It was a surreal feeling, my feet on the ground in the home town I left fourteen months ago, struck by waves of melancholy, familiarity and confusion. I felt as if for the first time, lost.
My adventure thus far had been the single most profound change in my life, but it didn’t seem like it was over. That the journey I started all those months ago had come to an end. I set out with one goal; to discover the world and in doing so discover myself. I wanted to put myself in uncomfortable situations, to test myself, experience everything I could and grow in the uncertainty of every moment.
Now I come back to what I thought would be the end point of my trip, what was before the only certainty in my life. Only to find no end in sight. No certainty. No comfort.
It appeared I had found what I was looking for, swimming in a sea of uncertainty, I felt purposeless, and for a moment downhearted.
In the last year or so I had achieved so much, I had lived, studied, worked and explored ten different countries over the American continents. I’d travelled on almost 40 aeroplanes, countless buses and a few boats. I’d been flat broke twice and somehow managed to scrape my way through the American continents, and eventually make it back home to Australia. I’d made lifelong friends with people, now scattered in every corner of the earth. I’d experienced so many unique and life changing experiences with the belief that I would return to Brisbane and somehow everything would be over. Lessons learnt, life fulfilled.
Instead, all though I felt excited to finally experience home, I was overcome with a sudden sadness. I wrote some 6 months ago on what travel had taught me about the decision we make in life, to exist or to live. To do what is expected, or do what should be done. To strive for security and certainty, or be at peace in the knowledge that no such thing exists. I felt that I had been succeeding in living my life up until this point, but was I now to just go on existing?
The strangest thing is, what struck me the most about my trip was how much I have laughed and smiled in my fourteen months abroad. Such simple pleasures, yet if you really think about it if you can’t do either, then what else is there? Now all I could think of was what enjoyment will I chase, what new adventure will bring me pleasure? What is this despondency, what will make me happy, and what will I be happy for?
For a few days I wallowed in this sense of emptiness, gripped by the fear that it had all been for nothing, that I had left something unfinished, only now I had no purpose. No point in continuing. My friends and family brought me temporary moments of happiness, but the truth was, I was a little depressed.
I lay in bed thinking about my life, my year, my future, the inevitability of my death, everything. Then suddenly for no reason at all I sat up, I looked out the window, I could see the sun shining and I smiled.
I smiled and I laughed, I talked to a good friend of mine who naturally I had not seen for what seemed like a lifetime, and I smiled and laughed some more. I started to think about this idea of purposelessness and I remembered the words of the philosopher Alan Watts that once before had really resonated with me:
“Purposeless…that’s just great. As wondering on and on in a great forest with no thought of return, haven’t you done this? Haven’t you gone on a walk with no particular purpose in mind? Carry a stick with you and occasionally hit at old stumps…twiddle your thumbs. It is at that moment that you are a perfectly rational human being.”
It helped me to remember why I set out on this journey in the first place. The prescribed life plan of school-university-career-retirement never brought me any happiness. I wanted to escape and follow my bliss what ever and where ever it was.
I realised it didn’t matter where or how I, or anyone found happiness there doesn’t have to be a reason for it, it doesn’t have to advance you aesthetically, personally or physically. Happiness isn’t a means to an end, it is both the means and the end.
This isn’t the conclusion of my journey, and that no longer makes me sad, every breath is an adventure, every moment a story. The human experience is an art form. My new goal is simply, to admire and experience the strokes of sadness, of happiness and of purposelessness on the canvas of my life. To not be afraid to see beauty in all things, that is what adventure has taught me so far.
Life is so beautiful she demands to be loved, and there could be no greater tragedy than to be convinced by death to fear her. So now that I’m back I have no choice but to continue living her, unafraid to go for what makes me smile and laugh.
This is the quote I posted on the eve of my adventure, today more than ever it’s still relevant for me as a philosophy of how life should be lived
“To live fully one must be free, but to be free one must give up security, therefore to live one must be ready to die” – Tom Robbins
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