A Letter About Traveling and Life
Meghan Orman • July 12, 2015 • Lifestyle •
It’s funny to reflect on our lives and see where the existential seeds we planted long ago first started to sprout, and how they grew into the fruit we are experiencing now – only to eventually return to a seed and repeat.
This is a letter about traveling – and Life.
When I first set off for Southeast Asia in September 2011, I was 26 years old, and at the time I thought I was already a fruit! And in some sense I was. But in retrospect, I see myself in my true nature; as a sprout.
A wee sprout at the time, I sat alone at the end of the Jacksonville Airport terminal with my overstuffed backpack tucked between my legs, staring out a giant window into the Unknown. I remember gazing at the palm trees, crying and shaking to catch my breath; trying to suck in all of the life around me as if I were a balloon that could carry all of the air and all of the memories from Florida with me across the ocean.
Apparently sprouts have not yet fully realized how to breathe… or let go.
My journey to SE Asia was my first time traveling outside of the U.S. I’d had enough; I sold everything, packed my bags, moved to Thailand and was never coming back. Everything in Florida, and the United States was corrupt, and horrible, and life was too painful. So I told everyone (myself included) that I was off to save the world and boarded my flight to the Orient.
Soon after I got to SE Asia, I settled in Surat Thani, a little port town in Southern Thailand. This began my new life as an English teacher. The whole experience was crazy: tuk tuks, Thai karaoke, night markets and chicken feet with coagulated blood; it was all so much to take in. It was an overwhelming sensorial workout every day.
Just to wake up and get to school was a new and exciting challenge each morning. This was just the experience that I needed in order to thrive. Life in America had simply become too easy, too boring, too plastic. I needed to get out to experience something real, something that made me feel alive.
In moving to Thailand, I felt a simulation of rebirth. I was an uprooted plant that had been plunged into a cool vase of water, experiencing life flowing through my whole body, in an intense, yet ultimately unsustainable way. At the time, it was just the simulation I needed, and it gave me an idea of the “aliveness” I was searching for. I felt my chest (what I would later come to understand as my heart) expand in ways I’d never experienced before. I felt my compassion for others deepen, and I felt my belly get big; ‘cause I was eating so much Thai food and it was so delicious, and so culturally appropriate for me to do so.’ But underneath it all… I still felt the same; lonely. The same feelings I had been running from my whole life were still there with me in Thailand.
A few months later, as we celebrated Christmas Eve in Surat Thani, a fruitful friend of mine told me that he believed people travel for two reasons: they’re either running from something, or they’re doing it right. He didn’t have to say anything else. I knew right away I was a runner.
My journal entry from just before that Christmas Eve reads:
“It truly is amazing and I’m so happy I ended up here [in Surat Thani]. Now I just need to figure out if I’m happy I ended up here” (i.e., as a 27 year old, single English teacher in SE Asia. Ugh).”
My fruitful friend had mirrored back to me what I already knew; I was unhappy, and I had been unhappy for as long as I could remember because I refused to accept internal changes. I claimed to love and thrive on change, but I refused to change my thoughts, attitudes, habits or anything about myself, even as I stared unhappiness in the face time and time again.
After all, in my mind (as I commonly tend to presume) I was already a FRUIT!
Why should I have to change and grow? Never! I would go on demanding the world around me keep changing, and in doing so it would eventually have to bring me happiness. As though there’s some Happiness Carousel that goes around, and only one or two horses on the whole ride give you eternal happiness. You just let the world keep spinning and eventually jump on the right horse, get lucky and find happiness that way.
In the meantime, I would remain unhappy and unchangeable in a paradoxical world – woe is me, my sour little fruit!
Looking back, I thank every part of my existence that led me to buy a one way plane ticket to SE Asia that Fall 2011. I had reached such a point of intense discomfort with life, and was yet again facing the fight-or-flight scenario; live (in love) or die (in fear). At that time, being unwilling and unaware of how to make a change, I acted on instinct and ran, with a tank full of fear to carry me me through.
As years have passed I fully realize that I ran to Thailand as a means to heal myself. I believe that all living things aim to heal themselves. This is the model that nature perpetually presents to us. If a plant loses a branch in a storm, it doesn’t wallow in its loss and harden off forever; rather, it allows scarring to occur and then finds contentment with the new sprouts which come forth in wake of the passing of the old. This process of healing oneself, like the plant, may be affected by our environment, but it is affected from within.
I had to travel to experience firsthand that happiness isn’t found in our surroundings, it’s found within our bodies; that healing isn’t something a doctor or therapist or guru can do for us. We all have to learn to care for ourselves. I’m grateful every day for getting on that plane and leaving everything behind on a quest to find happiness (I mean, on a quest to “save the world!). I thank my friend who gave me one of the greatest gifts ever that Christmas Eve in Southern Thailand;
a free ticket back home.
We all come home in our own ways. Our whole life is one big journey home. Life and death; birth and decay. It’s all one big trip home to ourselves. Leaving for SE Asia was a turning point in my journey home. It forced me to look closely at myself and my current existence as a human here on Earth. I had moved away from New York because I was unhappy there. When Florida wasn’t far enough I moved to Asia. When even that wasn’t far enough, and yet I could go no further on this planet, I was finally forced to look inside and define myself more clearly. At that point, I knew I couldn’t save myself (or anyone else for that matter) until I addressed things at home, both literally and metaphorically. So I saved a bunch of money, quit my teaching job and backpacked around SE Asia, India, and Egypt for four months before heading back to the States.
As it turns out, I didn’t need to live in Thailand forever. I just needed to travel there to look into a few sacred mirrors. These mirrors showed me the way home. First they pointed me back towards Florida and later they may show me back to New York. Ultimately they showed me the home within myself. They exposed my roots, my gut and my heart.
Every day I build on these experiences, sprouting out new life, as old seeds fall to the floor to be replanted for future days. Traveling is important for expanding our boundaries and for adding definition and clarity to our lives.
But I believe it’s important not to ever let our travels keep us from coming home.
We can see sacred mirrors in every part of our experience here on Earth. Just as the roots of a Cabbage Palm are mirrors for the roots of the neighboring Florida Betony, we too serve as sacred mirrors for one another. Sometimes there are mirrors on the other side of the world that we are inspired to go look into; other times we may need to travel down the street. Sometimes these mirrors may lead us back to our native lands, and they may keep us traveling from place to place, “doing it right” and living in love.
But all mirrors, if we are open to them, eventually lead us home.
In my journey around the globe, I found what I was looking for, in the same spot in which I sit right now; Home.
Within this body, within this heart, gut, lungs, blood and breathe, I AM home. This is where we all belong, and where we’re all headed. This letter has been another journey home, and I’m thankful for that.
Enjoy your trip.