“I finally figured out the only reason to be alive is to enjoy it.”
~ Rita Mae Brown
At 11:55pm on New Year’s Eve, I sit in a pizzeria near my hostel in Bogota, Colombia fiercely relishing the last crimson drops of the most delicious vino tinto I’ve had in months. A string of colored Christmas lights forms a series of W’s along the wall next to me while a festive rendition of “Feliz Navidad” invigorates the swirling mood outside the tranquil bubble surrounding my small wooden table.
The altitude (Bogota, in the Andean foothills, is 2,600 meters above sea level) has sent the potent nectar of the gods careening through my system at warp speed, causing toasty memories and thoughts to float to my mind’s surface.
In five minutes, I’ll have been traveling officially for nine full months.
Leaving California on April 1st for Barcelona seems like a hundred years ago. Like a hundred me’s ago. My personal evolution is churning. I feel it. I see with greater clarity, I hear with deeper empathy, I think with more acceptance, I feel with higher patience and understanding and passion and outrage and truth and love.
In the seaside towns of Galle and Mirissa Beach in Sri Lanka, I deliberately slowed down for two weeks. I needed to hit the travel pause button and catch my breath (and my budget). I let the natural metronome of crashing waves, palm-lined dirt streets glimmering with filtered daylight, fragrant curries, and heart-knotting sunsets sooth my pulse.
I exhaled and allowed myself the bliss of writing, uninterrupted by sightseeing and tours, for days on end. In the evenings, I’d order a beer or tea and sit on the hotel porch or one of the crude thatch-roofed restaurants so close to the Indian Ocean that the high tide carried pink-tinged waves up the beach nearly to my sand-plastered toes.
I used this down time to think, to let my mind drift. Often it would drift over the past nine months of my travels, and into deeper territory. How my perceptions have changed about myself and the world; how I’m starting to view life.
The four months I spent in Asia have been extremely transformative for me. I’ve learned a lot about many of the continent’s religions (including Hinduism, Islam, Taoism, Sikhism, Zoroastranism), and found myself drawn by an invisible thread toward the philosophy of Buddhism.
I’ve never been religious, and I suspect I never will be, but the values of the Buddha ring so tremendously true for me.
Buddhism teaches acceptance, tolerance, equality, understanding, kindness and compassion. It’s about finding inner peace, enlightenment and happiness — not through money and stuff and things, but through the intangible; the mind.
“To enjoy good health, true happiness, and peace, one must first discipline one’s own mind.” ~ Buddha
The more I learn and study about this philosophy, the more I’m certain that I desire it as an irreversibly affixed mental appendage. I’ve started practicing mindfulness meditation, which calms and centers me and brings me back to the present instead of dwelling in the past or future. I think it will continue to help (as it already has) subdue my shadowy anxiety monster, my negative thoughts, and my dissatisfactions.
In the long run, even after I return to my normal existence in just three more months — I hope it (along with my travel experiences as a whole) will instill in me the wisdom to remember what is important in this life. This life is about working steadfastly (for as long as I must!) to find peace within myself.
The whole purpose of this life I have is to choose to be happy and enjoy it.
At the stroke of midnight, I step outside the pizzeria into a lovely old plaza of Bogota’s Candelaria district, and stand still for a moment as firecrackers boom and bloom above the red clay tiled rooftops of brilliant-hued Spanish colonial-style buildings, one of which belongs to the local university.
Finally, grinning contentedly through wine-colored lips, I weave my way through the crowd of students and backpackers and rising shouts of “Feliz Ano!” and “Happy New Year!”in the direction of my hostel and waiting comfy bed.
It’s a new year to live — my resolution is to do just that, on my own terms.
Stay tuned for upcoming stories and photographs from incredible Colombia in South America!