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Main | We’re All Backpackers in One Way or Another »
Wednesday
Jun172009

The Things You Collect When Traveling

It’s been36 days since I’ve been back on U.S. soil. The assimilation process into my life as a corporate man has not been as dramatic as I had anticipated, although it became very clear to me when the Continental Boeing 737 left Amsterdam and I began relentlessly gnawing at my finger nails that the thought of returning to my banal corporate existence weighed heavily upon my mind. Incidentally, my finger nails have always been the tell-tale sign of what’s going on beneath the surface.While traveling throughout Europe,my nails looked as strong and healthy as whenI was in Africa. By the time I arrived in Seattle at 11pm, twenty hours after leaving Amsterdam’s Schipol Airport, there were no nails left to bite.

When I went to bed that evening, I wantednothing more than to sleep for two days, but there was very little sleeping for methat night in my Phinney Ridge neighborhood...and so on the next night...and the next as my mind struggled to remain in Europe despite the fact that my body was now in Seattle.

The following morning through no choice of my own I was up at 7:30am. “Wow...” was all I could think as I looked around my basement apartment. You would have thought Hurricane Katrinahad swept through my room as the night before I delved into my bags to remove my toiletries and a massive 11 Euro chunk of Old Amsterdam Cheese, and in the process spread this and that here and there.

Around 8am, tired but wired, I walked up to thePhinney Market to grab a Sunrise Breakfast Sandwich and a cup of coffee in preparation for the Herculean task of unpacking and reorganizing my room and life. Little by little I picked apart the pieces that had been a part of me for the past five weeks, things I had either brought with me or collected along the way. Little by little I organized these possessions and artifacts into smaller, more manageable piles. Little by little order was being restored to my world. This is the process by which I do most tasks in my life, whether it is cleaning, writing, solving a problem at work, and so on; break up the mass, divide it into smaller, more manageable parts of similar characteristics, and eventuallyput them back together in a new way. It is a process thathas always worked for me for everything from doing laundry to writing paragraphs.

That morning there were two things lying on my floor besides what I brought back from Europe. The first was a photo album I must have been looking at the night beforeI left for Europe while pulling an all-nighter so as to not miss my early morning flight. I picked up the photo album and randomly opened it to a picture of me and an old girlfriend who was the firstreal love of my life. It was with the girl in the photograph I learned about love, about needs, about longing, and about the concessions one must make in a relationship.It was with her that I learnedabout thethings two people can do and expresswith their bodies when they are in love. And it was also with herthat I experienced my first real heartbreak which took me to new, uncharted depths of sadness.

This photo stopped me dead in my tracks as Istared at the younger version of myself looking back at me through a mirror of time. It was humbling. There in the album,preserved and protected behind a sheet of cellophane was a carbon copy of a past moment and time in my life. My past was looking back at me through the eyes of a kid who was asfull of hopes, dreams, and goals as he was innocenceand naivety. From the outside, this timeless kid looked as if he had everything going for him,and yeton the inside, the life he was living felt very different. On the inside there was a deep-seated pain and sadness that seemed to come from nowhere, and a pain thatseemed to be going nowheresoon. That familiar kid wasn’t sure ifhe would ever be able to feel any differently than this feelinghe had come to know - and to be quite honest,he wasn’t surehe wanted to. Allhe knew was that this pain and sadness had become like a lover with whomhe became so comfortable and complacentwith that the love had long since moved on and all that was left was familiarity. You know that feeling you have when you’ve been dating or married to someone for so long, and then one dayyou wake up and you’re on your own? It isasterrifyingas it iscrippling. Who wouldthis kid be ifhe did not have this sadness to identify himto himself?

But being that I was the person who experienced the intense feelings and emotions of this kid, I was able to see that photo as if it was a holographic image. In the photo I could see the many layers andlevels of that person. One of the images Isaw was of an ambitiouskid who had a vision of a lifehe wanted to live; a life that was full of unbounded freedom, raw life experience, and deep self-reflection. The problem wasmy mind was not yetstrong enough to imagine what living that life would actually feel like - or even look like - and without being able to toimagine it, how could I become it?I really can’t fault that kid though; he simply didn’t have enough life experience to form a foundation of faith upon whichhe could stand.

I’ve spoken of this faith before. Simply put, there is nothing miraculous and divine about this faith and yet that it is where the miracle and divinity is found. That faith is simply about being strong enough and having the courageto realize that somehow, even amongst the darkest despair of your youth, adolescence, and20s, if you justkeep persevering, things will eventually get better. What an awful cliche it is when you are at the bottom, buttomorrow is always another day. What if that one night years ago, in my darkest night of the soul as St. John of the Cross penned, when I felt I was walking alone through the deepest, darkest valley I had ever known, when I thought I could no longer go on because of the weight of the pain and sadness, I actually followed through with my thought to take my own life? That is the thought of a young mind, a mind spiraling out of control.

It is the natural progression of human beings that we must traverse the peaks and valleys of lifefor if we didn’t we would never learn anything or evolve as individuals, societies, or human beings. Nature partakes in the dance of evolution and we are a product of evolution, so why too wouldn’t the soul of the individual undergo evolution as well? To evolve, one must make great strides in adaptation and one way to do that as a human or spiritual being, is to move through our pain, as opposed to numbing it,keeping it at arm’s length, or keeping it in the peripheral.

There will always be peaks and valleys on this journey of self-discovery, but I thinkas you get older, sometimes you get lucky enough to hang out on some really cool plateaus for a while. Although I only have 33 years of life experience, from watching those around me, it seems every decade these plateaus become more and more expansive and the peaks and valleys less and less steep; either that or years of conditioning have prepared us for these parts of the journey.

This is not to say there will notalways be something right around the bend that will challenge us and shake our tree of lifeto the core. What we must remember, however,is that when that tree is shaken, from its boughs and limbs fall fruits and seeds, and from this regenerative process,the cycle of birth, life, death, and rebirth,continues and perpetuates.

There was oneother thing that lay on the floor that morning which I had rediscovered when I moved into my house several months prior. In aneffort to not misplace it, IScotch-taped itto the wall where it blended in and once again Iforgot about it. But thereit was on the floor, a message from the past that was as timeless as whenI first received it.It was a note my friend Eileen had written me several years prior on a piece of paper torn from a “While You Were Out...” memo pad. On it the quote read,”The universe expands or contracts in proportion to one’s courage.”

I continued the process of organizing and sifting through the mess my travels abroad had now made in my room. Since I am a writer, or perhaps a more accurate description would be an archivist of my own life, I was amazed to see the things I had collected on my trip. Each item wasanartifact from an archeological dig of the mind, body, and spirit. Each artifact brought with it vivid images that would forever link me to a time, place and a uniquefeeling I experienced at one brief moment of my life. Among the items were; maps of cities such as Amsterdam and Genoa, tickets to museums, business cards of people who I had briefly encountered, scraps of ripped out notebook paper with phone numbers, a lighter from a coffee shop in Amsterdam, a small bag of “coffee” hidden from my final inspection before I left Amsterdam, airplane boarding passes, train and ferry tickets, a travel insurance policy, index cards with ridiculous questions on them, a handful of Euros, my own business card of a “company” that brought form to a formless idea (which turned out to be the driver of the whole trip), five books that I dragged to Europe, two of which I carried in my backpack all over the south of France and none of which I actually read. How can I be expected to read others people’s books whenI barely have enoughtime to write my own? My mind went back to the planning phase of the tripand I could hear Bret say, “Timbo, all that crap adds up andyou don’t need it.Your pack might feel OK now but after a few hours on the trail it’s gonna get a lot heavier.” Every morning in a different village in Provence, I would pack up my gear for the day’s walk and Bret would say sarcastically, “It’s a good thing you brought those books, huh Timbo?” To which I would reply with matched sarcasm, “I am getting so much reading done.” It was part of our daily routine.

***

Perhaps the hardest part of returning to my daily life in Seattle is that my dedication to my writing suffers. As the daily hum-drum existence of going to work slowly eats away at the mountain of inspiration I’ve been hoarding, I find it harder and harder to be disciplined and make time to write. As always, I have either my journal or a small pocket notebook at arm’s length and as always I am writing down ideas, images, or pieces of conversations. Finding the time to formulate these sketches into something of form is proving to be challenging, however.It may sound ridiculous to the layman, but as a writer or as with any type of creative person, not being able to get those thoughts, ideas, and feelingsout of youweighs soheavily on your mind that it can throw off the balance of your entire world. And thus as a creative person,going too long without being able to express one’s self means walking a fine line between madness and depression.

To carry the momentum of inspiration that a grandexperience like travel affords a personrequires one toreally be conscious of maintaining it. Part of that challenge is learning to keep your eyes fresh and attentive to the minutia of your daily life and surroundings; in other words, being present in the moment and being able to draw inspiration from the smallest and sometimes seemingly inconsequentialthings in your life. As our new friend Darby from L.A. said at a wine tasting in the little hill town of Giogondas, “It’s not hard to be present in Provence, but being present in yourdaily life is an entirely different challenge. It’s fucking hard,” she added.

That first weekend homethere was plenty of celebratory drinks to mark my return. One eveninga friend of mine said to me, “There is something different about. I can’t put my finger on it. You seem more grounded, centered, at peace or something.” I couldn’t help but think about this comment the next day. It made me once again think about my trip and my life as an ever-evolvingprocess and unfolding.I think part of what occurred on this trip, andwhat continues in this part of the process I amliving,is that I shed the final layers of a former angst-ridden and uneasy self. This most important part of the life-process I underwent and continue to undergo, began when I made the decision to go to Africa ten months ago. Will thiswave of momentum and good-feeling continue? Is it real? Is it just the delusions and grandeur of an inspired soul? How long it will last I can not tell you.

What I can tell you, however,dear friends and readersis thatit began when without a clue as to what I was getting myself into, filled with fear and trepidation, I put onefoot in front of the other andtook that first step forward.With that step I said “fuck it all” and went to work in an orphanage in Africa by myself. It was a blind leap of faith I think even Kierkegaard would have beenproud of.

If there is one thing I learned through that leap of faith, it’sthat fear isjust a wall you have to blast through if you ever want to get anywhere. I’ve found in my own life thatwith every wall of fearyou blow through, as you burrow and mineyour way fromcenter earthto the surface on your ascent towards the heavens,more and more light fills your life. And consequentlyeach wall you move throughis easier than the last. Perhaps that incandescent light that illuminates the sometimes cavernous regions of our soulsis the light of faith.

***

As I said in the beginning of this story, through processes I can’t explain, the tectonic plates of my interior life have been shifting andon the move for some time, and when tectonic plates shift, they alter landscapes, mountains, oceans, and continents. I think within me a new continent has been formed. Perhaps it happened on Bastille Day, the most powerful “Serengeti Moment” on this trip. Unlike the original Serengeti Moment (which actually occurred in the Serengeti), this was notan introspective happening that gave birth to an epiphany. Instead,Bastille Day brought me to -and opened me up to -a new space for joy in my life. There is an ever-growing part of me that believes this is what life is about; experiencing the unexpected and unbounded joy that is found in the loving of your own life. After all, you can’t begin to love others until you love yourself.

Again, as I said before and as I continually (perhaps even annoyingly) reiterate, you can frame this internal experience I speak ofin a thousand different lights. Earlier in the story I called it a part of the spiritual experience of life. Regardless, language limits it. If you mixed all the colors on a painter’s palette in all the possible variations, you still couldn’t touch this experience for it is beyond human communication and exists as an intangiblewave of internal feeling.

The best way I can explain it is that this spiritual experience is about finding and bringing it into the worldthejoy, peace, creativity, inspiration, freedom, and truth that exists in each of us.It is aboutbringing form to the formless. It is about being a master of your fears andthe lighthouse of your mind. It is about giving up the fight and, like water, taking the path of least resistance. It is about becoming free enough to move in the many directions your lifewill take you. Most importantly,it is about doing whatever it takes to find that within you that gives you joy, because we were made to experience and create joy in this life -at least that’s what I think. You can either look at the world as I did for so many yearsas a place full of pain and despair, or you can look at the world as a place full of love and hope. I choose to live by the mantra of the latter.

I’m feeling these days like I’ve been given a chance to startfresh and anew. I feel like time is no longer mastering me, but instead for the first time in my lifeI am the master of time. I feel as if Ihave made new clearings in my life, clearingsto be filled with an abundance of love andcreativity. I am excited, revitalized, and focused on the goals I have ahead of me. The challenge for me I know, the challenge for all of us, is to be the gatekeeper ofour thoughts, and to keep our thought focused on theabundance ofblessings in our livesin the form of friends, family, love, and support, because like any free-standing structure, a human being needs support as well. No man is an island, as John Donne said in an attempt to portray the interconnectedness of mankind.

 

Although it is somewhat scary at times because we have a tendancy to fear a crash when things are going well in our lives, I feel as if I am in a space of my lifewhere I am attracting into my world that which I need to take me to the next level, whatever that level may be or mean. What is new for me is that I know, after feeling stuck for so many years, that I am moving forward into new and exciting unchartedwaters of my life.

 

It’s not justa mere hope or wish anymore that I become that which I have always wanted to be, but insteadsomething I innately know and feel in my entire being. I am. And whenI am feeling at my best and living as I am these daysin a healthy mind, it’s as if every living part of meis aware of the process of movement my life is undertaking,and every part of me, down to the cellular level,is working in communion toward Creation. I think it comes down to me recognizing and accepting the person within me, the person who I have always been, and the person whoI have always been meant to become. It was only a matter of having the fortitude tolearn to how touse the vessel I have been given,setting my sails to the wind, and righting myself on the course upon which Ihave always been meant to travel.Sometimes you justhave to be lost for a while to find your way home.

 

The windows through which I have been looking out most of my adult life have been cleaned. Instead of peeringthrough the muck, dirt, and grime of failed expectations, disillusionment, and seemingly paradise lost,Ionce again peer out through the windows of my youth. I am, at least in this moment, a soul who is more at peace with himselfthen ever before. The windows are clear and clean, the view unobstructed, and on the other side of this pane of glassis a world that awaits my imagination to transform it into a playground.

 

September 8th, 2007
Seattle, WA

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