A nice man whose campsite was across from mine, come up and asked me this question. I was sitting next to my campfire, reading, having a glass of wine, after a wonderful day driving up the coast. I was pretty content and relaxed.
I said, “Well, I’m here, but not lonesome.” “oh.” He said, clearly not expecting my response.
It made me think about traveling alone. Traveling on trips like this one, and “traveling” through this life.
While there were times when I thought it would be nice to have someone with me on this road trip, like when trying to navigate and drive (I see why my Mom has a talking GPS), I thoroughly enjoyed my own company. I can listen to the music I want, or not. I can stop when and where I want. I can eat what I want and when. I can sit or walk for however long I desire. I can talk to people, or not (including myself). However, I couldn’t turn to my traveling companion and say, “Wow! Look at that! Isn’t that beautiful!” I still said it, though, knowing the Universe was listening and receiving my excitement and gratitude. Hearing my own voice say those words was also surprisingly comforting.
Traveling alone in this way, I also learned more about myself. What do I want? What do I like? While I know answers to these questions most of the time, traveling and having new experiences, I get to answer these questions anew!
I discovered, for instance, that my natural inclination is to place myself and my desires second. Especially if I don’t have a strong inclination towards one thing or another, I will offer to defer to my companion’s wishes, hoping they have a stronger inclination. Traveling alone I couldn’t defer to anyone. I stopped when I felt the urge for a picture, or an exploration without having to discuss it with another. I also got to change my mind without need of explanation.
I also learned that when I am tired and hungry I am very irritable. Ok, I didn’t just learn this, but it was illuminating just how irritated I can get, and how at some point the irritations (with slower drivers who don’t use pull-outs, or turn signals) became almost comical. “Really, you are getting that upset? Look at what you are missing by being pissed off.” This usually worked to help me become more present to the beauty and wonder I was passing.
I also was able to greet people on the paths (hiking, sidewalks, and gatherings) without having to worry what my companion would think, or if our conversation would be interrupted. Saying “hello”, especially to those hiking the same trails is an acknowledgement of our sharing an experience, greeting a fellow traveler, even if we never have any other words between us.
And while I do enjoy meeting new people, I am an introvert and shy by nature, so extending myself in that way is a stretch for me. I tried to greet people, but found my more contemplative nature compelled me to sit at the end of the row at services. I initiated a few introductions at the various gatherings, but when another approached me, I welcomed the greeting and opened easily to the conversation that resulted.
And even though I technically traveled alone, I didn’t really. There were a myriad of people without whom I would not be able to travel in this way. I had wonderful couch surfing hosts, Art and Linda, who let me stay in their spare bedroom for three nights; there was the friendly toll taker before getting on the ferry; the skilled ferry driver who took a boat full of cars and people across Puget Sound; the helpful ranger at Olympic National Park who told me about the hike to Marymere Falls; the distraught young man in Coos Bay who asked me to pray for his brother who has schizophrenia; the animated camp hosts in Sunset Bay who drove around the camp asking if campers needed fire wood; the joyful bubble makers on the beach who gave so much joy; those generous souls who prepared, offered and celebrated the Yom Kippur services; the beautiful Interfaith Community that welcomed me and others; the hard workers who maintain the highways; the smiling waitresses and cooks at the cafés and restaurants where I dined; the miner who extracted the rose quartz that now hangs round my neck; the radio hosts on my car radio……
And yet, there were also signs that this next, unknown part of my life I am to travel alone. Meaning that the answers to the questions I am asking myself now about offering myself in service (my ministry) are not necessarily to be found outside myself exclusively. Reading, consultation, workshops, even welcomed advice from friends does not trump my own knowledge, just because of its origin. Outside is not better than inside, and visa versa. The key, I am discovering, is in creating the space to listen, then to listen, then to trust, then to keep listening inside and outside – comparing, contrasting and trusting clarity will come.
“Look for the answers inside your questions.” Rumi says. A quote that I have had on my business cards, website and email signature for years. Now I read it and face the reality with new eyes and a more open heart.
And it’s not just about listening to the answers that are given in the stillness, but trusting my own wisdom, experience and worth to answer these questions, and respond to the call. Trusting that my intentions to be a compassionate channel of healing, light and grace will guide me, as long as my intentions are not muddled with fear and worry and doubt. If I discover fear and worry, I get another opportunity to return to the ground of myself, what I know to be true – that the energies of the Universe (God, etc) heal and guide when I open authentically to them.
My wish is that as I navigate and travel these paths, these discoveries and reminders will support me, and others in their travels. And may this be true for all of us!