I’ve met a lot of different people travelling, and never heard a single one claim to be on a quest to find themselves. Rather, the expression is used exclusively by people who don’t travel, to deride those who do.
No-one travels to find themselves. You travel to lose yourself.
A few weeks ago, I woke from a heavy night’s sleep on a thin foam mattress. I stretched and cricked my neck, slipped on a pair of damp boots, picked up a half finished toilet roll and walked across the courtyard in the dead of night to shit in a hole in the ground. This was a new experience. As new to me as looking up in awe at the rugged, snow-capped mountain that stood sentry while I squatted in the darkness.
The human mind is adaptive. It creates patterns of behaviour in deep, impenetrable ways, and then leads us along their grooves and contours. Most of the time they lie beyond the boundary of conscious perception. In the midst of our routines, in the company of people we know, places we are familiar with and secure in, we exist with little conscious thought or effort.
If you want to unravel those patterns, and understand how and why you make the subconscious decisions you do, why your behaviour repeats itself in ways you pretend not to notice, you’ll probably have to pay someone to listen to you talking. And then, you’ll have to pull at every loose thread on every piece of clothing you ever wore, and keep pulling, even when you know that to do so will mean the loss of the thing forever. (Keep pulling).
Or you could transport yourself from your own environment to a different one, where everything you know, all the systems, responses and perceptions you’ve accumulated and learned over the years, are irrelevant. Where the instincts you rely upon every day are suddenly blunted, useless, and you have to grow and sharpen new ones. Where you have to think and feel in order to survive. And you might not have thought and felt like this for years.
From childhood we cultivate a method of survival - a strategy for overcoming fear and insecurity. For me, a suit of armour, comprised of layers of false confidence that made the world less daunting and conquerable. Made fears and obstacles appear surmountable, even when they were not. I have outgrown it - it no longer protects, but restricts. Every step I take shakes a little more of the cloak from my shoulders.
Every man or woman who ever laid foot upon the road knows its magic. The feeling, rising up from the dust, through their weary soles and reaching into the heart. It might be hard to grasp, intangible, but when it strikes you, in a sunset, a new vista, a new adventure or new friend, it is unmistakable and enthralling.
Pace around the same tiny cell and you’ll get to know it like nowhere else on earth. Or walk out of the door, and dare to tread some new path, discover what lies beyond. It doesn’t have to be distant, dangerous or intrepid - it just has to be new.
The only thing I can guarantee you won’t find out there, is yourself.
And that’s because we’re always one step behind ourselves, watching, thinking and interfering. Fearful, lest we step too far, too fast or too firm.
I hope you do, because that's the whole fucking point.
Until next time then....