“Wherever you go, there you are.” ~Confucius
The sweat of my palms saturated our boarding tickets. Even as I stepped onto the plane, I still could not entirely believe we were doing it.
My husband and I finished our master’s degrees and instead of immediately securing jobs, buying a house, and starting a family, we decided to travel.
We thought escaping our lives was living on the wild side—rediscovering ourselves. Well, at least that’s what I thought.
I lived in Spain during my undergraduate degree ten yeas ago and had ceaselessly fixated on the idea about returning ever since.
I longed for the days of dipping churros in chocolate once more and sipping on the local morning brew, café con leche. I daydreamed of sharing pitcher after pitcher of chilled sangria with my husband and the neighboring couples dining to our left and our right.
In the midst of my most vivid daydreams, I heard the cries, olé olé as the bullring radiated with history and pride.
I had created such an idea of how I’d imaged our lives that I completely forgot the reality of the situation.
I convinced my husband to sell most of our items and put the remaining personal belongings in storage while we set off to Europe. I believed downsizing and emptying ourselves of these excessive items would really make things better.
I was blind to the fact that Spain had changed so much in ten years—I had changed so much in ten years.
We arrived tired but eager to explore the land of paradise I had talked about for a decade—but Spain had another plan for us. Spain wanted to remind me that I would not return to be the person I once was.
Everything had changed, and what was most shocking, my views about Spain had changed.
Because my eating habits grew as predictable as my daily gym routine, the bread and potatoes that I once loved certainly did not agree with my finicky body.
My stomach, accustomed to mostly spinach, fresh fish (which we could not always afford), and organic green salads did not adjust to the Spanish cuisine as it had in the past.
But this was supposed to be perfect, I thought. I’d overlooked the fact that my body’s rejection of what I was eating was a symbol of something deeper.
No longer in my twenties, I realized I required much more sleep than I once needed. The long, amorous nights I once spent partying until the sun rose had been replaced with quiet nights of exhaustion and the stress of organizing plans to the next hostel.
There were a number of other changes, such as living in hotels and hostels instead of with a host family. Little by little, each of these external factors pointed directly to the core of my very being.
Escaping to Spain would not make me disappear. My husband and I still bickered over who had the better set of directions and where we should eat for dinner. Even throughout the many Kodak moments, I still found myself experiencing bouts of depression and anxiety.
But this was not supposed to happen, I thought, still discarding the sobering reality of my dream trip. Spain was supposed to solve all my problems!
We dashed over to Portugal and Ireland, and while these beautiful places are forever sealed inside our hearts, we still experienced many of the same challenges. It wasn’t until returning home and letting our lives literally settle back down that I started to gain a shocking perspective.
The trip to Europe taught me to zero-in on myself. It was not the country in which I lived, not the town I visited, not the house in which I slept, or the room in which I sat, but all the way down into my own heart I began to understand there was nowhere else to run.
I learned the blatant lesson that happiness begins and ends within me.
The trip taught me that any time I am uncomfortable, I must ask what is not pleasing me in that moment. It shattered my sense of self and my dreams, which graciously reminded me that over-fantasizing is often an escape from current situations.
It taught me how excess imagination about the future is different from goal setting, which separates us from the beauty of what is available to us now. It taught me to find the joys in the present moment, to enjoy where I live, the community around me.
When I yearn to reach out for something—buying an item of clothing, wanting to take a trip—I ask my heart why I think this item will please me. Am I grasping onto something deeper?
While this is an extreme case of the inability to escape oneself, we all experience this in our lives in various ways. We think if we get a new job, our fear of failure will disappear only to discover it is heightened with our new role.
We think if we get a new boyfriend or girlfriend it will turn out like the fairytale stories we hoped, only to discover our insecurities have followed us into the new relationship.
We can point the finger to bosses, jobs, relationships, even cultures, but until we turn the finger back to ourselves, we will face a life of pain and constant struggle.
In each situation, we must ask, what am I learning from this? What is this telling me about myself?
We are such beautiful and complicated creatures. No technology in the world can tap into the mystery of the heart, of the soul, of our dreams.
Wherever you go in your day—to the grocery store or to a new city, to a friend’s home or a different room of the house—be grateful that you will never escape yourself.
Be grateful that you have this lifetime to learn to love and accept yourself.
In a world so full of travel and movement, it is important we take a moment to pause and reflect on the sacredness of stillness and quietude within ourselves.
It is my wish that we can all sit comfortably in a chair someday as we soften in body and in heart, full of gray hairs and wrinkles—that we may smile widely from each memory contributing to our wear and know we really have nowhere to go.
Everything we need has been inside us from the start.
Photo by Kerry