Every once in a while, a series of mistakes forces the universe to slap you awake and places a mirror in front of you so you can see who you truly are. It’s up to you to accept that and do something about it or ignore it and continue along the same path you were on. I got slapped the other day on my first solo hike and camping trip through the mountains of northern Patagonia. I chose the hardest hike available in that particular area and the one least known and least taken. It wasn’t enough that I chose that, I also kept choosing my own detours and potential shortcuts. I was insanely distracted and while nothing bad happened to me, there’s no doubt that it could have certainly ended differently. The lines I chose were steep and a simple injury could have meant serious trouble as I wouldn’t have been found possibly for days. But I forged ahead. While I wasn’t lost in terms of my bearings, I was lost in terms of being on the right path towards my destination. The more off-path I got the more I began to see the parallels between that hike and my life in general and how far off the path my life had strayed. Eventually, it became so overwhelming and distracting that even when I was close to the path I had been looking for, I couldn’t even see it. In the end, it was getting dark and I had to make a decision, risk forging ahead and get caught in unknown territory, unsure of where to go, in the dark, or take a step back, find a place to sleep and figure out what I would do in the morning. I chose the latter. The former could easily have cost me my life. The terrain was unforgiving, but at night would have easily proven to be deadly. The parallels were undeniable and powerful.
I found a spot to camp out for the night in a small valley beside a ski-lift and hunkered down in solitude, letting the ugliness seen in the mirror wash over me and accepting with renewed clarity how truly flawed I am and have been in my life.
Everything you’ve read in this blog up to today, and possibly even including this post, is full of bullshit. They may be expressions of what I believe and how I saw myself, but they were reflections of who I wanted to be, not who I truly am. Who I truly am is considerably more broken. I aspire to those things, to that perspective on life, to the integrity and righteousness that I find honorable, but I live up to them far less in the real world, and in so doing have hurt a number of people in my life (and to those people I would like to apologize once again for not living up to my ideals, to the principles I made them believe I stood for, and for the pain I caused, and though I know an apology has little effect, it is all I have to offer). I believe in honesty, respect, and integrity but when I look back I see so many examples of having fallen way too short of those. I have been living by doing the bare minimum, taking for granted aspects of who I once was and assuming that meant I’m still that person. I somehow forgot over the years that having obtained something doesn’t give you the right to claim it forever unless you maintain it. I forgot that all the beautiful qualities one needs have to be worked for and on… every day. You can’t just sit on them once you’ve achieved them. They need your constant attention or they will slowly walk away while your back is turned. I sat on many of the qualities I had worked so hard to achieve in my late teens and early twenties. I can’t say when they started walking away nor when they truly disappeared. I wasn’t looking. But they are gone now and I need to do the work necessary to bring them back.
I’ve been traveling for almost 2 years now and have let myself live in a constant state of distraction. Jumping from one experience to another, one site to another, one novel activity to another. My life has been defined by distraction. I forgot why I was out here, lost sight of my priorities and I didn’t even see it coming. About 10 months or so ago I went through a period of great productivity and creativity, focused on very specific aspects of myself and my life and I made progress but somehow didn’t notice I was letting a whole series of things go unnoticed. Since then I’ve been asking a ton of questions, and getting some answers back, but the answers have been incomplete and I can see now that they were never the right questions. I looked back at all the people I’ve hurt and satisfied myself simply with the recognition of the pain I caused and taking responsibility for it, without having the courage to look within and see the WHY. That’s the real question and it will always be the real question. Why?
I rested on my laurels. I spent so many years in my early teens to early 20s working on me, working to achieve a particular self-image based on all the things I believed a good person should represent. I got so close at some point, that I stopped working on it and began to lose myself in distractions. Whether it was relationships, work, or activities, I failed to stay connected with who I am and who I want to be. You can never do that. About a year ago I thought I got lost and ended up hurting someone who is important to me, and I wallowed in self-loathing and focused on all the wrong things. But the truth is, I didn’t get lost then, I was lost way earlier, years earlier. Since then I’d been chipping away slowly at everything I had worked on, without ever recognizing it.
Seeing yourself one way and acting differently without seeing the discrepancy is common enough. We all do it, but we also all have the ability to get a glimpse of it and take action based on what we see. I have no doubt I was given a ton of glimpses, and people certainly tried to help me see that, but I was blind and in denial. I thought I was a good person because I recycled, because I cared about the world, about nature, because I cared for people, because I had a curious mind and because enough people enjoyed my company. That doesn’t make a good person, it just make me a human being. A good person is much more than that. A good person is considerate, thoughtful, honest, strong, honorable, helpful, generous, and reliable. I may have exhibited some or most of those qualities at different times but moving into being a good person requires behaving with all of those in mind more often than not. Right now I’m not sure how many of those I’ve been carrying around with me at any given moment.
They say travelers are either running from something or towards something. I think for many long-term travelers that may be true. For me, I think I was running from myself. I haven’t quite figured it all out yet. Don’t get me wrong, I know I have some good qualities, but most of those are innate, ones I was born with, that I haven’t had to work on to maintain. Most of the qualities that are earned, I somehow lost along the way, not just over my travels but over the many years that preceded them. They just slowly dissolved, and I wasn’t paying attention, even while the signs were clearly present.
The only good thing to come out of this is that I’m awake now (or I hope so). I had a long and beautiful dream that I was a beautiful person, and hiking into the unknown was the universe’s opportunity to wake me up to the reality of my life and of my make-up, and now I can’t go back to sleep, and I don’t want to, comfortable as it might be to go back to the dream. I used to love the work. It brought me so much pleasure. Every night I would lie in bed for a couple hours before I fell asleep going over the events of the day, mistakes I’d made and practicing how to improve how I’d handle things for the next time. It caused a certain amount of insomnia but it was healthy. During my early 20s that got replaced by pott and movies to sleep to and when the pott days were over I kept the movie ritual which has lasted until now. I distracted myself to sleep, every night. It’s been 20 years. I never gave myself the space and chance at night to ask any questions and thus find any answers. Up until my hike, I was still doing that. In addition, I would read articles incessantly. While learning about the world outside is great, it’s of no use if you’re not leaving room to learn about the world inside. Reading had become a distraction as well, and in combination with all the distractions inherent in my life at the moment, living in hostels where people are constantly buzzing about and even in the dorms where there’s no real privacy, not creating real space for yourself, is a death sentence. I thought that being alone, away from loved ones was enough space, but it’s in fact worse. At least loved ones keep you grounded, occasionally hold mirrors up to you. On your own, you only have you and if you don’t work on that every single day, you will fall further and further into the rabbit hole. I understood this on a psychological and academic level but didn’t notice I wasn’t applying that knowledge.
I’ve been dying for years. I’m tired of dying. It’s time to live again and there’s no better place to do that than on the road, but it needs to be done conscientiously, consciously, with eyes open, and in spite of, not in, distraction. Traveling is not a distraction. People you meet along the road, experiences you have on random mountains, in random boats or buses, under the waves of the sea, these are not distractions, they are life experiences and they should be appreciated fully for the gifts that they are.
What happened with V should have been a wake-up call that something was broken, that I had fallen off the path, but I was so consumed with what I had done, what I had lost, and the pain I caused, that I didn’t look at the why or where it all started going wrong. I lived in guilt and shame and let that blind me from the fundamental issues that first lead me there to begin with. I didn’t realize then, that I had been lost for a long time before that. I thought that one act was an aberration, a temporary straying from the path, instead of recognizing it as a signpost that clearly pointed me to where I should have been going all along. I was distracted and I stayed distracted until that mountain shook me to the core.
The past few months have been heavy and hard, with occasional highs but with this constant undefined sense of discomfort. And in many ways my luck changed with it. Little things kept happening, like getting robbed and jumped (kinda fun but I lost my phone which sucks), arriving in places during terrible weather, running out of money at the wrong times, and losing opportunities of all kinds. In addition to a complete and utter lack of focus at work, it’s all been pointing to something fundamentally wrong. I just couldn’t tell what it was. Being on that mountain I began to think about karma. The concept that what you put out into the world in terms of intention and action has consequences and the universe punishes or rewards you for it. I don’t believe in that, exactly. I don’t think the universe cares one way or another what you do, whether you kill someone or save a life. It doesn’t judge and it doesn’t apply force on our lives. What I do think karma is, is this internal sense of whether you believe in the things you’re doing or not. If you believe at the very core of you that you are doing the right thing, that it is in line with truth and positivity for yourself, your loved ones, and the world in general, then you are more likely to find ways to reward yourself, with a random experience, with a positive approach to opportunities, etc, whether you’re conscious of it or not. The opposite is also true. If consciously or unconsciously you recognize your actions as being contrary to your core beliefs, are hurtful to others and to the world, you’ll find ways to punish yourself, either via distraction, dishonesty towards yourself or others, reckless behavior, rage, hatred, you name it. My change in luck over the past few months was the culmination of my unconscious negative deeds over the years and the disconnection that I’ve been experiencing, that has been building up for years.
It really is easy to get lost out here, or to stay lost in my case. This was meant to be a voyage of discovery and it is certainly has been on many fronts, but I forgot which discovery was most important. Moving around with no routine, no real schedule, constant changes in environments, people, accents, landscapes, currencies, challenges, it’s so easy to look outside and around and forget that what’s inside determines every experience you have, every interaction, every adventure, every activity you undertake. I’ll need to remind myself constantly what I’m out here for and what life I’m seeking to live.
So… I have a plan. It’s not complete, but I know what I have to do and I’ve already started the work, and I already feel better having embarked on it. Just like being on the mountain, I have to walk, ney run back to where I lost the trail to begin with, because it’s the only way to get to the final destination. There is no other option. Once the backtrack is behind me and I’m back on the right path, I’ll remember to never stop working, never stop moving, that I need to keep my eyes open, and to stay alert for the signs that might indicate that I’ve lost the track again before I stray too far away from it. It’s going to be a lot of work, but it will be fun work. I get to go back to my roots, replant around the base, and recreate the garden that I just destroyed. I have to redefine who I am and what I want. I have to remember to practice every day to be the person I want to be, and never accept that the job is done. I started 2016 with a mistake, and one I never recovered from. I’m ending 2016 with eyes open, at rock bottom, with a ton to do, a sense of disappointment, but with a ton of hope and almost excitement for what’s about to come. 2017 will involve much less moving around. It will involve much more meditation, much more cooking, many more vegetables, more stability, much more focus and a constant reassessment of my priorities. I’m breaking off from the backpacker trail and will forge my own, at a pace that’s much slower and with a much more selective approach to which places and experiences I want to undertake. I’ve lived in distraction for far too long. I will never erase the past harm I’ve done to myself and to others, or regain the experiences lost or not lived fully, but I can at least start anew. It’s time to stop dying.
The unfolding (click to view)