Luckily the planet is round so we always come back to where we started in the end.
When I was 18 the world seemed too immense to ever properly explore. What kind of dent could I ever make on so many continents, so many cultures and terrains, so many races and languages? Just looking at a map made me hungry to get out there and I devoured any book or movie that had the taste of the exotic about it, anything foreign seeming a ticket to adventure and self-discovery.
I was a little over-serious for my age, perhaps. Being young and ignorant seemed a miserable condition to be in and I wanted to become wise ahead of my years and take on way more than I could handle to mature faster. I remember one wise traveler in his 50’s who warned me:
“Don’t be in a hurry to get old. It will come by itself in time.”
My appetite for new experiences soon got me in trouble, of course and the penalty for my reckless curiousity as I downed hallucinogens, traveled with no money and put myself into as many strange and dangerous experiences as I could find, was that life kicked the shit out of me several times over.
In short, I got thoroughly lost.
Things came to a head after 9 years on the road when I found myself in Brazil mixed up in business too illegal to be mentioned. After one particularly stressful day I started getting electric shocks in my head and lights behind my eyes. I couldn’t lie down on my back without the shocks coming and it felt like my head was about to fragment. After a sleepless night of these strange neurological attacks, I began to consider the possibility of suicide just to put an end to the anxiety. The thought of which made me even more anxious.
I abandoned my ill-advised business dealings and went to the north-east of Brazil, choosing a village where I could swim with dolphins and do nothing other than try to put my head back together again. I saw acupuncturists, ear specialists and even made a brain scan at the local hospital to try and work out what was going on.
No one knew. I still had to sleep propped up by several pillows so as not to aggravate the condition and each night when I lay down I suffered at least 4 or 5 rushes before sleep rescued me. On top of all that, I was broke and it was clearly time to head back to England to make some money and get some serious help.
No one in England knew what was going on though one doctor helpfully suggested I try eucalyptus oil as she diagnosed blocked sinuses. I still daydream about going back to shout in her face ‘ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR MIND?’
An old friend suggested that I do the unthinkable and go and talk to someone. The very word ‘therapy’ seemed to be something for losers, not a course of action for a bold seeker of truth like myself, so very well versed on the Way of the Sufi and the Path of the Annihilation of the Ego. To ask for help would be tantamount to saying ‘I screwed up’.
But then I realized that he himself was ‘talking to someone’ and that many of my friends as they approached the end of their 20’s found themselves in need of counseling. My pride aside, I intuited that there might be something in it and, besides, having tried every kind of medicine I could find, there seemed to be no other choice left.
I finished my season working as a punter and having worked like a dog on amphetamines, I had enough money to head to Israel for 6 months and look for help there. Fate guided me to the hands of one of a healer called Gal who saw at once where I was at and who promised to guide me through it all if I could only put my trust in her.
That winter of 2004/5 remains one of the darkest in my memory. For 2 hours a week I went to therapy and fought, argued, complained and bitched my way through most of the 120 minutes as I tried to hold together the personality I’d spent my life constructing. It was made of straw, however and had to fall down.
“It will be like dying.” Gal told me when we began. Only by letting go of it all could I be healed. Gal couldn’t care less for my personality, in any case – she was only interested in my soul.
“It’s time for her [my soul] to wake up.” Gal insisted. She sidestepped each trick of my intellect and offered me a somewhat merciless mirror to who I had become. But even though I heard the worst things in those sessions, I knew none of it was said without heart. She had no investment in it, the therapy was all about me and it was my choice alone to make the changes.
I’d come back to my squalid apartment in Tel Aviv, work on the first articles for Road Junky and struggle as I might, I knew I was at the end of a journey. I had been to over 30 countries and everywhere I went I’d found the same problems – I couldn’t blame the people or the place if I got trapped in the same social and emotional dead ends wherever I went. It was all my own creation.
“There’s nowhere left to go but in.” Gal laughed once and it became my new mantra. I still had some way to go to find my home but the curiosity for new places, new situations had faded. Instead, after years of talking about it and reading about it, I had finally come to the border of my Self. There remained an endless continent inside to explore and the promises of the outside world diminished with each step.
The rushes gradually subsided and though I needed to go back to Gal more than once over the next couple of years, my life had shifted in an irreversible direction. I knew in my heart now that there was nothing left to search for Out There and though I might continue to drift until the right time came to stop came, I was no longer lost.
People often declare they go to travel to ‘find themselves’. In reality, it seems like the opposite is more true. There are few people less orientated than the traveler returning home with a head full of profound but undigested experiences and there’s rarely anyone around who can understand what they’ve been through.
Ultimately, Lao Tzu had it when he said ‘the more you travel, the less you know’.
But then there’s the old Middle Eastern story where a man dreams of a treasure in a far-off land and sets out to find it. When he gets there though he meets someone who laughs at him, saying he had the same dream and describes the man’s hometown. He returns home and finds the treasure he sought all along.
For most of us, we have to get lost in order to find ourselves.