Welcoming Uncertainty: Transformative Experiences in Traveling
What is your favorite mode of tourism? Breakout from routine? Rest? Adventure? Favorite way to challenge yourself? Have you ever dared to try a completely new experience while traveling, something that takes you out of your comfort zone? What can we learn from our experience when we are at play (as opposed to being at work)? And how might these distinct forms of being overlap in potentially enriching ways?
In my sabbatical year, as I travel, I’m visiting unfamiliar places and experimenting with activities that I have never done before, experiencing new discoveries in my way of seeing and doing things.
The process of putting yourself in an unknown situation can provoke unexpected and surprising reactions and emotions. Whether this happens at work or at leisure makes a huge difference in the quality of the experience, the details you notice (or remain unaware of), and your receptivity to possibility.
Hiking in the sacred mountains of Santa Marta was an eye-opening experience for me. These mountains are home to indigenous people who have lived there for centuries and hold many sacred customs. Santa Marta is located a thousand kilometers north of Bogota, in the Caribbean region of Colombia also called Teyuna. Living in the forest for four days was something I had never done. I had stayed overnight before with indigenous people in the Amazon, but just for two days and was taken there by boat. The Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta was completely different. We hiked for four days up and down the mountains to find the “ciudad perdida,” an archaeological site of an ancient city older than Machu Picchu. As you climb the mountains you carry your belongings on your back and sleep in simple camps. Together with mustering the courage of being in an unknown environment, and the physical challenge, we also had the pleasure to be accompanied by the indigenous people, learning from them, observing how they interact with their environment. Each day you learn something about how they live in the forest, their values, and their relationship with nature. This experience gave me a different perspective of the world, and connected me with the natural world in different ways. Furthermore, facing the fear of being alone in the jungle led me to discover an internal force, allowed a new kind of flexibility, and also made me more creative in how to overcome my resistance.
I can affirm that this experience transformed me. I believe that the learning and the new resources I gained can be incorporated in my life as a whole and I see that I look at life and respond to uncertainty in different ways. I could not have gained this ability by reading a book or taking a course. Transformative experiences like this can only be done firsthand: by immersing yourself in the situation you are changed. But you do not necessarily have to journey to far off, exotic places or take dramatic risks. It can be something very close to you and yet challenging, such as learning a musical instrument, dancing with your partner; or even dance with a stranger 😊.
Another transformative experience involved skiing. As a Brazilian from the tropics, skiing is something foreign and unfamiliar. Despite that, when I found myself in the white mountains of Austria, I decided to sign up for ski classes, embracing the fear of not-knowing anything about it and not having any control in that environment. As I overcame the initial steps, I learned not just new skills but also new emotions, new flavors, a mixture of freedom, power, and integration with nature all together. The experience provided an unexpected thrill and stimulated my thinking.
With these transformative experiences you learn how to embrace and welcome uncertainty, by surrendering the effort to control everything all the time. You discover new feelings that give you a boost of energy and the feeling of being alive. You learn new responses to situations, increasing your tool kit of resources. It also helped me see the world from a different place and to connect with nature and culture on different levels. These are things I take with me, they have fostered other ways of framing life, and I hope to integrate these attitudes of approach as I continue to travel and as I return to routine.