So you packed up your home, put your life on hold, and now you find yourself traveling in Asia with an open stretch of time ahead of you. You plan to rest, take stock, and discover a new angle on life. Have a few adventures. Maybe make a transition in your career. No more boring days at a job you hate, performing mind-numbing tasks just to survive in the modern world. Bliss at last, right?
What happens when you finally get to your dreamed of destination, your tropical paradise, only to find that your niggling doubts, your habitual patterns, your fundamental discontent have followed you here? The tropical wildlife sends you screaming and scrambling onto the nearest piece of furniture, which breaks upon contact. You can’t figure out how to find the travel agent because the streets don’t have names and no one answers the phone (not that anyone there speaks English even if they did.) Or when you finally do get there, the computers are down, or they are out to lunch. For the week.
How do you make the most of your time overseas when you are just not feeling it? How do you manage your mind when it is conspiring to bring you down just when you’ve decided to take some time to find inner peace?
Travel is one of the best forms of therapy I know. It forces you to come to terms with aspects of yourself you might not confront in your everyday life—things that come up when your environment is unknown, unexpected, changing and often challenging. Or, to put it more directly, frustrating as hell.
Look at your resistance
What are you unwilling to accept? Often when we are confronted with things that challenge our outlook of the world, we struggle to maintain our sense of identity. Look at any preconceived ideas you may have to see where you may be stuck. You may want to try writing practice–scribble it all down in no particular format and get it all out. See the irony or humour if you can. Sure it’s easy to complain about inefficient systems and poorly functioning organizations. But if you had wanted the known, you would have stayed home, right? You asked for an adventure, so here it is. Adventure doesn’t always come in the guise we expect or ask for.
Well-being is about adapting to new situations with ease, learning to ride each moment lightly. Release expectations of how you thought your journey would unfold and let the path reveal itself regardless of your preferences. Learn to to be flexible in the face of sudden change or conflict. Take a deep breath.
Relax and enjoy
When you can appreciate the similarities and differences, then traveling becomes a joyful practice of observation. You start to see there are other ways of doing things. From how to eat, to how to relate to death family and intimacy—all cultures treat these in their own way. You can start to question if the way you learned to do things works for you. It gives you options to make changes or adjustments to your own life if you choose to. When I spent a year in India I realized money was not the number one theme of life, something my American culture had ingrained in me. It changed how I perceive and approach my life, allowing other aspects of life to take priority—it was the first time in my life I’d actually relaxed fully. When you are able to settle into a situation with ease and joy, new layers of existence are often exposed.
Part of the education of travel is seeing how people from different cultures approach and manage life. But apart from seeing our differences, you start to see how utterly similar humans are, regardless of the culture that raised us. We all smile and laugh and experience emotions. We may behave differently and do different things with these emotions but the emotions themselves are universal. This one understanding can change the way you approach your life and make you more sensitive to and of those around you. It can open the door to compassion. Buddhists call this the seed of enlightenment.
Learning to adapt is the best way to create a strong mind and boost mental health. Children naturally bounce back with resilience and just keep going with the flow—there is wisdom in this. There is a slogan from the lojong trainings of Vajrayana Buddhism that goes like this:
In postmeditation, be a child of illusion.
In other words, don’t assume things are solid and real or that you understand everything that’s happening. Allow for things to unfold without knowing how or why. Watch the play of the phenomenal world with innocent eyes, as if in a dream. When you can rest in your center without depending on the stability of the outer world, you’ll surprise yourself with an increased sense of confidence and well-being, knowing you can handle whatever challenge comes your way with strength and grace.
One way to benefit from this experience of shifting perspectives is to take up a meditation practice as a way to observe your mind. For a simple meditation instruction, click here.