I love who I am when I’m traveling.
I’ve been doing a lot of it lately and have been reflecting on the flow state I’m able to tap into when I’m in what I like to call “Vacation Brian” mode. When asked what I love the most about traveling, my response tends to be that I love who I am when I’m doing it. I think it’s because, on a trip, there’s a sense of impermanence. The experiences I’ll have, the relationships I make, the sights I see — I’m conscious that they are happening within the container of a trip, a trip that will come to an end.
Trungpa Rinpoche once said, “We are raised in a culture that fears death and hides it from us. Nevertheless, we experience it all the time. We experience it in the form of disappointment, in the form of things not working out. We experience it in the form of things always being in a process of change. When the day ends, when the second ends, when we breathe out, that’s death in everyday life.”
It seems it has become human nature to deny the most natural and inevitable certainty: things change. We are typically so desperate for ground underneath our feet but for whatever reason, when we travel, we are suddenly willing to leap into the unknown. Think of all the uncertainty that surrounds planning and taking a trip. When else do we willingly embrace uncertainty and spontaneity to such a degree?
This addiction to getting ground under our feet is affecting our relationships with others as well as our relationships with ourselves. As a society, we hold each other to entirely unrealistic standards of consistency. True growth requires us to be flexible, malleable and ever-changing. Look at plant life. Look at animal life. No other living creature resists the process of growth (and death) as much as humans do.
When I worked at The Trevor Project, a huge concern of LGBTQ+ youth in crisis was that if they were to label or define themselves now, what would happen if they changed or evolved down the road? Would they need to suffer through the fear of coming out all over again, or perhaps worse, be criticized for who they came out as in the first place? I’d ask them, “What’s wrong with continually allowing new versions of yourself to unfold and be discovered?”
On this most recent trip, I was more consciously observant of how I show up around people. With my family, I showed up one way, with strangers, another. Each friend I saw or made got a different version of me as well, and yet, I don’t think any of them would say that they don’t feel like they got to know me. They all got to know a part (or parts) of me. I’m the only one who will ever truly be able to know myself and still, there’s so much that even I’m learning about myself.
On the trip before that, I had the privilege of presenting on the topic of mindfulness at the International Gay Coaches Conference 2022. I challenged my fellow coaches with an exercise to see what happens when they simply allow all of who they are, all of what’s coming up for them in the present moment, into the space. Many of them reported feeling an intimate sense of compassion, peace, and love when they practiced this with each other. When I proposed that we bring that same allowing energy to our work as coaches, someone asked, “But what if something negative like irritation comes up for me when I’m talking to a client? What do I do with that?” I became curious with him, “What if irritation comes up and that’s all there is to it. What if there’s nothing to be done?” It’s a disservice to ourselves to override our living moments. When we do, we enter a kind of trance and our attention gets narrowed. How can we hope to expand client awareness if our own is contracted?
Byron Katie often says, “not knowing is the only way to understand.” There’s a deep wisdom that comes to us when we let go of intellectualizing what’s happening and we simply open ourselves to the present moment. I think it’s important to realize that impermanence is a key ingredient in allowing ourselves to tap into that wisdom. If we recognize that literally everything is fleeting, what is there left to grasp or oppose? Mindfulness is sometimes described as a wisdom that’s free from grasping and aversion. We spend a lot of time pushing and pulling within ourselves at literally subjective ideas of right and wrong. What would happen if we spent less time evaluating ourselves and more time discovering ourselves and/or our experience? “Vacation Brian” can tell you: you become fully alive.
Pema Chodron agrees, “To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest. To live fully is to be always in no-man’s-land, to experience each moment as completely new and fresh. To live is to be willing to die over and over again.” When we’re able to cultivate this eagerness for the unknown, we begin to look at ourselves and our experience not only honestly but kindly and with compassion — a compassion that we find we can’t help but emanate outward. I believe that’s something this world needs: a deep and radiant compassion for the constant flux of the human heart. It starts with our own.
So yeah, live your life like you’re on vacation. Live each moment like it won’t last.