“You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist.” ~Friedrich Nietzsche
Toward the end of last spring I was feeling a little restless in Los Angeles, so I decided to take some time in the summer to live on a yoga retreat in Hawaii. I was set on recharging and finding comfort in like-minded people who valued slowing down and mindfulness.
Learning was not at the top of my list; I was there to unwind from a tough semester and recharge for the semester ahead of me.
I was in for a big surprise.
When I got there, I was greeted by the expected tanned-skin and white smiles of mostly 20-something-year olds in yoga pants. They shared more than yoga tips; there seemed to be an underlying philosophy they shared that, honestly, made me very uncomfortable at the time.
You see, even though I am really into yoga, slowing down, and the like, I am also a very political person. And by political, I don’t just mean involvement and interest in what is going on around me in the world; I mean that I feel active in my existence on earth and cherish my ability to create.
This is why I found myself being annoyed by the constant sayings around the dinner table like, “I can’t wait what tomorrow has in store for me” and this talk about going with the flow and letting go.
The emphasis placed on receptiveness, passivity, and ease seemed antithetical to what I stood for at the time.
So I left the retreat early. I thought I would feel better surrounded by people who thought like me, and were interested in outrospection versus constant introspection. I wanted to be around people that were a little less hedonistic and self-indulgent—or so I thought.
When I got back, I got sick. Just a few months back in Los Angeles, I received six biopsies that confirmed I had Celiac’s disease. This explained the incurable anemia, constant nausea, and incredible exhaustion.
My friends and family here could hardly relate, and they urged me to get back “on track” as soon as I could, to join in the projects I was a part of with them, at my university and at work.
The “get over it” attitude made me feel so lonely and objectified, and really started making me think, what am I going to do now?
The pressure to get myself back on that productive momentum was straining me, and made me reconsider my previous judgment about the power of letting go.
Although I realized that embracing this philosophy would mean I would be contradicting what I previously asserted for myself, it was a small shift in my mindset that would gradually set up a path for my personal enlightenment.
After pensive thoughts about who I should start surrounding myself with, I realized I should focus on that less and start putting my energy into the kind of person I wanted to be.
I asked myself, “Will my values continue to be deep-rooted in constructivism, politics, and action, or will I be like the bohemian girls I met on the retreat?”
The truth is, neither of these perspectives truly satisfied me. After swinging from one extreme to another, I realized I felt more comfortable picking and choosing my philosophies as opportunities and experiences unraveled themselves over time.
I shifted my mindset to discard my dreams of finding a one-size-fits all philosophy, and settled for middle ground.
This new perspective has influenced my own work in the field of political psychology; it has shaped way I approach politics; I now analyze it from a bottom-to-top perspective versus a top-to-bottom paradigm.
I have decided I feel better when I am nonpartisan, and simply support platforms based on how they fit with my values at the moment.
I am learning to trust myself, because I am learning that with new experiences, values can shift, and that is okay.
I am going back to this yoga retreat this summer, and hope to go in with a better attitude and more openness so that I get more out of the experience. The whole approach of going in with my mind made up with “who I am” and “what others should be like” has not worked for me.
This is not to say that I am giving up on reasoned judgment, but that I will place more emphasis on learning and being receptive to change, since it is inevitable anyway.
So in retrospect, when I went to this retreat in Hawaii last summer, I didn’t think I would learn valuable skills that would serve me in sickness. That’s the beautiful thing about traveling—trying on different perspectives that make you into a more multilayered, understanding person.
I realize that we may not all get the opportunities to travel, and it can be easy to get so immersed in our own perspective and way of being that we fail to grow from the contrast that travel can provide.
As Alexis de Tocquevilleonce said, “Without comparisons, the mind does not know how to proceed.”
I hold the belief that without regular checkpoints and contrast in life, we may develop tunnel vision, which can influence us to think and behave in ways that limit us. Here is some insight and advice I have gathered to bring some perspective:
Embrace fear in your life.
Yes, expanding your mind and challenging what you firmly held onto before can be scary. However, know that embracing the unknown can open you up to new experiences, people, wisdom, and insights.
Keep your priorities clear.
This means to remember that if you are trying to gain perspective, to keep your mind open no matter what. Place learning at the top of your list of things to do so that receptiveness, openness, and controlled passivity will naturally follow.
Don’t forget to share!
Chances are, if you are traveling or even planning on broadening your perspective at home, others can learn from yours as well. In my experience, there is nothing more profound than sharing perspectives and having both parties walk away with an enriched view of life.
Photo by ePi.Longo