Changing As the Days Go By
Returning to India, the place where the journey began, it seems a natural point in time to reflect on how I have changed over the past 15 months. This first leg of the journey is coming full circle, and I have noticed many changes within myself that I am sure are evident to others as I reunite with them for the first time in a year.
The most obvious of these changes are physical. The most powerful of these changes lie deep beneath the surface. My worldview, my mindset, my outlook on life, they have all been molded by the everyday experiences I have had, by the interactions with a wide range of people with whom I now share a deep connection. It is easiest for me to mention the physical changes that I have undergone, and how they reflect the deeper changes within.
But first I must address an underlying theme that presents itself every time I reflect on my trip, which does not have a direct correlation to any of my physical alterations.
The theme is how the transformation from ignorance to immersion and acceptance brings about a greater love for life. Ignorance breeds intolerance. Immersion creates awareness that allows tolerance to develop. Tolerance allows respect to be earned. Respect sets the groundwork for relationships to develop. Relationships deepen into love for one another. And through loving others we learn to love ourselves and the miracle that is life.
When I left home, I was ignorant about the majority of aspects of life in Asia. This isn’t to say that I didn’t respect Asian culture, I just wasn’t aware of how life in Asia works. (Like how the hell to use an Indian toilet and not walk out with a soaking wet ass.) When we are in our comfort zones (especially working five days a week at home, near the nest of our friends and families), it is easy to focus on only that which affects us personally, and not the world around us. We tend to avoid talking to strangers on the streets, on the bus, or wherever we are, instead preferring to stay within the safety of our personal spaces. Traveling by myself has forced me to break down my comfort zone, engage strangers in dialogue, and learn from their experiences. The majority of my best friends on this trip started out as strangers and have developed into major influences on my life. Sometimes strangers are neighbors that have yet to meet. Sometimes they are even brothers and sisters who have yet to realize a common bond. My first day in Saigon, Jeff was just a really tall, quirky stranger. But then we introduced ourselves to one another, met another stranger Martin through couchsurfing, and the three of us had an incredible journey motorbiking through Vietnam together. Now they are some of my best mates, my brothers from opposite ends of the world, and the love I have for them cannot be overstated.
Mentioning the motorbike tour brings me back to the outline of my physical changes and how they reflect deeper changes.
Scars. Some of the most visible changes on my body are the scars that I have accumulated. These scars are the results of motorbike accidents, acts of drunken stupidity, and pushing myself to live with less fear. They are reminders of the mistakes that I have made. They are reminders of the sacrifices I see people making all around me. They are reminders that what is on the surface is superficial; your complexion does not define you. Isn’t it amazing how the human body can regenerate and heal itself? Sometimes we are so afraid of falling that we forget we know how to pick ourselves back up. And when we fall we learn where the potholes in the road are so that we can avoid them the next time. Or more appropriate for Asia, where the low hanging doorframes are.
Hair. The biggest physical surprise of the trip has been the transformation of my hair. I have not cut my hair since I buzzed my head right before I left and it is the first time I have ever had long hair in my life. Little did I know that my hair is crazy curly. (I guess the mailman must have been African.) A few combs have met their demise trying to tame my pseudo-fro. And my hair has lightened considerably from the effects of being in the salt water and the sun. (Or maybe the mailman was Swedish). I never imagined that I would be referred to as “Goldilocks” by little old thai ladies. And I never imagined how good it feels to have the wind blow through your hair on the back of a bike. Or how it feels to have the water flow through your hair as you glide through the water.
Smiles. Definitely more smiles. The type of smiles that come effortlessly, just from being in a happy environment. Smiles that are reflected on your face, but with feelings that extend deep throughout your entire body. It can be transformational when your entire body seems to be smiling. It’s easy to smile when someone’s always smiling back. And the Asian people (and travelers in general) love to smile.
Beard-stachio. Not quite a full man beard but definitely a frothy mustache. Over the course of the past year there has more often than not been some form of fuzz on my face. To be honest, it’s mostly due to laziness and not wanting to shave every few days. But there is a feeling of being more in tune with nature that comes along with a beard, for whatever reason. And when you have a caterpillar on your upper lip, you can’t take yourself too seriously. Nobody else does when you look like a 70’s porn star. Or the love child of Ron Burgundy and Borat. I have never taken myself very seriously, but I have definitely learned to relax more and not worry about appearances.
My feet. They have become Frodo feet. Not wearing shoes for months at a time has caused my toes to spread out more naturally, like a hobbit’s. It has also caused a thick layer of callouses to form on the soles of my feet, effectively designing my own natural layer of protection from rocks and thorns. But not cow shit. Cow shit still definitely wins each round. Same with dirt, and my feet are perpetually dirty. I certainly would not be allowed to step foot in my family’s house with these mongrel feet. But these changes have certainly toughened up my feet, my resolve, and make me simply feel more natural. Bushwacking through the forest with no shoes is not the brightest of ideas but you feel a greater sense of accomplishment doing it the old school way. The therapeutic feel of lush grass under your toes is a great reprieve from the unfeeling sidewalk. The added strength and flexibility to my feet helps out most with my yoga practice. Throughout the majority of our lives, our feet are our connection with the earth, helping to keep us balanced and grounded. Having a stronger foundation physically has improved my asana practice. Similarly, developing a stronger mental and spiritual foundation has provided a greater sense of navigation in where I want to go in life.
Navigation. Traveling quickly trained me to improve my horrendous navigation skills. There’s definitely no GPS on your baby blue $15 Nokia phone so you better learn quick which road leads to the next town and not right back onto the super sketchy Bangkok cars-only highway. (From which you and your 110cc motorbike were kindly escorted by the police ten minutes prior). And when your dollar store compass gets stuck pointing north, it helps to recognize rock formations or it can be a long swim back to the boat.
But the more valuable change has been getting a better grasp on my sense of direction in life. I understand why some people say that if you love what you do, you never work a day in your life. Diving and yoga definitely don’t feel like work. If you trust your instincts and do something you’re passionate about, things seem to have a way of working themselves out.
This reflection may seem long winded, but when is the last time your thoughts were concise? If you are like me, one thought springs another revelation, breaking off into tangents minimally related to one another. By reflecting on these thoughts I am merely trying to bring some organization and clarity to the chaos which is my mind. To pick out the recurring themes of how my journey has shaped me into the man I am today, who is neither the same as the man I was yesterday or will be tomorrow.
You have a clean slate to be whoever you want to be when you arrive somewhere nobody knows you. You have the power to connect with your true self. The way you act reflects who you truly are and would like to become. Each day is a brush stroke in the canvas of your life, a note in the symphony of your identity. You may deviate from the tune, you may be a bit off tune at times, but the sound track continues nonetheless and the chorus brings you back. The music crescendos as you reach new highs, and decresendos as you hit new lows, but still the beat moves on. The rhythm accelerates and decelerates searching for that ideal speed. Until finally the last note is sung and our stories are subtly reflected in the songs of those who survive us.
And so we all continue to search to find our muses, our passions, our inspirations, to give them their instruments and let them play. For we all stand upon the conductor’s podium, directing from where the next note comes, weaving our spirit into our songs.