I believe in good.
I believe in good for good’s sake, but I also believe in good for one’s own sake, because good makes you whole and, quite often, it returns to you.
Karma, the Buddhists call it.
Don’t worry, not trying to get all preachy up in here. This post is simply a personal reflection upon the mysterious karmic energies of the universe experienced through life and travel.
During the past nine years abroad, I’ve realized how truly powerful karma has been in my life.
When I was young, I always had a sense of karma. But I certainly never thought of giving and receiving as an exchange of energies or as a method by which to “buy” good luck. Due to how I was brought up and being one of five siblings, giving has always been a natural reflex. You have to give when you have brothers and sisters. Sharing is not optional; it’s required.
So I was generous to a point. But my generosity came at a cost.
According to my dad, I was always counting coins when I was small, like some hoarding Shylock from Merchant of Venice. But I think what he doesn’t remember about me was that I always had my little savings earmarked to spend on someone else. In fact, I got into trouble for doing so a time or two – spending all the coinage I’d saved instead of learning to budget for my own future (hahem….I guess I never learned that concept).
Don’t misunderstand me; I’m not claiming to be The Giving Tree. Back then, the act was almost never selfless. As a second child, I was constantly competing and trying to buy someone’s love, whether they be a sibling or a grandparent or a mom or a dad.
Yes, I wanted them to be happy. I wanted them to enjoy my gifts. But, theoretically, in exchange, the recipient was supposed to love me more. Most of the time, this was unbeknownst to whichever poor sap had naively entered into the transaction without reading the fine print.
When they failed to hold up their end of the bargain, they experienced my wrath.
As you age, so do your motives and, hopefully, any generosity I may possess has evolved past buying love for myself. Yet, I feel my most “generous” donation to date – two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer – was indirectly self-serving too.
I wanted to help but, above all, I wanted the experience. I hoped to give whatever it was I could offer in exchange – I didn’t want to steal the experience from my Ukrainian hosts – but, in the end, karma was heavy-handed in its generosity toward me, and I received a lot more than I’d given there.
I made unbelievably valuable friends, one of whom I still talk to nearly every day. Those who entered my life even momentarily were meant to be in my life at that moment and help me evolve into a more rounded person.
Though I feel that I gave with my heart in the right place, in the end, I selfishly received ten times over.
The experience also set the stage for a life a bit out of the norm, one I never truly believed I’d ever live. I wouldn’t trade my nomadic life for stability and security of any kind if it meant I’d be holed up somewhere I didn’t want to be.
As a great poet once said, “I’d rather be adrift at sea than anchored and rusting to a port.”
Which leads me back to karma. I believe the beauty of travel karma is in the lapping waves that set a person adrift, the give and take of it all.
For some reason, that give-and-take is more vibrant out in the world than it was at home. This is probably due to the stark contrasts of culture and lifestyle and people you experience abroad.
Don’t believe everything you see on TV. Most people in the world don’t want to harm you. In fact, locals everywhere often want to be your hosts. As a guest in their country, they want you to see the best side of their culture.
I’m not saying you should naively take hold of any hand that reaches for you. Trust your gut when it comes to safety in travel.
But, in my experience, it’s a rare occasion when you come across a person who wishes you harm. At the core, most are generous in sharing, and I believe that generosity is returned to them.
Not only are people generous everywhere, but nature is too. When you’re open to exploring the world, everything seems brighter, more colorful, unique.
Whether that’s reality or just my romanticizing of reality, to be honest, I don’t care.
Everywhere I go, I love the colors of the sky, the smell of the air, the earth in my toes. If there’s a beach, I love the sand that is my canvas.
Though ambition makes a simple life seem like it’s lacking, that seemliness is an illusion. The free-fall is joy for me, and I’m eternally grateful to breathe simply.
Travel hasn’t made me a centered Buddhist monk, at peace with all. Far from it.
But what I’ve been able to arrive at within myself through travel and karma is an ability to more quickly come to terms with circumstances that may not all be peachy keen – to take the bad with the good. To let things be out of my control.
I owe this acceptance to a transitory life. Travel has (to a point) whittled down my once-short temper and stubbornness, because if you intend on being a traveler and not a tourist, you must go with the flow.
If you’re at first unwilling to loosen up, travel will force you into submission. A million and one things can and will go wrong, and you can’t be a ticking time bomb, or you’ll be exploding all over the place.
You scuffed up a rental car in Athens and didn’t bother to buy the insurance? You may be paying that bill off for months, but it’s not the end of the world.
You’re lost in a foreign land miles and bus rides away from Beijing with a dead cellphone? No worries; keep your head, rely on the kindness of strangers and, eventually, at two, three, four in the morning, you’ll find your way back.
You feel like a local cheated you big time in Marrakesh? Calm down. He may have your money now, but the only thing he’s bought with it is his own bad karma…or maybe he needed the extra few bucks for his livelihood more than you needed it for your charmed life.
If you gasp and wail and rail against the wind while traveling, you’ll only end up with your own spit in your face, blinding your view of that rolling green hue of Tuscany, the blink of the Asian elephant’s sad wise eyes up close, the spark of the dirty smiling faces in that small Chinese village of corn, the pulsing of the moon in the Cretan sky the night that God took someone you loved from your life.
You won’t see anything, you won’t feel anything, you won’t learn. And you won’t reap the benefits of karma.