Hola chicos, it’s Joshua checking in.
Hey so I got my first haircut in over 4 months! Aaahhhh! So much better!
Anyway, I’ve heard it said from 3 different people that when one is traveling, one feels a bout of loneliness at a couple weeks, 3 mos, and 6 mos – but after 6 mos, you’re good until the end of your trip (whether it’s 7 mos or 3 years). I have, of course, no idea to know if this is true or not – though it’s testable! – and I haven’t felt (yet) the severe loneliness bout that they’ve told me about. However, maybe it’s coming. It’s only been 6 mos and 3 days, so maybe it’s not an exact routine, like Old Faithful. But still, I’m super happy to be traveling! How lucky am I?! And volunteering soon!
Regardless, the point of this post is to go through a period of self-reflection now. Anyway, this post has 3 basic things that I’ve learned on this trip.
So I’m staying with a 21 yo girl right now who’s a cop in this wonderful city of Porvenir, and if you ever want to feel old, just hang around normal 21 year olds. She watches reality TV all the time, even going to sleep with it playing softly in the background, and even if she’s not paying attention to it, it’s on. Then, she’s always on her phone. Like, always. Checking facebook, Instagram, or whatever else she has, and she makes sure she knows every status, measures her likes and loves and hahas for both her and her friend’s posts, etc. She is constantly taking photos and uploading (or sending) them. Clearly, she is very attuned to social media, and to me, it’s bad. At least, I judge that as a negative trait in a person. And lastly, when I try to talk to her, though I’ll be honest that my Spanish requires her to speak simply and slowly (and she’s not as patient with me as others are), she barely engages with me. We run out of conversation topics fairly quickly because she literally has no hobbies, no activities outside of work, doesn’t read, isn’t a member of any clubs or even a gym. She doesn’t seem to want to better herself in any capacity (at least that I know of), and she’s stuck here for her job contract for 4 more years! She’s already spent a year in this city and has only “friends” from her work. I just can’t believe that someone could go through life watching TV, playing on fb or Instagram, and doing literally nothing else.
Anyway, enough about her. I know that self-betterment, new experiences, the arts, and investing in my community are all important to me, but the difference between she and I really accentuated how much I value those things to me. And since I’m without a lot of those same mediums (theater subscription, symphony, church groups, etc.), I’ve felt a tremendous feeling of gratitude that I enjoy the shadow of my own being, the multiplicity of my self, the variegated fantasies and journeys of my psyche – absent technology, messages to others, music, or even self-betterment podcasts (though what a treasure to have those when I do!). Also, how I have found new modes of self-betterment and new experiences: stretching, kindle books (a lot more fiction btw), camping in the outdoors, meeting people from around the world, etc. Things change – and things stay the same. What do they say? Something like “You bring yourself with you wherever you go.”
I’ve been reading this book by Tony Robbins “Awaking the Giant Within” and while it’s not as good as I was hoping (his talks are really great though, recommend finding him on Tim Ferriss’ podcast), I’ve drawn a few lessons from his book. I’ll give a couple examples.
First, he encouraged me to reflect on my current values, especially every couple of years. So I did a quick update on what I thought they would be, and then for fun, I went ahead and continued reading his book and spent some time analyzing them and decided that I would actually change them a wee bit.
First, I put freedom as the most important value. Then I had friendship, independence (which is pretty close to freedom but I left it in there anyway), strength, and I forget the rest. But after analyzing this, I realized that I really don’t need freedom that much, that it was maybe more important to me in an earlier time but that it is now an overvalued trait (based on inertia, or past existence). Nowadays, I actually value strength, complexity, mastery and that actually mastery was a much better top-value (or maybe strength, I’m still kind of torn on the topic) for me. Maybe it’s just me getting older and wanting to develop myself in a deeper way. I would like to become much better trained in carpentry, for instance – also jiu jitsu – also piano. (I’m not sure how piano is going to happen in the USA because it requires a lot of space, and then you have to rent/buy one and that’s expensive…) I took piano for 12 years, more or less, so that’s an easy skill that I already have and that I can develop into some sort of semblance of mastery faster than if I started over with a new skill (like Jiu Jitsu since I have no experience, nor probably skill, whatsoever in martial arts). But anyway those are my ideas.
Freedom and independence also undercut friendship and family and, to a certain extent, mastery because the only way to really have freedom is to exercise freedom. And isn’t exercising freedom changing things? You’re free to change things, so you change them up as an exercise of freedom? But then, how does one develop mastery? How does one go deep with friendships? I think the key is to initially have a lot of friends, and then over time, as you realize who is really simpatico with you, you decide to focus more on those people. Yes, it’s important to have a lot of friends in the beginning – and certainly I think it’s important to have a lot of friends potentially – but true success for me would be to have a couple (5?) really close friends. 🙂
He also talks about the importance of changing the words that you use when you’re in a situation that stresses you out or causes you frustration or suffering. I already think I’m pretty good at this, since I have a fairly cheerful disposition, but I did notice myself changing the words I use. For instance, last night it was very windy – and rainy. I was walking back to my house from a café and on this 15 minute walk, I stumbled at least a couple of times (barely missing puddles of water twice) and I thought to myself “Man, I am just loving this wind right now! What a unique experience!”. This thought was a quick second-thought to my first “OMG why is this wind so crazy?” – and I attribute the rapidity of this positive-twist, second-thought to Tony Robbins. As another example, when I had really bad hypothermia and couldn’t set up my tent because my fingers wouldn’t work and my feet were wet and frozen (as they had been all day) and my body was tired after hiking in rain and wind all day and now we had sleet hitting us in the face…I told Dor, my companion, that I was really happy we’re having this weather because now I know what it’s like to have a miserable-yet-amazing experience in Patagonia (he was truly shocked that I had such a positive attitude about it), and I think, and Tony would agree, that even if you don’t feel that way, saying that way will create a new interpretation for yourself to adopt. Like how changing your body position changes how you think, so does saying out loud words change you think.
One meta-lesson that I’ve learned about life and myself, especially right now, is the experience of interdependence, or the dialectic of dependence and independence.
If that sounds confusing, just think of it as the interdependence of dependence and independence! LOL. I want to start with a Buddha story though, and then I’ll do my take. There’s a story about the Buddha, as retold by Hermann Hesse in his book Siddhartha in which the Buddha gives the same answer to the question, “What do you have [to give/offer me]?”
Merchant: “… If you are without possessions, how can you give?”
Siddhartha: “Everyone gives what he has. The soldier gives strength, the merchant goods, the teacher instruction, the farmer rice, the fisherman fish.”
Merchant: “Very well, and what can you give? What have you learned that you can give?”
Siddhartha: “I can think, I can wait, I can fast.”
Merchant: “Is that all?”
Siddhartha: “I think that is all.”
Merchant: “And of what use are they? For example, fasting, what good is that?”
Siddhartha: “It is of great value, sir. If a man has nothing to eat, fasting is the most intelligent thing he can do. If, for instance, Siddhartha had not learned to fast, he would have had to seek some kind of work today, either with you, or elsewhere, for hunger would have driven him. But, as it is, Siddhartha can wait calmly. He is not impatient, he is not in need, he can ward off hunger for a long time and laugh at it.”
I invite you to ruminate on Siddhartha’s answer. However, one narrow application that I’m finding apt for my life right now is being independent, and I have two types of independence which I’ll talk about.
I, too, can, and often do, those things that the Buddha mentioned (think, wait, fast). I can think, as I do often. I think while hiking on long trails for 10 hours by myself, most of the time without music or podcasts or anything. Just me and the comfortable shadow of my own being. I think in the morning when I’m by myself in my tent. I think in the evening when I come back to an empty tent and before/after I eat. I think while I wait, and I wait a lot. I wait for nice people in cars or trucks to pick me up when I hitchhike. I wait for buses. I wait for random engagements to add variety and spice to my life (engagements in the sense of opportunities where I can engage with people, not like pre-planned meetings). And because I wait so often, and think so often, I can feel in my psychic life and my mind a kind of tranquility, contentment, and calmness.
Like the Buddha, I can think, I can wait, I can fast. I can skip meals – the obvious type of fasting. But I can also fast from music or podcasts (as I often do when I’m camping and need to conserve my battery for photos). I went a month without a cell phone at all, which meant I couldn’t do any of those things ever! I can eat the same food for 5 days in a row (and this happens more often than one might think). I can eat only rice and lentils if I have nothing else. In fact, most days camping, I eat the same things: hot dogs every other day, avocado and rice and lentils every day for dinner, tuna and crackers and avocado every day for lunch when I am hiking and can’t bring my stove with me, and oatmeal with raisins every breakfast. I can wait by the roadside for people to pick me up for hours (the longest I waited though was only 2 hours, luckily, but I did meet one guy who once waited 7 hours). To make my time pass by faster and to give joy to others and myself, I will have one hand with the thumbs up and one hand waving at every car that passes by. I, like Siddhartha, can wait calmly. I don’t need complexity or variety in my life (like a variety of foods to choose from for meals), I don’t need a feeling of rush-rush-rush to feel satisfied with my “productive” life. (Though like most people, I do enjoy that thrill, that rush of energy, at times.)
So anyway, that’s one aspect of independence. I am calm, not buoyed tremendously by lack of choice (in food while camping, in rides for hitchhiking). But there’s another aspect of independence that I have learned this trip: trusting myself and my own thoughts, instincts, imaginings, perspectives, and feelings. I don’t need someone to tell me what to do. I don’t need someone to tell me how to cook, how to camp, how much food to buy, how much water to use, where to go, how to plan my trip. I’m doing this trip solo! When I was a kid, I didn’t have confidence in how to do anything. Also, I mostly didn’t know how to do anything, so it was fitting that I didn’t have the confidence. But one day, or over many days, you come to realize that a lot of adults don’t know what they’re doing either. There’s no man behind the curtain, there’s not always a master behind every adult. Also, you learn that you actually do know how to do things. And that confidence is something that really can’t be taught – it is experienced, it is lived.
Take for instance an impression I had. This guy at a hostel seemed nice, though he kept to himself. I just didn’t get a good vibe around him. Something seemed off with him. I tried hard though. I tried to talk to him, to be open when he talked with me, and then he mentioned that he would rape a girl if he knew the world was ending, and I was like um wtf that’s not okay. Needless to say, he didn’t like my response. My instincts were right about him: he’s dangerous and we never interacted again. Also, and I’ve mentioned this before, but when I compare what people tell me on how to cook, I mostly realize that actually my ideas were better than theirs were anyway. In fact, I can only think of one family that actually knew more than I did on cooking, and they both had worked in restaurant kitchens lol! Anyway …. turns out that I’m a great cook!!
So yes, I have learned over my six months to trust myself. To trust that I know how to cook, how to decide for myself what routes to do, what places to visit, what people are worth getting to know and which ones are worth staying away from, etc. I trust myself a lot more than I did before, and this trust in myself is much more deeply rooted in my psyche and in my body than before this trip.
But I have also experienced, and thus learned through life, how dependent I am. I am often very dependent on the kindness of others, like for hitchhiking. Worst case scenario? I’ll just camp with my tent (the independence thing). But I am dependent on others because I can’t walk to my destinations. I don’t have information about where to go or what to do, and so I am dependent on the input, advice, and stories that others tell me when I’m trying to plan my trip. I am also dependent on others, at least to some extent, when I choose to travel with them. There’s a saying that I keep coming back to on this trip: If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go with someone.” Plus, it’s more enjoyable to go with someone else! So, I find myself keeping my schedule flexible in case I meet others. I am also dependent on wifi, and hence places that have wifi, to reach out to people, to post on Facebook, to work, to buy kindle books, to get new music or podcasts, to check up on my budget and my expenses, etc. I normally don’t have data plans while traveling in Patagonia because I change countries between Chile and Argentina so often. But I give all these examples to show you how dependent I am.
Do I have to have wifi? No. Do I have to have companions on my camping trips or journeys? No. Do I have to get a ride within a certain amount of time? No. But do these things add value, satisfaction, joy, or groundedness to my life? Certainly they do. And thus I am dependent on them, even as I am independent from them as well.