My biggest handicap in life is my difficulty letting go. My mind craves the familiar with flailing urgency and it throws a temper tantrum when another part of myself–a wiser part, perhaps–propels my body into yet another unknown situation with strange people and novel sights. I’m nearly six months into a trip around the world and still, after all the buses and bedbugs and coffee, I have a day where I fight the urge to break down, to buy a plane ticket home, to give up on the force that has propelled me so far from everything I have ever known.
If you saw where I’m sitting right now, you would slap me in the face and tell me to open my eyes and look around. Allow me to describe: I’m sitting on the edge of the porch outside a traditional Cambodian reed bungalow, letting my legs swing over a thin, sluggish river. In front of me is a dense mangrove patch, and if I turn my head slightly to the left, the looming and forested mountains of Bokor National Park consume my vision. The day is fresh and the heat hasn’t quite arrived, meaning it’s the perfect temperature. Puffy, flowing swabs of cumulus clouds hover above me, occasionally dotting out the sun. On the other side of the bungalow is the main lodge complete with pool table, dart board and delicious home cooked food for under five dollars. I just ate a tomato scramble while sipping French press coffee and reading a book. A gentle breeze wicks the sweat from my forehead. If I really listen I can hear the perpetual buzz of crickets and birds doing their thing.
But I don’t listen. The only thing holding my attention right now is the swarm of locusts in my head that relentlessly tell me how worthless and entitled I am, how phony my goals are, how utterly intolerable my personality is. The moment…what moment? All I see is the familiar old story lines, the bullshit I thought I could escape with a plane ticket and some ambition. Am I destined to be lonely and miserable? Will I ever recover my ability to connect with humans on a deep, meaningful level? Can I allow myself to drop the walls that have become my self-imposed refuge of exile?
If I can thank “travel”–the personified, mythical creature–for anything, it is for allowing me to face these questions. Without the discomfort and uncertainty of the new, the issues of my life would remain perpetually below the surface, hidden and manipulative. Travel is a whetstone for the soul, and if that soul hasn’t been sharpened for some time, the process is going to be drawn out. And apparently, painful. I have to see with intimate honesty just how distrustful I have become of humans, and I have to relive the moments that have brought me to such a closed attitude. Only this time, as I march into the towering, rushing anxiety of my shadow I have to keep my eyes level and my head held high. I must prepare to be annihilated and swallowed by an energy that is both bigger than me and a part of me simultaneously. I have to be ok with discomfort in its most horrific costume.
I come back to the breath. The mangroves swell and rattle in the breeze. Somewhere a frog croaks. These creatures don’t know of the problems that exist only in the human mind, and in this moment, I envy them. The word “simplify” ripples through my brain often. Somebody smart said it a long time ago, probably contemplating the same questions, staring into the tranquil waters of an East coast pond. Is it a common trick of life that all the answers we seek and sometimes find are written down in a book somewhere? Can it all really be contained in a single word uttered in perfect inspiration?
I want to curse culture! I want to destroy the establishment that would have us all live in boxes, leading thick and regimented lives. I feel violence bubble deep within. I want to explode. But I don’t. I swallow that feeling. I rationalize. This is the way things must be. This is the way things work. We all have a part to play–a contract to fulfill. Can you imagine what would happen if an ant–one of the ants I’m watching right now, traversing this porch in an organized line–went rogue and decided that it didn’t want to play the game anymore? He would be eaten and sacrificed as a sad example of misplaced enthusiasm.
I’m still on this porch god dammit. And somehow I’ve gotten stuck on the metaphysical intentions of insects. The thoughts! I have to walk away. I have to learn to let go.