“Travelling is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends. You are constantly off balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things: air, sleep, dreams, sea, the sky – all things tending towards the eternal or what we imagine of it.”
It is always the same, every year. For some reason or another, I am incapable, as other people are so effortlessly, to disconnect from the life I leave behind when I travel. When I leave those I love behind in the northern winter cold to go and visit those I love under a southern sun, I have to divide myself in two. Part of me stays with those I love in the north and part of me is present with those I love in the south. Luckily, this does not stop me from fully engaging with life and everything it has to offer wherever I am going, but I do find myself lugging around a heavy bag full of contradictory emotions that has, over the years, become a characteristic part of this journey for me.
The most prominent and present emotion when I travel is always gratitude. I am grateful that I can once again make this annual pilgrimage, that I am well enough to travel, that I can still see enough to find my own way and feast my eyes on the never-diminishing beauty of this sweet and savage land. I am also sincerely grateful that modern technology allows me to stay in contact with those I leave behind.
It is a long journey, nearly 24 hours door to door. It feels much shorter because what I see, hear and feel fills me with wonder. I have been making this journey for four decades. I am still amazed, as always and yet again, by the onslaught on my senses of riotous colours, violent sounds, disturbing sensations and unsubtle smells. Often, I have to stop, stand and stare to make sense of what I see. To take stock, to re-orientate myself, with so many people around me, all jostling to get to wherever they are in such a hurry to get to. So alarmingly different from the peaceful and familiar countryside I have left behind.
When I travel on my own, as I did this time, I feel uncertain. I no longer see well enough to take for granted that I will find my way. People are generally helpful, they answer my questions and help me down steps, but not always. Sometimes they get impatient, sometimes they think I must be mentally retarded not to be able to see what is right before my eyes. Then I long for the safety of my own home, for the guidance of those who know my limitations. I miss my friends, their reassuring presence, suddenly so very noticeable in its absence.
I look forward to going on this journey, I look forward to coming back home. To see my family again, to sit outside in the sultry evening air and talk about everything of importance and of nothing that matters. To sleep for hours uninterrupted at night and even during the afternoon, something I never do at home. To be loved unconditionally, to be accepted without reserve. To be understood, without having to explain. To hug and be hugged, as often as it feels necessary. At the end of my visit, I look forward to coming home, to be with the horses again, to horse hugs.
Every goodbye saddens me. Saying goodbye to those I leave behind at the start of my journey, saying goodbye to those I leave behind at the end of it.
My Coping Strategy
When all these feelings threaten to overwhelm me, I find somewhere to sit down and catch my breath. Literally. For a few moments, I concentrate on breathing only. Breathing in, breathing out. The sensation of air flowing into my lungs, the release as the air escapes again. I am aware of my emotions, but I do not interact with them. I acknowledge their existence and I name them: “This is Fear,” “This is Anticipation,” “Insecurity,” “Sadness,” and “Joy.” My emotions do not own me, I own my emotions. I can, therefore, decide to be mindful only of what I am grateful for and to let the other emotions go.
Mindfulness anchors me in each moment of this journey, in the good moments as well as in the bad moments. It helps me to hold onto every second, experience it fully, whether it makes me happy or sad. Mindfulness enables me to acknowledge the contradictory emotions in my bag, without having to react to them, without allowing them to interfere with my enjoyment of the current moment.
To travel is to change and coping with change is not always easy. Many of my friends are distressed by the Brexit threat and are lugging around bags full of riotously contradictory emotions themselves. I want to help, so I thought I would share my coping strategy with them, as a gratitude and generosity journal. At the moment the working title is “Navigating Change with Gratitude and Generosity.” I have written 14 000 words so far. There is still a long way to go, not least trying to figure out how one publishes a book with pictures in it – of horses, of course! I’ll keep you posted.
“The pleasure we derive from journeys is perhaps dependent more on the mindset with which we travel than on the destination we travel to.”
Alain de Botton
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