How my holiday revealed my Self to me

On my first trip overseas, I found myself wrestling (and talking) with… myself. I learned a huge amount, and it may have even changed my direction. Read on >>
Image of a map of New Zealand's north island

This year kicked off in spectacular fashion for this little writer, because as you would have read in the last post, I was in New Zealand. It’s the first time I’d travelled overseas (it’s true, tons of people are never in a position to travel until late in life and I’m one of them) and I spent a surprising amount of the time wrestling with my expectations of myself, of my trip, and of (re)discovering things about myself.

During the trip, I kept copious journals – a habit I have maintained, with surprising ease. I really oughtn’t be surprised, given I wrote about nearly every day of my life from ages 9 to 18. The ease of it is interesting, because it comes from the tools. For the past year or two I’ve been writing occasionally in a large book mockup I obtained years ago when I was a publisher, but it takes effort to use. This little A5, soft polyurethane-covered journal is my new favourite. It feels beautiful, it carries ink beautifully, the pages aren’t white, it has lines, it has a ribbon, it has elastic, the paper is FSC certified and from responsible sources. Like, seriously, ecstatic stationery nerd right here.

At customs, the stern lady scrutinised our passports. She asks if we’re just here on holidays.

‘I’m here to hunt for hobbits,’ said Troy, unexpectedly dissolving her into laughter.

On the first day, having done nothing but fly, we were completely exhausted. The result was that, after wrestling with the Fiat 500 we’d been allocated by the car hire company, finding our gorgeous AirBnB at Titirangi, and exchanging conversation with our host, we were pretty much ready for bed.

In conversation with our host, I learned that there is something very common to writers. And that is, they want to write (or edit, or publish, or teach, or mentor) for a living, but “can’t find the space to write”. That space is head-space. And it was the second or third conversation I’d had exactly that in as many weeks, with as many writers. I concluded quietly to myself that it’s both a job problem and a not-wanting-to-work (commitment) problem of some kind. But most of the time, it’s because writers try to do for work what is also their passion; and as a result they burn out simply by thinking about it.

We came to the conclusion that words as jobs = no creative output.

In any case, journalling daily did what I expected it to do: Inspire me to write. Writing daily, combined with a vastly increased effort to read, much less time spent waffling online, and some serious thinking, has conspired to inspire me in a huge number of ways.

So much so that I’ve bought a fabulous writing bureau so I can separate work life from writing life, given I also write professionally. It’s part of my commitment to myself to be true to the calling I had a small child, to write and inspire others.

It was on Day Two that my internal monologue about the nature of life and travel commenced. It spilled over into the journal.

I’ve spent today in a state of being a bit conflicted … I have this feeling – I’m not sure where it comes from – that I should be doing things every moment. But then, that’s not really a relaxing holiday, is it? And then I had a thought: “But isn’t the essence of travel really just living like a local in a different place? Which is when it occurred to me that the patterns we live are the patterns we carry. So it stands to reason that we would be quiet & reading.

Read quietly is how we spent every late afternoon and evening, and once I’d come to terms with that, I relished the time spent in the depths of books. In Auckland, we went hunting for bookshops. In fact, The Great Bookshop Hunt turned up exactly … nothing. We went on wild goose-chases into the suburbs looking for a giant bookshop, instead ending up at newsagents that had one feature wall of books.

Seriously, if there are any business owners in Auckland, put in a cafe/bookshop with a giant range, that’s open every day of the year, and you’ll do a raging trade. The only store that was open was small and expensive. Thirty-eight NZ dollars ($38 NZD) for a paperback is quite simply astonishingly expensive.

Sighing, we went back over the motorway bridge, and took a shortcut through a quiet, leafy, shaded, haphazard cemetery, in which a buried woman was lauded for her ‘missionary work with the natives’, and all the trees were hell-bent on destroying the graves and their headstones. Many [graves] were cracked, perched on angles, or even just face-down. The cemetery is in the CBD but almost entirely left to its own devices, unkempt; left to age, fall, and wither away.

It made me wonder whether the decline in bookshops could be correlated to the rise in druggies in a town.

By the time we got to Rotorua we were feeling the distance from home; and honestly, it wasn’t long into the trip. I was a bit tense because I was tired and feeling the effects of a rapid change of diet. And feeling kind of dissatisfied with the going-along-with-things holiday mode that Troy was in. The result was that we started to irritate each other a little bit.

And it was all because there was so much openness and non-doing in this first part of the trip. Beyond bookshops, meeting people, seeing a few things, and driving a lot in a tiny, tiny little car, the only major thing in our plans was Hobbiton.

Mooney Hobbits
I’m actually Hobbit sized

By the time we were on the road to Hobbiton in the bus, with a fabulous driver who explained the geology, Maori tribes, and plants on the way, we’d both evened out again.

I’m gradually coming to terms with the slow and deliberate journeying, where time to rest is valued and prioritized over running around doing a million things. It’s been an unexpected challenge for me.

The most amazing thing was learning that, with the clearing of pestilential weeds from native bushland, plants formerly considered extinct were starting to re-emerge. It made me so happy to hear that. And after visiting what I now fondly call the Gardens of Hobbiton, I’ve decided that the hobbits are right. Gardening really is a noble pursuit.

Gardens of Hobbiton #25
Gardens of Hobbiton

Travelling through a foreign land, and especially walking around alone in places like the edge of Lake Rotorua, I found myself in a state of flow most of the time. In fact, I started following my nose while walking around, and listening to my instinct rather than thinking enabled me to find little sand sculptures on the edge of the lake.

Photograph of a smiling sand sculpture on the edge of Lake Rotorua at Hamurana, NZ
The spirit of Lake Rotorua

Troy was surly a fair bit, and we were both feeling like going home. But I ended up just booking things I wanted to do, staying excited about the trip, and trying to ignore it.

That’s how we ended up at Te Puia to see Pohutu geyser, take a tour, and take part in a Maori cultural performance. I was nearly in tears of happiness over the boiling mud, geysers, and geothermal activity. Sounds weird, but at Te Puia I felt like I’d come home.

Me at Pohutu
I was so happy here I was nearly crying!

The self-discovery continued. I discovered, driving through mountains, an anxiety I never knew I had: A completely unwarranted and unfounded fear of being in a vehicle accident in a remote region.

The drives through windy, steep mountains, it turns out, while beautiful, make me feel anxious. I watched myself get overwhelmed by it on the beautiful drive to Napier.

We stayed in New Zealand’s top-rated bed and breakfast, Watea, just out of Napier (which was amazing, luxurious, and we wished we could’ve stayed longer!) before heading off to Wellington. In Wellington we stayed in an AirBnB with a Buddhist who was fabulous, and we really enjoyed relaxing in his house in between spending obscene amounts of time walking around the city.

For all the anxiety and home-sickness, I’m really enjoying being away. And I think people get into it because travelling keeps you in the present; you just go with the flow rather than daily life, where you live in your head.

During the trip, I read some fabulous books. I read $2 a Day, which is about living in America in the poorest way possible. I read Places that scare you by Pema Chodron. And I read Essentialism, a book about doing only what is essential and not doing what is not essential – and how to identify each one.

Funnily enough, I’d finished Chodron’s book just prior to staying with a Buddhist. While most people acknowledge a coincidence like that and think no more of it, I’m not one of them. The sequence of books, combined with the opportunity to discuss Buddhist texts with a practising Mahayana Buddhist was too good to be true.

I don’t consider myself a Buddhist, but I do Buddhist things.

Going home was a blessing and a curse. We were really looking forward to going home and resting in our own space sans pants; but leaving New Zealand, such a beautiful, clean, happy place, was hard.

Leaving New Zealand was a bunch of mixed feelings. Happy to be going home, sad to leave. Confused as to how I really felt.

The trip was the first truly relaxing holiday I’ve had, and the first time I’d really travelled with someone who is just like me. We did a whole lot of things, but it doesn’t really feel like we did. We could easily (if we’d had the cash, and in Troy’s case, the time off work) have stayed a lot longer.

It taught me a lot about being present, about facing internal difficulty, and about letting go, and about self-care. And it taught me about the importance of relaxing.

Perhaps most importantly, the trip taught me that I was put on earth to write. And so, this year is the year in which I take my calling a bit more seriously.

If you want more images, you can see all our photos at Flickr. Warning: 90% of them are from Hobbiton.

Since returning, I’ve questioned a lot of the goals I’ve held firm for the past couple of years. One of them is the goal of building a big company. I’m not sure that’s really me; and in fact, while it’s a fabulous stretch goal, I don’t know whether it deeply inspires me. What does deeply inspire me is using my skills and abilities to help simplify communication and business process for others.

This is how, at this part of the year, I’ve come to start engaging actively with everything, while gradually eliminating non-essential things. It’s also time to start following omens.

“People learn, early in their lives, what is their reason for being,” said the old man, with a certain bitterness. “Maybe that’s why they give up on it so early, too. But that’s the way it is.”

~ the Alchemist by Paul Coelho

How has your year kicked off? Leave a comment and let me know.

2 thoughts on “How my holiday revealed my Self to me

  1. This really speaks to me as I feel like I went through something very similar when I discovered how vital it was to me to be writing my own stuff – the projects of my heart – instead of just client work. I realised it wasn’t just the act of writing that was important to me. Can’t wait to see how you bring this desire to life this year.

    It’s also neat to read about our country from the point of view of travellers. Once again I wholeheartedly apologise for Auckland’s lack of decent bookshops.

    My year kicked up with walls going up! It’s so crazy to walk around and think that I get to actually LIVE in this insane house. Roof next week.

    1. Wow, did you? I find that similarity of experience endlessly fascinating – like mutually lived experience.

      Writing about New Zealand is like writing about someone you are deeply excited by; you could waffle on about it forever. ^_^ Such a beautiful and relaxing place to be.

      I’m SO excited about your house. Can’t wait to see you guys in it!!

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