I leave in less than 48 hours for Bangkok, and I have been crying a lot. I’ve experienced physical pain, turmoil, and anxiety. Yes, part of it is because I have recently fallen in love and will be saying goodbye to him for at least a month and probably longer. But I believe the even bigger piece is because of the deep fear that lives within my mind (still, despite years of recovery) to face the great unknown.
What a joy, what a mess, to face the unknown.
If I had my bratty five year old way, I would not get on that plane. I would stay put right here in Los Angeles and spend as much time as possible with my boyfriend and maybe begin looking for a new job. That would be a lot easier. But of course, I would regret it, and of course, it is not what I really want, nor what I need. No, what I really want and need is to get on the plane and go on this trip and move through all of the ups and downs that will inevitably come, and why? Because I am here to grow. I am here to be challenged. I am here to do the things I think I cannot do. I am here to experience the whole spectrum of feeling. We are all here for that. To try, to seek, to dare greatly. To meet fear square in the face and see it for what it really is: a trick the mind plays that has no basis in reality, no basis in the present moment.
I have learned that lesson time and time again throughout my life, that fear is unreal and always based on some presumed projection. I have aha! moments and grand epiphanies and startling jolts of clarity, but like all humans, these understandings are fleeting, and my mind defaults back to creating the same loop of fear and obsession, attempting to find control and safety. There’s a whole lot of science to support why our brains are wired this way; there was a time when it was necessary and life saving to be afraid and hyper-vigilant, and that stays stored at the primitive level of our minds. There is no escaping it indefinitely, especially if one chooses to live sober and awake. This is why we meditate or practice mindfulness: not to escape, but to wake up to this cycle of dysfunctional thinking and see it clearly for what it is: thinking. A whole lot of noise. It’s just what the mind does, and as Jack Kornfield often says, the mind has no pride and will think anything.
What are my greatest fears going into this journey? Most of them come down to this strange, self-centered idea that the world is watching me and waiting for me to screw up. It’s a a bizarre perspective and one that is challenging to describe. It is the sense that I am not allowed to be myself, that I must not make mistakes, that there is far too much vulnerability (mind reads, danger) out there in every unknown person, place, and exchange. It is the fear of being seen, of feeling feelings, of losing control. Despite how we grumble at times about our monotonous work lives and the mundane routine of “mainstream” living, there is comfort and security in a (seemingly) predictable and controllable schedule. Travel, at least the fun kind, has a whole lot less of that. It’s about spontaneity and personal daily choices and doing exactly what I want to do. And that sort of freedom can be downright terrifying. A privilege, yes, a blessing, of course, but terrifying just the same.
If you read travel blogs today, and there are around four hundred thousand on the internet so please do take look, you often hear of people having these same fears: doing it wrong and being a failure. Interesting how the perfectionist mindset can dog humans even in the most carefree and laid back of circumstances. What will people think? Will I be judged? Will I stand out? Will no one notice me? What if I go to the wrong place? Will I hate it? What if I want to come home? What if I never want to come home? What will people think? The reality is that the mind thinks this way because it has nothing else to latch onto. Venturing out into the unknown allows the mind to roam free in the madness of wonder, and some of us more than others tend to default on negative wonder. So my mind clings to all the things that could go wrong, rather than allowing the experience to unfold and be what it is. But I practice presence, I read my books, I connect back to a Source that allows me to live a bit more comfortably. And like most things, just writing this stuff down or saying it out loud takes some sting out of it. The traveling will be what it is, and there doesn’t have to be any attached story.
You often hear meditation teachers speak about how our mind likes to take everything personally, usually because it takes a defensive, disconnected stance, whereas the heart is a bit more attuned to the truth that, for lack of a better term, we are all in this together. The mind makes up stories and attaches dualities and far fetched meaning to circumstances that may or may not hold any water. The heart, instead, feels its tenderness and connection to the world and rests there in loving spacious awareness. I am not the center of the universe, and I have no control over exactly what the future holds in these lands that are foreign to me. But whatever does happen, none of it is personal, and there is great comfort in that. When nothing is attacking you (and nothing really is) there really is nothing to fear.
I knew I would be scared in the days leading up to this trip. I chose to go because I knew it would challenge me. I knew it would pull me out of my comfort zone and nudge me to confront my most stubborn parts. To get me out in the world (and how intimidating it can be to get out there!) I’m not going to “find myself” or reach Enlightenment. This isn’t an eat pray love tour. But I am going to practice being present and fearless in the face of everything my mind tells me is scary: to see and be seen. To simply leave the house. (Thanks Kindle and HBOgo. And sex.) Oh, I guess I will be eating and praying and loving, too, and certainly seeing. And if I get seen back, great. Maybe I’m a sight to see. Took me years of recovery to think I was worth anything. Might as well take that worth and see what it can do. I’ll let you know what it’s like. It’s probably a little scary. But underneath that, simply wonderful.