September 15 (& 16), 2015
I’m the kind of person who believes in “signs from the universe.” I jive with the idea that when you’re on the right path, things fall into place. Doors will open, people will show up, and crazy synchronicities will take you by the hand and lead you to your destiny.
Which is why I felt a little unsettled at the Tampa Airport, when the flight attendant announced that we had to de-board the plane due to engine trouble. And again, three hours later, after re-boarding and making it all the way to the runway, when we had to return to the gate due to “suspicious odors of electrical fumes.”
After our second de-boarding, as I sat on the ground next to the information desk while Joel spoke with the frazzled Spirit Airlines employees about our missed connection to Colombia out of Ft. Lauderdale, I wondered, “What is the universe trying to tell me, here?”
I contemplated going home. My mom was just a phone call away, a 20-minute drive from St. Pete. A comfortable bed in her house, fresh veggies in the kitchen… And some good friends only a phone call away to tell me they still love me even though I’m a just a little bit erratic.
But this sign from the universe wasn’t so convincing to make me turn and run that easily.
So, I waited. I ate carrot sticks and peanut butter—-the snacks Joel’s mom packed for us, and for all I knew the last tastes of peanut butter I’d have for awhile (who knows what I’d get at the mushroom farm in Colombia?)
While Spirit Airlines decided whether or not our plane would crash if they tried flying us to Fort Lauderdale that day, Joel and I sparked up a conversation with the lovely gal sitting next to us at Gate 27. A conversation that got me thinking, perhaps this delayed flight was a good sign after all.
Zoe was a young girl, early twenties, on her way to Costa Rica. She had bright blue eyes full of laughter and excitement when she spoke. It was her first time leaving the country, and she planned on remaining out of the country–leaving behind her life in Madison, Wysconsin, in search of new adventures–indefinitely. With a part-time online writing gig under her belt, she had the freedom to work from anywhere, and planned a month of living on the beaches of Costa Rica before deciding whether or not to try somewhere else. She told us, “When I said my goodbyes… I told everyone I wasn’t coming back.” (I had to wonder for a moment if she was trying to escape some horrible past, but she reassured me she’d be going back to visit… just not to live.)
What a relief to cross paths with someone else planning to travel “indefinitely.” It gets quite discouraging when you tell your family and friends that you bought a one-way ticket to Colombia, only to be met with concerns for your safety… and your sanity, and your bank account. (Although I must say, I’ve got some pretty cool friends who might be even more excited about my traveling than I am.)
For me, “indefinite” doesn’t imply desertion. It just means I want to take things as they go, to be open to opportunities and learning experiences without feeling like I’m on limited time. This isn’t a vacation. It’s an inner-and-outer exploration and creation.
Our journey had just (barely) begun, and the excitement of talking to a fellow traveler helped me settle into the present moment. My insecurities were beginning to ease. Traveling becomes much less scary and strange when you are in the midst of doing it, surrounded by others who also feel called to adventure and exploration. It is far too easy for the mind to wander into the Land of Fears and Worries when you’re at home in the comfort of your air-conditioned, mosquito-less living room, with the fridge nearby, your laptop and cell phone at hand, your car parked outside– all your needs within reach, all the solutions at your fingertips. It’s difficult to imagine how to function once these things are no longer guaranteed. But once you’re at the airport, backpack in tow, and surrendered to the experience, you begin to realize the only thing to do is just go with the flow.
Indeed, traveling is a practice of “living in the moment.” Taking things as they come. Because what else can you do? There is only so much planning that you can do before you realize, Oh yeah, I can’t control anything! Anything external, at least. But you can learn to control your reaction to external situations.
Only the first day of the adventure, and already we’re given a test on letting go. Seeing the benefit when you can “Just go with it.” Flow like water over the rocks.
Oh, universe, you sneaky teacher, you…
The flight ended up being canceled that day. And by 3pm, Joel’s dad was picking us back up from the same spot where he’d dropped us off at 4:30am that morning. He made me laugh, saying, “Alright, that was the practice run-through, tomorrow it’ll be the real thing!” And the next day, it was back at 4:30am to drop us off again. (The extent of a parent’s love never ceases to amaze me.)
This go-around, everything went smoothly. We even got a few perks– like food vouchers (I ended up spending all $14 of mine at Starbucks to get 2 chai tea mistos and 2 cookies [I drank both teas and gave both cookies to Joel… typical]), an upgrade to business class (which gives you almost too much leg room along with some entertainingly-intoxicated seat neighbors), and a no-cost change in our connecting flight from Cartagena to Medellin– bringing us a few hundred miles closer to our final destination at the farm without having to spend the extra money to get there.
What at first seemed like a blaring red “STOP NOW! GO HOME BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE!” sign from the powers that be, turned out to be the opposite. It felt like a little nudge, saying, “See, I got your back.” We made a new friend (and a month into our travels, we’re both following along on each other’s adventures), found comfort in knowing we’re not the only ones seeking out alternative ways of living (because, who says you can’t live on the beaches of Costa Rica, or on the mountains of Colombia?!), and witnessed how we were just along for the ride–that things would happen that are out of control, and we could choose how to react.
There were moments when I felt afraid (will this end up costing us money? Will our bags somehow end up in Colombia without us?) And plenty of moments when I witnessed the people around me reacting with anger, frustration, and force. (A lot of these people were on their way for 5-day vacations to Central or South America, and now they had to spend their first night stuck in Tampa. Not a pretty sight) But Joel, Zoe, and I were in no rush. It was a beautiful thing to have the luxury of time. Nothing was being taken from us– things just were what they were.
Of course I was reminded of lessons taught and learned through Yoga– how in the practice you learn to become an observer. You learn that you are the witness of your human experience, you are the witness of how it feels to exist in your body. The practice teaches you to notice, and to accept… quieting the mind through a focus on breath, keeping desires and expectations at bay that otherwise may lead you to want to use force to change or resist what IS.
Mindfulness. Acceptance. Compassion. Grace.
With our open-ended travel plans in common, I noticed how Joel, Zoe, and I were in a more advantageous position to remain unaffected by our potentially frustrating situation. (If I were on my way to a week-long Carribbean excursion, I would probably be holding back tears and cursing the day Spirit Airlines was born.) There certainly is strength in flexibility.
Joel pointed out, “This is just one example of why I want to travel indefinitely. It let’s you be flexible. It let’s you be open to whatever happens without feeling like you need to resist it.”
So as the journey continues forth, from the Colombian Airport into “the city of eternal Spring,” Medellin, I leave you with this wisdom that Confucius say:
‘The green reed which bends in the wind is stronger than the mighty oak which breaks in a storm.’
PS Here’s a pretty funny video created by comedian Amy Schumer that inspired the title of this blog: