Jenni makes fun of me all the time for loving romantic comedies, no rx Oprah Winfrey, sildenafil and self-help books. Yes alright I admit it – despite my studly butch appearance, I am that kind of woman. So naturally, Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Eat, Pray, Love is one of my favorite books. When we talked about a one year trip around the world, the first thing I thought about was Gilbert’s experience. What I didn’t learn until later was that Gilbert deliberately chose to travel to Italy, India, and Indonesia in a particular order – She first focused on pursuing pleasure, then prayer, and finally balance.
Without knowing it, our trip also has flowed in a similar pattern. Looking back at our first four months of travel, I can see how focused we were on our hedonistic needs. We ate and drank without abandon. In Australia and New Zealand, we indulged in a bottle of wine with every dinner. In Indonesia, we gorged on seafood sates, fish wrapped in banana-leaf, mango pancakes, fried bananas and coconut cocktails. While the rest of the nation fasted for Ramadan, Jenni and I gained weight. In the Philippines, we never said no to a marienda (Filipino snack time), and my aunt kept us well-fed with lumpias (fried spring rolls) and adobo (braised chicken). In Cambodia, we took a cooking class and made enough fish curry and loc lac (stir-fried beef) for four people, which naturally we consumed between the two of us. After stuffing our faces with every possible kind of dumpling in Taiwan and China, our food bonanza finally came to an end when my jeans busted at the seams (later patched by a tailor for just 75 cents in Nepal).
We started the trip still holding onto the American mindset that productivity leads to happiness. We set high expectations for our Out & Around project, and we jetted through seven countries in three months. In all that time, I only managed to read one book, Bossypants by Tina Fey. But as we got into the groove of our new life, our old habits started to fade and we began to slow down the Amazing Race. Without the pressure of the daily grind, we slept a full eight hours a day. We spent hours at cafes, just drinking coffee and relaxing. We had the freedom to do whatever we pleased with the day. A month into the trip, I started to realize that I no longer needed to wear my mouthguard for teeth grinding. And after years of wearing glasses to hide the dark circles around my eyes, the circles faded away and I got to wear contacts again. Jenni stopped biting her nails for the first time in her life. Best of all, we stopped feeling guilty for not being productive, and we got back our sense of playfulness and wonder at the world.
When we arrived in Nepal and India, two of the spiritual centers of the world, we turned our attention away from physical pleasure (thank God, because both of us could only wear pants with elastic waistbands at this point) and instead to our spiritual well-being. During our twenty days of trekking in Himalayas, our lives became drastically simplified – no alcohol, no caffeine, no meat, no wifi – we spent our days hiking through the most magnificent mountain landscapes either of us had ever seen, and the evenings reading books by the furnace in the guest houses. After about five years of not reading a book, I started a pace of a book a week.
In India, our two weeks in an ashram took us to a whole other level of slowness. The ashram asked that we refrain from alcohol, drug, sex, meat, and politics while observing silence throughout the day. Of course we broke almost all of the rules, but we did our best to be still and find our spiritual selves. Every day began with 6am meditation and 7am yoga, after which I would go for a jog along the amazingly serene Ganges river (still clean at this altitude) just behind the ashram. We finished each day with a yoga class at sunset and a second hour of meditation, then early bedtime at 8:30. The more we learned about Hindu philosophy, the more words like “flow,” “energy” and “karma” started feeling less “new age-y woo-woo” and more meaningful. We practically lost all motivation to do anything but just sit in the present.
At this point, we can hardly imagine holding a 9-5 job ever again because we have such an extensive self-care routine of yoga, reading, journaling, meditating, jogging, and stretching that take up about four hours of our mornings. Jenni and I thought long and hard about what what our ideal lives would look like, and we started setting some resolutions and goals for ourselves, a list which includes not having a television in the living room, growing an organic far in our backyard and meditating everyday. My Kindle is now stock full of various self-help books like The Passion Project, The Four Hour Work Week, The Joy of Less, The Power of Now, and The Art of Happiness (all Oprah favorites).
Like Gilbert’s journey, we’ll be focusing on balance in the upcoming months. Will we find moments of stillness and bliss without having to go to an ashram? Is it possible to stay carefree even when we’re not on perpetual vacation? Can we maintain equanimity despite the demands and stress of daily life? Can we keep up our intentions to work towards our ideal lives when we go home and have to start making a living again? I’m just thankful we don’t have to answer these questions for another six months!