Navigating mindfully through the bad days
“We often hold this notion that when we move house, change our job or the car that magically things will shift, that life will somehow transform into the land of our dreams.”
Sat in the wilds of Transylvania, we have a moment of stillness to reflect on what has been a challenging couple of weeks and make sense of all the events that have unfolded. It’s been a bit odd really as it feels a bit like having a favourite sandwich; some fabulous experiences in the middle of some personally and financially stretching events. The unexpected storm tonight seems to match with my mood, as my mind races erratically like a tempestuous teenager, reviewing the series of challenges we have had to deal with. It causes me to reflect on my own learning and the dualities of a nomadic life and our travel choices.
The magic of change
“It is such a romantic notion to run away into the sunset and travel aimlessly, being guided by the wind, your intuition or the warmth of the sun.”
We often hold this ideal that when we move house, change our job or the car that magically things will shift; that life will somehow transform into the land of our dreams. And it is true, that for a time, it will certainly feel different, may-be even better. It could last a week, a month or a few years. Although the reality is that there is no complete escape – because life still vibrates around us, the clocks still chime and the earth still revolves.
The same happens when we decide to travel. Whether we choose backpacking around the world, an exciting sponsored-trip to the jungle or embark on a 3 month tour of Europe in a camper, we don’t escape life, we simply change the parameters within which we choose to live.
It is such a romantic notion to run away into the sunset and travel aimlessly, being guided by the wind, your intuition or the warmth of the sun. And it is a privileged and wonderful life, there’s no doubting that. How amazing is it to swap the routine of the Home, Work, Shops triangle for the sound of wolves in the mountain depths of Bulgaria or the crashing waves of the azure Grecian seas? I certainly wouldn’t swap.
Yet whilst we may find the courage to change our lives beyond recognition and, to use that cliché, ‘live the dream’ there is another perspective that must be packed into the suitcase of our new life choices – called the shadow.
As there is day, there too must be night, where the sun shines, the rain too must fall. The shadow exists as part of the duality of life and is not intended as a gloomy insight, just an aspect of life that, with awareness can keep us rooted into the reality of this beautiful, challenging and crazy world. Knowing the shadow exists can maintain our nomadic sanity
Amidst the joy of waking up in a new land with evocative smells of the local street food or the prospect of walking to the local bakery for your morning’s croissant, we need to be mindful of the shadow’s role in throwing challenges, problems and crises our way. I’m not suggesting that we keep this as such a strong focus that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, although if we can just ‘keep our heads, when all around us are loosing theirs..’ to quote Kipling, then surely our travelling experiences will be all the richer.
The problem with shadow’s presence on our travels is that it can cause us to get lost in fear, stress and anxiety, none of which are healthy places at any time, least of all whilst we are away from home. So what if we could apply some techniques for navigating these difficulties more smoothly, which would allow us to return to the business of seeking adventures?
Tips for Travelling Mindfully and navigating the bad days
There are so many things we can do to prevent the travellers’ droop and the risk of our dreams crashing to the floor. Here are my mindful insights, based on our recent stretching experiences:
- Acceptance. Let’s face it, bad days will happen from time to time. We could well have something stolen, a laptop damaged by a freak storm, an uncomfortable interaction, an accident that damages our vehicle or break pads that need changing in a country of a strangers. And of course Banks still need to be dealt with, Insurance firms want us to jump through hoops when making a claim and compliance to the System’s rules keep a loose thread around us. Health issues are bound to crop up and stuff back home still needs our loving support and encouragement. Accepting that things will happen out of the blue will help you navigate this journey with more ease.
- Awareness. What defines us and our happy lifestyle is how we handle what comes up. Our typical response to a crisis is to move into a flight or fight reaction, where primal behaviours kick in and we go into high alert. This protects us to some degree although may have us acting in a way that is not natural on a day to day basis. Instead, as our martial arts friend recently quoted ‘Be prepared not paranoid’. Know what action you will take in the event of a crisis, such as someone breaking into your space. Have a plan about how you will go about dealing with a stolen wallet. Know the emergency numbers of the country you’re visiting and always make sure your phone is charged. Be aware and alert without being paranoid – this pairing can carry you through a crisis or challenge with dexterity and calmness.
- Breathe. In the midst of the vortex we go into a instinctive mode where our body reacts chemically to protect us from harm. In this high alert state we forget to breathe, which can instantly calm us and reduce our racing heart-rate. In stress or an event that triggers anger, sadness or disappointment, remember to breathe as it will reduce the alertness we are experiencing and creates a more rational space for us to operate in.
- Be mindful. Travel and mindfulness is an art and skills we need to acquire. I’ve found travel to be my greatest teacher in the last 18 months and I continue to stay grounded in the experiences, both good and bad so that I can grow. Keep coming back to the here and now. It’s all too easy for our primitive, reptilian brain to scatter fear, uncertainty and doubt around our feet so that a forest of anxiety springs up, suffocating our dreams. Be attentive to how you feel, sit with whatever comes up and give it space to breathe. Don’t feed it, just be aware of it and it too will pass.
- Rational thinking. We often believe that our thinking is the root of all evil and it certainly rules the roost much of the time especially when they come from our unconscious mind or reptilian brain. Instead when we mindfully bring our thoughts back into our conscious mind in the pre-frontal cortex, then we can rationalise what is going on and challenge our irrational thoughts. Take a step back, assess the bigger picture, see all sides and decide on appropriate action. This will hold you in the reality of the situation rather than the nightmare action movie you have just directed in your head.
- Be grateful for all you have, all you experience and all that goes well. It’s so easy when there is a run of bad luck or challenges sent to try us, to get into a victim mentality. It is from this space that our thoughts of ‘home’ may return and we start to wonder if we should continue. Gratitude is key to us being in the moment and appreciating all we have, thanks to our life choices. Whilst ‘going back’ may be the right thing to do, listen to your heart and not your head, especially whilst it feels in crisis mode. Make decisions in the cool light of day.
- See things as they are, not as you think they are. It’s that reptilian brain playing tricks with us again. It sees a situation and starts bringing in historical events, drama and over-generalisation and, before we know it we’ve inflamed the situation. See it for what it is. A stolen passport, a disgruntled person or a soggy laptop. Avoid the trap of ‘Why me?’ ‘It’s not fair’ and concentrate on creating a resolution.
- Take responsibility and learn from what has happened. As with everything in life, there is always a lesson. I’m a great believer in ‘People (and indeed events) come into your life for a reason, season or a lifetime.’ Take time, after the challenge is over to explore what you can do differently to prevent it coming up again. Take the experience positively so you can move on quickly.
- Let go! Whatever has happened, work through the resolution and then let go. Releasing the tension over a challenging situation means you move on with your travels, without the shadow clouding your experiences. We hold onto too much negative emotion that affects our enjoyment of the the moment. So learn to accept what has happened and then move forward.
So as we throw ourselves at the mercy of our wanderlust and commit to the joys of travel, remember that travelling mindfully is the key to our positive, self-expanding experiences that will have us trotting around the globe seeking out new adventures for as long as forever may be for us.
With love and happiness Karen x