For awhile, after I’ve traveled abroad and through multiple time zones, my sleep patterns are way out of whack. I wake in the middle of the night, feeling like it must be morning (“It is,” says my body, “somewhere…”) More than this, when I wake it takes me a minute to clock my surroundings: Where am I? I listen for sounds to orient myself. I become oh-so-present, feeling the need to get my bearings in the moment. Darkness sharpens my senses, but my brain doesn’t quite grasp the input it’s getting.
My emotions also shift during and after a trip. I tend to immerse myself so totally in new travel experiences that, when I come back home, everything inside of me feels as though it’s been re-set to different coordinates. I feel a little ‘out of body’ at first; sleep deprived for sure. But also deprived of things I’ve become used to in my new country: a different slant of sun; a bluer sky; a haze of burnt-orange, or blinding-white buildings perched on a hillside. Aromas that’ve awakened my senses: the bitter-orange blossoms that are totally distinct from the orange trees in my home state. (How is it that the air in the entire city of Marrakech, no matter where you go, smells like cedarwood?)
Coming home, I can fall prey to what I call the Traveler’s Blues. Thankfully, the symptoms don’t last long and are eased somewhat by cat-naps. But I’ve also learned to be gentle with myself when a trip ends. It’s ‘ok’ to suddenly long for every aspect of my new country(ies), while at the same time feeling ecstatic about being back home in my own space. The push-pull of relief, and longing – a sweet melancholy. Right then is when I try to bring my mind and heart together by entering a different kind of ‘time zone’.
In his book “The Power of Now” (1997), Eckhart Tolle calls it The Gap: the space of no mind, no thinking; just being and feeling wholly present where you are, in every way. Of course, Ram Dass’s book “Be Here Now”, written in 1971, should be credited with introducing the mental oasis known as Being Present. Regardless of who nudged us into this practice first, I feel deep gratitude for this resource.
As I return to my own country, back to my own complex life, I feel that I’m returning from a deep-dive: not only into another culture, but into my Self. Imagining myself a scuba diver, ready to make for the glittering sunlight on the surface of the ocean, I swim slowly and calmly. I focus on my breathing. My heartbeat is a meditation. The dark mystery is below, the sunlight shimmers on my eyelids. This perfect moment is a balance of Who I Was, joined by Who I Am Now; of remembering, and anticipating my next travel adventure.