Lessons learned from Travel

Travel has been a topic on many people’s minds this year, as so many of us have been grounded and have been unable to do a lot of travel. We might wonder about the future of travel, but I am hopeful because as humans we like movement. We like to see things, to experience things, and travel is one way of doing this. Due to increased globalization over the years, the world has gotten smaller. Many of us have loved ones in different places that aren’t a short drive away, and so we will travel again. The world will recover from this pandemic hopefully wiser, stronger, and with more innovations that make travel safer and accessible. Watch this week’s YouTube video here: https://youtu.be/mb5rOfHe9RM

I could talk endlessly about travel. It is one of my favorite things to do in this world—whether domestic or internationally. Some form of travel or movement has been with me throughout my life, at each stage, and I can tell you stories from my youth to more recently. In each case, I have always learned something, whether about myself, a situation, a place, or a person.

Before his death, one of my favorite people to watch travel around the world was Anthony Bourdain. He had what I thought was the best job. Travel to cool places, eat yummy food, and have equally delicious conversations with cool people. He left his mark on the world, and some of us won’t forget his words and his lessons. He said, “Travel changes you. As you move through this life and this world you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life — and travel — leaves marks on you.” I agree with this completely.

When I was a little girl, my family lived in Jamaica, in the country. It was lush and beautiful, with places where the river met the sea. One would be tempted to think that everywhere in the world was like this. My first plane ride taught me that this was not the case. When I was a little girl, we moved from the Caribbean to Wisconsin. It was difficult to explain to other Jamaicans where Wisconsin was. North of Chicago, but not quite Canada, and cold! They literally had little pieces of ice falling from the sky—my first introductions to snow and black ice. I learned immediately that while all places have their beauty, that all places are not the same in appearance. There are just some places in the world that take your breath away in beauty.

Even though when I was younger, we did not have a lot of resources, my family always made sure that we went somewhere. We squished together in a vehicle listening to reggae and eating sandwiches my mom made; once we drove from Wisconsin to the Grand Canyon—stopping in each state along the way. My aunt woke us up at the crack of dawn to hike down into the Canyon. I remember seeing red dirt, beautiful birds, and the most amazing desert sunrise. The lessons from the dessert are not the same as the lessons from the sea.

One year we drove from Wisconsin to Florida. I learned just how massive and varied in landscape this country was. In high school, my friends and I took our senior trip by riding a Greyhound, with local stops to Disney world. I learned that music really can get you through a lot. I also took a college tour with Upward Bound where we visited several schools along the East Coast. I marveled at the big cities out East, and dreamt of visiting one day. The East Coast was much more fast paced than the Midwest. Later I would learn that the big city can shred midwestern values if you are not supremely grounded in yourself. But also that in every big city you will find people who still will share a smile and a good morning with you. (After coffee of course).

In middle school, I had a Spanish teacher, Senorita Winters. She had lived in parts of Latin America, Mexico, and Spain. When she showed us slides of Spain, I knew that I wanted to go there one day. Other teachers of mine also influenced my desire to travel. Some had used their summers to travel the world, others had studied in different countries. I ended up at a language high school partially fueled by a desire to travel one day. But I was by all means, a poor girl from Jamaica growing up in Milwaukee. Was this even a practical dream?

In college, I received the opportunity to travel internationally to somewhere that wasn’t Jamaica. I studied Spanish in the Dominican Republic, and I formally studied abroad in Madrid, Spain. I learned about mofongo, bachata, and more deeply about the interconnected history of the Caribbean. Going to Spain, was an experience that changed my entire life, and opened up my eyes to the wonderful possibilities that the world was my oyster. I had to immerse myself in the language, learn how to get around, and learn that even though my family was far away, they were still with me wherever I went.

My good friends including Melody—my sister for life—encouraged me, planned with me, and made a lot of things possible. I traveled in that semester all around Spain—Bilbao, Barcelona, Valencia, Granada, Palma de Mallorca, Toledo, Segovia, and more. Places I had only read about before suddenly came to life. I learned about history, culture, music, food, and the siesta life. We also traveled to Amsterdam, Paris, Italy, Morocco, and England, where I met some of my favorite relatives for the first time.

Each of those experiences changed me for the better. Later in my life, I would have the experience of traveling all over the United States, Puerto Rico, the US and British Virgin Islands, Bermuda, St. Lucia, Antigua, Dominica, Scotland, Mexico and Nigeria. I traveled to Italy with Catholic University and had the opportunity to do a solo trip to the beautiful town of Assisi. There I found a peace that passed understanding. There I made a prayer for my life, and understood why Elizabeth Gilbert chose Italy as one of her destinations in Eat, Pray, Love. I too learned about “il dolce far niente. The sweetness of doing nothing.” While in Italy, my colleagues and I received a private tour of the Vatican’s Secret Archives and the Apolistic Library. I learned just how ancient some of the world could be.

Traveling also shows us who we could be. Part of the great damage and disservice of the institution of slavery is that for most people of African descent in the Western Hemisphere, our ability to trace our ancestry is limited. I traveled to Nigeria once for the wedding of one of my best friends. While there, it was not uncommon for people to think that I looked like people from a certain tribe, and one lady swore I was related to someone she knew. I wondered if maybe I had ancestors from there? The food, music, and people reminded me of Jamaica and Jamaicans. But there was something else about seeing people so sure of themselves and their lineage. Proud to have descended from kings and queens that made the people walk with a sense of pride. Maybe it was by osmosis, but I felt that pride too.

Each mode of travel grants you a different perspective. Whether I have walked, taken a boat, driven in a car as driver or passenger, taken a train, or flown, the perspective has always shifted to accommodate each mode. Life can be the same way. Sometimes we see things when we are walking that we would not see from the plane. Sometimes we need to slow down to see clearly, and sometimes we need to elevate our thinking so that we put ourselves where we need to be.

Other important lessons:

  1. Travel pushes you outside of your comfort zone. There is so much goodness outside of your comfort zone. When you travel, you have already left the comfort of your pond for the great ocean. There are things for you to see and experience, and they are outside of the comfort zone.
  2. You learn how to be flexible. There is a saying that the tree that survives the windstorm is the one that learns how to bend with the wind. If you remain rigid and inflexible, you will snap like a tree in the wind. The pace moves differently in different places, and you have to adjust or risk frustration.
  3. You gain a new perspective. You see things done in different ways, you see people you would not normally see, and your whole sense of being attunes to the fact that there could be a different way or multiple ways of living, being, and doing life.
  4. Travel is healing. There have been several times in my life when I needed deep healing. Thanks to the lovely family and friends who accommodated me in those times, and let me sleep. When I need to heal, sleep is so vital. Like Tere, who provided me with food to eat-plantains and Milo, and words to nourish my heart and soul. Maybe it was a cool breeze in Jamaica, the cafes in Abuja, or the seas and stars of Bermuda, sometimes you do need to “get away.”
  5. Travel shows us how brave we really are. I have traveled to places by myself and wondered, am I being silly or am I really called to go to this place or do this thing. Travel will show you that you know more than you think and you have unbounded courage. It will also require that you rely on common sense.
  6. Like life, travel isn’t always easy. You might lose your luggage, or get lost yourself, or encounter an experience that isn’t the best. But what do you do? You get up, figure it out and keep going.
  7. Travel can teach you a lot about people. Want to know someone better? Travel somewhere with them that you have to stay overnight. You will learn a lot. Travel will also teach you that there are some really kind, beautiful souls out there across the world.
  8. Travel teaches us that the world is beautiful, and that people all over are generally dealing with the same issues. Love, purpose, finances, spirituality, and health. We are so different, yet so alike.

You might say, “Ah this would be great but I don’t have money to travel.” Well, not all trips are costly. Some travel is local, you can walk to it, and yes some requires planning and saving. I did a lot of travel as a young student with very limited resources. I sacrificed a lot but in the end, experiences and the memory of them stay with us always. I hope that if you want to go somewhere, that you are able to find a way, that it is a powerful and beautiful experience, and that you learn just how magical, amazing, and courageous you are. I hope when it is safe to travel again, that you will get your bag ready and let your soul guide you to where you need to go. May the stars shine brightly over your week, and if you feel inclined, please let me know what is on your travel bucket list! Thank you.

The Element of Fire: Forging Ahead

There is something mesmerizing about fire. Perhaps, it is the depth of colors flickering around, the sound of wood crackling, or maybe the heat produced by this element why people have been captivated by fire since the beginning of time. Over the last few weeks, I have written about water, earth, and air. Next week, we will talk about spirit—the fifth element—the ether and the heart. Each of these elements is magical in their own way, and contains simple but important lessons for our lives. But for now, for today, we will focus on the element that holds a special place in my heart. I have learned many personal lessons from fire. Some of these lessons have been painful, but they have all held nuggets of transformative wisdom. P.S. I dive further into this on my YouTube video for this week. You can check it out here: https://youtu.be/23kM61f6snE

Photograph from Unsplash

Why are human beings intrigued by fire? Fire comes from a chemical reaction between oxygen and some sort of fuel (wood or gasoline) heated to ignition temperature. Several scientific reactions happen during this process that ultimately creates heat, light, and soot. In the unfolding of this process, we can see that fire is the element that both destroys and creates. Fire needs to consume something—wood, coals, or gas. Fire needs something material so that it can flourish. In the process, it creates energy for us to have light to see, a way to cook our foods, and heat to warm our homes. If we make the analogy that there is a fire within us—the eternal fire of our souls—we must therefore be careful about what we consume, and about what we allow to burn within us. From our consumption, we will also be creating. How are you tending to your soul at this moment? What are you creating from what you have allowed yourself to consume?

On a spiritual level, fire is transformation and the determination of our will. Fire represents passion, creativity, and purification. Without the pressures of the heat from fire, a diamond remains a lump of coal. Without the fire to create the process, the coal never reaches its full potential. Many of us have gone through our own individual trial by fire. So many times, we are encouraged to turn away from what is difficult, what is hard, and what appears to be an obstacle—but in doing so we are avoiding the process that is meant to polish us. Rabindranath Tagore said, “Let me not pray to be sheltered from dangers, but to be fearless in facing them. Let me not beg for the stilling of my pain, but for the heart to conquer it.”

When I was four years old, I went through a very painful lesson associated with fire. My family was still living in Jamaica at the time. We were in Portland parish, which is basically like being in a tropical rainfall. Everything is lush, vivid, and so green that it is almost blue. In fact, we lived at the base of the Blue Mountains, which derive their name from that glorious green/blue color that stretches out as far as the eye can see. On this particular day, my grandmother—who was a teacher—was in our living room helping students from the community prepare for the Common Entrance exam so that they could get into high school. My mother was on the other side of the island, attending Teacher’s College, and my father was away from the parish working.

My grandmother had hired a young woman by the name of Jolly to watch me and to help with things around the house. I was a curious child; sometimes I climbed our cherry tree and sat up there for hours swaying in the breeze. Other times, I was wandering around the yard playing with our cat Frisky, or the dogs. Like most houses in the country, we had an indoor kitchen and an outdoor kitchen. Most people in the country prefer to use the outdoor kitchen because the food just taste better cooked over a wood fire. Jolly had been putting clothes on the line to dry, and I found myself in the outdoor kitchen area. A pot bubbled up with the scent of something heavenly, but even more intriguing were the golden orange flames flickering back and forth. I was mesmerized to say the least. I had some paper with me, and I ripped it up and threw paper bits into the fire. Eventually, I got too close and the yellow dress lined with lace that I was wearing combusted faster than I could scream. I was stunned—too shocked to react, and also conscious that I could get in big trouble.

Maybe it was because I had been quiet for so long, that Jolly came running to find me. She screamed, and ripped the dress from my body. She also suffered a burn on her hand. I will always have gratitude for her, because she probably saved my life that day. In the process, she got hurt as well. A fitting lesson for all of us is that when we play with fire, we might not be the only one to get burned. Everything happened so quickly after that. I remember people descending to the house to help figure out what to do. I remember smelling the burning of my own skin, and feeling immense pain. I cried until I did not think it was possible to cry anymore. And then, I slept.

The clinic

In the community, we had a small clinic that had weird hours, and we were miles away from any hospital. I had to wait a few days, but my grandmother’s friend took me on a bus to Kingston. As the bus jostled, I felt everything on my wound. I spent four months in the hospital in Kingston. I had suffered second and third degree burns across my stomach, all the way up across my underarm and into my back. My parents came to visit me, and I could see their grief. I did not know what it meant at the time, but I blamed myself.

As I grew up, I was so ashamed of my scars that I always layered up so that no one could ever see them. Once in elementary school, I wore a sleeveless shirt and a boy in my class saw my scar. He made fun of me for weeks after. I got so ashamed, that I would wear a sweater even in summer time. It is amazing how one moment in our lives can impact us so deeply. Years later as I learned more about self-love, and healing from childhood wounds, I made peace with my scar and with the incident that caused it. Scars are a reminder that we survived something, that we healed, and that we are alive to see another day. Some of my favorite quotes are about scars. Rumi said, “The wound is the place where the light enters you.” Khalil Gibran said, “Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.”

A few years ago, my aunt announced that she had a gift for my mom, my other aunt, and I. She was taking us to see the motivational speaker, “Tony Robbins.” I would have to use four days of personal leave, but she thought it would be worth it. My other aunt and I upon finding out the conference was in Secaucus, New Jersey, started planning how in the evenings we would go into New York City and have fun. We would soon find out that this was not that kind of conference. We were there each day from 8am to almost midnight. I was irritated, but the materials that we covered were interesting and I could feel the seeds of change being planted in my mind.

I found out that during the conference, each participant would have an opportunity to walk across hot coals. Having had the experience of being burned before, I felt anxiety take over. Hot coals? What? Were they insane? Apparently tons of people had done this before, so I knew that it was possible. We prepared our mind for this, learning a mantra that we would say during the process. We were paired with a perfect stranger so that we would not have our friends and family as a crutch. I was paired with a young man from Spain. We talked about why we were at the conference, and our dreams and hopes for the future. When it was time, we encouraged each other, and then just went for it. I wanted to cry so bad, but I could not let fear keep me prisoner. I made it across the coals, and then I just cracked open. I felt a huge weight lift off my shoulders. I felt proud of myself, and I knew in that moment—if I could walk across hot coals, there was nothing that I could not do. I felt like the phoenix rising up from my own ashes. It was a powerful experience and one that has stayed with me.

So what can we learn from fire? 

1.      Just as fire consumes what it is fed, we too must be careful about what we feed the fire of our soul. We must feed ourselves with the things that nourish our spirit, and we must not feed the fire of those things that might consume us completely. 

2.      Purification is a necessary part of life. Like a forest fire cleanses away that which does not help the forest to survive and thrive, sometimes we must also purify our own lives. 

3.      Sometimes when we play with fire, we might not be the only ones to get burned. Think carefully about how your own actions in life might impact not only you, but also the entire ecosystem around you.

4.      Sometimes you must walk through the fire—courageously, boldly, and without fear. This is your process for becoming polished, like the diamond that you are. This is where your personal testimony resides. What have you already overcome in your life?  Let your scars remind you that you have already survived and healed from other things—you can do it again. 

5. Like the great phoenix, you can rise again after everything goes up in flames. There is a great tendency placed on us by society to think that there is no future after something bad happens in our life. That is not true—you can rise again, and you should. Life is a constant cycle of life, death, and rebirth. Something is always ending for us, and with every end, there is a new beginning. No matter what phase of the cycle you are in, you will begin again.

6.      You have the will, the determination, and the personal power to take action and to achieve your dreams. When I wrote about air, I mentioned your vision and seeing it unfold in your mind. Fire is the place of action—what steps will you take to manifest the vision?

Fire is a powerful tool for teaching us important life lessons. You are a courageous soul, with a love light that shines brighter than any eternal flame. As you move forward into this next week. Think about where you can take action. Do not be afraid to fail, for even if you do, you can rise up again! I have faith in you, and I believe in you. Have a wonderful week