Last weekend we travelled to San Diego from Sacramento. For some people a trip like this might be a vacation. For some it might be a honeymoon. For some it might be a weekend break. For us it was a trip to spend time with some of our children, their spouses, and our grandchildren. We traveled – but it is not what most people mean when they talk about traveling.
Yet truly, this kind of travel is spending time in another world—or at least in another person’s world. We adapt our rhythms to the rhythms of other families. Our diet is transformed by what other people like to eat. Our sleeping patterns fit with the schedule of a one year old or the time frame of young school children. We learn to appreciate Little League practice, building Legos, and chasing a toddler.
Trips to San Diego might mean a walk on the beach, but might also be a visit to the Children’s Museum. It could be a visit to the world of a local brewery or a birthday party at Dave & Buster’s for some sensory overload to rival Las Vegas. It might be a climb up Cowles Mountain, but could just as well be a walk through a hilly neighborhood while pushing a little guy in his stroller.
I am learning, just as when we travel to London or Santiago or Berlin, that an attitude of openness to whatever comes is the best way to treat travel. I am seeking to be pleasantly surprised rather than frustrated. I am grateful for a good night’s rest, a beautiful sunset, a child’s laughter, an amazingly tasty taco. All of this is just as possible in the hills of Southern California as it is in the streets of a quaint European city.
Spiritual Practice: Releasing Expectations
Buddhist teacher and writer Pema Chödrön remarks in her book When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times, “To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest.” I want this spirit in my life. I want to be fully alive. But my desire for security, safety, and regular patterns gets in the way of this. That is why travel is a help to me. I find that once I get on that plane I am ready to let go of some of that need. Once I cross a border I am ready to be surprised. I even relish being “thrown out of the nest.”
When I am outside the normal confines of my life I find myself able to say, “this is all part of the experience.” And so I practice this. When it takes longer to than expected in a grocery store line. When the train is not going where I expected. When the food tastes different than it does at home. When the person I meet tells me more about their life than I am ready to know. I want to learn to release my expectations. When I do, I find myself far happier, far more curious, far more in love with the world.
I think about this when I plan a trip. I like to have many things in place. When Lena and I walked the Camino de Santiago, we had reservations albergues (hostels) for our first three nights. After that, we thought we would just show up in a town and discover what lodging was available. As it turned out, we discovered our personalities were such that we needed to plan at least a few days in advance. So we used our iPhones to research places to stay and called ahead or booked on the internet. That seemed right to us. But I do wonder what opportunities we missed by doing that. Who did we not meet? What challenges did we not face? How would the people and happenings have tested and refined who we are as people? What joy might we have missed? In the end, I think we were willing to “leave the nest,” but we needed a bit of a gentle landing. We were not ready to be thrown out into open sky, but maybe just nudged a bit.