A year ago today I celebrated my 30th birthday. The night before, some friends took me for a drink at Hyperion Public down the street from my job. The next day I flew to Africa. A week later I was on top of the continent’s highest mountain. A week after that I was wandering the mountains on a bike and snorkeling the Indian ocean. A year later it feels like a distant and yet familiar experience. Did I really do that or was it some other Chris who merely shares my consciousness?
When I came back I was asked quite often a rather obvious question: Do I feel different? This question came in many various forms. How have you changed? Do you feel enlightened? What’s next? I never knew and still don’t know how to answer these questions. I try to not think too much about what’s going to happen and instead just do things right now that I want to do. If I think too much I’ll go straight mad. But the question reminded me of something Michael Crichton said in an essay from his travel book, Travels. In the essay he recalls his two week stay at a meditation retreat. He says this:
For awhile, after I returned home, I felt wonderfully alive. But then the emotional high of the two weeks faded. It all just drifted away, the way any vacation decays from consciousness. I felt discouraged. I hadn’t really made any real progress, any substantial gains. The energy work was real, the meditations were real, but what good was it if you couldn’t maintain the high and apply it to your daily life? What had it all amounted to in the end? Just another illusion. Summer camp for adults. A lot of New Age mumbo-jumbo. Meanwhile, I had practical matters to occupy me. A relationship of two years came to an end. My work was not satisfying. I needed to move my office. My secretary was begging to be fired; I fired her. It wasn’t until much later that I looked back and saw that, within eight months of returning from the desert, I had changed my relationships, my residence, my work, my diet, my habits, my interests, my exercise, my goals–in fact, just about everything in my life that could be changed. These changes were so sweeping that I couldn’t see what was happening while I was in the midst of them.
I don’t know if my own changes are so sweeping. Perhaps I’m too entrenched now in the moments after to notice. If anything I feel more self focused, or self-centered. I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if my friends called me selfish. This has lead to less drinking, more exercise, and less energy wasted on poor characters. I wish I could say I’m calmer, yet two months back from my trip I had an altercation with a boss so severe it lead me to tears, rage, and a temptation to get her fired. But maybe that was part of it: I would no longer put up with improper behavior.
When I was younger I often planned big adventures. I was going to explore the Pacific Northwest and sleep in my car or in a tent: I stayed in hotels the entire way and came home early. Same for a tour of the Southwest: after one thunder storm I chickened out and stayed in my car or hotels and once again came home early. I planned a solo road trip that was to include multiple backpacking trips through Yellowstone, Colorado, Yosemite: I turned back early while backpacking in Colorado and only camped one more time the entire trip.
Big dreams, no follow through. Rince and repeat.
The Africa trip was the first thing I really DID. College was easy. Writing shitty first drafts of books I never planned on publishing was easy. Dating and not dating was easy. This was hard.
When I came back I planned another trip: I wanted to hike the entire John Muir Trail and, with greater earnest, be gone in the wild alone for a month. I did that in July. And so when I look back on the last year, I see that I spent two months doing something I never would have had the balls to do anytime before that. But I also see debt that seemed to come out of nowhere, I see a significant drop in my work ethic at my job–coinciding with much higher level of calm.
I don’t know if I’ll suddenly become enlightened. I don’t know if I’m any different now than I was a year ago. Like with Crichton, it’ll probably take some time to see. A year from now I might have a six pack to go with a six figure salary, or I’ll have been fired for negligence and end up peddling change on street corners. I doubt both outcomes. No matter what, all I know now, is that whatever does come my way, I can deal with it.
© 2014 Christopher Dart