David Packman asks whether the greatest journey of our lifetime takes place while we are standing still. No passport, no airports, no queues – and very often in the blink of an eye.
“I know all we’re doing is travelling without moving. Speed freak faster than a speedin’ bullet.” – Jamiroquai
In typical Australian fashion, I grew up longing to travel and shortly after university I got my first real opportunity. At that time living in the coastal town of Byron Bay, I had been learning to fly hot air balloons following a chance meeting with a Californian pilot who was working for a newly created local business offering flights over the stunning Northern Rivers region of New South Wales.
Shortly after this introduction to the skies, I found myself – through a mix of good fortune and circumstance – headed to France with a view to spending a year travelling around Europe, funded by work as a hot air balloon crewmember. Fast forward nearly five years and I returned to Australia with a pilots license and flights over 17 countries under my belt.
Next stop was a short stint as an aid worker in Africa before my corporate journey began. Over a decade went by and I eventually wound up a Vice President at a Fortune 500 company, living for extended periods in Hong Kong and London.
Watching the sunrise over Angkor Wat on my 40th birthday – I considered myself well travelled. I had the stamps in my passport and an array of interesting stories to go with them. Little did I know I’d barely left home.
Certainly, the geographic locations I had explored over the preceding 20 years were varied and – to me, at least – exciting, but the fullness of the human experience and the true nature of my life’s path had completely alluded me. My most profound journey had not even begun.
Then, in 2007, I travelled light years to a distant planet – all in an instant.
The disembodied voice of my mother trembled with human frailty on the other end of the telephone. I had just checked into a hotel in Dubai when Mum informed me that my younger sister – my only sibling – had taken her own life.
The plane ride home was ticketed Dubai to Melbourne, but frankly the approximately 7244 miles might well have been inches. It was irrelevant other than the fact it delivered my body to where it needed to be. The part that matters most had already been transported to a place I never knew existed.
I made this monumental journey all while in the exact same position – sitting cross-legged on the hotel bed, barely moving a muscle. After hanging up the phone, I remained there, physically still but mentally the polar opposite, until a close colleague came to find me, gently coaxing me to the floor as my legs had turned a little blue under my own weight. Eventually, we went to the hotel bar and drank a glass of champagne to honour my sister’s life. Everything – even my voice, my words – appeared more foreign to me than anything I had experienced before. I packed up and left for the airport.
As many will attest, losing a loved one lands you in a destination that you never fully leave. The change is gradual, but it is constant and everlasting.
Three years later, my mother died. Again a new journey, but on this occasion an altogether different one. The period leading up to her passing was incredibly profound. Doors previously locked were flung wide open. Nothing was left unsaid. Unlike my earlier experience with death as a travel companion, this felt like the entropic circle of life rather than a tearing at the very core of my being. We had the time to get used to where it was each of us was headed. My mother and I came to an understanding. About life and death. About our place within the connected fabric of the universe.
As it turned out, more travel had already been booked. Less than six months later I was looking across a desk at a specialist explaining to me what to expect now I had a blood cancer.
I found myself in a very foreign country with an entirely new language – and I had travelled there in just a few short (and ill-absorbed) sentences, nailed to a chair in a sterile hospital environment in suburban Melbourne.
Some years later and with my blood still soiled, I have come to understand that I have simply crossed a river. On the far side, there is no room for ego. You live for the moment, savouring each breath and understanding its all-encompassing significance. The narrative has changed. You simply learn to let it all go.
It may not be where I would choose to travel, certainly not without a return ticket, but once there, I learned to make the best of it. In many ways, what I have come to find is a very different version of the ‘me’ that first arrived at that seemingly dark water’s edge.
Earlier in life, I learned to do a fantastic impression of myself. I had decided on exactly the person I wanted to be and I attempted to control my experiences as a means to that very end. I had already written the script as to how I expected everything to unfold and I was acting it out to the best of my ability. Obviously, that led to a great deal of unrest when things inevitably went awry.
It’s only now, after these most recent events, that I am beginning to appreciate my true self. I understand that the journey is most fulfilling when you let go of any attachment to outcome and live without expectation.
I’m slowly learning to embrace uncertainty. After all, aren’t the most memorable travel experiences often those that happen to us when we least expect it? When we end up somewhere off the beaten track and things don’t go as planned?
I recall being quasi lost in the streets of Prague early one evening in my much younger days, with nothing but loose change in my pocket, and some hours later meeting B.B. King backstage after watching him perform from the front row at the Palace of Culture. Didn’t see that coming.
In essence, we are all travellers, and while my journey is unique to me in its intimate detail, it is nothing more than just one of the infinite that connects every one of us. We are not travelling alone.
What is clear, however, is that there is no itinerary and with that comes an inherent risk – uncertainty and impermanence. But rather than attempting to mitigate this by allowing our overactive mind to act as some kind of inbuilt travel consultant, why not simply take a step, and then another – without judging the last or fearing the next – until none further can be taken.
Through this lens, the adventurousness of the human spirit can be seen everywhere we look – even in the intrepid soul just heading out to buy some milk and a loaf of bread from the local store.
Ironically, my condition makes physical travel more difficult now, especially flying, as I have a higher risk of thrombosis. However, that is merely a trifling inconvenience.
Three years ago I was married under a double rainbow amongst the vineyards of the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria and just this month, my little boy had his first birthday.
The adventure continues unabated with wondrous experiences unfolding moment after moment.
Photo: Flickr/Hartwig HKD (Inner Journey)