January 15, 2015

North, South, East & West: Musings of a Nomad.

N,S,E, W nomad

The anonymity of airports makes me feel most like myself.

Invariably, after clearing security and arriving at my departure gate I sigh in profound relief. I ease into the solitary elation of not being anyone and not belonging anywhere in particular, hanging out in a liminal zone.

I always travel alone, I always travel light and my system for researching, taking care and being safe has never failed me—thanks to travel gods, reliable gut feelings and the kindness of strangers.

I traveled abroad for the first time by myself at the age of 14 and have never truly stopped moving since. I couldn’t wait to grow up and leap out of the familiar zone of my surroundings, breaking known paradigms and questioning the predominant rules of my environment.

I have lived in four countries and traveled to almost all of the places on the planet that have called my name. I only go where I feel compelled to go and this loyalty to my internal compass and visceral sense of direction has guided me with an unerring precision and consistency.

Nomadic heritage is both a curse and a blessing.

Denying the migratory impulse is impossible and the only option is to obey the persistent drive to see landscapes on location, feel myself out on a new ground and figure out the rules of local reality.

Everywhere my tenacious brain wants to know: What are the elements of the daily cuisine? What is the essence of the spoken language? How does it correspond to the heart of the landscape and the heart of the people? How was this culture formed and this reality created? What makes people here tick? What drives and informs their way of life?

I am in love with the four directions and the elemental energies they represent.

My search for equilibrium has required me to get intimate with the South. I have needed copious amounts of heat, sweat and palm trees to reverse the thaw of the Northern blood in my veins. I have craved the fluid intensity of the Southern people to challenge the mandate of Nordic reservation.

I had to keep leaning towards the East to balance out the West until I circled the globe and ended up where I started, only changed.

Years on the go have taught me about the art of asceticism and the discipline of minimalism. This way of life is so ingrained in me that it’s practically impossible for me to acquiesce to owning more physical belongings than I can reasonably carry and handle on my own, which is roughly what fits in the back of a small car.

Everything I own is compact, organized and impeccably accounted for: clothes in soft cotton—designed for ease of movement. Boots, ballet flats and flip flops. A folder for passports, licenses, certificates, insurance cards and other paper work. A yoga mat, strap and two blankets. Organic hygiene and skin care products. A small collection of personal items like stones and sea shells, letters and note books, a few pieces of jewelry, massage cream, a set of towels and sheets I like in particular, maybe a beloved a tea mug.

The rest I do and undo, acquire and release (usually through Craigslist or a secondhand store) based on current need. I am modest in my basic requirements for a good life and nothing essential ever seems to be lacking.

I am a mobile, compact and portable one woman system, clearing airport security in under a minute and exiting a plane in a skip and a hop, the first one in line at the passport check.

Traveling and living in different places in the world is a practice in flexibility, patience and adaptability.

My systems for managing myself gracefully in new and foreign contexts are tried and true and put to test in countless environments.

I don’t neglect the needs of my body or compromise unnecessarily on the wellbeing of my soul. In action this means striking a careful balance between enjoying the spontaneity of travel while considering sustainable and responsible choices with adequate forethought.

No such thing as a geographic cure exists and even in all of its exhilaration traveling has the potential to illuminate any and all unresolved issues lying dormant under my skin.

I have had countless teary moments on opposite sides of the world, feeling lonely, isolated and on the brink of an existential crisis, wondering out loud: “What am I doing here at all? What compelled me to come here in the first place? What is this incessant need to keep moving and searching? When do I finally get to come home?”

Language is a way of being, a whole world unto itself. Language is a way of thinking, sharing and loving—learning a new one is a delight and a privilege. I believe in the absolute value of knowing a language or two beyond our first one. A new language opens a gate we didn’t know existed beyond the paradigm of our known reality. Mastering an understanding in this unfamiliar territory of conceptualizing is humbling and enriching beyond measure.

Similarly enough, living in a country (or a few) other than that of our origin offers and requires a complete sea of change in perspective. Many unspoken laws and collective agreements exist under the surface of each composition of culture and getting to see our own as only one of the many contradicting options in the world is terrific for our sanity.

Realizing that we are not bound to any specific culture and that no absolute model for human life exists unleashes our freedom to make choices only based on an inner sense of alignment.

When I was growing up, my greatest fear was that there was no viable alternative to the rigid and insular standards of my region.

I was desperate to know that the local value system for life was not absolute and unequivocally universal. Traveling saved my soul by opening up doorways of understanding and revealing gates to new and foreign paradigms that offered me the kind of creative flexibility and freedom of choice I had most lacked and longed for through my childhood.

My right hip carries a tattoo of a compass pointing North.

The design is a rough sketch of the compass carved on the ground in some of the intersections in Santa Barbara, instructing the citizens of the direction of True North. For me it also points toward the Arctic Circle, the wilderness of Lapland, the home of my spirit.

The tattoo is a reminder of my Nordic blood and recognition of heritage after years of arguing against it. It is a confirmation of the North living in me through my innate choices and the boreal quality of my presence.

With enough time and distance I can see that my roots can strengthen me from within instead of suffocating me.

The Northern Lights can light up my way wherever I go.


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Author: Anna Seva

Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock

Photo: courtesy of the author, flickr

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