‘You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf’

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Confession: I’m deathly afraid of the water. This was instilled by a near-drowning incident in a pool as a young child. It was made worse by being poked with the handle of a pool cleaning net by my college swimming instructor as I stood frozen at the end of the diving board after being told to jump. (I obviously survived by treading, and that was his point. But he’s still an asshole, so I dropped the class, which I took precisely because I wanted to conquer my fear.)

Fast-forward to the present and I’m out here, surfing. Swimming lessons and years of exposure to the sea haven’t eliminated or minimized the fear. I realized it will always be there.What I needed to do was manage it. The beauty of surfing is, I’m going straight toward the very things that scare me, the waves, in order to wait for a bigger one that I can ride. Sometimes the fear can be overwhelming so I have to stop and get my bearings. Then, I go out there again. There’s no better metaphor for life than that. And, when you’re up and standing, there’s no thought about impressing anyone, looking pretty, being smart, earning money… It’s just you, your board and the wave that carries you. It’s pure bliss.

Another thing I discovered about surfing is I don’t suck at it… that much. Which could mean I probably don’t suck at life (that much) either. That thought is my gift to myself.

Flight

Photo by Louie Pilapil

Photo by Louie Pilapil

Why do people travel? What makes us pack our bags, get on a vehicle, and spend hours or even days on the road or in flight to be somewhere else? What are the virtues of transporting oneself to a place where all vulnerabilities could be exposed, buttons could be pushed, and fear could set in? Why risk getting lost or looking stupid, especially when working ticketing machines? Is it worth all the expense and physical exhaustion to be in situations where you are rendered clueless?

I travel because I want to unzip myself and be vulnerable in ways that the familiar won’t allow me to be. As for the last question, my answer is an unequivocal yes. I like it when my ego gets slapped around witless by the need to ask a stranger for directions or help with my massive luggage. On trips to faraway places, I feel myself becoming contracted – getting really quiet, putting on a mask of indifference, or burying my nose in a book to avoid conversations are just some examples – and I find that I have to expand emotionally and open up in order to navigate new territory. If I don’t, bonne chance to me.

It is wonderful to know that strangers near and far are almost always kind and helpful, like the man who carried my 20-kilogram luggage down three flights of stairs, the woman who stopped jogging to give me detailed directions, the store clerk who explained in all honesty the pros and cons of buying a gadget I was eyeing.

I also discover that, in all of my travels, there are friends who are more than happy to welcome me into their homes. They cook for me! Some drive for half a day to be with me for a few hours. Others take days off from work to accompany me and show me around. I get introduced to their friends who are just as welcoming. The generosity I encounter in every trip is astonishing.

And then there is the utter freedom to explore. I love traveling with companions and having people to talk to and laugh with on the road. Nothing brings people closer together than shared experiences and the occasional tiffs about where to go and what to do next. You get to know people intimately and see their idiosyncrasies while you let them see yours. It’s discovery of a different kind and there’s nothing like it.

There’s something equally special about exploring the landscape alone, however. All your senses are heightened and you are attuned to every sight, sound, smell and movement. You get to conquer certain fears – such as looking dumb – and observe people, places and things in the quiet of your own mind. Yes, it does get lonely sometimes especially when you see something particularly curious and you start thinking how great it would be to share that experience with someone (other times, a particular someone). But, all in all, exploration by your lonesome could be akin to a spiritual experience. We seek something out, something intangible, and make the journey. There is tiredness, isolation, a little bit of fear, and much excitement. When you get there, exhilaration! And then… you begin again.

I know there are people where I’m from who see travel as frivolity, especially in these hard times. I even thought about not pushing through with my recent trip because of the changes I have made in my life. But the decision to go ahead was the best I have made so far because it has reinvigorated me and filled my soul with hope. Travel reinforced my belief that everything will be all right, that I am supported by the Divine. Seeing what I have seen, having had the conversations that I’d had, and being transported to a place of wonder and character, I am inspired more than ever to live in the moment and to trust that, wherever I land, there is joy.

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