Taking months out of the rat race to travel on a motorcycle taught me lots. Of course, the cultures and amazing people I met on my path made for the bulk of my trip across Asia but it wasn’t just these that moulded my overland ride. There were more subtle teachings that came my way as well. Here are three things that overland travel brought me.
On the easier roads of my route, where there was little need for gear shifts or traffic dodging, I tried to relax and soak up more of my surroundings. Yet, rather than unwind, I found that this was when my mind willingly abandoned itself to self absorption.
Consequently, a jumble of random memories, worries even obsessions invaded my head with no rhyme nor reason. Things such as concern for family and friends to brooding over the wear on my motorbike tyres. It was continuous mild fretting that did nothing for the enjoyment of my ride and needed to be kept in check.
Mindfulness back then was nothing more to me then than a word found on the cover of self-help books. The internet described it as “…a practice of being aware, mind, and feelings in the present moment, thought to create a feeling of calm“. I sounded good enough to try out.
“… focus on the present moment, concentrate breath and heart beat”. This was the beginners guide to mindfulness I had a problem with. It felt boring and unappealing to me.
I chose instead to focus on what was around me, on the road and specifically on what was “alive, green, and growing”. Trees, leaves, grass, shrubs and bushes offered plenty to engage my attention on and keep my thoughts from drifting without direction.
“…think of the plants, notice the texture of the leaves, acknowledge different shades of green”. Then, “see how trees give way to bushes and shrubs…fields”. This was my new mantra for the road.
At first it was hard to manage more than a few seconds of uninterrupted attentiveness. It was a challenge, but persistence gave its results. Ten seconds of focus turned into thirty and then lead on to a minute. A minute and a half of meditation was my best result.
Attention to the flora around me became part of my daily routine. For an hour every day I would zone into the greenery around me for as long as I could, without distractions.
Did it make a difference? I can say, it did. If nothing else it gave me more of a grip on my thoughts. Now I think Mindfulness is a skill that can indeed have a calming effect. It’s a useful tool that can reduce anxiety, and one that should be kept sharp.
Touring on a motorbike from one country to the next is very much a “touch and go” experience. Regrettably, wherever one stops there’s really only so much time available for new friends, scenery and culture before moving on.
Arguably, the advantage this brings is that the sense of commitment, a load that plays huge role in our every day lives at home, is gone.
The fact is that at each stop of our tour nobody knows who we are, or anything about us and very few actually really care. We have a clean slate in a new environment without personal history. This can be liberating in many ways.
As a result, there’s a constant feeling that things are fickle and short lived, volatile. It’s intense, exciting, stimulating and creates an urgency to make the most of every moment we have available. Escape and a new chapter of our trip is just a turn of a throttle away. It’s a commitment phobic’s dream!
My return to normality after my trip was not easy. Readapting to normality after months on the road took a while and some things never really returned to how they were before I left.
I discovered that my outlook on world affairs had changed and some of the beliefs I held before my trip had not survived it. Today, I hold more centrist views, I have fewer certainties about what is true and what is not, right or wrong.
I read more and do not own a TV. I have discovered an interest in history, art, architecture, photography, religion and its effect on the modern world. Although I’m glad I have discovered them, none of these had any appeal on me before my trip.
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