Life, With Purpose

Life, With Purpose

You see, I travel—often, and preferably, alone—because traveling makes me feel small and when I feel small I learn big lessons. Not every trip reshapes who I am as a person or how I see myself. Sometimes it is a gentle nudge in the ribs, a reminder about this or that. Be decent. Be slow to anger. Talk to strangers. Other times, it shakes me.

Somewhere in Belgrade, maybe it began in Sarajevo, I was shaken. At first a sneaking vibration, until I felt it, and then once I felt it, it grew stronger until it cracked my foundations. In short hindsight, I wrote to a friend:

“I think if I boiled the trip down to a single lesson…I’d say it’s just to live life with purpose in whatever it is you’re doing. The rest will take care of itself.”

We live in a hectic world. It’s full of routines that make it all too easy to get stuck in idle. Routines, responsibilities, relationships become a rising crescendo of distraction. They drown out the simple stuff of life: being here now. All those important flashes in our minds—I want to fix this or I want to do that—are overcome by the cacophony of the commonplace.

That’s the beauty of travel. It lifts the paralytic effect of normalcy.

You walk that crooked street away from the city center for no other reason than you want to know what’s around that next corner. You venture out in the rain because it might never stop raining before that last bus leaves town. You tiptoe into a radioactive wasteland because you think you might find a piece of yourself nestled among the dangerous unknown.

These things happened to me.

But it’s not just travel’s strange ability to force action; it’s its ability to wash away all the other stuff. The conventional problems of life quickly fade when you’re driving across the border of a quasi-country at midnight on a dark mountain road. And they quiet when you find yourself crouching in the middle of a minefield on the outskirts of a not-too-long-ago besieged town. Be here now, the eerie silence demands.

These things happened to me.

More remarkable than that, you can hear the silence even in the dull moments—those long intermissions on the road. The layover. The nine-hour bus ride. The side of the dirt road in that small village or the dark beach with the full moon and the angry surf. Those powerfully casual doldrums when your only company is you.

These things happened to me.

It’s at these moments that the Universe gracefully yields, letting you think in its cosmic mercy as if you have never thought a thought before. Those thoughts—the ones you don’t share with anyone else—those are the ones you’re looking for. And I promise you when you find them, they’ll be electric and they’ll be scary and you will want more.

Hold on to that feeling—especially when you step off that plane on that return ticket. The business of the real world is going to immediately start eroding it. Get out the sandbags. Break routines, prioritize responsibilities, reflect on relationships. Remind yourself always to see yourself as who you are not who you assume yourself to be.

So yes, live life with purpose. Find out who you are right now, at this moment, and decide who you want to be tomorrow. And then set about doing.

Image courtesy of Randy Wade. Some rights reserved.