Most of us will be familiar with the classic story of the tortoise and the hare. One of Aesops fables, it features an overly cocky hare who brags to a slow moving tortoise that he is faster than him. The tortoise, sick of the hares teasing remarks, challenges the hare to a race. Overly confident in his ability to win the race, the hare takes a nap midway through and wakes up to find that the tortoise has already made it to the finish line. Thus the token phrase, “slow and steady wins the race” is born.
I have been thinking a lot about this classical tale that has stood the test of time. Every new place we travel to, I put together a must see and must do list in my head. Most of what makes the list, comes straight out of our lonely planet book, websites touting the top ten things to do in that particular city, or what I have seen in photographs posted by thousands of other travellers. Kevin and I end up prioritizing what we absolutely must do and what will have to be left out. It’s a reality we have to face, that we simply can’t do everything. Even so, when we don’t manage to get around to one of the top things to do, whether it’s due to it being too pricey, too far away or even when it boils down to just not having the energy, I get the same sick feeling in my stomach that I would get back in high school when I couldn’t make it to the “coolest” party, the one everyone would be at… That feeling of, damn, I’m missing out.
Travelling for a year or more, Kevin and I have committed to a marathon, not a sprint… This is not just a vacation, this is our life. Our backpacks are the only things we own and each guesthouse, hotel or hostel becomes our home whether it be for 1 day or 1 week. I am learning how to slow down the pace, to accept that there can be days where nothing is planned but to finish my book and sometimes we aren’t going to tick off the top thing to do on lonely planets activity list… We have been so accustomed to the North American “rat race” of money being a marker of success, Instagram pictures being a marker of your happiness and the never ending go, go, go that feels almost expected of you. One of the major driving forces of this trip was to remove ourselves from this, to taste real freedom and have time to simply be. In the amazing movie, “Eat, Pray, Love”, featuring Julia Roberts (and the sexy James Franco), a friend advises Julia Roberts on her time in Italy that to fit in with the local Italian culture, she must learn “the art of doing nothing”.
Doing nothing is truly an art form. It takes practice and patience. It means being okay with sitting in the present moment and not grasping for anything else. It’s funny really, I’m saying “do nothing” but I don’t mean meditating in lotus pose all day, eyes closed, chanting “om”. I mean reading a book, taking a stroll, practicing some yoga, chatting with locals and trying to find the best place to eat our next meal. This is not really doing nothing, it’s living, it’s fun, it’s always changing. I can’t even remember how many times I wished for the time to do “nothing”. I’d say, “I can’t wait until university is over so I can just read a book for pure enjoyment”, “I can’t wait until work is done so I can sit in stillness and listen to some music”, “I can’t wait to get through my to-do list so I can enjoy a drink with good company without having to rush off”. I currently have that luxury and can embody my inner tortoise…
I can move slowly and surely, confidently knowing that I am not missing out or going to “lose” the metaphorical race of travel. Just being able to be apart of this “race” means I have already won. I am living and forging my own journey, and it doesn’t need to be written in a guide book or cost an entrance ticket to be a genuine, real experience. In fact the moments when we have been doing “nothing” are usually when some of our most memorable experiences have been born… like being invited to play volleyball with the locals, hearing the first hand story of a young man searching for his family in the aftermath of a tsunami, or shedding some tears when something in a park sparks a memory of my dad. These are the moments I will remember when I look back on this time in my life. These are the moments that I will grow and learn from. These are the moments I want to have more of.