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Getting Real

I’m naturally introspective, and as an extrovert, I’m also hardwired to share those thoughts with others. I’ll bare my soul to any stranger interested in engaging in conversation. These essays are a digital form of those long-winded, furrow-browed, intensely-honest talks that lead me to a better understanding of myself and the world around.

Mindfulness Exercises

I’m a contemplative person by nature, mulling over past events and frequently visualizing my future. I like to think long and hard and often about things of meaning in my life. And mayyybe sometimes not so meaningful things. But as much as I enjoy this mental exercise, I am cursed with a miserable memory. It’s becoming increasingly alarming now that I’m old enough to be aware of my foggy recollection.

A couple years ago, I had a therapist who encouraged me to practice mindfulness, and I took the directive to heart. Instead of waiting for pockets of quiet in my busy life, to crawl inside myself and contemplate to my heart’s content, I began to practice awareness in real time, painting moments onto the canvas of my memory. Partly to find the peace and balance that mindfulness supposedly brings, but also in the hopes of capturing my current reality for later enjoyment.  It’s taken practice and I am far from my goal, but the practice of mindfulness has been amazing for this season of travel.

While so much richness of life swirls past us in a wave of new cities, new experiences, new interactions, I am able to reach out and snatch down small moments that carry associations to greater memories. While words are my favorite thing to play with, to roll around and mold together, I often think in images. The combination is a trait I attribute to my father. It’s why concrete objects, things that can be sensed– seen, felt, tasted– are often used as descriptors of things that don’t immediately seem related, colorfully bringing to life another person or event or location.

I hope that in the last couple months of our travels, I’ll be able to record more and more of these memories in my little Notes app on my phone. Sometimes I feel silly, bent over the screen frantically typing away, squirreling up my memories. But it’s worth it. And when I get it down fresh, I can easily go back and expand on my memories. Over time they fade and I can’t remember all the other pieces of the puzzle. It’s like I only have that little tiny window, each word a square inch that lets me look into a moment frozen in time. Like this memory of fall in Switzerland, which I remember so vividly. The ten seconds I described are magically seared onto my memory, but the rest of the night is getting fuzzy. Thankfully, I’ll always have “goosebumps on my freshly shaven legs” to evoke memories of family and farm towns and nights when you’re so bone tired from eating and talking and laughing, but you still want to stay up and linger just another hour longer.

Riding home in the cold,

Goosebumps on my freshly shaven legs,

Standing on the bike pedals up off the wet seat,

Riding by the village bell tower and hearing it toll the first of 10 peals.

But I’m A Tourist: Differentiating Between Cultural and Spiritual Experiences

I choose to view the world in a very holistic way. The spiritual and the physical exist equally. Equally as strong, equally as present. That’s my worldview. However, while this deliberate perspective makes me more sensitive to the supernatural, I don’t feel I’ve honed or tended to this spiritual gift. I am by nature an analytical thinker, and that can tempt me to reduce the world to the purely physical.

Travel has changed this in some ways as the developing world, as a cultural whole, often adopts the holistic world view. It’s much easier to see the connection of spiritual and physical here. As a result, I’ve been confronted with several spiritual predicaments: Is it ok to participate in an experience that has spiritual roots if it is also hailed as a cultural experience? What about just observing it? I’m tempted to offer the “but I’m a tourist” defense. After all, one of my primary goals in life these days is flinging myself full measure into every iconic experience.

The first time I experienced this inner conflict was while in Malaysia. To set the scene, I must tell you that we seemed to have been missing famous events left and right while traveling. (And it has continued since we left KL!) So of course, we thought we had hit the jackpot when we realized we’d be in Malaysia during Thaipusam– a Hindu holiday which happens just once a year– and Chinese New Year. These would both be huge cultural events that we’d be lucky to observe. Everyone we met, including every taxi driver we had, urged us to go to the Hindu celebration in Batu Caves during Thaipusam. They all clucked their tongues and bobbed their heads and said yes, we were so lucky. We were lucky to be here just at the right time to catch this famous event. “A million people attend every year. And you arrived just in time!”

However, as I started to learn more about the event, I felt unsettled in my spirit. (You can learn more about Thaipusam here, but I have to warn any squeamish readers that a careful perusal of that webpage may make you uncomfortable. The event involves trances and self-mutilation.) But not only was I uncomfortable purely on a physical level, I was also disturbed on a spiritual level as the whole purpose of the holiday is to honor a spiritual deity that I believe is leading people away from the one true God.

Tyler didn’t feel the same uneasiness as I did, so I spent a lot of time mulling over the situation and identifying my motives. On one hand, I felt deep sadness over people being slaves to rituals that I knew weren’t working for them. On the other hand, aren’t there ways we’re slaves to our own religious rituals? Who was I to judge?

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This is a guest post for my friend, Patricia, from Gentile Next Door. Read the post in its entirety at the link above.

On the emotions of moving (again)

Moving dredges up deep emotion in me. A state of turmoil over all the change. And despite possessing what I consider to be a very astute and self-aware personality, this type of change seems to put me in a fog that hides the real reasons for my stress and impatience and tears. It isn’t until the dust is settling and I’m waving goodbye to my most treasured sense of home– our house in Marion, our best friends in Alaska– that I realize how hard the move was and how there are feelings deep in me, tied to the move, that have caused my recent string of bad days.

Now imagine me “moving” every few weeks. It’s complicated has never been a more accurate descriptor. For Tyler and I both, this year has been eye-opening in ways we weren’t expecting. Last summer, we looked each other in the eye, shook metaphorical hands, and hopped onto the emotional rollercoaster ride of our lives, trusting in our pact to put up with one another no matter what. At times we’ve gripped each other white-knuckled and screaming– in alternating joy and fear– and at other times it seems that last August we accidentally slipped into two different cars on a dual track. While one rose up, the other plummeted.

Our relationship has been through the ringer this year. While I think it’s a natural stage after three years of marriage– part of the growing pains of two becoming one– I also recognize the stress that nomadic living has introduced into our lives separately, and how that inevitably affects us together.

Moving dredges up deep emotion in me. A state of turmoil over all the change.  And it turns out, it does the same for Tyler when we move at this pace. While I stress about the future, he struggles in the present. I wonder: are we making the right trade-off; what will we do when we stop moving at 100mph and have to confront life in one place; will I regret this? Tyler is too drained to think at all. He simply sits in his emotions and feels them weigh him down.

The emotions of moving aren’t as intense as when we’ve spent significant time investing in one place, but they come at us much more frequently. It’s been an uphill battle to develop empathy and practice patience with one another during this time. It seems we ought to understand the other’s feelings, but sometimes that fog makes one rather short-sighted. I’m thankful we can say we’ve held– if only barely– to our unspoken pact and continued to grow and love one another.

After having passed the halfway mark in year two of travel, we began hesitantly looking to the future. In the past two months, we’ve dreamt up every possible scenario for year three. We’ve talked about jumping ship completely and returning to “average life” earlier than expected. We’ve talked about extending the nomadic journey and drifting around a bit longer. We’ve run numbers and assessed motives. We’ve considered career paths and business proprietorship. We’ve been over it all… and we still aren’t sure.

We know we need a break from the rollercoaster though, so we’re going to disembark for awhile. We already have booked flights back to the States for an Alaskan reunion in the fall and family time during the holiday season. And for now, we’re shuffling through the practicalities of setting off for our next destination.

We say goodbye to Asia in less than a week, and we return with open arms to Europe. This time, we’ll be exploring some countries in the south– Turkey, Greece, and Italy. These places have all been at the top of my list for Things to Be Excited about During Year Two, so I can feel my morale slowly building for these last few months of moving. So many good things to look forward to; I know it will be worth it!

How do you handle moving? Will you be around for us to see you during our family-and-friends tour this fall/winter??

On Disappointment and Frustration in Travel

disappointment and frustration in travel

When traveling overseas, you’ll have the wonderful opportunity to plumb the depths of your own disappointment and frustration. What a joy. I knew this already as I had traveled as a child and still distinctly remember the kind of things that came as crushing disappointments at that age. (And… it looks like some things never change.)

I come back to that tired phrase– the experience stretches you and makes you a better person! Well, it’s true. It can. But it can be a thoroughly unpleasant situation to sift through the disappointment and frustration and turn them into self-reflection-fueled change.

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On New Glasses and Old Vices

Today, instead of finishing a post that I’d already put off for a whole week, I went shopping.

Believe it or not, Tyler actually encouraged this irresponsible behavior. Partly because I think he felt guilty that I’d been wanting to go to this shop for several days now and other things kept “getting in the way”, and partly because all I wanted was to purchase was a pair of cheap glasses and golly if that’s not just plain good for your health and your budget.  (more…)

On My Love-Hate Relationship with the Travel Lifestyle

On My Love- Hate Relationship with the Travel Lifestyle

So about this travel lifestyle…

There are times I think I’d like to do this forever. Like when I’m sitting on a plane, munching on my Corkers crisps and pretending to like that tomato juice I ordered on a whim. I guess it’s only classy bearable when you make it a Bloody Mary?? 

There’s something alluring about being a jet setter. Deciding on a Tuesday that you want to fly out Saturday. Booking a ticket to another country for a four day trip.

Who wouldn’t want this life??
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