In recent weeks I’ve had a lot to think about.
Where do baby pigeons live? I’ve never seen one. How come the people on Masterchef didn’t pursue a career in cooking in the first place if they’re so good at it? And what’s going to happen to society when the selfie generation grows up and starts to make decisions about things?
And also more important things.
Occasionally, life serves you a whopper. A complete slap-in-your-face-you-must-have-side-stepped-into-an-alternative-universe sort of shock. And everything begins to tumble like dominoes around you. When that thing happens, it’s hard not to have a bit of an identity crisis. Nothing feels real anymore, the ‘you’ you thought you knew feels a bit wobbly. So much of ‘ourselves’ is held together by the ideas we have of life and the relationships we have with people. Our family, friends, daily routines, memories and dreams of the future make up life’s glue. When something falls out of place, all the pieces around it drop too.
As an out-of-the-closet introvert, I fully accept and embrace the healing effects of being alone. When things go wrong, I retreat into my shell – like a tortoise or clam, or any other shell-dweller. Being also a bit of a dreamer at heart, the conclusion I invariably came to on this occasion was to book a flight and get the hell out of here. I wanted somewhere quiet, warm and hard to get to. I remembered watching a programme about the Adriatic Sea a long time ago, and how beautiful and blue it looked. I wanted to go there. I chose Korcula, a 24 x 9-mile island off the coast of Croatia.
There’s only one bus a day from the main airport at Dubrovnik and it’s a three to four hour drive along the coast, passing through a small section of Bosnia. That sounded like an adventure to me. It was also the cheapest flight on SkyScanner, but that doesn’t sound as romantic. Unfortunately, having a full time job makes it very difficult to be truly spontaneous, so I booked my little soul-searching jaunt for the following month, telling myself it still counts. I’m still flighty and unpredictable. Just in a sensible sort of way. That month has now been and gone, and in just four days I’ll be packing my bag and boarding that plane, with a playlist full of emotional songs and a diary I can write profound things in.
A whole week to myself. Alone. With no one to validate my existence. No one to help me if something bad happens.
I met a really interesting man last year. His name was (and still is, actually) David Charles Manners. He’s accomplished at many things. Music, teaching, writing, being a really nice person. I interviewed him for a travel magazine. Beforehand I read one of his books, Limitless Sky, which told the story of his travels as a younger man to the foothills of the Himalayas, where he met a shaman who taught him the ways of their ancient ‘tradition’. Here’s an excerpt from Amazon’s synopses (I’m too lazy to write my own):
In Limitless Sky, David shares the wisdom and insights he learnt from those transformational days in the Himalayas. These include practical guidance on how to live a full and fearless life, how to find happiness and how to live in ways that nurture both ourselves and others. As David reveals, the life lessons he learned amongst the mountains of the Himalayas could benefit us all today.
During our interview I focused in on the ‘alone’ parts of his experience. Does travelling alone change one’s experience of a place? He recounted a story (which he describes in the book) of one of the challenges he had to complete as part of his training. He was blindfolded and put in a cave for several days, in complete isolation. It was just him and his thoughts. Can you imagine experiencing that? Nothing but your self for hours and hours and hours, until even time stops meaning anything at all.
He told me: “It really pushes all your buttons. After going through those sorts of things, nothing else seems quite so scary anymore.”
He was ‘brutally bullied’ at school and he found his first trip abroad extremely intimidating – “I didn’t think I’d survive my first trip because I was so overwhelmed, and it was so far from anything I was used to,” he said.
He added: “Because of this legacy of bullying and other stuff, I was very anxious and fearful of people. These years of teaching have really unravelled that, which means I am more able to connect with people.”
Now, spending a week by myself in a nice apartment in Korcula isn’t exactly the same as sitting in a dark cave alone for days on end, but I only get a certain amount of leave. I’m not going to spend it in sensory deprivation. But I can understand how blocking yourself off from the world can open up another plane of existence, somehow. A deeper understanding of your own fears and restrictions. It’s about breaking down those comforts we have: our routines, our friendships, the things that keep us grounded – and relying on nothing but our own inner voice for survival.
Once you’ve got through that, you can begin to trust yourself. To know that the whole world could fall apart and you will still be OK. So I suppose in a sense, that is what I am trying to achieve by going away by myself.
But I won’t pass off a nice local wine and some croatian food while I’m there, of course.