As a traveler, it can be all too easy to write the narrative before the trip even begins. We assume that if we charge boldly into a strange new world, we will inevitably be rewarded with spiritual growth and imbued with ascendant knowledge.
Perhaps we will be humbled by the simple lifestyle of an indigenous population that lives in a simpler life commune with the earth, free from the burdens of commercial capitalism.
Of course, the alien geography will be awe-inspiring in a way that makes us contemplate the majesty of creation and we will fall so dumbfounded by the aesthetic beauty of it all that we’ll be forced to question the nature of creation.
And naturally, we will have to dig deep and find previously untapped inner resources to push through the physical demands of the trek and answer the call of the journey. “I now commit myself into the wild” as that kid said, before he froze to death in a broken down old van.
All of this, inevitably, will bring us to the awakening. A moment in which all of our faulty programming is stripped away and we are enlightened. We transcend our pre-journey self and become something better than we were before, somewhere between an evolved Pokemon and the Buddha.
It’s a lovely idea but, as I’ve said before, all good ideas must first pass through the sieve of cynicism.
In a world in which we’ve become increasingly accustomed to an authentic, hand-tailored experience, you can buy a reasonable facsimile of that experience in any tourist town on earth. If you come to Bolivia next week, I can put a monkey in your hands no problem. I’ll even tell you it’s a rescue, if it makes you feel better. I can find a wise old woman to read the coca leaves and tell your fortune, though if it’s anything other “be smarter with your money”, it might not be great advice. And of course, I can get you stuffed full of hallucinogenic cactus that will change your whole perspective, for at least long enough to write a great status update about it.
And all of these things are a part of Bolivia, no doubt about it. But the reality of traveling to a distant nation—especially a developing country, where we gringos love to go mining for profundity— can be far more complex than all of that.
Stepping outside of the world you know—the world in which you are comfortable—creates a void.
You start by stripping away the creature comforts of daily life, and eventually you break down the very pillars of your sense of self. You begin to create an empty space inside of yourself which used to be populated by everything you knew about the world up to that point. It is a process which can be kind of scary and uncomfortable, but as you begin to fill this void, you grow. Hopefully. Or maybe you just go broke and get diarrhea.
In an effort to measure my progress on this journey, I’ve begun to inventory that void. I’m now just about half-way into my 3-month sabbatical, and I am acutely aware of many of the things I’ve given up in that time. Over the next few days, I’ll use this blog to reflect on some of those things, in the hope that it will allow me to see more clearly all of the potential for growth which has been opened up to me.
And to share my experience with you. I hope you dig it.