Welcome to Gypsy Wednesday! Every Wednesday, I strive to highlight all the juicy morsels related to travel and beyond.
My interest in Buddhism has spanned years, leaving a terrible ache for self-improvement. Lingering in bookstores is another long held pastime, so the second my eyes devoured its cover, When Things Fall Apart had to be added to my collection.
The interesting tidbit here is I purchased this book 3 or 4 months ago. It’s obvious my subconscious was preparing for future challenges.
Published in 1997, When Things Fall Apart is based on the teachings of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. His student, Pema Chödrön pieces together a transparent guide to higher understanding. Pema is a fascinating character herself. After a painful divorce, she sought answers in Buddhism to emerge as the resident teacher at Gampo Abbey, the first Tibetan Monastery in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.
Finishing the book seemed paramount, due to oodles of spare time and my present situation.
How does this book relate to travel?
Frustrating travel days exist. Sometimes we narrowly miss a flight connection. Other times the hostel was east, when you walked west. Or a cafe’s idea of vegetarian is chicken. The harsh reality is multiple events can turn awry on the road, which rubs the shine off travel.
Obviously the worst is when tragedy strikes.
We are dazed accident victims –questioning why terrible things happen — doubtful we’ll even get through intact.
The ground beneath feels slippery, unstable. Our emotions ride intense waves, and the result? A jarring sense of lack of control over anything.
When Things Fall Apart is divided into 22 chapters, which sounds denser than the Holy Bible, but that is a plus. It allows one to pick and choose – mine a particularly difficult emotion you’re enduring.
A sample of my favorite chapters follow.
Chapter 1 – Intimacy With Fear
“The next time you encounter fear, consider yourself lucky.”
Okay, what? I did a double take after reading that sentence. How can fear be positive? All it did was hold me in a vise grip, rendering my hopes and dreams mere dust on a long forgotten shelf.
“This is where courage comes in. Usually we think that brave people have no fear. The truth is that they are intimate with fear. When I was first married, my husband said I was one of the bravest people he knew. When I asked him why, he said because I was a complete coward but went ahead and did things anyhow.”
The illusion of others holds true. We automatically believe successful people are never afraid. That travelers have granite nerves. Not so. I’ve always viewed travel as an avenue to tackle my fears head on, even develop new ones. Chödrön recommends not bailing, because the minute fear is whiffed, we run away like mad. Fear can symbolize exploration, or as Chödrön suggests, revealing that nothing is what we thought. That includes pre-concieved notions of happiness or failure.
Chapter 9 – Six Kinds of Loneliness
I’ve read this repeatedly in travel blogs, “Been in Antarctica for 10 days and haven’t talked to a soul. Sooo lonely. I cry, miss my family terribly – wonder if doing this alone was a good plan.”
The idea that six types of loneliness exist left me feeling abandoned in Siberia six times over. Yup, Chödrön owed me an explanation.
Usually we regard loneliness as an enemy. Heartache is not something we choose to invite in. It’s restless and pregnant and hot with the desire to escape and find something or someone to keep us company. When we can rest in the middle, we begin to have a nonthreatening relationship with loneliness, a relaxing and cooling loneliness that completely turns our usual fearful patterns upside down.
How does a traveler quell bursts of loneliness? Why, engage in the six kinds of “cool loneliness” that Chödrön alludes to: less desire, contentment, avoiding unnecessary activity, complete discipline, not wandering in the world of desire, and not seeking security from one’s meandering thoughts.
So many travelers hunt for sensory experiences, but are we merely filling a void? A need for comfort? Without dissecting all six types, it’s important to examine our relationship to loneliness. I use to dread solo travel, afraid of what my quiet mind might produce. Lonely moments can breed intimate self-awareness. The eye opening revelations I discovered about myself were usually on solo trips.
Chapter 16 – Servants of Peace
I vividly remember a Swiss couple we encountered at the Laos/Cambodia border.
“Oh, you better watch the border guards here. They’re greedy bastards, asking for bribes to enter their country. Don’t crack, always offer $5.00 US dollars.”
Suddenly, I felt ashamed to be associated with them.
“Generosity, the journey of learning how to give. When we feel inadequate and unworthy, we hoard things. We are so afraid – afraid of losing, afraid of feeling even more poverty-stricken than we do already. This holding on causes us to suffer greatly. We wish for comfort, but instead we reinforce aversion, the sense of sin, and the feeling that we are a hopeless case.”
I wholeheartedly support budget travel, but sometimes my conscience barks. At what price? I never, ever want to breed cynicism to a fine point that I quibble about an extra $2.00 with a person who earns $200 US dollars a month. Generosity doesn’t just apply to others, but ourselves as well. Letting go will chisel through constraints, turning us into the fearless. Chödrön says it best:
“Real transformation takes place when we let go of our attachment and give away what we think we can’t.”
My one criticism of religion are the flaky, nonsensical aspects that simply don’t add up. Maybe I’m a realist, but a patchouli smelling nutcase swathed in a turban chanting “Ohhhmm” rarely satisfies, but offers endless laughs. I need my spirituality to be useful.
I can guarantee, when things do fall apart, this book delivers practical, graspable advice for the lost. Like Pauline Frommer, I’m also a firm believer in reading everything, not just travel oriented material.
Growth and potential is derived from a plethora of sources, albeit music, poetry, literature, art – not just travel. Wherever you gather inspiration, it can make life and travel that much richer.
What have you done when things fell apart, whether related to travel or not?