Tag Archives: Taking risks

Pressed:  Good Morning Vietnam

23 May

Taking the Plunge:  What a wonderful world we have discovered nestled in by the South China Sea. Vietnam always captured my attention as fellow travellers assured me that it was the country to see filled with kind people, good food, cheap accommodations and a beautiful countryside. After considering options as a couple to get off of the North American grid, we started exploring volunteering and work options on a site called HelpX. Chris had learned that some people he had met at a hostle in Vancouver had travelled the world while working for free food and accommodations doing odd jobs in various organizations, and private enterprises. We took a look at SE Asia, and there were many places in Vietnam that jumped out.

We started doing the math. To live in Canada means to stay locked into a financial grid where we work hard to pay a lot to keep inside a lifestyle box. It is a nice box, but it is a box never-the-less. We work from morning to night to sustain a way of living. How much time have I spent working for, minding the paperwork of, and tending to the management of my home inside a culture where everyone is doing the same thing? At the end of the day, the savings are nominal, and unless I am frugal and vigilent with my finances, money just gets used up. It disappears. Therefore, we felt that if we could live leanly working for an organization that supports our room, board, Internet connections and cultural interactions, we would be able to manage. We could pick up extra work, and possibly save money in the end if we were motivated.  As well, we did other math.  As a couple, at most, while working we spend three hours a day together.  By working together abroad, we have far more time together.  This means that in one year, we can potentially increase our time together to be equivalent to three or four years of time of the average working couple.

After meeting with some people who have worked in some English as Second Language (ESL) learning centres in Vietnam, we realize that our English skills are pretty marketable. As well, a couple of these people have made it a lucrative experience. One fellow told us that he would never go back to England. “What would be the point,” he told us. He felt that he was making more in Vietnam for half of the stress. As well, an older fellow who had come from what he called the “US rat race”, explained that he would never go back either. It was just too nice to live in such a pleasant culture with fewer “issues and pressures”.

Learning About Vietnam: Now visiting Vietnam, we can see the richness of the culture, and the very real opportunities that abound in a culture where this country that has really only been free of war since 1995. Vietnam wants to network and connect with other countries. The hotel manager in Hanoi talked about knowing that he is about 20 years behind where other countries are in terms of the hospitality industry. He wanted to hear our suggestions about how his hotel could improve. He knew that we had travelled in other countries, and as a result, might be able to give him insight into what foreigners wanted when coming to visit Vietnam. We were complimentary of the hotel that afforded us everything we needed, and gently reminded him that people from all over the world all have different expectations. Unfortunately, in my travels, I have learned that unless people are already happy, no one can ever truly assist in making them happy. They are quick to find fault, and make things difficult for hotel owners hosting them, especially in some undeveloped countries. (I notice some trends in the foreign travellers who seem to be the most disgruntled–but I won’t generalize at the risk or sounding judgmental.  This discontentment by my estimation is the following formula: “high expectations”=unhappiness).

What we are enjoying about Vietnam is only a small commentary on the North which is the focus of our visit so far.  Today we head further South to Hoi An, and I am certain that we will have many more experiences to write about.  Hanoi and Hai Phong have much to offer people who are interested in getting off the beaten track into the noisy cacophony of the scooter culture. The tastes of the real Vietnamese food are both exciting and disconcerting to a more conservative taste pallet such as my own. The food is as diverse as the families running each restaurant, whether in a little space with real tables, or on the street on tiny plastic chairs. I find the people to be both innocent and filled with raw enthusiasm for anything such as cherry blossoms shipped in from the country to experiencing music and technology; and as well, shrewd as they are able to find ways to rip off the unsuspecting tourist. Here are some interesting things that we are enjoying about our visit to Vietnam:

– People are very friendly, but English is not the universal language that we expect it to be here. We had to really try to speak Vietnamese and our language translation book came in handy many times. Google translate was a real God-send. It allowed me to communicate more complex information without as much difficulty.

-There are literally millions of scooters. What was once a bicycle culture, has quickly become a motorized scooter population. We had difficulty crossing the roads. Scooters were never following any traffic laws, and were often turning corners, going in the opposite directions, driving on sidewalks and generally freaking me out.

-People eat dog here. Need I say more. This was pretty hard to get used to right out of the gate. I have been pretty careful to avoid anything that looks like “thit” on the menu. Other crazy foods such as frogs, eel, tongue, pork feet, and creatures that I have never really associated with a digestable food, keep paying close to the menu. I am getting braver every time I order something, but I draw the line at eating dog.  My favourite meal was the hot beef noodle soup.  (People with peanut allergies should beward here).

-People rise early here with their desire to be fit through aerobics on the main streets, and Tai Chi in the parks and court yards. Exercise here means loud music. There is never a quiet exercise routine by our observation.

-People like to say that it is a foggy environment, but the polution is pretty intense. Some of the people who we met along the way seem genuinely concerned about it and are hoping that the government will set up some policies to start helping with the problem.  Being a country of almost a hundred million, and being South of China, smog is a fixed part of the scenary. It was disappointing to see Halong Bay through a haze of pollution, but we still appreciate the amazing beauty of the countriside.

-There is noise everywhere. Traffic, construction, music, animals, alarms, talking, singing, whistling, and animals, are all the regular sounds in a normal day in the lives of the urban Vietnamese. It takes some getting used to this type of constant sound stimulation–noise. I found that Ihad to manage it by bowing out into a temple for respite, or taking some time in my hotel or hostel bedroom to re-group. This noise must take a toll on people’s hearing, but everyone seems immune to the volume of sound that I find new to me.

-People stop working at certain times of the day, and on certain times of the week. Not everything is open all of the time. Not everyone is available all of the time. Lunch hours mean that doors close for approximately an hour and a half. Sundays are quieter as shops and businesses are often closed. Mondays are sometimes closed as well. Signs appear in windows, and, guess what?  No one seems to care.  And, guess what?  We were okay with it too.

-Things are cheap in some places, but not in all places. You have to do a bit of looking, but there are deals to be had. However, some shop owners are catching on to the value of a dollar or Euro and charging people accordingly.

-The men congregate, drink beer, play games in local bars, and once again, I am sometimes left wondering where the women are hiding. I am finding this to be a common trend across all of the countries that I visit … and live in. Men rest and take time outs together, and women seem to be…somewhere else.

-The greenery is lush here in Vietnam, especially in the countryside outside of the cities which include:  tropical trees (bamboo, banana, mangrove, palm); different types of cacti; and other tropical growth. I have a lot to learn about the different varieties of trees and flowers, but we are learning that the 100% humidity in the air, makes everything grow like crazy, and prevents my hair from drying and doing anything even remotely manageable.

-The signture feature in many photos of the country side are the limestone karsts that jut out of the land and sea.  Inside of many of them are massive caves that are drawing visitors from all over the world.  What the Vietnamese have explained to us is that they are upset that foreigners who have the money to visit them are experiencing this incredible opportunity to see the wonders under the earth; whereas, the Vietnamese who are less able to afford it, cannot.

-Chris notices that the matters of health and safety (as this is his work background) are left pretty much to chance. Seeing people up on ladders without safety measures, or working without what we consider due diligence to standards that keep people from dying is not as common as in Canada where we are likely hyper-vigilent about these kinds of things. People just work hard here in Vietnam and get the job done–no matter what, even if it means short cuts that might be dangerous, but are obviously more affordable.

-Historically, this is a culture that has been through many wars.  We were impressed by how many countries have tried to conquer, invade or destroy Vietnam, and yet, these people successfully defended and kept their country to the Vietnamese.  These are strong, resilient people.

Connecting with Educators: I have enjoyed travelling with Chris on this exciting holiday. It has really been a cultural experience as I find ways to learn more about the education and culture by visiting some of the schools and universities. I am learning that everyone here is interested in the same types of things when it comes to teaching and learning: “How can we make it interesting and engaging for the students?” This is the common topic. I think the key is to keep everyone applying their learning to the real world.  As well, educators seem interested in building new curriculum (locally developed courses) and teaching students new information.  Communist philsophy is a big part of the school programming in Vietnam.

One of the most exciting times was visiting one of the ESL centres, and going with the adult students to the museum. Through the field trip, the conversational English opportunities in the museum provided multiple opportunities for the students to ask and answer questions in English where textbooks could not provide the same connection points. We enjoyed the whole experience from riding on the scooters to eating some wonderful food with the students and staff, very much. Overall, we are finding that by visiting Vietnam as explorers and researchers, we are thinking of the opportunity to travel (not tour) as something that is more manageable than we initially expected. Where there is a desire to really connect with another country, and to do so affordably, there lies the opportunity to stay longer, dig more deeply, and really find meaning in the experience.

Will we come back to Vietnam to do some work within it?  I think it is much more possible now that we have dived into the deep, and came up swimming. It is a beautiful place to visit, and quite possibly a place to live for awhile.  Time will tell.

Source: Good Morning Vietnam


52 Weeks Begin Now: Week Thirty-Nine: Creating the Grand Adventure

5 Aug


Getting on the Train: My recent move to the Comox Valley to live on my own in a new culture, and in a paradise setting, has taught me three things. I can do it. Secondly, that it is not exactly where I want to be at this time in my life, and thirdly, I am not living out my true potential in my major career (although I appreciate my good fortune in having such a good job in the Comox Valley, and I enjoy some of this work very much). I am at a critical turning point. Pender Island, the cottage that I bought in tandem with moving to BC to work as an administrator, was clearly the right decision. This has become a place where I will set down some roots and return to it time and again, as my little sanctuary for as long as I can afford to do so.

My friend, who recently visited my cottage, left me with an interesting quote that she found from watching the movie The Lunchbox: “Sometimes the wrong train takes you to the right station.” To some degree I feel similarly to the lead character in the movie. I have gotten on a train, and am confident that this was a good step towards getting towards where I need to be (although I am not exactly sure of my destination). At least I got on a train, as many of us talk ourselves out of doing that because we want guarantees that we are safe in whatever we do. Whereas, life is really a journey. It is about taking a series of steps that head in the direction of our souls, and hopefully, allow us to do what we are called to do along the way so that we live authentic and rich life experiences.

What is the Grand Adventure? It is difficult to describe to someone what a grand adventure actually means. So many of us get into relationships to achieve the outcome of having a relationship. We work at jobs for the satisfaction of achieving our career goals. We have children to raise and launch them into adulthood. In many ways, we go through a series of developmental tasks that help us to experience key personal and professional goals through to fruition in very componential and linear ways.

Whatever the goal, the Grand Adventure is something big, important, meaningful and memorable. It is deemed an adventure because it requires preparation, courage, and possibly, training, to carry it through to fruition. It is something that we will be proud to tell our friends and family, and to look back on with happiness and pride. We will be able to reminisce in the glow of accomplishment, and say, “We did this together!” Or, “We built this!” This memorable lived legacy can be something either internal, external or both.

I believe that a Grand Adventure is something bigger than any one developmental task in our lifetimes. It affords us to have a relationship within a bigger life trajectory. It allows us to consider our career within a larger overarching plan or series of plans. We can then bring our children into a bigger conceptual space about their purpose for being. Rather than simply raising them within some established structures and formative milestones that are typically accepted as “growing up” in our cultures in safe and acceptable ways, we broaden their life experiences through a bigger life vision that often involves building strength, confidence, and helping ourselves and others to be better people.

Vision-Making: The Grand Adventure is something that we can do ourselves, or with others. I believe living out this type of big dream would be most satisfying, albeit, most challenging, to do with a partner. I also think that this is the type of thing that relationships benefit from to help us align our spirits. Living on a shared Grand Adventure requires a kind of vision-making of each partner so that we can first find meaning in our own independent plans, and then in our shared visions. I believe that it is important that both people in partnership own part of the dream so that we feel some shared passion and motivation in fulfilling it. We are co-pilots and rely on each other flying towards our connected dreams.

Essentially, when striking out towards this vision, we each sit side-by-side at our easels considering what colours we will throw onto it, or how we might delicately paint over our blank canvasses. Everyone has a different visioning style. There are no paint by numbers. There are no rules that make one painting right and the other wrong. It is dreaming aloud without any preconceived notions. Writers refer to this as “free writing”. As we create, ideas come into shape, rather than what is typically accepted which is that all things need to have an outline, or clearly measured blue prints.

From time to time, we will peek over at our partner’s painting, and see what is emerging. We give each other space to dream and grow, trusting that we are both committed to building something together and in some synchronicity and on a similar timeline. And then together, we compare our creations. It might be a cacophony of colour, or a clearly rendered painting from a picture held in our minds, perhaps from childhood. Then we consider how the ideas align. What brainstorming needs to occur to make each one independently as beautiful as possible. And then, what happens when we bring them together and merge them? What are even more possibilities when both dreams are combined? The logistics are not the point at this part of the adventure. All that is required is hope, enthusiasm, inspiration and raw courage.

Imagine travelling to a foreign country to work with a non-profit charitable organization to help bring water to communities. Consider what it might be like to climb key mountains in the world that are both beautiful and challenging. What if the grand adventure is to co-author a book while travelling and living somewhere that is unfamiliar and new? What if it looks like sailing from one coast to another and learning to live off of the sea? What if it means living in a community of people working towards the goal of saving an animal or ecosystem that is fragile? Perhaps it is living for a year or two discovering different spiritual practices? What if it might be to research a certain thing or situation and publish the findings? It might be simpler, and could involve setting personal goals of physical well-being or building something tangible that has value to both people and is helpful to others who need this support. What if…? is the type of talk that occurs at this stage.

Living the Dream Aloud: Eventually, the time comes to live it aloud. The architect and the carpenter need to work together to carefully craft what the dream might be. The logistics of how the blocks from the quarry are lifted, cut and crafted together, need to be considered. It takes ongoing communication and disciplined planning in order to see it through so that there is a nice sense of possibility and momentum in its creation. Most importantly, both partners need to share in the leadership. The skill set of each partner is respected, but neither is made responsible for motivating the project. Instead, it is agreed that if it matters to both, both must contribute to its launching. Each must relish in the work and joy that it will bring the partnership. Both must appreciate how to open our arms and abandon ourselves openly to the unknown that happens on every adventure. No one person is left holding the bag, as having a trusting and reciprocal commitment is the key element of a shared adventure. At times, this takes discipline, effort and might require education or guidance from external sources where challenges emerge.

Doing It: Finally, the adventure begins to unfold. It can sometimes happen while it is still being planned, and it might continue and branch off into many directions; but most importantly, it happens. It might not happen exactly as planned. It might become too large or too small, and require revisions along the way. There might be some breaks for rest, or modifications so that both people can sustain the journey. However, again, the point is that there is follow-through. The dream comes to life. There will be a wonderful story to tell before, during and after it happens. I like to believe that the partnership will benefit and grow from the experience, and so will others that we encounter along the way, provided that we act from a place of love and integrity. And then, at the end of the adventure, hopefully we will find that it is really only the beginning of our next adventure together.

“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.”
― Eleanor Roosevelt

Pressed: 52 Weeks Begin Now: Week Thirty-Seven: Getting High and Staying High

3 Aug

52 Weeks Begin Now: Week Thirty-Seven: Getting High and Staying High.


Getting High: Everyone wants to get high–metaphorically, literally, spiritually, through drugs and alcohol, artistically, sexually, or other. What is interesting to me is that most people don’t know what “getting high” actually means. As well, we don’t understand the following:

-We don’t know why we want to get high so badly
-We don’t know how to get high in safe, healthy, or relevant ways
-Once we are high, we are not always sure how to really appreciate it

As well, most people who do get high, want to replicate it over and over again in exactly the same way. We think that if we just re-do the same steps, in the same way, that the same outcome will result. However, the nature of any ecstatic experience is that usually we cannot re-formulate it through mere repetition. Each time, some different variable comes into play that requires the need to be attentive, creative and intentional so that there can be new unique and wonderful outcomes.

Of course, this takes effort. People who do not want to make the effort usually end up taking drugs; resorting to simulations on a computer; or need some other extrinsic catalyst to jump start them into the sublime.

Hot Air: An example of getting high for me was a hot air balloon trip in Capadocia, Turkey (see pictures below). The last time that I had taken a balloon ride prior to this adventure, was in Calgary, Alberta a decade previously. It had been a less than thrilling experience on a cold morning with a grumpy husband who wasn’t overly enthusiastic about the whole early morning escapade. As well, as we ascended into the air, our little son was waving up at us with a worried expression, wondering if his parents would disappear into the clouds and never come down again. (Because of his alarm, my father took it upon himself to follow our balloon by driving through the city underneath it to the safe landing spot, reassuring his grandson all the while). As a result, I remember the whole balloon ride as a feeling of mixed emotions about why I was doing such a far-fetched thing in the first place without my son, and with my, now, ex-husband.

As a result, when the suggestion to go up in the air with complete strangers in a foreign country, came about, I wasn’t sure that I would find the experience to be anything more than this botched attempt at getting high in the same way the first time around. While the crew began the launching process in the pre-historic landscape of this famous Turkish desert valley, the sunlight was just starting to appear on the horizon. In the darkness, the blasts of the burner flame sounded like hungry dragons, as they heated the air through the balloon mouths. Once they were air buoyant, we jumped into the balloon basket. We were all a bit nervous as the box swayed sideways before launching, but finally the ground crew released the balloon into the pilot’s capable hands.

Magic in the Ascent: As we ascended, magic began to unfold all around me. This balloon ride was different. I was surrounded by a few fellow travellers who were as equally interested in being “mesmerized” as I was by the ascent. Their enthusiasm was contagious. The desert landscape below filled with miles upon miles of wind burrowed rock formations (which we call hoodoos in Canada) was absolutely breathtaking.

As well, the Turkish balloon companies did not, at this time, have any regulations about how high they could actually fly. I had been told in my first balloon flight about the Canadian guidelines because of the dangers of flying too close to the sun, and other elevation precautions. In Turkey, words like “guidelines” or “precautions” never came up. He seemed more interested in sharing with us what we would see, not what might go wrong. All the while, we just kept getting higher and higher. At one point, when I looked down, I realized that I was “high”–very very high. Any fear or trepidation about heights was something that I should have thought about before the trip because here I was…up in the clouds. I breathed in the height. I kept my eye on the beauty, and I revered in the experience. All of it was simply too beautiful for fear to step in and ruin it for me.

Some of the high had to do with the pilot. I trusted him. He spoke confidently about the height. He seemed credible and capable handling the balloon. He pointed out what would be happening before, during and after the trip so that we were at ease. He had a certain “enthusiasm” (coming from the word “entheos”, which in Latin means “of the Gods”) that awakened me to what I could expect. However, I was confident that everyone in the basket would see and experience something very different from each other. The flight was also gilded in gold for me because of my openness to trying it–again. I was a different person this time around. I had the capacity to get high, and I appreciated the joy of doing so in a way that I had never experienced before. I was high on my new status in life. I was free.

Staying High: What amazes me about the whole experience is that the balloon ride was not the real crux of the experience for me. The rush was my willingness to embrace all aspects of the experience. I was doing something that other people had done a thousand times, but for me, it was as if no one had ever done this before. How could the universe be this wonderful? Why was I so fortunate? What would I see, and remember from the experience? For the duration of the trip, I was out of body. In memory of it, I find it surreal to consider how magnificent the view was, and I am still high in the recollection. I was in another world. I was on another planet. I was flying high. And what is most important to realize about this existential height experience was that there were no drugs required, then, during the flight, and now, in the remembrance of it (although I am sure the adrenaline rush released a bit of dopamine). This was flying high for real, inside and out.











52 Weeks Begin Now: Week Thirty-Four: Mail Order Bride and the Leap of Faith

6 Jul


What if… you were a young woman in Finland, writing back and forth to a young man from Finland living in Canada (whom you have never met) who has taken it upon himself to pioneer out to Canada in the early 1900’s? You have been hooked up to each other through friends and are now part of a series of correspondence blind dates. Through beautifully scripted hand-written letters (as you are both creative), you forge a strong friendship over the course of a year. You start to learn more about him and his adventures in Canada, and he starts to learn a bit more about you. You exchange a couple of photos, and the rest of the correspondence is an outpouring of hopes and dreams.

You realize that you are getting older (late 20’s), and are now one of the few single ladies left in your town. This is an eligible bachelor, well-respected in his community (through word of mouth) regardless of his desire to live in another country. Even though you haven’t met him, you have a pretty good feeling and intuition about him through his letters because he is educated, articulate and motivated to make his way in the Canadian frontier. If he proposed on his next visit to Finland and asked you to go with him to Canada, would you?

From Mail to Meeting: This was the correspondence that occurred over the course of several months between my grandmother, Tyyne Kattelus; and my grandfather, Onni Kattelus while he was getting oriented in British Columbia. In 1931, he went back to Finland to finally meet my grandmother, Tyyne Kattelus) in person; marry her; and, as a result, return with her back to Canada (all in one trip). It was a magnificent leap of faith. The words and the time that they took in their initial correspondence helped them to forge a strong enough belief in each other and their respective dreams, to act upon them.

Settling: After much hardship surviving the rough and undeveloped landscape around Field, BC, they eventually settled into Golden, BC where my mother and her two siblings grew up. They had a hard-working life amongst other Finnish settlers in the Columbia Valley with very little leisure time. I remember from my visits to their home that they were always working at something on their property: chopping wood, planting and harvesting the orchards and gardens, making carpets on the loom, etc. However, I especially enjoyed the hot steam saunas that we would share at the end of the day.

They had a small farm, a larger garden and ran properties within the town, while my grandfather worked on the CPR as a carpenter until he passed away and left my grandmother to tend all of it on her own. She took care of her property admirably until she passed away in her 90’s. In the end, they were well-respected members of their community, and she in particular as one of the oldest living Finnish pioneers. In retrospect, both of my grandparents were highly conservative people with an incredible aversion to risk and failure. They worked hard and were incredibly meticulous and careful about everything that they did. By nature, they were not prone to making large risky decisions.

Leaps of Faith: Sometimes our circumstances, personalities, dreams, fears and issues call us to make leaps of faith. I am always fascinated by what actually motivates people to take that final step. The idea of “readiness” is an important one, but sometimes, people may not be entirely prepared for the big jump, but they do it anyway. Why?

Impetus: I would suspect that sometimes people want to jump out of the fire, hoping that they will land anywhere but where they have been. The fire that they are escaping is burning them alive, and they need to jump away, just as people sometimes do from burning buildings. Other times, people believe that what they are jumping to is so incredible–this fantasy opportunity, that they will do anything to experience it. These motivators, I believe, are the two extremes on the leap of faith continuum and can also sometimes be equated with being “impulsive”. However, other leaps of faith happen for other reasons (sometimes ranging from the simple to the complex). The stories about why people make these life-changing decisions can be fascinating as each tale holds some very small detail of their impetus for change. “Impetus”, from the Latin word “Impetere” means “to attack”. It often involves the passion to actually “attack” our dreams.

Second-Order Change: However, what is even more fascinating to me is why so many of us don’t leap. Fear is the obvious reason. None of us like to be outside of our comfort zones for long. In some cases, it is wise to stay put, and be present in the now without having any need to search and grasp beyond this moment in time, place or people. However, there are times in our lives where if we pay close enough attention, we know that we need to make a change. However, sometimes, in order for the change to be the meaningful one that we know that it needs to be, it has be to be a big change. There is no other way around it. We can’t just talk about it. We can’t pick at it or tweak it. Instead, it needs to be true “second order change” (starting all over again and building from the ground up). It requires incredible courage and then fortitude to first make the change, and then to make the change work.

Commitment: I think of so many immigrants to Canada whose stories were successful ones, they made their decisions work. There was simply no choice. They had no safety net or people or finances. They just did it. Others pioneers, some from my father’s ancestral family (writing that I will save for another article), were not as successful. Therefore, leaps of faith require leaps of intentional action, but they also need steel-willed fortitude and calculated follow-through. It may not need to all be preemptively planned and orchestrated ahead of time, but there needs to be a deep commitment by the people involved so that they can draw upon it when they need to count on it for determination: “I am going to land on the other side, and I am going to enjoy the landing.”

Sisu: I write this article because I have taken a leap of faith moving to BC, and am now working on “enjoying the landing”. What will I need to do to be sure that I am happy and successful now that I have made the leap? It will continue to require of me a tenacity that is sometimes evasive. Therefore, I look to my Finnish ancestors as examples of those who took a leap of faith (independently and interdependently) and made it work on the other side. I have to trust that I, too, have this Finnish personality trait defined as “sisu” that my grandmother always said that I possessed. It means “bravery, determination and resilience”. In some cases, I also think there needs to be a measure of good luck, and so I will wish for a little of that as well.

“If we never had the courage to take a leap of faith, we’d be cheating God out of a chance to mount us up with wings like eagles and watch us soar.”
― Jen Stephens, The Heart’s Journey Home

2–52 Weeks Begin Now: Week Two: Yes We Can Travel Solo

14 Jul


Observations about Can and Can’t People:  Before I discuss my thoughts on travelling solo, there seems to be a key philosophical premise behind those who choose to travel on their own, and those who do not.  My topic seems to coincide with this observation, but it is only a trend I have noticed in conversations with people over the years around this topic.  I have observed in my life journey that there are Can people and Can’t people.  To distinguish these terms, Can people spend more time talking themselves into their highest life force activities rather than talking themselves out of these activities as Can’t people do. Disappointingly, I have met far more people who do the latter.  Can and Can’t people rarely get along as they spend most of their time convincing the other that “it CAN be done”, or “No, it CAN’T be done”.  As well, neither strong Can people or strong Can’t people are very popular as no one likes to hear either’s strong opinions about why things can or cannot happen. The motivator can be overbearingly optimistic although they have often positively touched particularly open people along their journeys. The defeatist is often dogmatically negative, although helping others to appreciate what they have and what they should safeguard in their lives.

Both have become entrenched in their mindsets somewhere along their journeys, as they need to be right in their belief systems. These mindsets are whom they identify themselves to be and probably have been influenced by being in the presence of their opposites at some time in their lives. Can’t people operate out of fear. Extreme Can people operate out of fear as well. Both trigger the other to believe more strongly in what they believe. Can people often live longer. They just simply believe they can. Occasionally, Can’t people live a long time too because they are simply too afraid to die. However, if you remove the FEAR out of the equation, you have less polarizing. Sometimes can tempers can’t and visa versa, and they understand a new perspective. However, most often like-minded philosophies work best together.

Solo Travelling:  What has this got to do with embarking on solo travelling?  The essential work of anyone wanting to have a one-to-one and intimate relationship with different places around the world is their understanding of their own limitations.  If we have self-dialogue that talks us out of wanting to take the plunge into the solo travel experience, we are likely going to have a more difficult experience.  We are either unlikely to go anywhere out of our comfort zones in the first place, and secondly, we are less likely open to the experience we do choose.  So, the first step of the solo traveller is to not only believe that we can do it, but to take the steps to make it happen.

It takes a lot of initiative, confidence, and resiliency to do that.  Many of us have excuses.  Our families need us.  Wouldn’t it be selfish to spend money on ourselves while everyone else stays home?  It wouldn’t be the same without being able to share it with someone.  The obstacles often seem insurmountable to some people, and they choose instead to sit enviously on the sidelines and watch other people take the steps of getting out of their daily routines to go somewhere else.  Married couples, in particular, often will not consider going anywhere without the other.  It would seem to so many married people like an abandonment or a betrayal, when the mere matter of time apart and distance can allow healthy relationships to grow and become even stronger.  When we allow ourselves to be independent, our ability to be interdependent in our relationships gets even stronger (Covey, 1989).  However, people need to trust that this is so.  They need to value it in order to make it happen.  They need to practice it regularly or they lose their awareness of its importance.

The risks seem high, but the rewards are higher.  The internal work is the biggest part of the whole experience of solo travel.  Some people might use this argument as an excuse to delay going anywhere as they would indicate that they need to work on their own “stuff” before they are confident enough to travel solo.  However, this is not my message.  In fact, all life experiences are not linear and in straight lines.  There are no real pre-requisites for travel journeys other than to be healthy and capable of handling (financially, physically and emotionally) the type of journey on which we embark.  For example, new travellers would be wise to go on longer more complex trips to countries where culture shock is more likely to happen for them, later in their travelling careers.  However, every destination has a continuum of what is easy and difficult, inexpensive or costly, etc. within its breadth of possibilities.  It is just a matter of choosing carefully, and modifying the experience along the way.  Waiting to travel is like waiting for life to happen.  The time to travel is now.

Trapeze Metaphor:  I often refer to the trapeze metaphor on which Blank (2004) has based her book Between Trapezes, where the best trapeze artists are those who do not cling to the wrung that they are holding as they prepare for their jump from one wrung to the next.  They do not fixate on what is below them in terms of their safety net that they might fall onto should their flip in between wrungs go awry.  Nor do they obsess over grasping the wrung waiting for them at the other side.  Instead, the best trapeze artists are those who embrace the “in between” that is that space of uncertainty between the wrungs.  They relish in the summersaults they execute into thin air with the absolute faith that the other wrung will be waiting for them at the other side.

Taking the Leap:  How true this is of our lives in general when we decide to take a leap and do something differently.  How liberating it is to not feel the need to drag someone along as our security nets.  So many times, this false sense of security in having a travel companion is an ever-present reminder that we may enjoy a truer meditative travel experience if we had only travelled lighter, and left some of our stuff out of our backpacks, and/or, better yet, leave an unwilling or less-motivated travelling companion at home.  Occasionally we are fortunate enough to have just the right person who is equally equipped and motivated to share an adventure with us.  This sharing a journey with a like-minded individual is also a special experience.  However, I would still encourage people to travel solo at key times in their lives as the experience of doing so on our own is very different than doing it in the company of another.  It challenges us to grow in so many important ways that can be distracted from by having people from home (even the very best travel buddies) who bring with them all that we wish to leave behind for a little while to give us some distance from our daily lives.  As well, when we bring someone along, we typically focus on making the relationship work with our travelling companions in the throes of the experience rather than the immersion into the travel experience itself.  Instead, we need to focus on the trip, and be very present in ourselves in order to savor all that solo travelling has to offer. 

1–52 Weeks Begin Now: Week One: Leaving Everything Behind and Moving to Comox

14 Jul

Quote:  What makes us save some parts of our past and discard others?…Without attachment, the past would just simply fade away…Attachment is psychological.  It preserves the pain that still hurts and the pleasure that hopes to be repeated.  Being in the past, however, your mental storehouse is filled with a jumble of things that no longer serve you.  (Chopra, 2009, p. 199)

Week One:  A Fresh Start:  It is very easy to relate to a snake that periodically outgrows itself and sheds its skin.  What do we do when we outgrow our own life skin?  The snake rejuvenates itself, and by doing so leaves a scaly dry mass of its former self behind.  People operate a bit differently.  We tend to cling to all of the things that formed our identities and memories or kept us cocooned in safety.  Nature, however, has a way of throwing away its protective shells, and starting over again, or dying in the process of this transformation.  Penguins, for example, lose all of their water repellent outer feathers, and cannot swim as they moult. Elk regularly break off their protective antlers, leaving them vulnerable.  There is a cycle of rejuvenation, and predictably these animals, where successful in their change cycles, go on with their lives anew in a new season.

People talk ourselves out of fresh starts as if to suggest that by doing so we are “running away” from our problems.  Society also sells us the line that “Whereever you go, there you are” which equates to “why bother making a change?  We will inevitably stay the same.”  Or more classically, “What will I do without_____ if I leave?”  Fill in the blank with person, place or thing.  Ironically, if we are really honest, the nouns in our lives, including the proper ones, are generally indifferent to our choices unless our absence has a direct impact on their lives and routines.  Change is infinitesimal with acquaintances or colleagues, and normalcy is quickly re-established when we or these types of relationships change or leave.  People are usually in fond or obligatory connection for awhile.  However, the truly connected people stay connected, regardless of the distances or obstacles.

Moving or change is a quick filter of who and what really matters.  What do we pack?  What do we give away or leave behind?  Who came to say good-bye or made a gesture to make the transition a bit easier?  What made a genuine impact on us (emotional connection), and where will we find a way to re-integrate the truly meaningful stuff or people into our new lives?

The Fantasy:  There are many novels written about this fantasy of re-creating our lives or trading places with someone else, even if just for awhile.  Leaving everything and everyone behind holds a certain fascination for people because, like animals, we have natural instincts to revitalize who we are.  When we don’t, our bodies, minds and souls have a way of warning us that we are not being true to the need for these personal “upgrades’.  We ignore these instinctual red flags as we anesthetize ourselves with our routines and habits.  Instead, we need to be asking ourselves the following questions:

  • Is what I am doing with my life really vital to me?
  • Is what I am doing with my life creating more energy than it is costing me?
  • Is the fear of changing or leaving my present life preventing it from happening?  If so, is this fear the best motivation for staying in the status quo?

I am not particularly brave, although I am overcoming the vulnerability of losing my Calgary shell.  My son is turning twenty and we need to separate so we can both grow.  My job was simply too demanding and change was essential for me physically, mentally and spiritually.  I don’t have a significant other that I needed to cajole into a new adventure, nor did I need to leave behind someone due to unhappiness.  I just have a life that has been moderately satisfying, but is now ripe for transformation because “moderate” isn’t good enough for the latter part of my life.  The voice in my head calling out “Get out of here?” became too powerful.  I finally decided to listen.

Experiments with Truth:  My choice is to experiment with a new truth and push past the fears, as regret is a more daunting motivator.  It is time to explore the possibility that change can afford a re-invention of self.  I have hope that finding a new setting, with new tastes, smells, sounds and other can inspire a new way of being.  The growing pains are predictable:  loneliness, unfamiliarity, inconvenience, boredom, etc.  However, all of it is a matter of attitude and perspective.  Like travelling, there is always a new possibility around the corner.  I just have to look for it.

So, in the matter of three weeks, I found a new job, listed my house, explained to my son his new reality and started orchestrating a move to the West Coast where I have always “felt” right.  Is it whimsical?  Yes.  Is it filled with risk?  Absolutely.  Will I miss Calgary, the people, the life I had there?  For the most part, yes, although I have allowed it to define me for too long.  Will I be missed?  I like to think that we should not measure our pasts by how much people reach out and stay in touch?  I like to think that our memories store our relationships and experiences  just as they were meant to be pickled in our brains.  What is best is to move on and continue to forge new connections from what we have learned on our journeys?  If people keep in touch, that is a bonus.

Lesson:  Through change, we only tend to keep those things and people with which we have truly connected; therefore, creating authentic connections should form the basis of our work ahead.  My question for myself in this lesson is “What must I do to dedicate myself to that which is truly meaningful in my next 52 weeks and beyond and not fill my new life with minutia and obligation or things which pull me back to a comfort zone that is only moderately satisfying?”