November 14, 2019

Home in the Unknown: how Travel Teaches us to Enjoy Life without a Plan.

A new adventure waited beyond the horizon as I stood alone in that departure lounge once again.

The straps of my backpack pulled on my shoulders, and I enjoyed the unique atmosphere that comes with having a group of people momentarily enclosed in one space before the explosive power of jet engines leave them all scattered sporadically around the globe.

As the others buzzed and shopped around, I stood still and stared out the windows, dreaming of the upcoming adventure. The planes lined the tarmac outside, and my stomach stirred with excitement and apprehension. I was flying solo into the anarchy of another adventure and, as always, I didn’t know what awaited me out there in the big wide world.

Friends or foes? Pleasure or pain? Love or heartbreak? Life or death?

Like always, if I could have known, I wouldn’t have wanted to. For me, predictability and order were the slaughterhouses of the soul. It seemed too much of either only took the spark from your eye and the fire from your stomach. It was out there in the mystery of the unknown where the magic and wonder lay; it was out there where life was lived at its most furious and fullest.

That was the beauty of the adventure, which always made me come crawling back from the suburban life of security and comfort. So far, my ventures into the unknown had brought me many treasures and pleasures. No doubt they had also caused me pain and discomfort, but it was a fair price to pay for the wonders I had stumbled across on my journey through the wild.

My soul was stirred by it all. The bittersweet memories. The inner discoveries. The new friends. The burning passions. The feeling of living life at its fullest, knowing that if you were to die in an instant, you would leave the world behind with no regrets at all. Ultimately, that was what kept me returning from the lands of the safe and familiar and predictable and static.

Naturally, I knew that not everyone shared my love for such an insecure existence. As I continued hurling myself wide-eyed into that unknown, I was often told that my life needed more direction—that I needed stability, security, and to “think about the future.

It was something we were all told from a young age; we were encouraged to plot and plan out our lives right up until retirement. At just the tender age of 16, the heavy hands of teachers and parents would fall on your shoulder as they asked you what you wanted to be. Whatever answer you gave under the pressure, you were thus ushered down a long and linear corridor of education, training, and employment, which then led to mortgages, marriage, and living in one place while saving for a distant retirement.

This was the set notion about life: that it needed to be planned and regimented—that a rigid path needed to be followed and anyone not following that path was often deemed “lost” or out of place in some way.

But for me, the thought of following a predictable and predetermined path to the grave only made me feel anxious and suffocated. In the blood of me, I didn’t want to know exactly where my life was going long-term or what exactly was over the next horizon. I liked the idea of not knowing. The ineffable mystery of existence was beautiful, and at my core, I knew the realm of the unknown was where I truly belonged—lost blissfully in the dream, wandering wide-eyed through the bewitching wilderness of life until the end of my days.

Again, I knew that not many people shared this nomadic-hearted sentiment. I understood people felt at rest with the secure and familiar, but I didn’t understand when people feared the unknown to such a large degree.

When you really sit back and think about it, it doesn’t make sense to have such a fear of living in the mystery of the moment. At its core, life itself is one big journey in the unknown. At every second, we are incarnate in slowly decaying bodies, riding a spinning rock through an infinite universe with nobody who knows to what end. One day we were all going to die and go on the biggest journey into the unknown yet. Our very existence is a great living mystery and walking out to face the world each day is an act of faith—a trust in the absolute chaos of our infinite and indifferent universe.

Still, despite our shared fate and circumstance, so many fearfully refuse the unknown their entire life. They try to organise their lives on a spreadsheet right up until their funeral. They iron out any mystery or wonder. They stamp out any possibility for surprise. They suppress their wanderlust, subdue their passions, abandon their adventures. They work the overtime and save for that distant retirement.

“No alarms and no surprises, please,” as Thom Yorke had once sung in despair at the monotony and banality of it all.

Organise, organise, organise. For some people, life became as formulaic as the airport conveyor-belt, going round and round on the same predictable path. For others who wanted a bit of adventure but were too scared of leaving the safe and familiar, life was one big wait in that departure lounge, staring wistfully out of windows but never getting up to take their flight, only daydreaming about it.

I knew that there were many people like that out there, totally paralysed by not having some security that any ideas about adventure or exploration were quickly ushered out of their minds like unwelcome guests. The cultural conveyor belt ushering them from one predictable place to the next was simply too comfortable and convenient.

“But where was the adventure?” I internally screamed to myself. Where was the thrill? Where were the moments where you weren’t sure whether you were going to reach the top of the mountain or fall into the abyss?

Ultimately that was what it was all about to me. That was what it was to live life to the fullest. To feel alive. To be alive.

I know that ultimately, in these thoughts, I’m a bit of an eccentric—a bit of a madman and minority. Not everyone feels as comfortable facing the unknown as my manic mind does.

But really, I ask you: in this life, if you could know absolutely everything that was going to happen to you, would you absolutely want to? Would you really want to read the entire script of your life if it could literally be handed to you right now?

I suspect the answer would be no, but seemingly that is what happens from a young age for most.

Those same people often ask me my plans for the future, and when I tell them I don’t plan more than a few months in advance, there is often an awkward pause of silence. “But what do you mean you don’t know? Have you not thought about it? Don’t you want to have a future?”

To me it seemed that it was always about that great mental hoax of the future—an idea that only truly existed in the mind. You would spend your whole life anxiously thinking about and planning that future, meticulously plotting the next step inch by inch, only to get the end and realise that the present moment was the only thing you could have ever experienced.

“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans,” as John Lennon had said.

I guess the best example of this for me was graduating out of the education system. After working hard and studying for all those years, finally, you arrived into the working world. But instead of enjoying the arrival you had worked for over 20 years, you’d instantly find yourself chasing promotions and the next big ‘”thing,” because by then your brain was totally wired to chasing a known future rather than experiencing the now. For me, learning to exist without a long-term plan was a merely a matter of rewiring the brain, of learning to accept that you simply didn’t know and to trust yourself to the cosmic waters of space and time. To the ocean of the unknown—that great wilderness where the greatest adventures were had.

It’s only when we stop stressing and trying to anxiously control everything, that the thrill of the new and mysterious replaces the ordinariness of the predictable and unfamiliar. It’s only then can we fully be ready to step off the carousel of routine and walk with wide eyes into the bewitching wilderness of life. To see the world as a child does when they are discovering their surroundings for the first time. To discover the wonders of the world and the wonders of ourselves. To experience life in a way that will leave your soul stirred by the great adventure and exploration of it all.

And ultimately that’s why, I guess, after spending almost a year at home, I was back in that departure lounge once again, staring out the window at the planes that lined the tarmac, ready as I ever was to hurl myself back into the abyss of the unknown.

The gates had now opened and my flight was ready for boarding. I shook myself back to life and I headed toward the plane to begin another voyage out into the world. I thought of the people I was yet to meet, the sights I was yet to see, the feelings I was yet to feel. I thought of the great adventure that awaited me. I thought of the pleasure and the pain; the joy and despair; the highs and the lows.

I was flying to a country I had never been to, totally alone, but the fluttering feeling in my heart made me feel good. It made me feel like I was going back to a place my soul missed. Back once more into the mystery and magic. Back once more into the chaos and madness.

Back once more into the beautiful unknown—the only real home I had ever truly known.

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Ryan Millward  |  Contribution: 470

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