I love road trips!
The idea of packing up the car and setting off with my husband for a couple of weeks of exploring fills me with anticipation.
One of my favourite vacations is a drive down the Oregon coast in late summer. There will be stops at inviting cafes, checking out a bed and breakfast by the beach and tours of the local art galleries and shops. This is the perfect getaway for the two of us. Earlier this year, we started looking at dates and dreaming together.
Then COVID-19 happened.
At first, I was accepting of the fact that I would need to stay home for several weeks. Even a month or two was okay with me. Now, it is apparent that there may not be any trips for a long time. Maybe not at all this year. What about my travel plans? How can I accept this change? Objectively, I know it is for the best, and, yet, I still struggle with feeling frustrated and upset.
I know I am not the only one who is feeling the disappointment of cancelled travel plans. I think about my family and friends who are dealing with major scheduling upsets. A river cruise in Europe is no longer happening. The long-awaited month-long stay in a small town in Germany may have to be postponed. A flight to Paris is put on the shelf. I am not able to make definite plans to visit my aging father in Winnipeg, and our extended family reunion will probably be cancelled. So much loss. So many empty dreams and unfulfilled longings.
How can I write about travel at this uncertain time? When travel is discouraged and in fact, is not possible for many of us.
I am here to invite you to go on a trip with me that meets the safety guidelines of “physical distancing.” This trek is one that you may have not embarked on before. Or, perhaps, you are familiar with the terrain I will be describing.
I am talking about the trip of a lifetime!
It is the journey within.
Taking the courageous choice to explore your inner self may be more exciting and energizing than any trip you have ever taken. It may also bring risk and discoveries that may surprise you.
Are you up for the adventure?
I am here to tell you that there have been many benefits for me on this inner journey. I now enjoy my own company, I understand what brings me joy, and I can anticipate what might upset me. I have learned to trust my intuition and am clear on my life values. I have found direction in my career because I know what my desires are for a satisfying job. In this time of isolation and separation, I have spent time celebrating the relationship I have with myself. I may be alone much of the time; however, I am rarely lonely.
Join me as I share my experience of travelling within. Perhaps you will be inspired to book a trip as well.
Step one: Be Quiet and Slow Down
Instead of purchasing plane tickets, booking hotels, and packing my suitcase, I am being asked to stop. The thing that best prepares me for this journey is quiet. I am reminded to be still, to calm my inner chatter, and breathe. It is tempting for me to distract myself with social media, Netflix shows, and watching the news. So, how do I practice being quiet?
This will look different for each of us. Some of you may sit in meditation. There will be those of you who walk in the woods, allowing Mother Nature to slow your whirling mind. Or it could be that you prefer listening to calming music as you journal. A soothing bubble bath or a hot shower might be your preference. There is not just one way to do this.
The most helpful thing for me is to pay attention to my intuition. As I slow down and practice being quiet, what am I hearing from my inner wisdom? It is when I turn away from the distractions that I learn to listen. Even a couple of minutes at a time is a start. Just notice and accept the emotions and thoughts that come up for you.
Step Two: Be Aware of your Experience
What does it mean to be aware of my experience? Often, I look back on my day and wonder where the time went. What was I doing all day? I discover that I had not been noticing what is going on for me on the inside. Does it even matter? Am I just trying to survive and make it through this surreal time, and if so, what difference does it make if I pay attention to my inner thoughts?
Here is what happens when I pay attention. When I am aware of my experience, I have choices. I respond rather than react to situations without thinking. For example, when I notice that I am feeling irritable or edgy, I take some time to myself. I notice what my body is telling me. Emotions are held in the body, and I have learned that tension in my shoulders or a flushed face are warnings that I may be at risk of losing my temper. I take a deep breath and calm myself to keep from snapping at my husband or yelling at the person who is not moving over on the trail.
You may not be familiar with describing your emotions, and this is a chance to name your feelings. No sugarcoating or apologizing for strong or uncomfortable emotions. Give yourself permission to feel all of it. Tears are a healing release and a way of expressing anger in a safe way. Pushing the dark feelings away only means they will pop up when you least expect it. This is an important step in getting to know yourself and is a powerful tool in having control over your actions.
A significant aspect of knowing your experience is being clear about what you want. This is a chance to explore what you want for yourself, rather than just focusing on meeting the needs of others. This concept was revolutionary for me. For most of my life I had been concerned about pleasing others. I hardly knew what I wanted, and it took some time for me to express my wants and go after my desires. When I stated my wants clearly, communication with my family improved and I acted from freedom, instead of obligation. I would not have figured this out without digging deep into my awareness.
Step Three: Pack Courage for this Trip and be Prepared to Celebrate
A trip inward includes a mix of experiences. Just as I visit places of historical interest on a trip to a new city or country, I may come across an event or person from my past on my inner journey.
There may be darkness and hurt as I am reminded of what took place. Facing a time of sadness or pain is actually an opportunity for healing and renewal. You may want to create a ritual to let go of the bitterness or loss as you declare that this memory will no longer hamper you in your life. It takes courage to let go and surrender. What a beautiful opportunity to create space for new relationships and powerful action as you heal this wound in your life. This includes forgiving yourself if you are reminded of past actions that bring up regret. There is no benefit in lingering in the swamp of shame and you have the choice to move on as you speak kindly to yourself.
A trip often has lots of fun memories as well. One year, my husband and I were lucky enough to find a last-minute concert and enjoyed a dinner show that still brings a smile to our faces. We have many art pieces in our home that we discovered on our travels. The paintings are done by artists that we met, and the scenery brings back fond memories.
This is how it works for me. I reflect on things I like about myself and certain people come to my mind. I realize how important my writing is to me and I remember my grade four teacher who saw my gift of writing and encouraged me to write stories when I was a young girl. I think about the joy I have in hosting gatherings of friends in our home and I smile as I remember my mother’s gift of hospitality. I am proud of my tenacity and persistence and I know I learned it from my running buddies as we trained for marathons. I see resources within myself that are available to support me during this difficult time of COVID-19. I know that I am able to thrive in my life and not just survive. That is cause for celebration!
As you continue your inner journey, reflect on all the people and events that have brought you to where you are today. Gratitude and celebration add a jolt of excitement to the trip!
Step Four: Be Prepared to be Surprised
There can be some surprises when visiting a foreign country. The food may be unfamiliar, or the hotel may not be what I had expected. Then there is the language and the customs of the local population. So much to figure out. I notice some similarities as I explore my inner landscape.
During these days of being isolated physically and socially, I am shocked at how I show up in my daily life. A trip within leads me to learn that I have a capacity to hold strong emotion and I am surprised by the intensity of my feelings. I used to hold back from crying—I thought if I started, I may never stop. Not anymore, my tears fall easily and often unexpectedly. I am taken aback by my strong reaction of anger when I meet people who don’t follow the rules of distancing and who let their dogs loose on a public trail. I get mad! I may not shout at them so they can hear me, but, let me tell you, I am yelling in colourful terms as I stomp away from them! Where does this come from?
As I reflect on my reactivity, I wonder if I am more stressed than I realize by all the uncertainty surrounding me during this time of COVID-19. Because of my nursing background, I know how dangerous the virus is. I am worried about the risk of transmission. I want to stay healthy and I get angry at others who do not seem to realize the dangers.
Taking a look inward, I am struck by the shame I feel. I don’t like acting so rude and “out of control.” I know about self-compassion and I choose to give myself a break. I realize this is a tough time for me, and I want to be kind to myself. I choose to go for walks when I feel rested and ready. No more pushing myself to exercise at all cost. I let go of things that no longer support me. I think of trips when I would empty my suitcase of unnecessary items. I can do the same thing on this trip. I learn to travel lightly by focusing on what is truly important to me and letting go of acting in ways to only please others.
Step Five: Accept What Is
Travelling can include detours, uncertainty and sudden changes in plans. Lost luggage, a missed flight, a flat tire on a road trip, or even a stolen passport can really create havoc.
This is what life is like for many of us these days. So many things are out of our control. We are told to stay home, to keep our distance, and to do the extras like homeschooling our children, shopping for items that are impossible to find, and to manage our anxiety about money and the uncertain future.
As I travel inward, I may feel impatient at what I perceive as the “lack of progress” in my development. Why am I still so impatient? Why am I not more loving? What about my resistance to accepting what is happening? How do I learn to surrender and let go of what I don’t have control over?
I think about what it might look like to accept what is happening. There is a phrase that I have come to describe as one of the most harmful set of words in my vocabulary.
“It shouldn’t be.”
These words are a recipe for frustration and unhappiness. Focusing on this causes me to be angry and upset. I can feel my body getting tense and I want to lash out and blame anybody or anything for spoiling my day. I am not able to think about anything other than what is not going my way.
Here is what I am practicing as I travel inward. I take a deep breath. Maybe another one. Then I focus on what I have control over.
My attitude. That’s it.
I accept that and I choose to let go of my frustration and resentment. I stop fighting. I slow down. I experiment with waiting to see what the day will bring. I wait. I am curious, rather than critical. Instead of fighting against the situation, I go with the flow, and allow myself to be carried along. I start to notice things I can be grateful for and peace and contentment result. I begin to enjoy this journey within. I remind myself that solitude is different than loneliness. I hear my inner wisdom cheering me on as I trust that all will be well.
Going inward does not remove the challenges of life.
What does happen is that you will face life from a new perspective. Slowing down, practicing awareness with courage, and being willing to be surprised will support you in accepting your circumstances.
Congratulations on travelling with me today! As you may have realized, the journey along one’s inner landscape is never ending and always changing. You may not be able to take that trip to an exotic country this year. However, you are always able to travel inward and discover new adventures and indescribable viewpoints. Enjoy!