I know this is late (this book is, like, so five years ago), but I was recently reminded of it by a friend reluctantly beginning a new single chapter in her life.
We discussed the book and the writers transformative experience that took place throughout three countries, exemplifying the not uncommon notion that inner peace lies abroad; that taking a ginormous risk by traveling to exotic far away places will be the catalyst for personal growth, healing, enlightenment, whatever your inner holy grail happens to be.
I offered her the best piece of advice I have ever received.
Let me first qualify this by noting that my quest for answers has included a library full of our best past and present thinkers, a lifetime of counseling beginning at age five, a degree and career in the mental health field, significant time spent abroad, not to mention countless experiments and experiences with the following, including but not limited to: reiki, psychics, mediums, Buddhism, Bahai, Judaism, shamans, meditation, medication, homeopathy, and naturopathy. To name a few.
I too, felt that inner peace lied in another continent. What I found in other continents was a very many amazing things but none of them were what I was searching for. What I did find, unfortunately, was me. Not the “true” me or the enlightened me. Just the same old generalized anxiety disorder with precarious self esteem—me. And subsequently, the five figures of debt needed to pay for my “spiritual journey”—me.
The best piece of advice I ever received, rather indirectly, was from the remake of the Brady Bunch movie. The dad, Mike, offers to one of the bemused Brady’s, that “wherever you go, there you are.”
I found myself in a breathtaking palatial temple in Kyoto Japan, meditating with a group of like-minded peers and Buddhist monks, thinking about the guy I hooked up with the night before, wondering if it will be awkward between us now.
While we did our sun salutations, I tried not to look at him from the corner of my eye and wonder what he was thinking. My inner monologue was supposed to be nothing more than “one breath in, one breath out.” Instead it was, “You are in friggin’ Japan for Christs sake! stop thinking about this!”
I was in Japan, technically. But really, I was in my head, where I’ve always been.
Later that day, I found myself at a pay phone in town, using my calling card to obsess to my friend about whether hooking up with this guy wasn’t the best idea and whether it was bad karma that I farted audibly during a group meditation because due to our close proximity the group assumed it was the beautiful, skinny blonde next to me; and I would’ve maybe corrected the assumption if I wasn’t sleeping with one of the guys in the group, and is that really bad and do you think he might actually know it was me?
After several months of traveling, I returned home. Sure I learned a lot and I had a lot of interesting experiences, cool photos, and a mound of debt, but I was no closer to enlightenment and a heck of a lot closer to bankruptcy.
Truth be told, I wound up taking more risks in eastern standard time than I did on the eastern cape or anywhere else I’ve been. It was a risk to travel throughout a country where I didn’t know the language and to go shark diving in South Africa. But the biggest risks I took were several years later, in no-where-special Pennsylvania.
I did the same things I’ve done a dozen times, but I did them differently. I dated as usual, but this time, I let myself really love someone, really want them. I let them really see me.
I stopped protecting myself from the potential loss.
And when I lost them, instead of running towards a rebound, a reiki session, or Rwanda, I just let it hurt. And it hurt like a mofo. I felt like I would die. But I didn’t. And slowly, eventually, the pain dissipated.
There is a Buddhist practice called “die before you die.” The idea is to make peace with death so the fear doesn’t keep you from living. I realized that I needed to make peace with life first. I needed to know that life, and the pain that sometimes comes with it, wouldn’t break me. And that’s what allowed me to be in the moment without worrying about the next moment.
Whether the risk is traveling abroad or going to a local restaurant alone, the more you risk and live through it, the less time in your head arming yourself against a myriad of potential hurts. The farther you get from fixating on the future, the closer you get to the present. And that is where the inner holy grail is. Here. Now.
Once you can stop being afraid and accept whatever is and whatever might be, you are exactly where you need to be. And if you happen to also take an exotic trip, all the better. You’ll appreciate it more when you’re able to actually be there.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Apprentice Editor: Sarah Qureshi / Editor: Renée Picard
Photo: Basak Ekinci via Flickr