Traveling is like prison

Working nomadically while traveling seems like such a beautiful thing. Ya, ok, it can be. But like everything in life, it can have a shelf-life. Give it enough time and your perspectives on it start to change. Of course, there are tons of considerations: whether you have a home to go back to, whether you have the funds to maintain an indefinite travel lifestyle, whether you have something to occupy your days outside of simply exploring the world, and of course, how long you’re away from the people you love, assuming you have people you love.

For most of us, given enough time, traveling begins to feel a lot like prison. Yes, it sounds depressing but there are certainly plenty of similarities. In the end however, the perspective is completely dependent on your approach, as it must be in prison. Most people don’t enjoy prison, but some, manage to create a rich life within their walls. Traveling can appear to be the same, Your prison walls may appear to be far from you at times, to the point of feeling completely free, but there is no life without walls, no matter how enlightened. Wisdom, I believe is about how you view the walls and that’s a lesson I’m learning in a very salient manner lately.

Here’s the thing. In the past little while I’ve gotten to a place where I’m literally exhausted. I’m not finding much joy in the things around me, the adventures, the new experiences. That’s normal. Given enough time, this is bound to happen, unless you’ve managed to reach a state I simply haven’t reached. I’m not going to judge myself for that. Hopefully I’ll get there but for now what is top of mind are things that are much more real-world. Life has gotten heavy. I have a sick friend, almost all of my family members have huge challenges to overcome, I have a project from hell, debts to pay off, a slowdown in work and thus income, other friends who are dealing with personal issues, some personal issues of my own, my own finanical insecurity, and honestly, a general lack of energy to continue moving around and appreciate the beauty of the world. These things all weigh heavy on me. This, is about the time when the average traveler decides it’s enough, it’s time to go back home. What’s the point of traveling if you can’t take pleasure in the wonders of the world? Perhaps, it’s time to go back to comfort, recharge, wait until you get tired of that, and then strike out again. Maybe, but that’s not for me. It’s in this lull that I expect to find the most. In a way, I’ve been waiting for this for over a year, not because it’s going to be fun, but exactly for the opposite reason, it’s going to be brutal. I can’t say I’m looking forward to it, or that I want it to continue or get worse, but I know there’s so much waiting for me here, in this darkness, in the abyss that’s coming up.

I read an article a few days ago, on friendship. It was titled something ridiculous like “How many of your friends actually like you” or something of the sort. Kinda clickbait-ish. Whatever, I figured I’d read it anyway. It was interesting though. It rattled off a number of studies conducted over the past 30 or 40 years or so that essentially stated that only about 50% of friendships are mutual. That means, somewhere around half the people you consider friends don’t actually reciprocate that feeling. Honestly, I think I agree with that. Being away has tested my friendships and revealed that many, if not most of the friends I had back home didn’t really care one way or another for me. Sure they may not have disliked me, but they didn’t care whether I was around or not, and they don’t care enough to make efforts to communicate now that they know they won’t be seeing me at the next gathering. I get it. The thing about 50% is it applies to us all. This means there are a number of people who considered me a friend who I just didn’t care enough about to make any effort either. I understand how that works. None of them are people I dislike, they’re just not people I felt any real connection with. The article talked about the tiers of friendship and how we simply don’t have the emotional resources to cultivate more than a certain limited number of friendships. I couldn’t agree more. Friendships are work. They should be. It’s about being able to give, to help, to listen, to share, all of which require effort and time. Friendship is about connection, pure and simple. There can be no calculation of the benefits, considerations of improvements in status, eyeing of the balance sheet or the reciprocity quotient. It’s either there or it isn’t and if you have to ask yourself what’s in it for you, you’re either not friends, or you’re looking at things from a horrible point of view. I’m in prison, my friends are in their homes, living their lives, and most have not come to visit, have not written letters, have not called. I’m not surprised. As stated in the article, most friends will disappear as soon as there’s effort to be made. Sure it’s surprised me a few times to see which have disappeared and which are still around, but that most are gone isn’t a surprise, though in some cases a bit of a disappointment, particularly for those I’ve tried to connect or maintain a connection with. But I think it also helps me to make peace with the fact that Montreal was never meant to be home for the rest of my life. It’s part of my past, and aside from some key people, it’s finding its peace with being the past. But this realization is timely. Of course this would be the time to not just notice this, but to feel it. When else would it resonate but when life has taken on new shades?

The truth is, I never expected this to be easy. I never wanted it to be. I have these recurring thought about “Into the wild”, a movie that deeply touched me. Most people have likely seen it, but when I saw it, something really reached out to me. Here was a man who, granted had some issues, risked it all to seek out a path for himself. And he lived a rich life, but one full of sacrifice and challenge. He followed his heart and it led him to the edge of the world, and in the end, one mistake cost him his life. No, I’m in no way the main character. By no means am I risking as much as he. And I sincerely hope none of my mistakes will cost me so dearly. But I have made my mistakes. And I will continue to make them and I don’t want to live a life where I don’t make mistakes. But my takeaway from the movie, from seeing a man lose his life due to one mistake may have been different from most. The truth is, I thought it was beautiful.

He spent so much time connected to something which mattered so much to him. He lived a life he was proud of, one full of obstacles he constantly had to overcome. No my obstacles are nothing like his. I fight different battles and in no way can I equate my struggles with his. I’m living a very conventional life in comparison but this isn’t about comparisons. This is about my life! The fact I have to live through these trials, battle this fatigue, fight through this lull, dig into myself, overcome my debts, find beauty despite my family’s challenges, my friend’s hardships, my lack of spirit; means the world to me. Traveling was never meant to be a string of beautiful experiences. I never wanted that. What I wanted was to find beauty inspite of everything, to appreciate life despite the pressures and stresses, to be in a new environment, to adapt, and find out what i was made of, for good and bad. So, while this period sucks, I can’t help but also feel grateful for experiencing the complete isolation, helplessness and vulnerability. I can’t be more myself than I am now, I can’t be more flawed or beautiful than I am in this moment. And despite it all, I have complete faith that I’ll push through, find something that drives me and reach a new balance that will help remind me, from this day forth, of what being alive is all about, what being human is all about. So, yes, this sucks. It really sucks, but it’s so beautiful. I see all the walls around me, closing in, but I know that when i’m ready, I’ll be able to push them back until they are outside of my field of vision, beyond the horizon, out of sight and out of mind. That’s up to me and no-one else. It’s the challenge defining my life at the moment and one I find intimidating but worth overcoming.

You live your life, given the resources you have, making the best of it, but you can’t help but think about the place you left behind and the people who are continuing their lives without you. In many ways you feel as though you’re missing the wonders of watching your friends grow, watching them change. You can’t help but realize that life will never be the same and while that may be one of the reasons you left, now it has weight and consequence to it. Losing friends, losing connection, being apart in every way is like being in a cell, knowing everyone outside is still connected to one another, enjoying each other’s company and sharing their lives together. You can’t but feel this angst and melancholy. You can never go home again, it will never look the same, feel the same, or be the same. Even if you’ve decided that you don’t want to go back, it still feels like a loss.

But just as a free man can be imprisoned, an imprisoned man can be free. It’s all perspective, it’s all in our minds, and it’s important to remember that, to recognize that things may feel one way one day and feel completely different the next. I like these thoughts. I like the perspective I have when I let myself experience this melancholy, the depths of aloneness. It’s not something you feel or think about when you’re having fun. Pleasure is completely about being in the present, the moment; sadness is about the past or the future. I like the variety of these emotions and the novel conclusions and observations they bring. I have no desire to be “happy” every day and exclude a part of the richness of life that can be found in pain, fear, sadness and melancholy. I am happy at the core of me, and that has to allow room for these feelings, to let them take on form, to allow me to connect with aspects of myself and of humanity that I might not otherwise entertain. It is true that lately I’ve felt imprisoned by some of the circumstances of my life, the debts I’m paying off, the work situations, the tether to the internet, the lack of financial freedom, the dulling of novelty, the worries about friends and family, the aloneness, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that this is a beautiful and temporary prison and I choose to be here and learn from it, and when the time is right, I’ll simply walk out the door and be better for my time here. For now, I’ll simply allow myself to recognize what i’m feeling and why, to accept that there are unresolved issues without necessarily trying to attack them with resolve. I’ll play it by ear without ignoring what I’m feeling but recognizing this may not be the best time to wage a war either. Acceptance. Prison can destroy you or it can be a place of solitude and growth where real connection with yourself can find fertile ground. I choose the latter.

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