Sometimes I beat myself up over not having got to where I had wanted to be in life, but in my more mature years – currently 26 of them, I have a different approach that isn’t race to the end of something. At 21 I was working for the Civil Service and I was bringing home a good wedge of wonga, but I knew from the outset that I didn’t want to stay in that kind of job. I also had a burning desire to travel so I saved up my wages for a year and threw in the white card (login card for Civil Service systems). I still remember the computer guy at work hesitating over my choice to leave,
“Now you know once we wipe this, that’s it?”
“And you are sure this is what you want?”
But I looked down on him back then as I couldn’t for the life of me understand how people could just sit in the same spot doing the same old job, day in, day out. I had thought he was a fool at the time, for not seeing the spotlights of travel and adventure. In fact, I was quite arrogant about my apparent courage to cut all ties (which I did a lot back then) when I could just get up and go and wave back at the people I thought were ‘stuck’ in their own lives.
I am not sure what changed me, or at what point exactly, but I know that going to India had a fundamental impact on the way I look at life. It’s a cliché to say it, but stepping outside of your normal framework really does shake you up and for me, somehow quite ironically, I found myself appreciating the art of sitting still and facing the mundane when travelling.
My romanticism for travel quotes, Buddhism and Jack Kerouac novels all took on a form of predictability when in India and Nepal that I had tried to resist back at home. I wanted to be different, the traveller, the one who resists conventions. But as a twenty-something traveller on the road wearing the same Ali Baba linen trousers and a 20 litre back pack as all the other Europeans, I felt really unremarkable.
This is why I now look at travelling not to be different, or to be impressive (mostly to myself) but to simply go on a journey. And I really think this is how I am trying to look at life in general, I still absolutely love seeing new countries, tasting new food and meeting people – especially holding unique conversations. But it’s more important to me to feel that I am content at home and away.
It’s interesting to think about some of the Buddhist philosophy that I read in Nepal when trekking up the Himalayas. It spoke about the mind and meditation and that we can only come to realisations and spark great ideas when the mind is still. When the mind is too busy we become disabled in the sense that we can’t focus on deep thought and making good changes and decisions for ourselves.
With this is mind, I think it’s all about getting the balance right in our lives, to all have a place where we can just be; zone out; dwell; dig; think. But also, we need things that fire us up and inspire new thoughts and dreams. I have come to realise it doesn’t have to be huge things like a round the world trip that causes great change in the way we look at life.
It can be a book, a conversation with the colleague you’d never really spoken to or a coffee in town that leads your thoughts to stray. A whole load of things happen to us in life and I’ve come to realise that it’s not the big trips we plan, but the small and delicate things we see and feel on those trips that make a difference.
For me, in the Himalayas it wasn’t the huge mountains that made me feel that the moment was special, but the little walk on the last night with my friend where we saw fireflies dancing in the dark and we had a conversation about life.