I spent awake, the amount of food I thought I required, the language I was used to, the customs I was used to, how I spent my free time, my definition of fun—I traded it all in for the whatever was presented to me in whatever city I happened to be.
I was like Disney’s the Little Mermaid, washed ashore with human legs: if some prince-man gives me a sail to wear as a dress, sure I’ll put it on and be happy for it. Plus, also like the Little Mermaid, I sang quite a bit. I learned to adapt is what I am trying to say.
Back in the States I never put myself in a position where I was forced to adapt to anything. My ego was running my life in such a way that even when I put myself in a “challenging” situation, the challenge was mere, was calculated, was not a real challenge at all, but was simply a disguised support for the unhealthy life structure in which I was accustomed to living.
In order to adapt, we must first recognize the need to relinquish control. We don’t have to adapt if we think we’re driving the car and believe ourselves to be the only ones who can, dammit! In my life prior to India, I was not driving so well. I finally gave into the truth of this. Eventually I hit such levels of desperation that I gave up the wheel and the car and threw it all to the wind.
This is to say, I allowed myself to be stripped naked, and I traveled this way for five weeks in the name of rebirth. In reality it all comes down to intention I think. That is why I don’t believe India is the required visiting post for transformation, it just happened to be mine.
I might even posit that the travel part is secondary to the ability to admit things are not working. The lesson I have learned is to naked travel everywhere, even to work. To scuttle around—derriere exposed—all over the glorious place.
The goal is to find joy in the smaller things and to be defined by nothing except the fact we are live beings sharing our live being-ness together here on Earth.
I am going to Africa in two weeks. I hope to be very very skimpy.