I am currently suffering from Guatemala withdrawal. The last few weeks have gone by in a flurry of exams and assignments. I find myself flipping through the pictures my classmates and I took while we were there, trying to relive the beautiful, eye-opening moments we shared. I find myself checking flights on Expedia.ca, looking for the next great experience. It’s hard to fight the urge to spread my wings and take off again.
I caught the travel bug after going to Costa Rica in 2007 for 4 months. There was something completely freeing about being away from everyone who ever knew me, my culture and my past. It was a reinvention of myself in the most complete sense. But, at the same time it was a excellent way to come into myself, to learn who I was outside of the environment that helped shaped me. Removing ourselves from the past, the people who know us and our routines, distills us down to the very essence of our being, in a way. It can become addicting.
Someone I met in Costa Rica once said, “I wish people would act as if they were traveling all the time.” It’s so true. There is no one more friendly or open to experience and life than a traveler. Traveling has a way of opening us up to the world.
My friend K teaches at a school in a town on Lago Atitlán, Guatemala, called San Marcos la Laguna. A flood sent the town residents upland and, when the water levels eventually came back down, the barefoot neo-hippy culture moved in. Vegan restaurants and new-age bookstores, pyramid meditation centres and traveling artisans line the narrow, cobblestone streets. Everyone is friendly. There are fliers for meditation groups, yoga, protests, and workshops on a variety of healing arts and crafts. Coming from a culture of naturopathic medicine, where we’re the bonafide counterculture “hippies” of Toronto, I should have felt at home. But there I was probably the most pragmatic person around. Naturopathic medicine? Too scientific. Everyone I talked to was a “healer” as well. Although we never did get into what they’d actually healed. (Note: I think it’s quite ambitious to call oneself a “healer” when all the naturopathic doctor or holistic practitioner does is facilitate the body and the individual to heal themselves. A more appropriate term would be a “healing facilitator”. However, I admit it doesn’t have the same ring.)
I noticed something while lazily wandering around San Marcos. It was a Vata dosha aggravated town, all wind and no substance. The people who flock to San Marcos, have uprooted themselves, travelling from far off continents (mainly Europe, North America and Australia) to “find themselves”. They came to practice yoga and meditation, talk to psychotherapists and, essentially, go back to where they came from healed. Many bring with them serious psychological grievances and felt that, by pouring their hearts out to an anonymous psychoanalyst on Lago Atitlán, someone they would never have to build a therapeutic relationship with, they would find the inner healing that they so craved. It carries with it the mentality of a pilgrimage After a long journey we expect to find something: ourselves, our salvation, an escape from our problems.
One thing I learned during my trip to Costa Rica was that, after the initial feeling of freedom I tended to confront the same problems I thought I had left at home. My life, no matter where I was, returned to its usual pattern. Like the poor sap at the party who thinks he’s farted in another room, only to breeze it back in with him, what I was working on at the time, no matter how unpleasant, seemed to stick. It seemed that I had only one choice: own up to it. Farting in another room doesn’t work. The same pattern would just follow after me. There was no escape from it.
I was recently doing a yoga class where the teacher quoted a philosopher. She said, “the aim of spiritual practice is to bring us home. Home to the realization that we already have everything we need.”
Although I still love to travel, to see new sights and meet new people, at the optimal every 3-4 month mark, it’s amazing to go somewhere new, it’s also important to return home. Stepping out of our comfort zone and into a new culture can teach us things about ourselves; it throws our personal characteristics into sharp relief when we’re away from our typical surroundings (the stress of the city and work, or away from the crutches we often return to for comfort, etc.). However, coming home is always a necessary step in the traveling journey. Dorothy had it figured out.
After all, it is home, wherever that is for us, where we are able to form ourselves, create a community, come down to earth, develop relationships with people, our family, real, painful, vulnerable relationships. We form roots, planting ourselves into the soil we choose, forming a legacy of connection.
Traveling should never serve as an excuse to dissociate from real life, our home, responsibilities and the real self-work that we need to do on ourselves daily. So, after each trip, even if I feel the craving to get back on another plane and relive the freedom of travel, I focus on the things I’ve brought back with me: maybe some nick-knacks, presents and always photos, sure, but especially the immaterial, the memories and the feelings that have awakened in me, the space in my heart in which these new sights, people and experiences have changed me, bringing me ever closer to the person I truly am. Bringing me home to the realization that I already have everything that I need.