What Could I have possibly learned from 3 years of Swanning Around the Country?

With a little help from Leunig

It’s true, much of my time over the last three years has been spent riding around with my feet on the dash, surfing on a weekday, visiting tourist attractions and having idle chit chat with all the wonderful, random people we have met along the way.  Life has felt pretty free.  A nice hiatus from the general responsibilities in life. So really, what could be the value in all this swanning around? How am I contributing?  Shouldn’t I pull my socks up and get on with life?

As any traveller can you travelling is as much as a journey inward as it is outward and then there is actual travelling as well, that is if you choose to do it with thought, intention and curiosity, ie: consciously.  It’s an opportunity to remove one’s self from all the things that made you “You” and find out who You really are, uninfluenced.  And when we remove ourselves from our little pocket of the world we can start to get a clearer view of the world around us, how it operates and where we fit into the great equation. And, hopefully our new perspective makes us want to contribute to our world in a way that will make it grow.

Hitting the Eject Button.

Conscious travel can create a way for us to eject from our collective consciousness – our society’s norm.  When we can physically remove ourselves from our usual lives then look back into the fishbowl of our communities we can start to recognise human programming that comes through media and popular ideas easily accepted by our innocent and unassuming minds. One of my most unhinging moments on my travels was the welcoming of a very profound feeling of uncertainty: “I don’t know if what I hear through the media is right; I don’t know if the way my society lives is how I want to live; I don’t know if what my community thinks is what I personally think”. In fact “I don’t know if “my” ideas are MY ideas at all!”  . All these ideas and thoughts and opinions that were common within my community just seemed to be floating around in the air, riding on electromagnetic waves and brought to us via the television or found hiding in the pages of magazines or on the lips of friends, ready for us all to soak them up and call them their our own.  I wanted to detach from it all to understand what I had been immersed in, unquestionably for so long.

The media plays an enormous part in influencing us as individuals and as a collective.  Mainstream media seems to be on the most part inhibiting of us having a positive mind and outlook of the world.  In our lives most of us may experience or witness a dozen tragic or traumatic events, however watch the nightly news and we can witness this many in one sitting. We are left on the couch usually feeling sad and anxious with a helpless and often terrified view on the world.  The stories too are delivered in short without all the facts which dangerously leaves us to form misguided opinions on how things are. Many people like to watch the news to feel ‘in-touch’ with the world however mainstream media has an agenda for profit through sensationalising, using emotions as a tool, therefore deliver a skewed selection of information to draw their audience in. Fortunately there are media organisations out there that understand their power and use it to benefit and empower their audiences instead, we just have to look for them and recognise it when we see it by asking ourselves how it has left us feeling at the end.  Taking a good look at all this led me to be more selective as to what sort of information I wanted to allow into my brain and I started to feel much lighter and happier, with a more hopeful view on our world.

Experiencing this separation from both the media and my community created a space for me to question my own feelings on different subjects and feel accepting of other’s views at the same time. I found I was more aware when discussing subjects where I didn’t have all the facts and found it easier to contribute how I truly felt with confidence and without worry if it went against the grain.

Unless you are living in a cave you have probably noticed that you can’t get through a day without billboards, televisions and social media shouting at us constantly.  Travelling is a chance to unplug. And when we do we notice it is so refreshingly quiet.  The inner self can suddenly be heard, the heart has room to breathe and the creativity can bloom.

Michael Leunig gets it…..

Us Against the World

When we travel we are so naturally drawn to places of wonder and beauty. On this trip I have stood in awe among lush jungle in Sumatra, trekked through ancient rainforest in New Zealand and surfed with turtles, dolphins and stunning reef fish under my feet.  The experiences have enriched my life and my connection and respect for the earth has been deepened.  I have also flown over palm oil plantations where native jungle and animals used to be, drunk milk from dairy farms where rainforest used to be and watched plastic bottles and dirty nappies float past me in the surf. It’s these experiences that got me thinking about my place in the world: my impact as a consumer and how I contribute to making the great machine of our society tick the way it does.

It’s overwhelming when the awareness hits us of the impact that the Great Human Super-Trawler actually has.  The list for change to help our planet and our people is as long as it is urgent and there is an absolute sinking feeling of where one individual is to even know where to start and what use is it anyway when you are just one person moving against a tide of billions?

So as I settled back in to routine life it was sobering (and a tad depressing) to look at my life and admit that I am one of them. That it is my demand for things and my dollar that drives the whole catastrophe.  As I’m not up for lying in front of a bulldozer or shouting emotionally at rallies I decided that the least I could do was take an audit of my life and challenge the status quo from home, working with the issues that are closest to my heart.  There is always more I could do and some of these are huge changes that will take some more time and research but at least the ball for change has started to roll and who knows, maybe there will be a knock on affect between us and the tide may eventually start to move the other way.

  • Changing a life-long habit for plastic. Recycling is not enough, we have to slow down the demand to actually benefit the planet.  It’s got to be one of the hardest changes to make as it is so entrenched with everything we buy. Shopping at Coles or Woolies is a nightmare but choosing products that aren’t mega-wrapped, bringing reusable bags for groceries including for fruit and vegies and choosing bio-degradable nappies and bin bags is a good place to start.
  • Being aware of which brands use unethically sourced palm oil. I download a bar-code scanner app to check all the products in my shopping trolley. Johnson and Johnson, and Palmolive are a no-go apparently.
  • Start composting food scraps.
  • Eat what I buy, don’t buy more groceries than I need and aim for minimal wastage.
  • Plant trees. Plan to join the Green Army for a stint.
  • Change my Superannuation investment to a super fund who only invests in ethical industries. How our invested money impacts the health of our environment is very interesting and not something we tend to consider. Australian Ethical is one super company who only invests in things that benefit the environment, not destroy it.
  • Research Banks who are “customer owned”. Same deal as above.  Bank Australia is one who uses the profit to invest in environmental and humanitarian initiatives chosen by its customers.
  • Buy a bicycle, and use it.
  • Own and run a home that is off-the-grid, self-sufficient using renewable resources.


Bringing Home a Gift

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.  Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

Mark Twain

I LOVE the exchanges and random encounters with all the weird and wonderful people we all come across when we travel.  The conversation seems to be so much more authentic than the auto-piloted greeting with the Coles checkout chick at home.  Travelling seems to break that trance, suddenly you are genuinely interested how the checkout chick’s day is really going.

We get to experience the full range of humanity when we travel, when we are not locked into the routines at home, turning over the same faces. When we land on someone else’s turf our awareness really lights up as we work out how to fit in peacefully with their world we are more open to trying to understand it. Travelling really moves us into the art of conversation, being present with that person and responding according to the flow of the conversation. It becomes a developed skill through genuine interest.

What I came to notice is that we are all seeking to connect. Connection is hard wired, it’s instinctual and natural. However our ego, which is a primitive part of us, tends to influence how we make connection and is motivated by fear that we will die without it.  Every move the ego makes is in the name of connection: when we feel inhibited it’s our ego trying to protect us from potentially making a “bad” connection, like we hold back from saying or doing something that we fear might generate an adverse response in people; or when we have done or said something that the ego thinks has received negative judgement it tends to put us down with guilt and anger so we don’t make that “bad connection again”  (or protect us from experiencing a “bad connection” with denial and justification); however when we strike a conversation and find we agree on something or share something in common with a person, it makes us feel validated and a “good connection” is experienced by the ego, and it gives you a little pat on the back for encouragement to behave this way again.

A friend of mine who was about to return from a long trip to go and live back in the city asked me, “How do you go back into the rat race without becoming a rat?”.  I think this is it: keeping that authenticity with people that came so naturally to us when we travelled; keeping a genuine interest in the people we encounter in our day with regard for their unique story, and rising above our ego’s limited version of how we should best connect which will enable more joy in conversation with people who may disagree or have little in common with ourselves.  Bringing that worldly experience and acceptance of humanity back to our communities is really like bringing home a gift from our life on the road.

Kiss Your Bliss

Before I left to travel I was planning on building my investment portfolio and climbing the corporate ladder….and then I realised I didn’t particularly like my job, or the corporate world, and the idea of investing lots now by working hard when I’m young so I can relax when I’m old didn’t seem that appealing either.  But that was where life was heading because that’s what people around me were doing and the whole package came recommended.  With that much burden in my immediate years there would be no room for creativity and it would seem like there was no opportunity to change to doing something I love instead, because let’s face it, artists start off poor.

Of course we can find our bliss from the comfort of our own homes but what travel can do is challenge our relationship with money and security and introduce ideas of how life can be done another way. When we leave our jobs and our homes we suddenly find ourselves partly in the hands of fate and trust builds. And the rest of the getting by in life is up to us and again, trust builds. We start to believe that the universe will take care of us and at the same time we start to understand just how capable we really are.  Its wonderfully empowering and calming and the realisation of who we are, what we love to do and how we can make it happen can finally become palpable in this space.

The physical removal from our normal lives and all its influences can provide the perfect undoing of ourselves as we know it. I’ve experienced both terror and exhilaration during this process as the rediscovery process unfolds.  But as unsettling as it can be it seems so essential to me to that we find this truer version of ourselves as the world needs people to make new paths, it’s part of our growth as humanity, and there is the added bonus that if people bring love to what they do in their daily life then they consequently effect the world with the great positive energy to.