The Journey Within
Taking a trip to somewhere.
“Run from what’s comfortable. Forget safety. Live where you fear to live. Destroy your reputation. Be notorious. I have tried prudent planning long enough. From now on I’ll be mad.” – Rumi
I have always wanted to travel with no fixed agenda and no intent to arrive anywhere. In mid-January, I sort of, kind of did it. The stars were perfectly mis-aligned that I packed my rucksack & bag and walked out of the house. I had three options on where to start from - the bus station, the railway station or the airport. Quickly, ten years of consulting travel conditioning kicked in as I found myself boarding a bus to go to the airport. It was early evening by the time I reached the airport. My first and only option till then was to go to Goa - the hippie backpacking place at least two decades back. But, the last flight for Goa was already leaving. So I started to check where can I go abroad on an Indian passport with visa on arrival. Sadly, that is a very short list and I just ended up picking Hong Kong out of that list. I guess even though I was carrying a rucksack and had this image of a backpacker in my head, I am in reality more of a city guy. Boarding a flight, staying in a hotel and walking in a city is a bit like comfort food for me. And Hong Kong just felt like a good enough place to do so. So I booked a flight with return in ten days and off I went.
Dude, where are the photos?
“When you are everywhere, you are nowhere / When you are somewhere, you are everywhere.” -– Rumi
Not here. I am staring at the phone long enough anyway, that using it as a view finder to capture the city would give me no chance to look around. So the sole photo in this trip (on the main page) was taken by a friend while walking on a hill trail. That is all I have. The idea of the trip was to let go of the past, and I think capturing photo memories would have defeated the purpose of being in the moment. As for travel trips, all I can say is take the risk and go with the flow. Booking last minute direct flight is paying the carriers full rack rates. So that’s expensive. But you can get really good deals on hotel rooms, if you book it just the day before or even the same day. Stay in different parts of the city, use public transport or better still walk around, eat local food and keep your eyes open. The best part of the travel is when you don’t have any agenda to cover. But it gives your time to reflect and listen to your own voice. That is the whole purpose of the journey.
Living on your own.
“And you? When will you begin that long journey into yourself?“ – Rumi
I can clearly travel and live on my own. I am comfortable being alone for long phases. I believe I can survive just by myself. However the question is really can I flourish just being on my own. Probably not at the moment. I can not be truly alone, without my internet connection to distract myself with reading, watching, writing and surfing. But that is possible in any city these days. In one way, going to wired city like Hong Kong is not different from living in Bangalore at the moment, where you spend a lot of time online. The challenge is to be truly alone. And that is harder anyways. But it appears that living in Bangalore or anywhere else is same, except for one thing - connections.
“You run back and forth listening for unusual events, peering into the faces of travellers. Why are you looking at me like a madman? I have lost a friend. Please forgive me.” – Rumi
You need human connections at a very basic level to live. And that is not easy for me to find. I don’t connect easily with people and it is not easy for me to make friends. Now this could be a cultural thing in Hong Kong as mostly it is Chinese and Expats here. But I thing it would be hard for me to make new connections anywhere. I remember in London also when I was alone, I used to be just by myself. My connections here were largely limited to an old friend who was working in HongKong and we would catch up for lunch. Other than that, it is largely been saying hi to a shopkeeper (at Seven-Eleven) where I shopped more than once or the waiter in a restaurant (at Burger Circus) where I ate three times. Even those little familiarity and a smile help, but it is largely at a very superficial level. Virtual connections like talking on Hangout help, but that also cannot sustain for long. The obvious way to make more of these connections is either through work or being part of some community. Clearly, I am not good at making random connections in a city.
Shall we drink to that?
“This drunkenness began in some other tavern. When I get back around to that place, I’ll be completely sober.” – Rumi
I tried going to restaurant, pubs and bar to basically eat and drink and smoke to ‘enjoy’ life. Hong Kong is a pretty good place do party out - SoHo, Lan Kwai Fong, Tsim Sha Tsui - there are many places. Yet, it is pretty boring to do that even for ten days. Now it may be different if you have friends and you are partying, but even then it is hard to sustain over the long term. I am not saying that I don’t like it in small doses - eating out and partying occasionally. But it appears for a lot of people here, and not very different from London, that catching up for drinks and dinners or going partying is a big social activity. That may not be true for people with family who like many of us focussed on keeping the kid entertained, thinking about housework, planning for school etc. Largely, I think that ‘have fun and enjoy life’ mantra is probably short lived. They may give you a high in the short term but then you want some meaning out of them in the long term, and then they fail to make sense. And this is where the whole hedonistic lifestyle breaks down - what is the meaning of all this?
Can you see the pattern?
“In silence there is eloquence. Stop weaving and watch how the pattern improves.” – Rumi
I also realised that I can get in to a routine or a pattern very quickly. I like to buy things from the same Seven-Eleven store, even though there were three more close by. And I would get comfortable in a locality and hotel very quickly and I want to stick to the same place. I don’t have the strong urge to experiment. I have a strong urge to get familiar quickly and then stick to the same routine or pattern. Whether it comes to shopping, walking, buying - I very quickly want to get into a rhythm and then stick to it as much as possible. I should recognise that as my nature. And I should be aware of this strong pattern building approach. I don’t think they are good or bad, but maybe I have a stronger tendency than others to get in to a rhythm. Breaking patterns is hard for me.
Lets take a walk then.
“As you start to walk out on the way, the way appears.” – Rumi
I can easily travel and live abroad, at least in places like London and Hong Kong. The one thing I love is the ease of walking and travelling in Metro/Tube - public transport is great. If there is any comparison with Bangalore, it is in public transport. I also don’t mind the city life, so that can also work. However, to live abroad longer than ten days, it is tougher to pull off the freelance stuff you can when you are living in a relatively low cost city like Bangalore. There is no way you can live in these cities without working in a regular jobs so that you can afford the rent. Also for the visa, you would need to work again. So the question comes to finding something meaningful to do both to sustain and to connect.
Finding meaning through work.
“Everyone has been made for some particular work, and the desire for that work has been put in every heart.” – Rumi
So what work can I do? I can continue to explore and build on this visual intelligence work in Bangalore - teaching, corporate workshop, online products, books etc. That could be one way to continue to work. I like some parts of that work and I also believe I can find flow and meaning in it - if I craft it even better. And I can mix it up with the doing workshops abroad in Hong Kong or elsewhere. That provides an opportunity to meet people and build connections in these places when I travel. I would like to be more nomadic in my work lifestyle going forward.
Trust your instincts.
“Don’t be satisfied with stories, how things have gone with others. Unfold your own myth.” – Rumi
At some level, all these reflections are not new. I was aware of my ability to be alone, struggle to find connections, strong preference for routines, meaningless of hedonistic life, able to stay abroad, and have questions on finding meaningful work. Yet it was definitely worth the ten days of walking around to rediscover it. This journey has just reinforced my understanding and brought this to the forefront. I also think there is some thing about trusting your instinct and unfolding your own path. There is a big part of life which you can not unravel at an intellectual level. You just have to go with the flow and trust that you will take the right calls. I have never been the one to go based on feeling and instincts, but that is the one thing I need to do more now. I need to be more instinctive and emotionally aware. I need to work on attention and listening to my instinct to take decisions.
But wait, where is the spiritual aha?
“Dance, when you’re broken open. Dance, if you’ve torn the bandage off. Dance in the middle of the fighting. Dance in your blood. Dance, when you’re perfectly free.” – Rumi
To be honest, there was no great moment of enlightenment or revelation that descended while walking around during the trip. And trust me, I did walk in to a couple of temples and buddhist monasteries. But staying overnight at a friend’s house brought me across this lovely book - “The Art of Happiness” by Dalai Lama. Now you don’t need to go on a journey to read a book, but you only come across books when you are ready for it. And there are two things from the book that really brought out the aha for me.
The first aha was on this question of how to understand whether a desire or action is positive or negative. Going on a journey like this to some extent can be viewed as a very selfish act. But he talks about how the demarcation between a positive and a negative desire or action is not whether it gives you an immediate feeling of satisfaction (all of them would) but whether it ultimately results in positive or negative consequences. It reminded me of this axiom - “Judge the actions of others by their intentions. Judge your own actions by the consequences.”
The second aha was on the question of whether we are all self interested people or is there something more. Now, I have never been very religious, so I don’t have a faith in God to rely upon to answer this question. But again the Dalai Lama talks about how it is ok to be non religious but you still need to cultivate some basic spirituality to prevent you from getting hard and dry and being able to be happy and calmer. You need to “train the mind” to cultivate the basic human qualities of goodness, kindness, compassion, and caring. It all points towards getting engaged in some form of mindfulness meditation. Maybe there a more richer and deeper journey within that need to be embarked on now.