When drama shakes you and moves you into a different direction / travel reflection #5

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”

― Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

This blog post is contemplating on my 2018 end-of-the-year reflections and part 5 of my travel insights series.

At first, I wondered whether it was worth writing about it in the middle of 2020 – and then I realized, our current situation with so much time for self-reflection and change, definitely relates to this (sorry, not sorry to mention this in yet another post).

So at that time, I was in northern Brazil, thinking about how turbulent the year had been but also how incredibly grateful I was for how life turned out. I published a very vulnerable post on Facebook (part of it will be the bold sentences below) and I really wanted to reflect back on it. Here we go.

2018 * Taught me how ‘dramatic/bad’ events & experiences can make you grow the most and give out a kick in the a** to make a change ;)

Many of us want to change something in our lives, I believe. We might to even be aware of it, because when you’re comfortable and life just happens to you, why would you change it? 

Most people change when s*** hits the fan. Somehow when things are taken from you and your comfortable bubble bursts, you have no other choice but to start over or choose a different approach. 

In 2018, I felt a lot of ‘drama’ and it changed my life in ways I hadn’t expected. I went from a life that felt stable and maybe long(er)-term to backpacking around South-America, something I had never planned, yet even rejected a few months before!

That was what it looked like on the outside. On the inside, I battled the overwhelming stress I was feeling, the hopelessness, frustration and disappointment in myself and outer circumstances. 

I quickly learned that it wasn’t the circumstances I could be angry at. I couldn’t change them. They had already happened. However, what I could work on was my own attitude towards life. There are things we can improve and things we cannot. 

Accepting what we cannot change and changing what we can, namely, our beliefs, is one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned in life. I had heard bits and pieces of it before but somehow this time it stuck. 

It has been tremendous work and it’s not been great at times. I felt like falling back to almost zero many times, but it has also taught me that I will be able to get back on track. Just like life itself.

*2018 has challenged my beliefs about life as an adult

I used to think life as an adult meant the end of fun. The end of being careless, free. The end of any dreams. Work, work, work, And I’ve been in times of life where I felt this more. The pressure to check the boxes, adults are encouraged to: a good career, partner/family, a house with a garden, a retirement plan….

And then I went traveling and ditched all those concerns and felt free!!

Well… that was not the point I was hinting at. 

I learned that I don’t have to be this way even before I went on that trip which has contributed to a lot of my future steps and the way I think about this now. At that time, I decided to get some support and talked to a life coach for a few sessions. And I learned to understand what life meant to me. If freedom is one of my biggest values, then I have to hold onto it. There is a choice and I just had to stay true to myself. This also means that there is nothing wrong with choosing ‘safety and security’ as values in life. The problem is when your attitude doesn’t reflect that ‘choice.’ Just knowing this helped to feel ‘freedom.’ It doesn’t have to be ditching everything and heading out into the jungle. There are outside circumstances you might not be able to change. How you think of your situation is what can help you feel freer. As Viktor Frankl wrote in his book ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

And well… I’m still working on it. I stopped traveling and am now navigating my life and attitude between ‘regular’life here in Germany and my own ideas about how life should be lived. And in days when I feel frustrated about rules and regulations and how situations ‘are not fair,’ I try to remind myself of the above quote.

*2018 Made me realize that there isn’t any savior in this world to take me by my hand and save me – that my only savior will ever be me (same as my worst enemy who’ll also always be me)

* …Yet also gave me the courage to look for people, resources and a community who share their insights about personal development and nudge me to work on my own and to share my experiences regarding this. This includes people who are very different in their way of thinking and who keep reminding me to see the world from all different perspectives

*… Has made me realize my inner voice is worth more than 100 outer voices

The last one that I would get tattooed on me (with an emphasis on would). Yes, people can give you valuable advice. Yes, there are rules to follow, taxes to pay, hands to wash. On the other hand, no one lives inside your body. No one knows what’s genuinely going on inside your head (despite us wanting people to really understand you – I think that’s a utopian thought) and even your rational mind might not always be the best to listen to. Listening to yourself is something so much deeper than these motivational quotes can let you know. However, there’s not much more to be said other than you have to understand what that piece of advice means 😉 Intuition is one keyword to lead you on the way.

It is hard to follow your own voice. It’s crazy hard in a world where we are bombarded with information, messages, and advice so that we don’t even know anymore what our own opinion is and what we took upon from someone else. Everyone seems to have an idea about other people’s lives. We want others to act in a way we would, not remembering that we are not the other person and will never fully understand what they are going through. 

Also, think back to when your mother told you to eat your veggies because they would be good for your health. Did you understand at that time what that meant? Maybe once you got older, you heard that message again, or your body told you it’s time to get serious about your nutrition. Maybe this time, you understood the meaning. It might be months after you heard it the last time. But somewhere your body and mind suddenly had learned the lesson. Not because someone threatened you but because you were free in deciding about this matter. 

People had told me hundreds of times about the benefits of meditation. And it took me almost 10 years until I figured out for myself that I saw a benefit in it. People had talked about teaching English for years and I thought I would never ever work in that field. Fast-forward and I’ve been working as a teacher for longer than people told me about that profession before I started. 

and 2020?

Well so far it’s teaching me that my thoughts about 2018 were pointing the right way and that I can still dive so much deeper into this world. It has also shown me that I can work on these thoughts even when I’m not traveling, but from the comfort of my home. I am grateful that the current circumstances have given me the time I cherish so much for reflections like these ❤

On doing nothing vs. being productive – Travel (and Corona ) Insights Series #4

Somewhere along the coast of the state in Bahia, crashing waves, beaches framed by palm trees, and sunsets that were postcard-worthy, my third workaway volunteering placement was challenging myself on different levels than I expected. I was contacted by a host of a small bed and breakfast right by the coast, telling me he needed help asap. At the time, I was traveling in the area around Rio the Janeiro and I ended up taking a (very rare) flight up to this area, to be there as fast as I could. This was a place I would not return to; however, looking at my insights, I can see that I learned a valuable lesson from it.

I also feel that these reflections come at a good moment and there are so many parallels I can draw towards our current situation with COVID….

Here are the two posts I wrote in December 2018 about this place:

So how’s my trip been, recently?
A good week of traveling left me feeling out of sync with the routine I have been trying to establish over the last months (yoga, meditation, online work&study)
(…) Going to the next volunteer place, I was hoping for some tranquility and stability, which yet hasn’t been that easy to find. It made me question how I could use my skills in this place and how I could create a schedule/routine in a place that is way too flexible for me. Bad internet was just the tip of the iceberg and left me feeling unproductive, having time on hands and nothing to fill it with.

So I’ve been looking for the positive in all this.
Trying to connect more with myself than the internet, realizing that I can find a lot of answers by just listening to my inner voice.

Accepting that sometimes in order to move forward, you might have to take a step or two back. That progress isn’t linear but will have ups and downs.

That it’s not all about what I do and achieve. But about being and how I show up in life. How I take these challenging moments and what I make from them.

After all, this is what I wanted to get from this trip: Growing as a person ❤️
And I am grateful to have some beautiful scenery to make me realize how grateful I can be for my life at this very moment.

Leaving workaway (volunteer placement) #3 in Brazil.
This placement has been one of the most challenging ones I’ve been. As a volunteer I’ve felt out of place and not fitting into the organization because it was hard to be of help and to know how to do things the way it was expected (but not communicated).
(…) I was on the verge of quitting. But somehow I decided to go through with it. Week 2 brought some improvement and the fact that I was able to work some shifts in the kitchen and practice my Portuguese with their magnificent cozinheira made a big difference.
(…) Luckily being there with other volunteers helped, because even though we were not similar in most ways and sometimes being with them felt challenging, I still found companions who stuck together with me through this situation for better and worse. I managed to channel my focus on the beautiful beaches, the amazing breakfast and lunch our cozinheira produced, practicing my Portuguese with the staff and my yoga spot under a palm tree and flowers

In some way, my situation over there was a little bit like these days, with the exception of the quality of the Internet. I did not have to follow social distancing at that volunteer placement, but I was stuck in a remote place with nowhere to go except for the beach (no grocery store or restaurant within walking distance, just an accumulation of beach huts and resorts)—it kind of feels like where I am living right now. The only thing to do was and is to go for a walk or to stay indoors.

And you know what? That is what I’ve been wanting for the last months and also during my travels. I was already travel-fatigued after 2 months of traveling at the point that I wrote the above. This might come as a surprise to many of you, however, I had never set out on this trip to bump around from place to place. I envisioned myself at a few volunteering placements, having some peace and quiet and staying in one place without doing much sightseeing. One way or the other, I did get lured into the backpacking lifestyle and partly liked, partly hated it…. I’m saying this so that you might understand that life being at a slow place and me not being able to go anywhere is just what I need right now. I talked with other friends who are leading a similar lifestyle to mine and they admitted to finding themselves in the same position. That when you have the opportunity you go, go, go because it would be a waste not to! Even though deep down, all you want to do is curl up in a comfortable bed, read a book, sleep, or binge-watch Netflix.

Therefore this time in many ways has brought me what I needed without having to justify my actions… until I got to this stage now and which I will write about below.

Let me say that I realize that I’m in a position where I don’t have to take care of 4 kids and a husband who are suddenly all at home 24/7 and which would not even make me think about what I wrote below. Everyone’s life is different and some people might not have any extra time on hand. The idea I’m presenting below might still resonate and you might be able to take in an aspect on what this extraordinary situation does to our life.

The dilemma doesn’t only refer to me but also to what I heard my friends talk about or the messages of the posts I could see on social media.
At the beginning of the self-isolation phase, I noticed people being either happy about having so much free time or wondering what the hell to make out of it.

During the past weeks, however, I’ve seen more and more people (including me) struggle to be unproductive and associate this as something concerning and unnerving. Many of us, including me, have tried to find something useful to do, so as in not to ‘waste’ this time given to us. It made me feel almost stressed. I was trying so hard to set up a full-day program that I felt more worn-out and unsatisfied that during a regular week in my life. I was battling procrastination, instant gratification, wanting to do ‘more’ and not knowing where to start. Starting on five different ‘projects,’ then losing motivation. I felt all over the place and not at peace.

So, eventually, I had to guide myself back into spending my day with moments where I would deliberately do nothing – and that was (and still is) really really hard to do.

In my definition, that means being present but not thinking about what to do next. Not running through your imaginary to-do list. Not trying to compare me with other people’s efforts and achievements during quarantine times. Not having every single minute of my day filled, trying to achieve something.
Instead, being present and only present in that one moment (also outside of my daily meditation, which had been a ‘thoughts-overloaded’ ordeal for a bit)
Doing nothing is pretty much impossible (we are always breathing, right?!).

So I was looking for these ‘pockets’ in my day where I could drop everything for a bit and either didn’t carry out any conscious action or did something (in my eyes) ‘unproductive.’

I managed to tone down my multi-tasking and started going for walks without my phone, which was difficult but also incredibly liberating! I started looking at the trees and how all the buds were turning into leaves and flowers. I suddenly felt such an intense eye for detail, even more than I already thought I had. I smelled the spring air, the pebbles of the beach underneath my feet and took it in just by myself without taking pictures to post later.
I also put my phone away while I was eating and stared at the plants on my terrace instead. There was so much peace suddenly within me.
I started feeling annoyed by all the clutter in my life – digital non-sense that I was devoting my day to.
Also, sometimes, I would just lay on the couch and be there. This brought me some more meditative moments in life, not just when I’d deliberately sit down but just when getting on with my day.

And then there were days when I just lay in bed, read a good book and binge-watched Netflix (A Coisa Mais Linda, my go-to series for listening to Portuguese and getting those Rio vibes back). I had not done that in years and letting go of the productive me for a day was so fulfilling. It made me recover energy that I felt I had lost and gave me the motivation to, e.g., write on this blog the day after.

I also eventually realized that I did neither have to nor want to renounce my daily routine completely.
My personal life has seen constant changes over the past two years. It would have been easy to feel like the ground was pulled away from underneath my feet. Keeping my routine (which is merely about 2 hours of my day) has helped me frame my day with an official ‘start’ and ‘closure.’ My routine had helped me stay on track when I didn’t have much to do and felt like wasting my life away. It had also helped me in days when everything seemed overwhelming and I didn’t know where my head was. Knowing that I have a structure, the one that stays no matter what happens during the day, has helped me find some feeling ‘safe and secure.’

In my opinion, the challenge is not to ‘over plan’ the free time of my day but to leave enough time for unexpected circumstances happening, ‘pockets’ of nothingness and moments of spontaneous creativity and flow.

Yoga and it’s relation to meditation and the power of home-made food / Travel Insights Series #3

This is part 3 of my reflection series on the travel insights I had during my 14 month trip through South-America and how I am applying them being back in ‘normal life’. You can find part 1 here and part 2 here.

The second place I went on to volunteer at was another farm in Brazil close to Sao Paulo. This farm, however, was focusing on using their vast space to host events rather than focus on agriculture (they had some staff for it, but kept it on a minuscule scale). The dwellings belonging to the farm were beautifully restored. Scattered all around the property, they included a swimming pool, a bar, and a chapel that hosted weddings. Our task as volunteers was to help with housekeeping and running the events – catering, ticketing, setting spaces

Due to the variety of our assignments, we had no fixed schedule, which made it difficult to be ‘off’ work, never knowing when you’d be expected to help again. We were in a rather remote area as well with nowhere to go. A fantastic plus was having a restaurant-sized kitchen at our disposal to e.g., make yogurt, etc. (see more below). I spent a good two weeks at this farm, leaving all together with some new friends I had made and others who I am still in touch with to this day.

Again, I will show you a part of my post and then write my reflection and how I am taking this into my current life.

Left farm no. 2. It’s been a place full of new experiences and challenges of adapting to an ever-changing schedule and environment. Yet I’ve shared it with great people in our small green volunteer house, which quickly became home 🙂 and which I will miss ❤️

I learnt how to make yogurt and cheese (and vegan ice cream out of bananas ❤️), indulged in popcorn over movie nights, shared many fun conversations and connected with people. It’s awesome what each of us can contribute to a community of travelers: recipes and homemade food, haircuts, embroidery, handmade bracelets, songs, guitar play, life stories,…

So many ‘product’ can be made from scratch, for example yogurt, bread, cheese…! I wish we would still learn more about this. However, being in a country such as Germany where a lot more products are available at a low price, I understand why people wouldn’t spend their time making things from scratch all the time. I remember making natural yogurt in Brazil and Peru because unsweetened yogurt was hard to come by and expensive. Here in Germany, you can buy organic yogurt for a little over one dollar for 500 grams, so no, I do not have to make it myself anymore….

It isn’t only about the price either. There is a lot of satisfaction in creating a meal or food in general. You can see the result immediately, instead of having to wait for a while, which is the case in most scenarios in life. I have met people who loved kneading bread dough, or who could spend hours on some peculiar task such as decorating a cake. Call it meditative creation 😉

I had the chance to practice my Portuguese at the farm’s festival, selling coupons as the cashier and making drinks at the bar – finally putting into practice what I’ve been working on over the past months! Shows again that the best way to learn a language is by simply speaking with whatever you have!

I experienced beautiful and experimental concerts – small artists who are given space to express themselves in beautiful surroundings.

It shows that a remote place doesn’t have to be lonely or boring – get a few people together, and the whole place will change its atmosphere.

This place also taught me that it isn’t necessarily about being in a ‘vibrant area,’ but that people can enrich your life – you don’t need a buzzing concert to create a great atmosphere. Everywhere in the world, you will be able to find people that you will connect to, as long as you stay open for new experiences. Everyone you meet can teach you something, and has a story to share as long as you create a space that is conducive to do so! I am feeling grateful to have read this old post of mine, as I started thinking in a very narrow mindset once back in Germany, thinking I would have a hard time meeting people who I would be able to connect with (and of course and thank God I was wrong in that).

I learned how yoga is not only exercise but how it can deeply connect you with yourself and be a way of meditation in itself.

Over the last months, I haven’t been practicing yoga as much as I thought I would. I have focused on some higher intensity home workouts as I felt that was more beneficial to me during the winter with me not being active outside much. However, I have found my meditation practice to increase whenever my yoga practice decreases, as if one is trying to make up for the lack of the other. I definitely see the connection that the two have. Yoga is much more than exercise and has so many more facets to it than is known to most people. I feel as if I’ve only dipped my toe into the beginning of this vast ocean an hope that I will continue to explore it!

I learned how feeling into an uncomfortable feeling instead of trying to suppress it through food/drinks/distraction will help make it ease away.

Feeling into uncomfortable feelings instead of suppressing them with food – well, this one is one that I am totally aware of and still majorly struggle with!

Food seems like a lazy way to ease a bad feeling. It’s like knowing you should make a salad or a wholesome meal, but you reach for some processed snack instead, just for the ease of it…. I have found moments in these past weeks where I found myself reaching for food because I was upset/bored etc. first questioned myself in WHY I really wanted to make that feeling go away. Sitting with it for a while, noticing it, feeling into it, is not exactly bliss but it eventually eases and that’s when you start feeling more whole again (and proud of yourself for going through the struggle). Most people I know struggle with meditation and I thoroughly think that the struggle is the moment that we can learn from as long as we’re willing to go through it.

I learned how challenging yet necessary it is for me to set boundaries (in this case, about my own time and work vs. being available all the time).

This place for me was one that taught me that disorganization could cost you so much time, even when you have quite some at hand.

I often think about how to maximize what I get out of my time. Sometimes you waste time by being disorganized, misplacing things, starting one task without finishing it, jumping over to the next. I also get reminded that when you have a job that is not 9-5 but in which you are expected to be available outside of that timeframe in case necessary, you need to make sure to set your own boundaries: replying to emails at times that you don’t think are interfering with your own private time, i.e., not during weekends or late at night. By setting your own boundaries, you are protecting yourself from being ‘always on call.’

And my stay reminded me again and again how age is just a number and how it differs from the age we actually radiate! You can learn so much from people younger and older than you, and it is great to see that the older you get, the younger your soul can seem. ☀️

Again, I knew this, and I encourage other people to try it! I have fantastic friends that are twice my age and friends that are over a decade younger than me. I have learned from both sides and seen a maturity in certain aspects well beyond the years in my younger friends and a sort of ‘playfulness’ in people you’d think of as much more serious!

One of my friends once gave me the quote’ strangers are simply friends you haven’t met yet,’ and from my own good experience, I often think back of this quote fondly!

On a practical note….
I experienced that electricity is not a given and how to adapt to a day or night without it. Internet at home can be such a luxury (every time it rained, our internet at home went off – so quite often :P).

I’m constantly on the verge of hating how connected we are thanks to the internet and at the same time deeply grateful for it. Another point I’m trying to figure out how to handle it within life. These days I think the benefits of a good internet connection are again even more highlighted than at other times.

However, I am feeling the danger of always updating the news, which is seemingly changing every couple of hours. There is, even more, a need now to use the internet responsibly.

I also experienced how nature can turn a tiny creek at the back of our house into a raging stream after just a couple of hours of rain 😛
Arriving in a city after three weeks on the farm was surprisingly disappointing. Nothing I had missed, not even the coffee shops. All I wanted to see was some green nature…
Quickly found the next remote place ….update soon. Hint: I’m finally at the beach 😉

And this is what the post will be about – volunteering in a different setting.

The last point again is one that made me most happy to have experienced. I’m even less materialistic than before my trip and am finding less and less value in the convenience and consumerism of larger cities.

Long-term travel insights applied back in ‘normal life’- blog series

So I’m having a lot of time writing these days which, I cannot say is a bad thing.

I finally get the chance to do something that’s been on my mind for a while. 

Finishing my 14-month trip through South-America, I had struggled to understand who I was, now that I finished my journey.

In the first two months of this year, I saw myself as a failure and deception. I saw myself, who had spent over a decade realizing the lifestyle of her dreams – living abroad permanently and then suddenly found herself in her home country with no idea where to go. I had planned to move elsewhere in Europe, but I suddenly felt uninspired to do so. I didn’t feel inspired to live the life I had lived. I did not recognize the person I impersonated in Germany. I could not believe that the self-knowledge I had aquired through so much personal work during those 14 months seemed to have stayed behind in South-America. Everyday life seemed to have caught up with me and Germany seemed to bring back the me I had tried leaving behind over a decade ago. I started to think that the way I felt about life and myself while traveling was only because I was set in the backpacking scene, among free-spirited people and little responsiblity. I wondered, whether I would be able to incorporate anything that I had learned into my new and somewhat ‘normal life’ or whether I should dump all of those new beliefs as they felt as if they belonged into a different lifestyle.

It took me a while to overcome my frustration and confusion. Eventually, I decided that I should not ignore these experiences and find out how to reconcile them with my life now.

So, I decided to look at each of my ‘long and reflective’ Facebook posts (that I had published at the time on my private profile) and analyze how I think about those thoughts now and whether I can, will or do apply them to my current life. In a way I want to prove to myself and others that though the backpacker lifestyle might have something of an ‘escape from the real world’, there are ways to reconcile the two.

I’m not sure totally sure what I’m going to find out along this journey, but I hope you will enjoy going on it with me!

Part one will be my reflection on not wearing make-up anymore. I stopped with it about 1.5 weeks into my trip. I had started in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil and then moved on to volunteer on a farm.

You can read it here – Accepting myself without make-up