When I think of travel as medicine, the question becomes not so much where I go, but how I’m going. That is, I feel that the way in which we travel through the world over any distance can be more powerfully healing than the destination, whether it be a Hawaiian island or a new part of our backyard.
If I had an all-expense-paid trip to the island of Kauai with ten thousand dollars in my pocket, I could sit on the beach, perhaps go for a lomilomi massage, and talk to a Hawaiian herbalist about what tropical roots I should be taking for my depression, but this does not mean I would take their advice. It does not mean the knots the massage therapist worked out of my back would not just come back on my flight home when I started stressing about my bills. It does not mean I would really feel the tips of those waves kissing my toes, or truly feel the aching beauty of the sun climbing the horizon in the morning. It does not mean I would be able to let go of my own drama.
No matter where we go, no matter what we do, we are always stuck with ourselves. This obvious truth can be shoved into our denial more easily than even that nagging knowledge that it’s time to scrub behind the faucet or pay the electric bill. We do it every day, pretending that through changing our outside circumstances, we can change that feeling of “something’s not right.”
I have so many thousands of miles behind me; miles that I traveled because I thought that I could “find” myself somewhere else. Connecticut wasn’t good enough, neither was Massachusetts, or Colorado, and after a few weeks, Hawaii wasn’t good enough either. It was still me, I was still the one attached to my problems. And am I completely healed? No. If I was, I probably would be incredibly bored and not inspired to write at all. But I do think that traveling was healing because of how it forced me to realize that the best place I can be is right where I am, whether it is in a blizzard or on a tropical beach.
It is through observing and experiencing our world that we feel a part of it, connected to the vast amount of glorious abundance that is all around us. The trees take in the waste from our breath and create exactly what we need to keep breathing. The water around us rises to the sky from temperature changes, and then falls down allowing those plants to grow and us to drink. These things are miracles, and yet we can go days, months, years without fully feeling how fabulous this whole thing is.
Until I discovered the practice of sitting meditation, of just watching my breath and labeling my thoughts, I did not realize how in the way I was of my own experience of the world. Now I find that I can find the adventure I crave simply by walking through my yard, looking at a tree or a shrub I had never noticed, and really, really looking at it. Noticing how its branches catch the light, how they curve like skin, how they gently swell and transition into leaves or buds. I think that when we want to go somewhere else, it is partially just to escape our current routines, the hum-drum habits we have formed around our houses and jobs. Going to a new place makes us curious out of necessity, since of course we need to find where to buy food and sleep. We see with new eyes temporarily, and this makes us feel alive, as it should. But this curiosity, unless cultivated intentionally, seems to only last as long as it needs to. Once you know where the grocery store is, and get used to reclining by the pool, your old feeling of “something’s not right” will be right there waiting next to your martini glass.
Personally, I enjoy myself much more each sacred day when I remember that those routines are nothing other than things I have created, and therefore, things I can shed as easily as an old coat or worn-out socks. I can see with new eyes even if I’m looking at the same old things, and hear with new ears even while talking to the same old people. And that newness, that freshness, driven by something as affordable as curiosity—that is where the healing happens. That is where we are allowed to find our freedom again, regardless of how much time we have off of work or how much flight prices have gone up. That is how we learn to truly live.