discovering me by way of the world

When John and I set out for this yearlong journey, I had a clear vision for my blog. I imagined regular updates with engaging photos that my husband and I could look back on, years from now, and be transported back to the magic of the journey. This blog, I thought, would be an enjoyable, easy thing to keep up with because there would be countless stories to tell and my passion to share them.  

Almost immediately after landing in Colombia, my vision for a blog went from HD to a 1980s television set with a broken antenna.

When I picked the concept of untethering as a primary intention for this journey, I had no idea how complicated a process it would be. Not just in the actual untethering, but in my willingness to let go. It was a cool idea before we left the U.S. and mirrored what we were doing by selling our house and car, closing John’s business, giving up a job I loved, bidding farewell to our loved ones and letting go of a lifetime of the stuff we’d surrounded ourselves with—stuff we thought defined who we were.

It was stressful to untether from the comfortable life we knew and while we were exhausted throughout the process, we felt humbly victorious in the end for having followed through on such a considerable undertaking.

But I was naïve. I thought all of that simplifying, which took a couple years to move through, was the untethering.

It wasn’t. 

As I sit in a very small apartment, which is the epitome of luxury for us now, in the colorful, indigenous village of Otavalo, Ecuador, I am in awe of how tangled I’ve become in my effort to untether. I’ve grown familiar with the unfamiliar and waking up in different beds so often has not taken the toll on me I thought it would. But, in this process I’ve stepped into a limbo I never expected. I can’t identify myself in this setting.

Prior to stepping onto a South America bound plane in Toronto in November, I knew who I was, what I wanted to do with my life and how I wanted to bring it to fruition. I felt fortunate for such certainty and lucky for having somehow figured out how to jump over the classic mid-life crisis so common of 40-somethings.

Well. . . . I have also successfully untethered from all of that certainty.

Due to this new psychic fog surrounding me, I don’t feel like writing a blog about the details of our journey. Some days it feels like blogging is looming over me as an obligation to keep up with other travelers who artfully organize their blogs and social media to match their chosen narrative of carefree, best time ever world travel. My journey feels messy, emotional and sometimes, I just want to be in the comfort of my own home. A home I no longer have thanks to my own doing.

We meet these up-for-anything travelers in hostels. They stay for a split second in a place only long enough to do what Lonely Planet advises them to, moving on quickly. It works for them—and I admire them for it. They appear to genuinely enjoy the rush of the journey, the checking off of can’t miss places and bucket list experiences while capturing Instagram shots that make friends back home drool.

Of course, we understand many travelers don’t have the luxury of open-ended travel. The travelers we’ve met are on a gap year, some are retired and others are making their travel dreams come true with a mini-sabbatical. Few are from the U.S.

In some ways, I am envious of this type of traveler. They may see and do much more than we will even though we may be traveling for a longer period of time. But moving that quickly isn’t our style. 

 

Gazing into a broken mirror in San Agustín, Colombia

Gazing into a broken mirror in San Agustín, Colombia

We’re called to stay long enough to peek under the exterior layers of a place. We’re aching to make meaningful connections with locals, tradition, nature and culture. And I’d like to figure out how to leave each place with as much goodness as I receive.

Colombia provided us with the setting to discover who we are as travelers and to untether from the story we’d told ourselves about a journey like this and about the characters we should play. Our planned month in Colombia stretched into two and a half as we made adjustments each step of the way. We started off thinking four days in a place was sufficient, but soon realized there was no way to connect in four days, so we stretched it to six, then ten, then two weeks. And now, our planned two weeks in Otavalo will be at least three, possibly more.

At this moment, I have no idea who I am. It is unnerving and, when I let go of the fear, illuminating. In addition to untethering from the person I thought I was, I was caught off-guard by the loneliness that arises from not being able to speak the language well enough to have conversations with people. My husband and I are thick as thieves, but no one person can be the entire world to another.

In three months I’ve had in-person thoughtful, heartfelt conversations with people other than my husband a total of three times—and they were not long enough. I need drastically more than 5 hours every three months of meaningful face-to-face conversation.

The loneliness is exacerbated by my need to process what is happening back home. The never-before-experienced political burning tower that is United States of America. I ache to sit with like-hearted people and dig into our feelings about it all—get through the fear and contemplate ideas for navigating rough seas ahead. Of course, I recognize the blessing in being untethered from the incessant conversations that must be going on in progressive places like our former home of Portland, Oregon.

This opportunity to reevaluate who I am and to explore my life purpose is at the heart of why I wanted to take on an extensive journey like this to begin with. I view the countries and villages we visit as enriching classrooms more so than vacation spots. Joy for me, on a journey like this, comes from gaining cultural understanding, new perspectives and making meaningful connections.

As of now, we’ve ripped up our itinerary for this trip and we are embracing the uncertainty of it all. We’re staying present with whatever random emotions show up as we navigate layers of unknowns. The unknown of being a traveler is fading as we’re slowing growing more seasoned. And we begin Spanish school, twenty hours a week starting Monday, which will strengthen a much needed feeling of confidence and comfort.

I have no idea who I will be when I return to the United States. I suspect more of myself and less tethered to self-imposed limitations I’ve been dragging around with me all these years. But, I’ve already come to realize that a completely untethered life is impossible. What is possible, and deeply necessary for my well-being, is a life of intentionally chosen tethers like love; rewarding relationships and meaningful conversations; the health of the Earth and the greater good; and my values and dreams. So, I consider this limbo to be a phase of trading out old attachments, many tied to unconscious fears, for conscious attachments to fewer things of much greater personal value.