One thing I've noticed in taking "time off" is people will ask me: Are you going to travel?
It's a sensible question. I have all this "time I might never have again" (personally, I consider that a limiting belief) especially, they say, because I'm childless, so it's currently socially acceptable to backpack New Zealand and "find myself" or whatever. Contemporary society accepts this narrative, a variation of the modern day hero's journey. (Though it seems even more socially accepted if you make a viral Instagram travel account along the way.)
I suppose I can now answer this travel question with, "Yes!" since I'm sending this letter from New Orleans, where I road tripped with my mom and twin sister. We planned this trip spontaneously and ended up seeing an amazing live jazz performance at Preservation Hall yesterday on Mother's Day—talk about last week's theme of perfect timing. :)
I like big trips (and I cannot lie). I've been on three big international trips—Spain, Portugal, and Chile—since 2015 and love talking travel.
But here's the thing: any good writer (or anyone who's taken tons of writing classes, like yours truly) will tell you that the outer journey in the plot line of a story is only as strong as the inner journey.
That's why there are books and movies where tons of action happens (car chases! sex! murders!), but nothing really happens, and it's not satisfying. No characters grow.
The reverse can be true, too: a book where nothing "happens" but it's satisfying because the character goes through an inner transformation. I am partial to exactly this type of book. One of my favorite books where "nothing happens" is the novel Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson. It's set in Idaho and quiet and haunting and has some perfectly-strung sentences that blew my mind. Another "quiet" book I absolutely love is Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout (which won the Pulitzer). (Note: Robinson's Gilead won the Pulitzer, but I preferred Housekeeping. I didn't link to it because the description is spoiler-y. If you want a rather solemn book immersed in the natural world about an insular, eccentric family, read it. If you want a page turner, read something else.)
Fiction aside, I believe in the power of both the journey without and the journey within, and am recently reveling in the power of the latter. If you aren't willing to open your mind and heart, then wherever you go, there you are. If you don't change how you see things, then whether you're in Paris, France or Istanbul, Turkey or Dayton, Ohio, you don't grow.
I think this is what my homeboy Rilke was referring to when he said:
"The only journey is the one within."
I recently attended a virtual meditation retreat and it was wild because, even though I didn't leave my apartment, it felt like I traveled miles and miles within.
During one session, we did the Ananda Mandala meditation. (You can find it on YouTube, though I recommend doing it with a guide in a group for your first time. In NYC I easily found groups that do this.) This meditation is designed to clear Chakras and raise Kundalini energy through a special, vigorous breathing technique.
(Chakras are the seven energy centers in the body down the spine's path (bottom to top: root, sacral, solar plexus, heart, throat, third eye, crown). In Sanskrit, the word Chakra means "wheel" because these centers, essentially, spin with energy. Kundalini energy is primal or life force energy, known as Chi (Chinese) or Prana (Sanskrit).)
After we finished the Ananda Mandala meditation, I felt like I had run ten miles, which is something, for the record, I've never actually done. And the wildest thing: I'd been "merely" sitting and breathing the whole time.
Kabir, an Indian poet, said:
"I felt in need of a great pilgrimage, so I sat still for three days."
And Rumi, my go-to Sufi poet, said:
"Everything in the universe is within you."
So whether you're reading this from your sofa or a hemisphere away from your home, may this serve as a kind reminder that anything you could ever need is already inside.
with Love and with Light and with all of the beignets,
p.s. The first sentence in this letter irks me because I believe there's no such thing as "time off." I'm currently doing everything I've done my whole life with one exception: I'm not exchanging my energy for currency. If we consider people "on" when they're exchanging energy for dollars and otherwise "off" then I think that's indicative of a larger problem in our society: the problem of thinking personal worthiness = net worth. That is a notion I reject entirely.
p.p.s. I recently polled well-traveled friends on their favorite places in the world (and would love to hear yours!). I enjoyed these answers so wanted to share: Mexico City, the Swiss Alps, Tel Aviv, Key West, Hong Kong, and Prague. I've been to zero of those places, and would love to go to them all. As for today though, I'll continue exploring the Big Easy and, through meditation, explore more of the universe within, as well. :)