I’m always very excited by the prospect of travel because we live in a world and life that is very much about routine and safety and repetition. The thing about when we travel, and particularly when we decide to go off the beaten track a little bit, is that it calls the parts of us into play that have otherwise been dormant, that have been sleeping. Which is exactly what happened to me earlier this year.
I absolutely love that once every couple of years we (my partner and I) choose to go off on some form of a challenging journey, and this year we took an exciting decision to go to Bhutan, which is very near Tibet, in the Far East, high up in the Himalayas. It was a fascinating trip for me; because I love what I do as a therapist, I’m fascinated with how we think and what makes us tick and how we respond to certain circumstances.
And what I was fascinated by for myself on this trip to Bhutan this year was that I had to step out of my comfort zone yet again. I thought I was fairly flexible. I thought I had most things nailed. I thought that I was a bit like a skittle - you knock me over and I’ll come back strong every time. And that is true about me - the essence of me - but what I was really interested in encountering in Bhutan was this difficulty I had about travelling on the roads in Bhutan because they are mountainous roads. There are no edges on them. Mostly it’s precipitous right down to the floor of the jungle or valley. It can be over 2k straight down.
Couldn't Let Go
These roads are only built for about one and a half cars in most circumstances, so it was incredibly challenging for me to put into practice that which I’ve been speaking about and imbibing into my own world for many, many years, which is of course the practice of letting go, the non-attachment, which is one of the basic tenets or fundamentals of Buddhist belief systems and Buddhist mantra.
And it was the most difficult thing for me to do. I’m in a car that is being driven by someone else, who is praying out loud all day long, because he is praying for a safe journey - for us to get there safely. So of course that wobbled me. I listened to my driver praying and when I asked him, ‘Nange, why are you praying?’ He said “I’m praying that we get there safely today.” And that is not something that we encounter on a day-to-day basis in our so-called civilisation, with our safe roads in Ireland. I don’t pray every time I leave the house in Galway to go down the town - it doesn’t enter my head - so the immediacy of this experience almost ripped away all the work I’d done for a very long time inside myself.
I was quite raw. I was quite uncertain. I was quite unsafe. And when I tried to gather up all my wisdom and life’s learnings it was like I was gathering up water drops and they were falling between my fingers. When I said to myself, ‘whatever happens happens, you can only live in the moment, you can only be where you’re at now, which is not knowing, and let go of the attachment to your life, I had this screaming coming into my head: “But I have a daughter - what would happen to her if I leave this planet? She’s already lost one parent. Who would she have if I die?”
So I had this absolute argument going on inside my brain of ‘Let go - hang on - let go - hang on”. And this was a fabulous experience for me, and a fabulous revisiting of the need to understand that we can hang onto nothing because we control nothing, that we need to let go and accept absolutely that we must stay in the moment rather than projecting into the half an hour ahead and the idea that this car may go off the cliff backwards. What was happening was that my central nervous system was fired; I had adrenaline, noradrenaline, cortisol firing around my system with this bodily and emotional argument that was going on inside me. I was fascinated, because at the same time I was standing outside myself and smiling at myself and saying “I thought you learnt! I thought you knew a lot. I thought you were good at this stuff’!”. And on the other hand, there was this part of me that was trying to connect to the wisdom - trying to connect to the life experiences I’ve had. So I was really invigorated by the ask to revisit the potential for me dying again. Because as you’ll know if you’ve read any of my other blogs, I’ve led an extremely challenging life that has called me to almost walk to my own death. And that was challenging. But to revisit it again in another way later in my life……? I was really utterly grateful to have this experience. So you want to know what happened with my internal argument? How did I wrestle with this?
Taking Me Ego Out of It
It took me some days - many days. I had almost sorted it out but this attachment to my offspring - to my beautiful daughter Nicola - truly had me clinging on metaphorically to the cliff by my fingernails. The sense of responsibility to what would happen to her should I die, on this trip, was quite galvanising for me. It absolutely held me in a state of fear. So my ego was saying “Well, you’re not scared of dying, Rachel, it’s only because of Nicola.” And of course then the wisdom had to come in and I had to say to myself, “Actually, this also is ego.” Because ultimately Nicola would survive; Nicola would be okay. So it boils down to my love of her, and my wanting to cling onto that, which of course is also impermanent.
Getting Things Flowing Again
It took me ten days of serious rationalising, going deep and trying to literally, metaphorically and figuratively let go of holding on. Did I achieve it? In parts. Did I master it? In parts. Did I learn from this? Absolutely.
And when I returned to Ireland, and back to my normal life, it was almost as if the flow was increased in my life. That challenge - that asking of me to go to a deep part of myself again in a moment when I was in unfamiliar territory and outside of my normal world - the world I usually live in - I was so invigorated by that experience. So, this was exciting for me when I came back, and particularly when I began working with my clients. I had this sense of achievement but also a sense that I was growing again - that I am constantly growing as a person. And it really did delight me, and it delighted me that I still have so much to learn.
Same Patterns = No Growth
And this is for all of us. When we stay in our familiar environment, when we repeat patterns again and again, there’s very little cause for growth.
So what I invite you to do is actually to move outside of the familiar. Move away from the gate posts that hold you up. Move into a place where you’re not really sure of the outcome. It doesn’t have to be as extreme as falling off a cliff and tumbling down 2000 meters or 2k to the bottom. But you can push yourself to find that thrill - to find that instability inside your emotional world where you’re needing to find your footing again.
That is so, so exhilarating. It reminds us of our journey. It reminds us of our ability to conquer and overcome. And it reminds us of our humanity, our fragility. And once you’ve connected with that, of course it connects you with the energy of living. And when you connect with the energy of living, then you’re operating on a different platform, one that is about ducking and diving and having an exciting feeling inside.
Do the Unfamiliar
So, connect with something. Do something that’s unfamiliar. Challenge yourself. Bring yourself out of your shell. Bring yourself into that stage where you’re taking the first steps on that tightrope. And observe - that’s all you need to do. You don’t need to judge yourself. You don’t need to criticise yourself. You don’t need to find an answer necessarily but what you do need to do is observe.
So just stand back and observe. And be interested in what you find. Be interested in the answers that you find coming from within.