When I finally set foot on the Sahara, I had already gone through one of the most intense, discombobulating, crazy ridiculous wonderful four weeks of my life.
I had made my way to the top of a particularly steep sand dune, parked my ass some yards away from the noise of the rest of my caravan, and found myself with a stunning 360-degree view of the desert.
On one side I saw the town of Merzouga; on the other, endless terra cotta dunes that shifted shape by the second.
I remember thinking how powerful the wind was in that side of the planet—I could hear it, feel it in the steady sting of sand hitting my skin, and I could actually see the wind as it wiped away my footprints on the sand. It seriously amazes me how a place as arid as the desert could burst with so much life that it can’t even sit still, not even for a second.
Interestingly enough, beyond that moment of wonder, what startled me was that I felt nothing.
There was none of the joy I felt while discovering Istanbul and the rest of Turkey, nor the sense of curiosity and uneasiness that riddled my trip to Jerusalem, the excitement of being amidst gorgeous people in vibrant Tel Aviv, and especially none of the intense sensations that marked my first (and, uh, weepy) week in Morocco.
The first leg of my travels had exhausted my capacity to feel any kind of emotion. I felt removed from the experience, detached, looking at myself from another plane of existence, just observing whatever thought that came into my head. It was the closest I had come to a truly meditative state. It affected me enough to make me look for “repeats” throughout the rest of 2017.
I thought I’d find it again in travel, which I did several times around Asia as the months passed, sometimes for work, sometimes in the company of good friends. And yet finding inner peace remained elusive. My trips only left me feeling more restless, more anxious to get to the next destination because maybe I’d find it then. I thought it had to do with traveling solo, so I impulsively booked a week-long trip alone to Boracay—but nope, still didn’t do my head a bit of good. I even took to spontaneity and joined a new friend to Balesin island for a weekend—and while it was relaxing and just felt really nice to be with someone who pretty much went through the same brand of crazy I did, my mind rejected silence.
Eventually it dawned on me that I expend so much energy into my past. And it’s this attachment to what’s already happened—especially to life’s thrilling moments—that is the culprit behind what the Balinese healer told me was “too much tension in [my] mind.” Nostalgia can be so compelling…it makes me want to get back to the intensity, to the big moments, such that everything else—the present, the little things, even the latest fling—would pale in comparison.
And therein really lies the problem: comparison.
I’ve learned way back to never compare my life with others, that I go through my milestones at my own pace, but it didn’t dawn on me until this year that I should also stop comparing my past to my present. And if every year is meant to teach us a lesson that will help set our intention for the next, I think this is mine.
To really truly leave the past behind, to not let the goodness/badness of it colour my present or future, to just look back at it with fondness and nothing else—that is detachment. That feeling of being at peace isn’t waiting for me in a place, a person, or an old feeling I long to rekindle. It’s there, just like that encounter with the Saharan wind, invisible but ready to be felt, heard, and seen the moment I decide to pause, veer away from the thoughts rushing through my head, and just take in the 360-degree view that is my present.
Here’s to a very “present” 2018 <3