Wrapping Up One Year Of Travel and Learning

I find myself where I started one year ago. Looking at the same Kansas City skyline that I left after selling everything I own and heading out into the world. The view may be the same, but I have changed and along with it my interpretation of even that skyline. I touched down in 11 countries, made countless friends, deepened my understanding about myself, and learned lessons that will shape the course of my life. My understanding has shifted and thus I view the world differently, yet, I am still uniquely myself. This is perhaps the great conundrum that all world travelers experience. We go out and are literally changed by our experiences, see everything differently, and still the essence of who we are remains. You can come to a deeper understanding and acceptance of that essence, but no experience is going to just up and change you into a different person. I always thought there was going to be something out there that would flip a switch and I could become that person I envisioned inside my head with all the perfectness. The truth is much simpler, you are already that perfect person and only our thoughts and beliefs hold us back from breaking our boundaries and living the life we wish.
*Iceland was by far the most beautiful place I visited and will be visiting again.
This was a year to find myself again. I didn’t know that I even needed finding, but when faced with daily experiences of discovering your authentic self, it becomes clear exactly what you don’t know about yourself. Meditation was a prime focus of this travel and I spent 10 silent days in a Vipassana retreat, twice, and 4 months in India with the teachings of the enlightened mystic Osho. If I can boil all the meditation down, it would be enjoy your life every moment, celebrate, be present and  alive no matter how you think you feel, learn to live with your inner silence and uncomfortable feelings moment to moment without running away. The essence of all the teachings is actually the practice in reaching that state of being, and then learning to live there. When you can stand in the place of silence and just look at yourself, you can see a body having experiences and thinking thoughts and still that isnt You. Then it becomes perfectly okay to have experiences and not cover them up or distract yourself from them. They come and go and still you remain just a step outside of it all; happy and aware.
Red Train
*Traveled the Swiss Alps by scenic train
I came home to an exciting burst of energy, seeing old friends and making new ones, wedding events, and family time, but what surprised me most was the lack of reverse culture shock. Unlike going to a new culture and being surprised by the differences, reverse culture shock is returning home to find that the world you thought you knew looks very alien. Instead, on this trip I’ve had a reverse personality shock. I don’t know where I belong anymore or what I should be doing. There is no home or job to anchor me, no meditation practice or community other than my friends, so I find myself in a city I’ve lived in for over 4 years and have no idea what defines me anymore. I attend the same events during the week with the same people I knew, but somehow this shows me most how this last year has changed me. I am looking for my place in the world and I know I can never settle for something less than what I’ve experienced. At the moment that is the delight of living in a meditation community, which I plan to return to before the year is over. In some ways it seems like I haven’t achieved much, because there is nothing to grab onto, but really the differences are all on the inside and those are the ones that really matter. Upon returning to Kansas City, everything here has moved along at its normal pace, but it is no longer my home.  I see clearly there is nowhere to go back to, only forward, to find the right place and way for me to live. After all this traveling, and traveling I am certain to do in the years to come, I am even more dedicated to finding my place and developing something amazing.
*Climbed mountains in Germany, and could see the surrounding countries
What strikes me most about the changes in my life is the difference between what I have to call normal life and the new way of living that I’ve experienced. Normal life is perhaps the daily routine of waking, eating, doing the daily work or effort required of one, participating in your hobbies and entertainments, and just the general things that make up life on this planet.  Almost everyone lives their variation of this pattern that hopefully brings them great contentment. I used to be content and fulfilled by my normal life, waking most mornings glad to be alive and even excited to just have a cup of tea, embrace the day, and take a morning walk before going to work. Somewhere on this journey that changed; no longer having a home I wasn’t in my groove doing those simple things that brought me great pleasure and contentment. I have and enjoy even more simple pleasures while traveling, but no routine that brings me joy.  Even now, still living a life of ease, I am missing that feeling which embraced me each day. To the best of my understanding this is the result of not having or being challenged and missing my connection to something greater than myself. Without a goal to work on, such as a job or project I care about, there is no push to grow, to learn and better myself each day. Likewise I find that without my daily personal development or global development of community and the bettering of humanity, I equally am not challenged to grow. I found a bigger expression of myself in Inida that required of me to participate with all of the people involved there. Before I could go about my day alone and was content unto myself, but once this experience of community and connection was established, going back to something less just doesn’t give me enough anymore. This is why I want to return to India so much, to grow and feed myself in this area. Then it is my hope to be able to expand this experience and grow it into my own dream of living a connected life. All human beings I think hunger in some way for this connection and we are just waking up to the fact that with our new societal development we have forgotten for a time what real connection is and the joy that comes with it.
*Meeting beloved Osho friends in their home countries, Norway
Hindsight is a wonderful teacher, which today teaches me that the simplest decisions and the reasons for making them can change your whole world. In essence I made a simple decision in India and I am living the consequences today. One month prior to leaving the Pune Meditation Resort, I agreed to join my friends for a month in Dharamshala. This created “The Plan”, which after Dharamshala would take me to Germany for two months with a good friend of mine, then two weeks travel in Northern Europe. All of the plan was decided in roughly one moment and when the actual moment to follow the plan or change it came, I just stuck with the plan. In that moment of decision, at the end of my three months in Pune, not only was everyone and every experience telling me I should stay, my own inner voice and gut feeling was that I should stay. For fear of changing the plan and following my heart, which would have cost me money on plane tickets and a prepaid meditation program, plus the gut wrenching feeling of bailing on my friends and partner last minute, I ignored how I was feeling and followed a decision I made a month prior. Had those other considerations not been present,  the decision would have been easy, but the lesson was, can I follow my inner truth when it is going to cost me something? The answer at that time was obviously no, but now looking back over what unfolded I wont make that same decision twice. Following your energy and power is so important because it leads you to the right places and experiences that you can thrive in. When I said no to that inner voice, I lost my power and over the following three months ran dry, and life eventually became a little flat. I still enjoyed the experiences that I had, but I could have really enjoyed them with my energy intact. It is so clear to me that I was afraid to do what was best for me and energetically I paid the price. So I am headed back to Pune and I am moving away from plans, and if I do end up with a plan, I will trust that I can change it in a heartbeat without fear. I have given myself the freedom and time to honor what I feel and follow that direction. Everyone can look at their life right now and see places where they avoid what they really want. I am asking everyone to start doing what you really want, even in small ways, because the alternative feels pretty flat, pretty lifeless, and once you are there, getting back to ecstatic takes some work and effort.
*First sun seen in Iceland after two days of rain which setup my favorite day of the year
I’ve concluded there are two types of travel experiences, loosely called 1st world and 3rd world because that is where they occur. A 1st world experience is generally Europe, organized, clean, expensive, historical beauty in buildings, and whatever experience you wish for generally is going to cost you money, from entertainment to food. A 3rd world experience is generally a bit messy, cheap, naturally beautiful, and the thought of money barely crosses your mind. Both are equally wonderful experiences, but the difference between them is vast and gets right to the core of expectations for levels of comfort and the psychological effects of money. For those with a more limited budget for travel, they find their dollars stretching farther outside of the 1st world countries and from their perspective perhaps live in a level of comfort unaccustomed. This can be a huge psychological experience, because for the first time you are allowed the freedom to experience all that you wish. If you want to eat this and that, taxi here and there, buy gifts and clothes, it doesn’t cost you mental anguish to add up the costs and then balance that against how much work you have to do to pay for it.  You might for the first time experience money as an energy source, instead of a commodity, and using it like any other energy source for the betterment of your life experience. Likewise, traveling where your dollar goes for less, has you scrambling for the cheapest options, making sandwiches at home just so you can spend another day in the 1st world experience. Both are needed to understand the effect money plays on our perception of happiness in doing the things we want in life. Personally I like a mix of both experiences, but prefer on the whole the relaxed attitude of 3rd world living, with beautiful surroundings and no stress about money. There is just as much culture, and many more smiles while interacting with the locals, and when you train your eye on how locals get by each day with so few material resources, but so much happiness, you can really experience the freedom of money and learn to enjoy every day in a new way.
*The best apple pie in Amsterdam, a new favorite city of mine
While traveling with a lot of free time, you can always find something to do, but just being present with yourself is a wonderful gift. On the many trains, planes, and waiting rooms I found that I wasn’t putting in my headphones for music right away or checking Facebook. I would just sit and be patient and enjoy my own presence; not needing something to do or a distraction just to “kill some time”, instead enjoying just being alive in that moment of waiting. The interesting thing is the correlation between how present you are and the urge for distraction. I notice most acutely when the time to meditate arises and some urge also arises to check anything on my phone for any distraction. Why this postponement? A surge of anxiety arises over being present with myself as if the ego knows its being removed from its throne. It is a battle with my mind each time, and the more present I am, the easier it is to take a few moments and reach that place of joyous centeredness. The paradox is that meditation brings the real joy, but the hurdle is to forgo the distractions and entertainments that falsely promise happiness to simply reach it. Upon reaching that presence, you can enjoy those distractions even more so, if you choose, because you come from the place of presence and not of using the distractions to cover some feeling of emotion. Vipassana taught me that when we desire something, it usually isnt the object itself, but we desire the sensation of desiring itself, and we think the object will bring it to us. So when a feeling arises we chase after the externalization of that feeling to satiate it instead of seeing the truth of just being with the feeling and seeing it for what it is. This is the hurdle to doing almost anything in life, be it meditation or going to the gym. So more than anything, I’ve learned when this feeling of not wanting to meditate exists, I am overdue to sit down, meditate and reach my calm once again to see the world clearly. There will always be a multitude of interesting and entertaining things vying for your attention, but it fundamentally comes down to how do you wish to spend your time on this earth? Once you taste the beauty of your inner world, any worldly distractions begin to pale in comparison to really living life. Just like cutting sugar out of your diet leads to everything else tasting incredibly delicious, removing these other distractions leaves you with more time and space to enjoy your own delicious presence of being.
*Meditative dancing in India, also used for a promotional photo seen by thousands of people, which surprised me
I have had to remember this myself after leaving India. After a daily schedule of meditation, going back to doing it all on your own takes some serious discipline.  Traveling once again brought many distractions and riding that excitement I left my meditation practice a bit behind.  This led to a bit of confusion and feeling lost in my direction of life which is one of my biggest challenges.  As I find myself a bit of a fish out of water, I have to trust that I always carry the keys to my own happiness and they are but a few silent moments away from being with myself. It is a lifelong practice to be who you are and do what you love. Finding out what really excites you is the first half, then learning how to live that life each day is the rest of the task. The more truth we can experience about what really speaks to our hearts, what really lights up our faces, and makes us jump for joy, the closer we are to living a meditative lifestyle. I hope everyone has found at least one thing that has that flavor for them, because once you know the taste, there is no going back to a bland life. Blessings and joy to everyone on their journey and may all beings be happy.
The Wandering Monk
A special thank you to everyone who hosted me in their homes, couches, hearts, and lives.  Without your support and encouragement I never would have had the year I did and all of the new experiences. I love you all and it still brings tears to my eyes remembering what it feels like to be so taken care of instead of the other way around.
*Being silly with my best friend Tate in Germany, “Up all night to pet puppies!”
*Amsterdam round two with friends this time
me and david
*Met Mo and David on my first workaway experience in France, a new beloved mentor
*Seeing good friends and new loves in Belgium! Plus waffles and frites
*Our beloved cheese master who treated us like family and introduced me to my new favorite cheeses, bare kase from Switzerland
*Went under the knife of brave friends in Switzerland when my hair got unruly
1467470_981566286421_920741569_n  *Explored the beautiful canals of Venice, and checked off the first part of Eat, Pray, Love10177435_10100144038717341_8551906736441433225_n   *Visited the Taj Mahal at the end of India, and another check for Eat, Pray, Love10406955_10100170838470421_2633856899521643109_n
*Jumped into the freezing waters of Norway!

Vipassana take 2

I am such a good meditator!  Look how easy it is to sit for hours on end and be such a good example to all the new meditators sitting behind me.

Says my ego.

3 days into my second vipassana meditation I am tooting my own horn.  Of course I am speaking only to myself, in my head, as we are in noble silence. My daily practice has paid off and I am sliding back into the routine with great ease and pleasure.  I even get to practice my language skills while here in the French country side. Of course, my ego is here to be worked on, and after this little vacation comes the heavy blows.  

I know from the last experience that the second half of the week is where the real work begins.  On day five I feel slightly sick.  Many people are coughing and sniffiling as the weather is cold and rainy or snowy.  I am losing energy and a bit afraid of coming down with something being trapped in here with all these people.  I never get physically sick, but I feel the energy of the room is totally in Blah mode.  The next day I speak up and get my temperature checked.  Ive decided if I have a temperature, all the achy sensations in my body are because I am fighting off some infection and will take the proper steps to manage that, or its simply ive gone deep into myself and something nasty is coming out.  Explaining in pantomime and my simple French I finally get a thermometer and skip the drugs they want to give me for free.  I am perfectly the right temperature; Shit.  Ok mind, this is for real, we are going to war. As Rumi would say:

“Are you dazed from too much meat and wine?  Or are you a soldier on the field of battle?”

Time to own up and stop prattling away excuses that I am sick or the energy in the room is low.  This sensation is inside me, laying in wait in the dark, obscured behind pain and confusion.  No amount of mind chatter is going to solve this for me.  I have to buckle down and face the reality of this sensation that has arisen. 

By the end of day six I want to die.  No energy, depressed, and no hope, I curl up into a ball and have a good cry.  The discourse as always saves me and gives me the courage to go on the next day.  On day seven I hit the wall.  I have reached a place in me that I do not know.  This scares me so completly I run in the other direction, but I cannot escape.  A ball of energy the size of a grapefruit sits right on the bridge of my nose and temple.  No matter what I do, think, rationalize, or try to energetically heal with every trick in my bag I cannot do a thing about this.  It is simultaniously intriguing and confusing. Intriguing I can handle, confusing makes me crazy.  I spend countless hours of my meditation trying to figure out what it is and in the end I can only say one thing; I dont know what this is. To steal a line from Osho,

“If you are confused, be confused, at least that will be the first clear cut thing about you.”  

So I resolve to be confused, to let go of the need to know, figure out, solve, and fix this crazy new thing happening to me and stealing my attention from meditating. Of course, that was probably the purpose of my mind the whole time.  To distract me from meditating and doing the real work of healing and moving forward.  I am so exhaused at the end of the day and drained from the mental circles I ran around my mind that I just pray the next day will be better and less scary.

Day eight I relax and back off from trying to figure out this place of confusion and focus again on meditation.  A slight repreve as it is a hard day, but doing better.  Day 9 I get a little gift of being totally in my morning meditation and feeling quite buzzed throughout my body.  Yes! I made it through and today is going to be great and blissful like last time.  Wrong.  The fear and the energy come back in full force stealing my attention again, but I manage to face it and go deeper, no further than day 7, which leaves me feeling a bit of a failure at the end, but at least I found something in me that was new.  A place that was dark and sad.  A place where I could honestly say I dont know who I am.  For that alone, all the trouble was worth it.

Despite the personal struggle I faced, I was really blown away during this course with an abundance of thoughts about appreciating the people in my life. I am always wanting to give more compliments and do special things for people, but in the moment it never occurs to me; only afterwards or in periods of meditation where I cant do a thing about it. For some reason the Christmas season came up a lot in my feelings. The desire to be in that place of warmth and let go with family and friends really kindled the fire in me to find a way to appreciate my loved ones on a daily basis.  It is important to understand that when we are unaware and unmindful every moment slips past us uncounted. When there is some occasion to be more mindful, such as holidays, we are provided an opportunity to be present and really enjoy the richness of life. When you are really present and aware the memories you make fill you with happiness and can be recalled later. Therefor resolve to share wonderful company, to put loving and creative effort into your dress and foods, and to cultivate the awe and joy of remembering that you belong to something greater than yourself. All the memories that surfaced were not moments of something planned or daily tasks, but the simple moments of consciousness when you felt something special, that magic that is really the touch of existence. Of course, this sensation is available every moment and that is the work of meditation to bring it forward to the surface.  

I struggled a bit with the idea and performance of being a meditator.  I have spent the last two years going inside myself, while also retreating from the world.  I was trying to follow the ultimate truths shared by many enlightened persons. I am having to face the fact that I probably missed something important.  Vipassana and all meditations are meant to be techniques to be used in the world; in your daily life.  As a friend reminded me, in the ultimate truth we are existence itself, but until you reach that point, face the reality in front of you; that you experience it as a seperate being. It does no good to hide away in a cave and practice meditation only to find out as soon as you get back to the commotion of life that your silence and inner peace was false.  Meditating by yourself (in caves too) has its purposes for deepening into yourself, but ultimately learning to meditate in the middle of the marketplace is the true test of progress.  When all of lifes struggles spring up before you, and still you remain aware and equanimous, then you have found inner peace. I struggled with the idea of needing to become a monk to find the buddha and remembering to actually be in existence and celebrate it.  Thankfully I am headed to Osho’s Resort in Pune India next, and although I have no idea what to expect, I do know that Osho is all about celebrating life and bringing meditation to every moment of your life. Often through dance and more dynamic active meditations he brings people to their senses and at least livens up the place.

I am on the path and have learned more about myself.  May your journey be blessed and may all being be liberated.