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Photo by ambrown (Flickr)

 

For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move; to feel the needs and hitches of our life more nearly; to come down off this feather-bed of civilization, and find the globe granite underfoot and strewn with cutting flints.
 
~ Robert Louis Stevenson

For a long while, I rallied against travelling – especially the whole kiwi “OE” thing.  It seemed so cliched, and I’ve always hated following the crowd – any crowd.  If it’s a crowd, I’ll do everything in my power NOT to follow it.  This contrary nature has gotten me into trouble before – sometimes it results in me cutting off my nose to spite my face.  Case in point: the time my mother lovingly said to me, “you don’t think maybe you might be a bit young to get married…”  Note to self: listen to mum.  Note to anyone who is trying to get me to do something: tell me to do the opposite. 

I even had the outlines of a blog post in my head, which I was getting around to fleshing out to post here. The basic gist went along the lines of: I don’t believe in travelling to “find yourself”. You already are yourself. The courageous thing, the real journey, is to stay put and encounter yourself where you are. You will not find in a foreign land anything other than another set of buildings and trees and the very self you took with you. If you want to travel, make sure you do it for the right reasons – for travel’s sake, for the sake of seeing and experiencing new things and different cultures – not because you think it will reveal to you a self you should be able to find regardless of location. 

Well, it all sounds very grand and righteous, doesn’t it. But I came to realise that there was something more…. interesting…. at the heart of it. It wasn’t really the grand realisation of a deep thinker. It was the jealous justification of a lost girl envious of those living the life she wished she had and bitter about the way they kept leaving her behind. A bored, frustrated girl whose life felt… stuck. 

And that’s when I reaslied what I had to do. What I wanted to do but was too contrary to admit it. I had to embrace the crowd. 

Of course, there’s more to it than that. Part of what I have been trying to do for the last six months or so is to experiment with staying put. To try and be still, and not always running. To try just being, without having to seek. To try settling down

What I finally realised is that I was forcing it. I was forcing myself to live a life against my true nature, one that was making every cell of my body scream. Like I had grafted a foreign life onto myself and my body was crying out its rejection with a silent inner ongoing gasp. I felt like the lion I had once seen at Berlin Zoo, in a concrete cage only slightly bigger than its own body, walking back and forward, back and forward, back and forward, all day – bars, concrete, bars, concrete – so numbed that it forgot it was a lion and only knew itself as a pacing pacing piece of a grey concrete world. 

So while there is certainly truth in the saying (another cliche! embrace the cliche!) that “wherever you go, there you are” – or in the words of some fellow kiwis, “everywhere you go, you always take the weather with you” – while there is certainly truth in the idea that you carry everything you are, everything you seek, everything you think you need, inside you…. I also came to the conclusion that sometimes stepping away from everything you know, thrusting yourself into a different environment, stepping out far enough to gain a different persepctive – maybe these new inputs, this new emotional and mental and physical stimulation, can spark off or awaken parts of yourself that never could have been encountered had you stayed put in the same environment. Maybe the whole point of travel is to encounter the parts of yourself that you never knew were there. Of course everything is already within you – but sometimes it is so hidden or so numbed or so forgotten or just sitting at the edge of consciousness scratching at the corners of your brain, that it requires a complete shift of environment or perspective or interaction with the world or other people to bring it into awareness. 

We are so accustomed to disguise ourselves to others that in the end we become disguised to ourselves. 

~ Francois de La Rochefoucauld 

I think one of the most exciting things about travelling, especially on your own, is that whoever you turn up as in that new environment, that’s who people have to take you as. They have no idea of who you were or any preconceived ideas about who you are or should be, their perspective is not coloured by any previous interaction or knowledge of you or your family or your past. The person on the doorstep, right then in that moment, is who you are to them. And how liberating is that! It’s like being able to wipe the slate clean and discover yourself in that moment. Discover who you are and have become, unfettered by who you were and used to be. 

And I think it is part passive, part active. On the one hand, you can decide who you are going to be. And on the other hand, through those experiences and interactions, you discover and encounter who you really naturally are, without expectations or preconceived ideas. The more new experiences and situations you can stimulate your senses with, the more parts of yourself you can uncover and encounter. 

So I have decided to embrace this rite of passage of our generation, to not shun an experience just because it is so widely embraced. In the end, all journeys are really just variations of the human journey, the ultimate and ubiquitous quest, the search for self and self-actualisation. And each person will experience their journey in their own way, forge their own road through an oft trodden world, using it to forge a new road through a world only they can know, the world inside of them. 

 
 

So what this means in practical terms is (wait, you want me to descend from my cerebellosphere?? Give me moment to adjust here…)… ok what this actually means in the real world is that I am moving to the UK. I have gone through an agency that finds you a live-in pub job before you leave. That way I figure I have accommodation and income as soon as I land, I can find my feet and get my bearings, and then decide what do to next. I will enjoy my summer working in a pub and try not to think beyond that – after a while, the next thing will arise, and I will know when it feels right to move on, and what to.

I could have been put in a job anywhere, but as it turns out, I am going to be working in a lovely looking pub in Oxford, right on the river Thames. I am quite stoked with how it has turned out. I like that I won’t be in the midst of the London madness, that I will be in such a pretty and quintessentially English town, but that I will still be well enough located to easily make trips down to London or anywhere else I might like to go on my days off. It seems very me… again, I might be following the crowd in the sense of going to the UK, like so many kiwis do, but I have to do it my way, to put my own personal stamp on it, to do it in a way that feels right and resonates with who I am.

So I leave Wellington this coming Thursday, to wing my way towards the motherland and the great unknown and whatever adventures and experiences await me there and the rest of my life. People ask me if I’m scared, but there is no element of fear… I’m just excited – and yes, sometimes overwhelmed – but excited, because it feels right, it feels like the next step, it feels like what I have to and need to do next. Just the thought of being in Europe again, even just of getting on that plane… I feel like myself again. I feel like the self that has been asleep for the last 6-7 years of my life is stirring and awakening again within me.

I want to “feel the needs and hitches of our life more nearly”, I want to risk the “cutting flints” of this granite globe and all that they might unleash within and around me.

I feel the stirring of the wings on my back that have lain dormant for so long I was afraid they weren’t there, and (at risk of mixing metaphors) that I am remembering that I am a lion.

Roar?

Roar!…. Soar!

When you come to the end of all the light you know, and it’s time to step into the darkness of the unknown, faith is knowing that one of two things shall happen: Either you will be given something solid to stand on or you will be taught to fly. 

~ Edward Teller 

I hope that I am taught to fly. 

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