27 September 2012

Parallel journeys: parallel lives

In just nine days from now I travel to Jordan (before heading on to France) where I will spend three weeks as a beginner student of Arabic. I'm really just starting to come to grips with the challenge I've set myself. Learning (yet) another language is something I've wanted to do for ages, and now that my French has reached a level of useful competence, the time is right.

Or at least so I thought!

While I’ve written for some time now about my real-world journeys and experiences, it was while talking to my Arabic teacher this afternoon that I was able to crystallise the parallel pathway I’ve been travelling for the last three years. From fear to—well maybe not fearless—but something approaching that.

It’s not a question of multiple personality. Or unconnected journeys. But rather like a mirror that continually reflects from my physical travels to those of my psyche.

In the 21st century, there is little we don’t know about our earth, the world we inhabit. Even if we haven’t been somewhere before, it’s so easy to follow the crowd, check into the next hip and happening place. You can even visit your destination in cyberspace—street view, live cam, travel ratings from like minded others—before you even leave the country.

I’ve viewed my seat on the plane, checked out the local restaurants and street appeal of my accommodation. I know when and from where my trains go. I have apps on my mobile that will help me find fun and happening things to see and do. And of course, I have mobile maps to make sure I don’t get lost.
And what this all adds up to is my ability to control my fear, to control the risk I see in travelling, usually alone, as a single woman. So I wonder if the real journey is still to come; the journey to the “centre of my mind” where fear and old reactions may still reside.

Going to Jordan is making me confront those issues, for all sorts of reasons. Physically, I’m going to be well taken care of. It’s the other journey, the one we might call “growth”, that is proving so difficult to travel. Because only if there is the possibility of growth, a potential for new discoveries, new relationships, new connections, does life remain valuable. The moment one stops growing, one starts dying.
The point really has to be to recognise that the amount of time available is necessarily limited, accept it, and not let those limitations stop us from just getting out there and doing whatever it is that moves you. It’s about being responsible for your own life. 

There’s a word that I like to describe this inner journey. Mindsight. It’s used in psych to describe how we perceive our own mind and others. It’s a kind of focused way to help us see the internal workings of our own minds and to get off the autopilot of ingrained behaviors and habitual responses. It lets us “name and tame” the emotions we are experiencing, rather than being overwhelmed by them. So, I've named my fears. I have no doubt that like other real-word travels that I've done in the last three years, there will be moments in this trip that challenge me again and again.

And when words desert me, I’m comforted that others before me have managed to condense these grand fears and hopes into heart-wrenching lines of beauty:

Now let us sport us while we may,
And now, like amorous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour,
Than languish in his slow-chapped power.
Let us roll all our strength and all
Our sweetness up into one ball,
And tear our pleasure with rough strife
Through the iron gates of life;
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.

Andrew Marvel, To His Coy Mistress

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