Taking months out of the rat race to travel on a motorcycle taught me heaps of new things. The cultures and the amazing people I met on my route across Asia made for the bulk of my experiences for sure but it wasn’t just these that made my overland ride. There were more subtle teachings that came my way as well. Several lessons learned weren’t immediately apparent to me either but by no means were they of lesser influence in time. Here are three subtle 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 would try to relax and soak up more of my surroundings. Yet, rather than unwind, I found that this was when my mind, oblivious to my environment, would let itself drift in a whirl of self absorption.
Without the road to focus on, a jumble of random memories, worries even obsessions would run through my head with no rhyme nor reason. There was concern for family and friends, thoughts about work at home and even brooding over the wear on my motorbike tires. It was continuous fretting that did nothing for the pleasure of my ride nor my well being and needed to be kept in check.
Mindfulness back then was nothing more to me then than a word found in self-help books. The internet described it as “…a practice thought to create a feeling of calm“. It sounded good enough for me and worth a try .
“… focus on the present moment, concentrate on your breath”. These were the beginner’s steps to mindfulness as suggested on most meditation web-sites I looked at. It felt boring though and unappealing, I really needed something different to start off with.
I chose instead to focus on what I had around me, on the road and most of all on what was “alive, green, and growing”. Trees, leaves, grass, shrubs and bushes offered plenty to engage my attention and keep my thoughts from chaos. It seemed like the perfect starting point. So,…
“…think of the plants, notice the leaves, acknowledge the different shades of green”. This became my new mantra for the road, a sort of mind gym meant to bridle my wandering thoughts.
At first it was definitely a challenge to lock my attentiveness for more than a few seconds, but persistence yielded results. Ten seconds of focus turned into thirty which then lead to a whole minute. Finally, I could fix on the vegetation around me for almost two minutes at a time and not allow random thoughts to harass me. It felt soothing, calming and killed anxiety.
As a result, attention to the growing flora around me became part of my daily routine. For an hour or so every day I would zone into the greenery around me for as long as I could, without distractions.
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 limited time available for new friends, scenery and culture before moving on.
Arguably, the advantage this brings is the lack of a sense of commitment, a feeling that plays big role in our every day lives at home.
At each stop of our tour nobody knows who we are or anything about us and few really care. We have a clean slate in a new environment with no personal history. This can be liberating in many ways.
As a result, there’s an awareness that our encounters and our presence as visitors anywhere are fickle and short lived, volatile. This can be exciting, stimulating and creates an urgency to make the most of our time on the road. Escape and a new chapter of our trip are just a turn of a throttle away. It’s a commitment phobic’s dream!
Returning to normality after my trip was not easy. Re-adapting to every day life after months on the road took a while. Some things never really returned to how they were before the big trip at all.
I discovered that my outlook on world affairs had changed. Several beliefs I held before my trip did survive the same. Today, my views are more centrist, I have fewer certainties about what is true or false, right or wrong. I understand that people are fundamentally the same anywhere in the world and that privilege often leads to arrogance.
I read more and don’t have a TV. I have discovered an interest in history, art, architecture, photography, religion and its effect on the modern world. None of the above had any appeal on me before my trip.
It seems that the consequences of overland travel continue to reveal themselves to me long after the end of my tour. Some of these I would never have imagined would hold a grip on me of any kind: mindfulness, history, photography most of all. In essence I think it’s fare to say that the whole ordeal of travel is probably a trip of self discovery just as much as it is a discovery of the world.
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