Next Wednesday afternoon, I’ll be hopping a flight from Dallas to Paris, the first time I’ve been abroad since May 2006. It feels like a triumph, making this voyage. I’m ready for the adventure!
I worked for about two years as a travel writer, so I’ve had the opportunity to flit all around the place in North America and a few places in Europe. So it was a bit of a surprise to discover that, in fact, travel makes me anxious. I overplan and get expectations and demand too much from myself when I travel, so I end up coming back more tired than I left. And several of my trips during the past four years have included anxiety attacks and tears.
But despite that, I’ve continued to travel in limited doses, listening to that discomfort and letting it tell me what I need to do. A lot of time that is slow down.
As it turns out, hitting the brakes is one of the things that makes it possible to appreciate the very things that make travel so enjoyable. It’s all about all those delicious details that are different than home, from street signs to smells to the sounds of a different language being spoken all around me.
Through all those differences, though, there’s something that always jumps out at me: we’re more alike than we think we are. After I get past the different way a person ties her scarf or slurps his soup, the separation begins to lessen. I see the ways we are alike, the things we share as humans. The very best thing: sharing a laugh with someone from another culture. In that moment, there’s so much connection.
The other thing that happens when I slow down is that I remember to have fun. Be in the moment. Smile. Paris is an absolute delight, and I’m staying with a dear friend I’ve known since my high school days. We’ll have a long weekend to spend in the city, and to rent a car and drive to Bruges, Belgium. There’s not checklist, there’s no museum itinerary to follow, there are no rules.
So that’s the plan for Paris, insomuch as there is a plan. Relax. Stay present. And make much laughter. Throw in some croissants, and I think it sounds perfect.
I’m a sucker for a self-help or spiritual book. My bookshelf is groaning under their weight: Emmet Fox and Eckhart Tolle, Elizabeth Lesser and Thich Nhat Hanh, Byron Katie and Wayne Dyer…The pile grows more unwieldy with every trip to Half Price Books.
In the past, I’ve operated with the belief that the book you don’t read won’t help, so better read them all, just in case that life-changing sentence is buried in the third paragraph on page 219 of Pema Chödrön‘s fourth book. Oh my god, I’ve got to find that paragraph! And put it on Facebook!
Sometime in late 2011, I hit total book burnout. I was sick to death of shoveling self help advice down my throat and I just couldn’t give a crap which author Oprah recommended for life improvement that month. I had a radical thought one night, after inwardly groaning at the thought of my mandatory bedtime self help indoctrination hour: “What if the truth is mine already?”
It felt like heresy. I mean, who am I? I’m screwed up! I’m confused! I need someone else to tell me the way it is!
But you can’t un-know what you know (and trust me, I have tried). And in that moment, I figured some stuff out and made a decision: I was going to put down the books and start living my own truth.
I’ve learned so much over the years from these teachers and I’m greatly influenced by them. But I had to start living my spiritual practice as I understood it, and that meant putting down the books and venturing out into the wild world, trusting that I know what to do, I know how to live, and I can act in the way that is most true to me without CliffNotes always on my side table.
So far, 2012 has been an amazing journey of living that truth day by day, person to person, moment to moment. It’s not always comfortable–I often feel like a child learning to walk. But as I honor my inner wisdom, my anxiety lowers and I start to get the hang of it. It’s fresh and raw, yes, but it’s also something beautiful and exciting.