A look back, and a look forward. 10 months and 5 days ago, I left home to travel, the aim being to journey around the world once, in my pocket a detailed plan where I wanted to go and what I wanted to do. But when I look back now, I am not so sure what really were my expectations, then. I do remember why I made the decision to change something rather drastically in my life, but why did it have to be Travel, why couldn’t I just stay in Germany and read and learn a new language for one year, for example? What were my hopes, my ambitions, my expectations specific to traveling, and how did it all measure up to reality?
All journeys have a secret destination of which the traveller is unaware (Martin Buber, 1878 – 1965)
I am now at a certain age where the old cliché of “Was that all?” attains more meaning. I liked my job, I liked my environment, I liked my life, I could have just continued like that for a long time. I knew with absolute certainty that one day, I’d have looked back with the feeling and the knowledge that I didn’t live my real life. So I asked myself: If you had every opportunity to do what you like, for one year, what would it be? The answer was immediate: Travel. Why? To be honest, I didn’t really know myself. A longing for color, for smells, for different lives, outlooks and perspectives, for heat and dust and noise, for loud voices calling something unintelligible in a strange language, for the unknown, for exotic countries. When I think of traveling, I don’t think of luxury living in a 5 star resort (although that would come in handy once in a while), I want the full spectrum of local life, and those are the pictures I see with my inner eyes, and the sounds that reach my inner ear, when thinking: Travel. What I didn’t have (although many thought so) was the wish to “find myself”. And expectations I didn’t really have either, just the absolute certainty that I was doing the right thing, never a moment of doubt.
Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts (Mark Twain, 1835 – 1910)
I got what I wanted, and soon remembered that there is a difference between inner and outer eyes and ears. Strange voices and smells, the colors of Asia, exotic people and places and lives are all very well, but the reality also consists of vast differences in life styles and standards, in cultures and etiquettes, it consists of extreme poverty, near permanent attention towards foreigners, be it curious or for money or both, and especially: A change in perception, from manager to “woman of middle age, no kids, traveling on her own” – something which causes pity as well as protectiveness in many, none of which is really my thing. I lost one major identity, and had to find new ones. I was constantly confronted with my own limits, and moved outside my comfort zone for most of the time.
The shortest way to oneself leads around the world (Hermann Keyserling, 1880 – 1946)
I am extremely grateful for all that. Travel forced me to think about my limits, weaknesses, strengths, expectations, behavior in a way which far exceeded anything that job and “normal” life had ever asked me to do. They say that people, books and events find you when you are most in need, and I agree with that – during my journey, all three appeared when I needed to be nudged along the way. They gave me questions I didn’t know I had, and helped me to find the answers. They forced me to look deeply into myself. I learned what the abstract concept of happiness means for me personally, and every day, I am learning about compassion, about kindness, about acceptance, and how they contribute to happiness.
The journey, not the destination matters (T.S.Eliot, 1888 – 1965)
A few days ago, there was a discussion in the ashram about a statement that went something along the lines of “Not through experience we learn, but through contemplation”. Maybe an appropriate phrase for an ashram where life flows serenely, but in my point in life a sentence that contains little truth. For me, it’s all about the diverse experiences that challenge me, that teach me and progress me on my path. Periods of tranquility are good and necessary to reflect on the learnings, but for me, the value of this life lies with the experiences.
Only travel is life, much as life itself is a journey (Jean-Paul, 1763 – 1825)
My journey is not at an end, both metaphorically and literally speaking. I need more time and want to experience more, and therefore I have decided to stay “out there” for a while longer. I don’t know for how long – perhaps 6 months, not more than 12 months, because at some point the money will end, and I already do feel a longing for a home (which will be in Germany). I am not making any plans anymore, I will follow the flow and see where people, books and events will be taking me. And I know that once back in Germany, the journey will not be finished – it will never be. But now I finally know why I wanted to travel, even though I had no idea when I made the decision.
We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. (T.S. Eliot, 1888 – 1965)
PS: I will be home for Christmas, hopefully will see a few of you then.