Monday, July 10, 2017

the passport

After nearly seven years of traveling pretty continuously--a journey that I started chronicling in this very blog--and priding myself on having the whole life-on-the-road thing down, my bag was stolen and with it my valid ID, including my passport, and most of my credit cards. With about 16 days before my departure date from Cairo, I hit a new level of pre-travel stress.

I was bummed about the expense and, most of all, the inconvenience: the hours of dealing with local police, the US embassy, Philippine call centers to cancel and reorder credit cards which I had just recently activated, and chaotic Egyptian government offices to secure an entry stamp for a fresh US passport. I skipped practice and found myself irritable with those tasked to help me, I ran around the last couple of weeks in the hot Cairean summer using up all my stored-up yoga cool. I was upset and, then, upset about being upset.

I vacillated between being hard on myself for carelessly leaving my bag just lying around in an apartment and being spitefully angry at the thief who must've seen it through the open window while the flat was unattended.

Ultimately, I was having difficulty with loosing control—and, I know I’m not alone with this being a biggie. I was pulled out of a safe and steady rhythm. I was out of my comfort zone--and hadn't been challenged in this way for a very long time. As much as I would love to be all Zen about it, I have not been blessed with that uncanny ability to relax into difficult situations, finding receptivity towards calm and peace loving solutions the way we might expect a good yogi to. The truth is situations like these put me on the defensive, my fists tightly closed, arms close to the body, ready to block any more punches.

Also, I was attached to the passport itself. It had been my companion, my gateway (eternally grateful for the ease of travel that comes with an American passport) and witness.

Accidents and thefts, they are determined by so many factors. Still, I blamed myself for being so casual with such precious cargo, shouldn't I have known better? Haven't I been traveling for some time? The truth, however, is that since I'd arrived in Egypt at the end of last year, I wasn't exactly traveling but I wasn't settled either. I was in my own limbo, going from month to month with an idea of moving on but with little initiative to do so. Each month, students asked if it would be my last. Offers to teach elsewhere came and went, but I wasn't actually budging. 

Since packing up my life in the Philippines, I started to seriously travel in 2011. After my first Mysore trip, my life turned fluid. My lost passport, issued that same year, was a testament of it. I went where I was invited because the truth is I didn't know where to go myself. I only knew that I didn't feel right living where I was last living. But as to where I belonged, I didn't have the slightest clue. I felt like I was looking for a home but the more I traveled the more conceptual "home" became. When my father went to visit my sister in NY, I tagged along. When a boyfriend went to teach in Europe, I followed. Once the yoga school opened in Mysore, I would go there to study with my teacher. When it was time, I'd go home to the Philippines, usually when I was tired or broken-hearted, because, as it turns out, we cannot live in other people. And, when I started to teach, I went where I was asked, wherever there was work, wherever there were students. 

After some time of not having a home of my own, I started working on making peace with myself, so that I could be at home with myself--an amazing but difficult process. I even tried to put down roots in the Bay Area during this time. By that point, it was already 2015 and I was travel weary, often getting sick while transitioning from one country to the next.  Living in one place turned out to not be so easy for me, either. After the years of movement, I couldn't quite stomach the stillness. It put me in such close contact with my own loneliness, my longing, and my fears of failure that after only 8 months (the longest I'd been stationary in the last 7 years), I jumped right back into my comfort zone with absolute gusto: I packed my bags, freed myself up to go to Mysore and then spent the next year studying and teaching and wholeheartedly filling my passport with stamps.

There is a part of me that grieves for the stolen passport with its worn cover and its bulk of extension pages. It chronicled my life, a collection of entry and exit stamps, it was a story of movement, adventure, discovery and healing—some of it sad, it’s true, but much of it incredibly soft and gracious. But I also recognize the symbolic significance of these fresh unmarked pages—that it is time for something different, to let go of those old stories, which I have been so attached to. I will most likely always be a traveler but I would like to identify less with where my life is lived and more with how I am living it. Sometimes, we need to loose who we believe ourselves to be in order to make room for who we are becoming, that way a new journey can begin.

A couple of weeks before loosing my passport, I decided I would return to Cairo at the end of the summer to continue to grow the program that I haphazardly started over a year ago, to also grow my relationships with the people I love there and, in tandem, to grow myself too. It's a mighty frightening thing for one so fluid to chose a clear and determined path, but it's definitely time.

As much as I would have liked to avoid the inconvenience of loosing my old passport, the new clean passport reminds me to not fall into old patterns, to not retreat into the allure of travel and adventure, that the most precious sights are to be found inside, and, that for me, right now, that means planting roots.

So I go now, with my new passport, to satisfy my still-unwavering wanderlust and likewise my need for inspiration and learning. I travel now to teach, to visit with friends, to plug into the vibrant ashtanga community in Europe and at the end of the two months to see my teacher in his workshop in London. And then I will go back to my own life where I will work to find all those things (wanderlust, inspiration, learning) in the everyday interactions with my relations there and the places that I daily inhabit. I have heard that this is how it goes, when one returns home.

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