The Passion(s)

The @bootsnall prompt for April 5 (hey, no one ever claimed I was prompt with the prompts) was for bloggers to write about what their passions are, aside from travel.

Tongue in cheek, then, to call today’s post The Passion, at the tail end of the Easter weekend. Or perhaps just cheeky. Not meant to offend, but rather a play on words:

I always wondered why the saddest thing in Christianity was referred to as the Passion. Doesn’t passion mean something you love or care about deeply? Fever and fervour for something or someone?

Much like people, there is a lot to learn about words by knowing where they come from. The Latin root of “passion” means “to suffer” (ah, now the biblical reference makes sense).

After some consideration, this idea of “passion” as “suffering” isn’t so far off the mark. The Buddhists would posit that our attachments are the source of our suffering, and what things are we more deeply attached to than our passions?

These things are indeed the source of suffering, as when we’re separated from our passions, we can feel lost and in need, or lonesome and in withdrawal. Travel for me is paramount of my passions, both for the aliveness it provides as well as the sense of loss when it’s not present.

But it’s much more than the craving a smoker might get. It’s more about the feeling of “flow” (from Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s book of the same name), of feeling truly alive and present in every moment. Skiiers feel it when they’re racing downhill, musicians feel it when they’re performing on stage and I feel it when I turn a corner to a street I’ve never stepped on and a view I’ve never seen before.

There are a lot of things I love in life: I’m deeply interested in community and how humans connect with each other. I care a lot about the people in my life, my family, friends, colleagues, my partner and our dog. The interactions and connections we build are what keeps us alive as social beings. And I guess in many ways, these same things can create the suffering of “passions”, the pull and draw that tugs at our hearts. Our relationships are both a source of pain and pleasure.

I am passionate about learning and growing, both intellectually and spiritually. At the same time, however, I really envy people who seem to have it all figured out, who are content and settled with the path they’ve chosen. It seems the more I learn the less I know and these pursuits for knowledge and wisdom can be painful ones.

I’m currently passionate about my career. I have poured the last 6 years of my life into building an organization that works on a complex human rights issue (human trafficking) in a complex way (collaboration). It bears the intersections of gender, migration, inequality and labour – it’s a subject fraught with political and moral debate. It’s also a passion in the true sense of suffering and attachment, but also brings me satisfaction and energy.

It is a luxury in this world to have passions, to find things in life to pursue because they please us (as much as they torture us sometimes). There are millions of people who don’t have the time and resources to wonder about the things that drive them. I am grateful to have these passions, even when (or especially as) they are just out of reach, as travel seems to be right now.

There’s no ignoring these things. To turn away from our passions is, bluntly, stupid. If I know what makes me feel most alive and ignore it, I cannot ask for sympathy if my life feels unlived.

“Face your life, its pain, its pleasure, leave no path untaken.” – Neil Gaiman, The Graveyard Book

[If you think it’s strange to conceptualize passion as suffering, just wait for my post on compassion, literally “to suffer with”. That’s some messed up stuff right there.]

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Origins – A lesson injustice

What is my travel origin? What is the worst thing that has happened to me while travelling? What is the best? What are my passions outside of travelling? I’ve been thinking about last week’s travel prompts and have rounded them up into these next few blog posts, starting with my travel origin story.

Like all good stories, this one starts with heartbreak. In the fall of 2002, just turning 22 and coming out of a breakup, I was searching for an opportunity for independence, adventure and challenge, not to mention distraction. My school (University of Alberta) was offering term-abroad opportunities and I quickly signed up for the one which would take me the furthest away from my home. Seriously, that’s how I picked South Africa (or Zuid Afrika as it is known in Afrikaans).  6 months later I embarked on my first real trip to speak of, my first venture off the continent of North America.

The next few months would reveal my travel origin, the best and the worst of travelling and would shape my life, including future passions and goals. Not to mention I got a first-hand taste of the delicious drug that is travelling.

I was to travel with another student from my university, we had met shortly before departure, and she become an instrumental part of my travel origin story.

I can’t remember much about the flight, which is probably a good thing. I imagine this is the same mechanism that mothers instinctively employ to erase childbirth from their minds. If we all remembered the long, painful flights no one would leave home again.

What I do recall, 11 years later, is the way I felt coming from the airport to our hostel in Durban.

The weariness and excitement culminated in a sort of jelly-legged way, like how one feels after hours on a boat. Before I could even get my land-legs back, Melanie and I threw our stuff in the hostel and out for a walk. Seems rational to walk through a new town, jet-lagged and jelly-legged, with no thought of where to go or of our safety. I miss the recklessness, the openmindedness and naivety of my youth. I really do, even though that walk would end rather poorly.

What we didn’t know, what we could’ve known if we had been a bit sharper, was that that day was a holiday in ZA. This meant that the shops were all closed, the streets were quiet. Unbeknownst to us, we were not in the best part of town. This was all quite lost on us. After some time about the beach and town, we were heading back to our hostel, confident that our first day was a success and that we would only have a few more ‘hours to kill’ (isn’t that an awful expression?) before we could collapse for the night in our hostel bunk beds at a reasonable time.

Heading back to our hostel, I felt a sudden, sharp tug on the front of my body. It was the pull of my purse strap breaking, being pulled off my body. (Actually, the purse belonged to my ex-bf’s sister, a lovely and generous traveller and a woman I love dearly all these years later). Jen’s bag was gone, along with my bank card, cash and ID. (Some traveller’s instinct had me store my passport and credit card at the hostel before going out.) Within milliseconds, a dozen people came out of their homes and inquired about what happened. The jelly moved from my legs to my brain and I was at once bewildered and speechless. We tried to brush them off and attempted to make our way through the crowd back to the hostel so that we could collect our senses and figure out what to do next. I was so grateful to have Melanie with me.

The people who quickly gathered around us were angry that I had been robbed. Someone flagged down a local police car. Being the polite (and discombobulated) Canadian, I urged them to forget about it, that I was fine, and we would be on our way. I remember these minutes like they happened today. People, police were asking me what had happened, what I had seen, who I had seen. Some folks had run off down the street and dragged back a young boy, 15 at the very most, and said to us “this is the boy who took your bag, he was with the gang who robbed you, this is him, we found a knife on him”. Of course, I had seen no boy, and hardly cared at all who took my bag. He certainly didn’t have it on him, and I was increasingly aware of how fast this situation was spiralling out of control.

Seconds passed and the crowd had this young boy down on the ground, kicking him. Someone took their shoe off and beat him with it. They were screaming, punching, berating him. They were apologizing to me this whole time, saying tourists needed to be treated better and needed to be safe, all the while I was that insisting he was not the boy who had my bag, it wasn’t him. He didn’t have my bag, I pleaded with the police officer and with the crowd, please let him go.

Then the police officer, a white police officer in South Africa, less than a decade after the dismantling of the official Apartheid system, said something that still rings through my ears:

“This is justice in the new South Africa.”

This is justice. This is the new South Africa.

That police officer stood back and supervised – encouraged – them as they beat this boy. Melanie and I helplessly trying to put a stop to it. It became very evident that this violence was not new to anyone involved.

Melanie and I were herded back to the hostel, to collapse in exhaustion and sadness.

This is the story of my travel origin and remains the worst thing that happened to me while travelling, barely half a day into my very first trip. It is also the start of the stories of connection, friendship and awakening that would follow in the next few months. But nothing before and nothing since has opened my eyes the way that sunny, horrible afternoon on a Durban street did. I would absolutely never be the same again.

Street in Durban. Photo credit Amber Webster

 

Inspiration

While I’ve been writing for some time, I’ve never been compelled to share it before now. Thanks to @bootsnall for the motivation. (Bootsnall is a travel site which motivates people to follow their wanderlust. I’ve been secretly reading their emails for many years, dreaming of the next trip I’ll take.) Having recently discovered twitter (admittedly, I’m a bit of a late bloomer), I was grateful for their e-motivation, a daily reminder to creatively respond to their prompts about travel.

The first prompt was to write about how travel has changed my view of the world…

Not a day goes by that I am not grateful for having travelled. Although my trips have been few and far between, there is something completely addictive about it. Those of you who travel know what I’m talking about. I can conjure these feelings at will – the high pitched whirl in the pit of one’s stomach as a plane disembarks, the blurry headed wonderment when waking up the first morning in a new place, the wide-eyedness of knowing you have never before stepped on the next piece of pavement or turned around the next corner. I can conjure it at will, but the sensation only lasts a short time before my feet get itchy and my brain gets antsy. When’s the next trip? I start to ask myself. When and where can I get my fix?

The truth of it is, those feelings can be summed up in one word – openmindedness. This is, of course, not restricted to travel, but it comes so much easier to me when my surroundings are new and less comfortable. In fact, it’s forced on me. There is no choice but to open my mind and allow each day and experience to present itself, with no judgement or presuppositions.

Travel also makes human connection so obvious. Smiles are inherently universal, people are kind everywhere you go and all communities want the best for their children. I could drone on and on about our oneness with the world and each other, but that is a blog for another day.

Did travelling change my view of the world? Did it make me more openminded? Did it prove connectedness to me? I don’t think so. I think these were viewpoints I held before travelling, in fact it’s what made me want to see the world in the first place. Travel just makes openmindedness, and connection, more apparent.

More than changing how I see the world, travelling has changed how I see myself – it’s forced me to be adaptive and creative and quicker-thinking. It forces me to quash routine and resist introversion, to be independent but to live interdependence.

Much like this writing exercise in itself, travel makes me accountable to myself, my true self. It’s both grounding and liberating, feet firmly on the ground but wings in the air.