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Half a year ago I packed all my belongings into dozens of boxes. And decided that all I will need for the next 12 months has to fit into a 40 litre backpack. I threw that backpack onto my back and boarded a plane to Australia, a destination pretty much as far away from Germany as possible. Exactly six months later it is time for a little reflection on where my inner journey has brought me so far. After all for me travelling is not about how many countries I have visited or how many flights I have taken but about how the adventures shape myself. Make yourself a cup of tea and indulge in my deep thoughts.

Travelling and the Self

After six months of travelling I still find myself circling mostly around the self. This might sound a bit selfish. But I deeply believe that this is the only place we can start from. Sharing the new found wisdoms with the rest of the world can only come second. So how does travelling help with getting to know yourself better?

We all know – I assume – the feeling of going back to our parents’ house. How fast we fall back into old patterns. All the history piling up behind a little sentence which triggers emotions way over the top of what has just been said.

When travelling you are pretty far from all the people who know you and who consciously or unconsciously are pressing your buttons. That makes it a whole lot easier to get in contact with yourself because you have less distraction. You might realise how in certain situations you always respond in the same way no matter how different the environment (or not). And you might be able to find new patterns of response in those situations.

So are the surroundings just a means to meet yourself? I do not believe so. Of course, which layers of yourself you are going to unwrap while being on a journey highly depends on your style of travelling. Fortunately, I recognized already in the beginning of my trip that a fast pace will only stress me out. More importantly, I took the appropriate measures by slowing down.

This gives me much more time to take in where I am and who I meet. I am sometimes overwhelmed by the gratefulness I feel for being able to visit so many places, breathing in their beauty with humility. Slowing down has had another big advantage. It brought the level I connect with people on my travel to a much deeper level and highly reduced the amount of small talk I am participating in.

Instead of talking about the places I have been to, the sights I have seen, the itineraries I have accomplished I started talking about my inner journey more often. And the inner journey my counterparties are on. Of course this requires more honesty and openness than exchangeable talks about travel destinations.

Plea for Vulnerability

For me one of the keys to live a more honest, more intense life is to be vulnerable. Being vulnerable implies to take risks. It also requires to be brave. To accept that you might be rejected by others. To be able to deal with the shame that comes with that.

There is a song a guy in my hostel in Kuala Lumpur played when one of the first monsoon rainfalls started. His singersongwriter version of “Here comes the rain again” touched me much more than the original 90s version of Eurythmics. One of the lines reads as follows: “I wanna stand in the open wind”.

A few weeks later I was standing in the open wind. In Taiwan. At the beach. The heavy rainfall blown right into my face. I was still recovering from some health issues, having been released from hospital just a couple of days ago. And there I was, holding my head into the blowing wind, feeling very much happy and alive.

There is a quote which I believe is attributed to Hannah Arendt (could not find the source – if you have one let me know!) that you should live your life like rain without umbrella. This is how I felt when standing on the shore in Hualien with angry taifun waves splashing against me feet and legs, soaking my pants.

Lately I really felt the urge to stand in the open wind quite often. To stand in the rain without an umbrella. To dive into the ocean of life head first. To lower those shields of protection we carry around to protect ourselves and to watch what happens. So far only good things came out of it.

A few years back I have been talking to a good friend about her previous relationship. She was worried that she had invested more emotionally into that relationship than her partner had. I held the position that the person investing more in a relationship also gets more out of it. The more you put at stake, the more you can win.

The Advanced Path

Now this sounds like a plea for vulnerability. However, I wonder if there even is a path through vulnerability and hurt feelings. A path, that leads us through negative emotions into a state in which we are not vulnerable anymore because we found so much substance we can rely on in ourselves that validation from the outside world is no longer necessary.

A way to be protected not by protecting oneself from the outside world but by loving ourselves so much and being so sure of ourselves that we do not depend on the validation from others.

On my last night in Malaysia I met a guy from South America who really impressed me. I find it hard to call him self-confident because that is a label which for me implies that we are in a battlefield somehow. This guy was highly authentic, that is for sure. He also was completely non-judgemental. He put his views of the world out there with passion without the need to defend them.

That he was also calling himself a Buddhist (if you have not read my article about my experiences at a Buddhist meditation retreat you can do so here) confirmed my interest to explore Buddhism further. This man seemed to be so completely in tune with himself that I almost felt the need to hurt him a little to unbalance his harmony. The funny thing is that even if I had wanted to do so I could have not thought of a thing that would have hurt him.

So he made for a living example to prove what I am aiming at is possible. That if we manage to separate our behaviour from the response we get for it we can truly be ourselves. That if we accept any possible outcome, if we do not fear the consequences of showing what we really believe in, of saying what we really want to say, of revealing our emotions we do not have to fear that we might get hurt anymore. And then we could really fulfil the common saying “do not take it personal”.

After all: Any relationship we have with another person is really only a relationship we have with ourselves. You might fall for the impression that human beings have a direct way of communication because they use verbal language. But in the end all you perceive is filtered through your past experiences, is shaped by your expectations, is falling on the ground of who you already are.

Taking Action

One thing I am still struggling with is transforming all the insights I have into actual deeds and habits. We all know what is good and what is not good for ourselves. But acting accordingly is a whole different story. We consider ourselves rational human beings and still when it comes to our own wellbeing we throw all our sense for it overboard and completely live against our better knowledge.

During the past years I have met people who have sleeping issues and still do not even slightly reduce their caffeine intake. Who complain about lack of energy and still work too much and sleep too little (I know one of those quite well…). Who want to eat healthier but still buy ready-to-eat meals.

I wonder how our world would change if we all started listening to ourselves AND to act accordingly. If we would love our body as well as our mind. If we loved it so much that we give it rest if it asks for rest. If we stepped out of unhealthy relationships. If we openly told people that we are hurt when we are hurt.

If we would stick to a diet that actually benefits our body. If we exercised not with the aim of beautifying our body or meeting aesthetical standards but to keep it healthy and alive. If we decided to dwell not too much on negative thoughts but instead keep a positive spirit.

If we truly perceived life as our choice and thought less about how we are victims and more about how our actions can catapult us into spheres we have only dreamt of before. If we were willing to overcome our fears, to take risks – be they emotional or of other kinds.

If we stopped worrying so much about what other people think and instead invested that energy in doing what we really want to do. Just imagine what impact that had on our lives. I believe that all the privileges I have because I am born in a rich country, with a functioning brain in a functioning body that more or less meets the norm also makes it my responsibility to make something out of that.

To not to ignore the possibilities or to look at them in astonishment but with fear and then go back to what everybody does because it is what society teaches us is the normal thing to do. But instead to shine my light back into the world once I have figured out my self.

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