The Best Education

India 048

THEME: Travel


by Sharon

Rather appropriately for a travel post, I write this in a hotel in Mumbai where I’ve stopped for a few hours on the penultimate leg of my trip. Oh, how I love to travel. It’s in my blood. Really.

Mom and Dad run a small travel agency. We’re from Goa, the former Portuguese part of India, which makes us a little unusual amongst our fellow Indians, as we’re Catholic. Dad was born and raised in Uganda, which gave our British upbringing an African flavor, too. The beauty of having more than one culture means that everywhere is home.

At first, we lived above the office. My brothers and I had premature wanderlust, surrounded by posters of Manila and Sydney. I ended up studying international politics and doing humanitarian work overseas, growing ever more interested in people – who we are and why we do the things we do.

Living abroad, working alongside those from every walk of life, I observed how compassion, respect and a sense of humor can deal with any situation. On my travels I witnessed the breadth, depth and excesses of the human spirit, from lime green Lamborghinis in Monaco to the ultra poor slums of Dhaka. I marvel at the resilience of those bearing trials far bigger than my own slight ones (the usual: health, love, career; though thankfully manageable in my case). My travel experiences are a big part of why I became a writer. It’s all about resilience.

I also welcome the clarity of thought that exploration brings. In part it’s the distance from home that gives me objectivity. Perhaps it’s also the incredible people I meet on my journey, and their collective nuggets of wisdom that crystallize along the way. It’s a kaleidoscope of patterns, which continues to change and evolve on my journey into beautiful dots that all join together and eventually make sense. Before I began this trip (spanning Mexico City, Hawaii, Berlin, Paris and now India), Natasha’s friend Anna mentioned Elizabeth Gilbert’s theory of ‘following your curiosity’. I made a mental note to look it up. Jennifer emailed when I was in Berlin, with a link to Gilbert’s ‘Flight of the Hummingbird’ talk (filmed at UCLA, my recent alma mater). I later happened to reference Gilbert when chatting to my friend Kwamina over home cooked Indian food. At the end of that week, having had no sleep, worn out from work and feeling frustrated with my incessant life changes – that only I had chosen to make – I finally happened to click on Jenn’s link and watched Gilbert speak lyrically about how some people cross-pollinate, doing many seemingly little but important things throughout their lives, just as hummingbirds do. It is with relief I realized, although I’m never going to be a jackhammer (equally wonderful, passionate and with a laser focus and ability to get a lot done), I’m likely a hummingbird. I do things in my own way and perpetual change is natural. I think of Paulo Coelho’s notion of following the signs, or Steve Jobs’ Stanford speech about only being able to join the dots going backwards. It all starts to make sense.

Of course, as well as the deep and introspective, travel is simply addictive. The adrenaline rush every time I arrive somewhere new, knowing little as I figure out where to visit. Trying to hear a city’s heartbeat. The joy of discovery when I happen upon a hidden courtyard with a tiny cafe to refuel and plot my next steps. The sheer sense of freedom. Turning a corner and wandering where my feet and instinct take me. Every time on my travels, I feel lucky to have the privilege, space and opportunity to do so.

Gratitude, I find, has punctuated my recent trip. I’ve been saying the same prayers for years, but on these travels I’m no longer rushing, just going through the motions. I’m engaged and mean what I say: I am thankful. What’s also been helping to bind my busy mind and neglected soul – and body – is yoga. After many years, on this trip I’ve taken up the practice again and more seriously. (I’m still a wobbly novice, but am really enjoying learning). Healthwise and emotionally, I’d been feeling for a while there had been a disconnect between my mind and body. The combination of meditation and exercise that yoga offers, I’ve found, is perfect for me.

Mat in hand, I set off to meet the yoga instructor at the hotel gym, straight after arrival in Mumbai (Note: don’t do this after a long plane journey unless you’re actually fit. Or really up for a challenge. Consider me the unwitting latter). Karishma, the instructor, was a little ball of energy and the session turned out to be just what I needed to both invigorate and relax me. I recently re-read about the research that neurologists have done with Tibetan monks who practise yoga and deep meditation. They have a more positive outlook,  literally have more advanced neural networks and experience true oneness with their surroundings. Karishma reminded me of the gratitude we must have, for so many countless things we take for granted, each day. My body, mind and soul feel still, fused as one, at peace. I’ve already signed up for another class.

And out of my window sprawls Mumbai. Ah, India, my beloved home from home. Being here feels like balm on my soul and I wonder how it has taken me four years to make it back. No matter the gap, every time I return, like clockwork when I step off the plane, I recall California-born writer Amy Tan’s words, “When my feet touched China, I became Chinese”. Although I do think of myself as a citizen of the world, I’m above all Indian and British. And despite speaking Hindi like a small child and fewer words of our Goan dialect (I blame Mom and Dad for using Konkani as the secret language as we were growing up and deliberately not teaching us), here I am, and I’m at home.

Writing, hummingbirds, gratitude, identity. When they say you find yourself when you’re traveling, I think you really do.


2 thoughts on “The Best Education

  1. Just finished watching Elizabeth Gilbert’s ‘Flight of the Hummingbird’ video. Thanks for sharing. Feel ever so slightly relieved about not having found my ‘one true passion’ in life. I definitely agree that curiosity is essential. Just never heard it explained in this context before.

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