Wanderlust of the Self

I have never been to a Wanderlust festival (although yogis flock to nearby Vermont to attend this now annual ritual every summer, and I would truly love to go), but I definitely have this thing called “wanderlust.”  I remember my first real trip away when I was twelve years old; I traveled to Haiti with a dozen other junior high kids to help build a school for elementary aged children in Cap Haitian.  My parents, I’m sure, were a little nervous letting me go to a country historically plagued by corruption and civil war. I sometimes wonder if I, as a parent of now eighteen and twenty year-old young adults, would have so willingly handed my pre-teen kids over at such an age to travel out of safety’s scope.  I’m so grateful my parents let me go; it was an incredible opportunity to see so many things I could never hope to experience in the rural white clapboard town of Sandwich, NH: a visit to an orphanage set up by Mother Teresa where we held beautiful black-skinned babies with malnourished bellies protruding over the rims of their cloth diapers; the town where we stood with people lined up in long rows waiting to fill a bucket at a single water faucet in the middle of a dusty dirt plaza; singing with a church full of Haitians to Christian songs in English across the street from the hut of a Medicine Man selling Voodoo dolls; shopping in open air markets under baking sunlight (I still have the straw hat I bought there 35 years ago); picking bananas off the trees, finding my very first conch shell in the hottest whitest sand I have ever set feet on; watching military troops guard the streets by night; the rocks thrown at us from dimly lit corners as we walked through town; climbing a mountain on the backs of donkeys and taking pictures with my Polaroid instamatic and having to wait weeks til I got home to NH to develop them… so many flashes of memory from that first experience of leaving home on an adventure to another land.

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I have been to many places because my parents opened their arms and set me free.

A little safer and closer to home was Quebec as a freshman in high school. I remember my classmates and I trying to speak with the locals at the grocery store and in the boutiques. One of our assignments was to order our meals in French (one can live on cafe au lait and piles of flaky croissants, s’il vous plait!).  I remember the silliness of asking “puis j’alle au vaise,” and I still hold in my mind a photo of my girlfriends and I as we skipped down a cobblestone street singing in French.  Someone snapped a picture of that moment… I wish I could see my 13-year old self with those girls… look out through those young eyes again at the world.

Junior year abroad with Boston College took me to Ireland where I would steep in the heritage of my family, travel the country top to bottom, ramble across fields, hang over the dangerously steep edges of the Cliffs of Moher, sample lots of hops, malts, and ciders, learn how to play the penny whistle, not to mention the souvenir of my soulmate (married 24 years now).  Did I mention that I was there to study Irish literature and history? (That is Declan to the left with very short hair, btw).

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While living in Ireland, I also traveled to Berlin, Germany when the wall was coming down. Picture six American twenty-year olds in a sea of millions, all swarming the night streets with hammers and chisels to get a piece of the wall.  There were riot police, constant sirens and street fires… and we just wove our way through the crowds, a human snake trying not to get trampled in the chaos… excited, nervous, hearts beating, alive because we were so very out of control in a city that was falling down and being reborn in front of us all at once.

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Three of that same group traveled to Greece for the holidays and visited Athens for a few days where we combed the Acropolis, wound through the markets, buddied up with a guy from BU (gave us much needed safety to have a male companion); we made friends with dozens of stray cats under the shadows of ancient stone columns crisscrossed like logs in an Athens park; we sailed to Rhodes on a ferry overnight and took turns guarding each other from the men that lurked on the railings nearby; we passed through the Temple of Aphrodite and into the Old City of Rhodes where stone streets and shops led us in spirals until we were happily lost inside history’s gates. We stayed in a dingy room over a bakery that smelled like a miracle every morning at 4 am, put our feet in the washed stones where the Mediterranean, the Aegean, and the Sea of Crete blended into one body, and found ourselves high tailing it back to Athens on a Christmas eve ferry after we were repeatedly followed by a few locals who clearly liked the blonde hair of my traveling companions, Kate and Janet.

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Safely back in Athens, we attended Christmas morning mass and silently missed our families back home snuggled by New England fireplaces and under tree lights. We didn’t understand a word spoken at that service, but we still felt a part of the collective energy in a huge cathedral where no one knew our faces or names, our families thousands of miles away with no clue where their daughters were or what they had just run away from on that beautiful island. There was such a freedom in being on our own, in being so young and out from under the protective wings of our parents and the constant check in that technology has stolen from our youth.

I spent a month at Lake Atitlan in Guatemala ten years ago to study yoga and Thai massage with people who have become lifelong teachers and friends.  This trip marked the beginning of my realization that traveling away is often an attempt to find your truest self. Not that you need to travel to do that, but sometimes we just don’t give ourselves time to really figure out who we are when in the midst of family, work, responsibilities at home, or stuck in technology and social media posts detailing the lives of our pets and children.  WHO AM I? I have often wondered this, and going to Guatemala and diving deep into the lake of my yoga and meditation practice on the pristine Atitlan shores surrounded by volcanoes was a huge part of me beginning to find my way back to myself (if that makes any sense at all).

Montezuma, Costa Rica was the first international group retreat I led with my husband Declan back in 2012, and it marked the beginning of this mission to help people see the world through a yogic lense, where we incorporate asana, meditation, healthy food, and all the goodness of nature into our itinerary.  I’ll never forget leading the class in sun salutations while howler monkeys dropped coconuts on the roof of the yoga pavilion, or seeing armadillos rummaging in the grass while we were doing balance poses overlooking the ocean… or eating tamarind right off the trees, or how the water at Montezuma Falls is so clean and pure.  And don’t talk to me about the fresh mangoes and passionfruit. Ohm my goodness!

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And then there was that month in the Bahamas studying Ayurveda and yoga Nidra… I promise, there was a lot of studying!!!

I spent a month in Coonoor, India earlier this year leading an Ayurveda retreat, and if you want to hear about that, there are several posts in the travel blog section of this site.  I can’t even begin to write about what this place means to me.  How much time do you have? I’ll share one anecdote: one of the girls who went on the India retreat continued to travel after she left us–onto Bali and Australia after that.  She spent four months wandering.  And she was looking for the self she knew was deep in her heart.  She came home for her brother’s wedding and has just headed back to Australia where she found her soulmate. Hmmm.  These things can happen when your heart is open wide and you are ready for that wild ride!

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I have made a pastime out of looking online at all the beautiful places I want to go in the next several years (and am already planning, by the way if you want to go too…).  I dream of getting my toes onto every continent, meeting people in remote corners of the world, of eating the cuisine of as many different cultures I can… I love it all: the food, the landscapes, the way heading to someplace new makes my heart beat.  There is so much to discover on this beautiful blue and green ball, and now that my kids are out of high school, the freedom is suddenly more accessible. I love planning trips to exotic places, and I LOVE to take people with me on retreats–it is so much fun to share the experience.  But it is important to have alone time too. When you retreat, you need opportunities to be social and time for solace. So no matter where you wander, whether it’s to see new places and meet new people, whether it is on a group retreat or solo, remember to take the path inward–to look at your inner nooks and crannies, so to speak.  And it may be Robert Frost’s “road not taken” if you haven’t visited with yourself in awhile. What pushes your buttons? What brings you peace? Are you living life deliberately, as Thoreau asked us back in high school English class, or perhaps Mary Oliver posed the best question of all: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”  And I ask, what are you waiting for?

I am currently en route to Little Corn Island, Nicaragua, to lead a yoga retreat in paradise! Twenty-one of us will be practicing yoga, eating amazing food, and enjoying turquoise waters and pinkish-white sand… I posted recently “Bathing suit: $30 suntan lotion $6, journal $5, new sunhat $13. Escape to a tiny Nicaraguan island in the middle of the Caribbean for a whole week of yoga, sun, and fun the week before the US presidential election: PRICELESS!” Seriously, folks, who wouldn’t want to get away from the media for that final week coming up to this circus of an election?  Time for some meditation and yoga to unwind my political nerves!

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If you have Wanderlust of the Self (or just plain wanderlust), you can often step outside your own front door and head on a hike, or take the metro to a new part of the city, or consider traveling to one of the National Parks in this the 100-year anniversary of our nation’s treasured lands.  But travel.  Travel out and travel in.  Go ahead and post your pictures on FB or Instagram, but take some time to put the phone away and make yourself the object of study–otherwise you are just an observer in this world.  Okay, now for the foofy advice: participate with your heart and touch the land, the water, the hands of people who don’t speak your language.  Look into their eyes and maybe you will see yourself in their gaze, like my friend who went to Australia.  Wander into your mind, into your heart of hearts (I know it may sound sappy, but it is Truth!).  Don’t just lust for the person who might be there; go on a date–many dates with your beloved self. Sit quietly and maybe meditate while you are in the places you visit. Connect with the energy there and begin to realize the pulse of the land, the sky, the sea, the salsa dancers in the Montezuma bar–all of it is a way for us to dial into the collective consciousness of the whole wide Universe AND to still be your unique wanderlusting soul-searching self.

Katie’s next group retreat is to India, the birthplace of yoga and Ayurveda!  You can join her on the journey in February & March 2017. Now booking!!!

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