By Ciel Patenaude —
A happy new year to you all! I hope that the holidays were a peaceful yet transformative time.
I was fortunate enough to be able to spend this past December in the southern hemisphere, exploring the city and jungle wilds of Peru and Bolivia with a good friend. The trip served as both a respite from work and winter—a rather wonderful way to break up the seasons—and a personal healing journey. The adventure effectively served as a 30-day intensive exploration into my process in a new environment and without work schedules and other commitments, and offered a particular kind of magic.
Travel is an incredible opportunity for self-reflection and growth, if approached with that intent in mind. When we are removed from our regular routines and challenged in ways we’re unfamiliar with, explorations of other cultures and areas soulfully stir and shake us. We become aware of the stuck parts of our being where we judge or restrict possibility. Lacking the regularity and stress of everyday life there is a greater potential for seeing that which may consistently go unseen (or be intentionally ignored) and for opening ourselves to the beauty and wonder that surrounds us.
There was a lot of time for writing on this adventure, and many 20+ hour bus rides to reflect and consider my experience and the state of the world. I came to realize that there’s nothing quite like knowing you can’t escape where you’re at—there was no getting off that bus, nor any possibility of distracting myself with Facebook or the fridge or television—to force a very particular and beautiful form of consideration.
It is my intention to stay focused and clear on the outcomes of that consideration, and to incorporate some key reminders I encountered while traversing the winding roads of the Andes in my daily life back here, for I know my experience will be better for it:
If you’re not in awe, you’re not paying attention.
We all lead pretty busy lives in the day-to-day, and within those schedules and constant distractions it is extremely easy to lose sight of the beauty of life. I imagine most of us have had the experience of going somewhere new and having our eyes wide open to the wonder around us, as we choose to focus our attention on what is amazing about our surroundings in those moments. But is it only possible and reasonable to do this when our environment changes? When we are seeing llamas and cacti instead of cows and fir trees? There are always countless things to be blown away by in every moment. It is just up to us to choose to focus on them.
Discomfort is born of attachment and expectation.
On the tail end of our trip we ended up stuck in the airport for a few days, lost to the whims of a standby itinerary from Lima to Vancouver. After 28 days away we were so looking forward to getting home—our own beds, friends, and personal space seemed almost unimaginable—and so to be informed multiple times that we would not be getting on the plane was some kinda defeating.
However, there is a beautiful kind of logic and mental calm that comes about when plans are squashed in such a way—when the outcome you had expected just isn’t going to be at all, and you’re forced to sit with a situation that is entirely not what you want. You can spend the time resisting the reality of your circumstance, or you can trust and relax. It makes sense, doesn’t it? We all know that being pissed at sleeping on a bench and eating crabcakes and frozen yogurt in Dallas airport for two days isn’t going to change anything, right? And yet, how often do we all engage in wasting our energy and mental space by resisting things that are occurring, wishing they were a different way?
People are amazing, even when you smell.
After a 23-hour bus ride, a couple days in airports, and a few weeks before that of wearing relatively the same clothes, by the time we were almost home there was a fairly distinct odour following my travelling companion.
But even given how bad she smelled (and it was bad, friends) and how homeless she looked, it was amazing how many beautiful and engaging encounters were had with strangers along our path. People were interested in her—I suppose that certainly she had that ‘look’ about her that suggests she had been through some adventures—and genuinely curious about what she was up to, even as she smelled so bad.
To see people want to spend time with my tumaceous friend was really confirming of the goodness of humanity, and it brought a kind of faith in our possibility of a species back to me, something that can be hard to contact when we’re all running around with so much to do and so much on our minds.
Make friends with the unknown.
The first two weeks of the trip were all about control: a defined plan of where we should be and for how long we should stay there, resulting in an abject lack of attention to the place we were at the moment. At half way through there was a kind of calm that seemed to come over us, however, an acceptance and even delight at the unknown quality of our travels and what they would present. That which we had previously attempted to control became loose and free, and, as probably to be expected, our minds went along with that.
We spend a lot of our time attempting to find certainty in this human existence, trying to control the way things are or the way things will be in the future so that we don’t have to come into contact with the great unknown.
And yet, the great unknown is where spirit resides, and where the true wonder of living is to be experienced. As the Buddha said, it is our struggle with impermanence—our constant neurotic want to make things be or stay a certain way—that is the true source of all our of our pain, not the circumstances that we find ourselves in. If we can choose to be alright with the mystery of our existence, taking responsibility for all that we can take responsibility for and then releasing the rest, then we can find happiness.
I know that we all have the capacity to bring mindfulness and presence into our daily lives if we remind ourselves to do so, and I know that all of our lives would be much better for it. Perhaps instead of waiting for your next escape, your next trip to another world, you might be inclined to think about these reflections and how they apply to your daily life now. I know that such work—as it has done for me—will bring nothing but greater happiness, and I wish only that for us all.
Ciel Patenaude is an Integrative Health & Shamanic Practitioner based in Williams Lake, BC. A highly trained and naturally gifted intuitive healer, Ciel holds a BSc in Biology, an MA in Integrative Healing, and is a certified yoga Teacher & wellness coach.