I’m writing to you on a frosty morning in the Central Valley of California. The rain has finally given way to a clear-ish morning, so, for the first time on this trip, I can appreciate some of the colors of the neighborhood.
I see vibrant green lawn grass, a low wall of washed auburn bricks, and little pops of yellow flowers leaping from their silvery beds over slate cement street curbs. Everything looks more vibrant and alive when the day is dry and bright. I certainly feel more alive when it is.
Personal travels have taken me here, into the proverbial breadbasket of the United States—where more than half of all fruits, vegetables, and nuts in the country are grown. I’m meeting many of the family members of my partner, who was born and raised here. I’m excited for the opportunity to see her roots; to experience the sense of place that shaped her. Even if, when the wind is right (wrong?), everywhere smells of nearby cattle, their manure, and sulfur. Which, I’m told, you get used to.
But family is well worth traveling for, and I’m grateful to be on travel for a while.
I’m also grateful to be traveling during the New Year—the annual opportunity (a social excuse, really) to check in with ourselves, assess our goals, and reflect on where we’ve been.
While New Year traditions like resolution-setting can feel trite and cliché, I always remind my coaching clients that “inward” facing times of year are few and far between in our fast-paced and forward-leaning culture.
We aren’t often given excuses to slow down, look back, or check-in. So, while the opportunity is here, why not make the most of it?
For me, travel that coincides with the New Year provides a double opportunity: the chance to look back and look forward at the turn of the calendar, but with particularly fresh and open eyes.
For some years now, since about 2015 and when I began to travel to see the world and challenge myself to face it (usually, on my own), I have come to know travel as an experience that freshens and opens my eyes; something that can both take me away from myself and brings me to myself.
By venturing out into the world and, losing many of my senses of comfort and familiarity with my surroundings, I discover that I have a much greater capacity than I often give myself credit for.
It works like this: I leave behind much of what I find comfortable and comforting.
By escaping that which I say I “need” or “require” to function, to be well, or to be “my best” version of myself, I find that I don’t need or require as much to be myself, or to be well, let alone to function. In its place, I feel more resilient. I feel more self-trusting. And some of my many anxious illusions melt away.
What I mean to say is, when I leave behind most of the comforts that I think I need to function, which “home” so consistently provides, I remember that most of what I need is what I carry within me*.
(*And, kind people along the journey. And, knowing my loved ones are well and safe. And, over-the-counter medicines. And, ample coffee.)
What is it about travel that is so affecting for me? Changes of perspective change my perspective. When I see the world — see life, itself — from new vantage points, from different physical perspectives, it helps me to think, imagine, daydream, and aspire in ways that I never have before. Such as the view out the dining room window that I described for you above, from this one-level ranch house where I’ve slept for three nights, but may never return. If I don’t, I won’t soon forget the colors of this young day and their beautiful intermingling: new sight, with new eyes.
Travel, in these ways, has always inspired a sort of inward pilgrimage for me.
What, I wonder, inspires your own?
What is your form of pilgrimage?
What brings you into yourself in ways almost spiritual, such as they are deeply personal, and meaningful, but also intimately transformative?
It may not be overly romantic, extravagant, showy, or privileged like travel admittedly can be.
What freshens and opens your eyes?
What brings you both out of yourself, and back to yourself?
What makes you anew and helps you remember who you’ve always been?
In this early New Year, before you set about your long To Do lists with many wonderful goals and determined wants for achievement, might you make some space for your own form of pilgrimage?
What might you see with your fresh and open eyes?
What might you re-discover about yourself?
By the time I write to you next, dear friend, I hope to share some more of what I am rediscovering.
My 2022 was a full and fascinating year, but I’ve only just begun to process it, reflect on it, and integrate its many lessons into my being.
In these days ahead — making the most of my new eyes, being here in a new and unfamiliar place — I will be making small bits of time to slow down. To not just look around, but to see. And in that most beautiful and curious of ways, in what I see, I hope to find a little more of myself to share with you here.
Until then, please remember, your story is your own to tell. So tell it well.