Changing Places = Changing Self?



It is a curious thing: changing scenery. It has this effect on us, suddenly we get to know ourselves more. We can discover strength we did not know you had, or see a side of ourselves we did not know was there. Good and bad. When we travel or move away, It is amazing how all these little twists and turns through which we explore the world, translate to discoveries in our own minds and hearts.

I went to Cuba almost 2 years ago now, the first time I lived anywhere by myself. I had a research project to pull off. I did not speak the language. There was no wifi and no supermarkets with the specific foods I like (which says more about my rigidity I had with food than about Cuba itself). My top two ways of escaping what I am feeling are watching tv-shows for which you need internet, and getting controlling with food for which you need some predictability. Cuba stood between me and my familiar coping mechanisms.

Being there was hard and amazing at the same time. I went out and learned a language faster than I thought I could, I ate pizza and drank mojito’s and made salads and well, I made it work. I could not watch TV and run away in other people’s feelings (except for really weird Turkish telenovela’s everyone seems to watch there), so I had to look at my own and I started writing more. I felt my own expansion, I felt the independence, and I felt the discomfort. Not being around my usual coping mechanisms, brought to light what I was actually trying to cope with. I felt this pit in my stomach once in a while, fear that became tangible – because I did not run away from it. I felt it, and I dealt with it. And I went on with my day. I felt uncomfortable every time my to-do list did not go as planned, and learned to stop trying to control my time so much and say yes to whatever was happening around me, which often helped my research project more than my initial plans. I learned to be okay with open time, with letting things unfold.

In the last few weeks, I started feeling heavy. I had this whole new way of going about life I did not have at home, and I did not want to leave. People knew me that way here, there was no other story attached to me, there was only the moments we had, the joy and the tears, the broken Spanish that has its own charm. There was a tattoo on my wrist now to remind me to hold on to these feelings but going home still felt like such a threat to them. I wanted to move to Havana, stay.

And I was right. In a way.

Back home, it is hard. People notice a change in you, but it wears of like a tan. Slowly, you catch up on tv shows, and you slide back in usual ways. You are around familiar people, in familiar places doing familiar things. I am at home, I do not cook. I am at home I stand on the scale. I am at home I plan my dates with friends instead of just going out into the night. I was not the same, but the change became less obvious, it is there in little ways. In the way you think, feel and the old habits are a little less strong. The grip is a little looser. I am more me, undeniably. But I could not help shake the feeling that I caged myself a little – habits become so automatic, life goes by in a blur. It was so different from the flow in Havana, of moving through the day making decisions based on the moment, rather than on habits and routines.

I’ve been thinking about this, a lot. I am moving. Not to Havana, but to Spain. Barcelona. And it is exciting, it is a burst of freedom. A city to explore without “usual” spots, new stories to write. It is uncontaminated with triggering people and places and bad habits that come from good intentions but still, they hurt. It is re-invention in a way.  At least that is what I tell myself, Barcelona is the new Havana.

I could become more of me here – but somehow I don’t. Somehow not moving places, also means not moving on. It is easy – to stay in the comfort when the comfort is there.There is no urgency. We become like fish who don’t know they are surrounded by water in a glass bowl. We feel fine in the bowl, but we dream of the ocean. I want to take myself out – I want the ocean.

It is not why I move. I am not that naïve. Moving to Barcelona won’t do it for me, it might be symbolic and exciting – but it is an illusion to think changing places is what does the trick. Changing places get you out of your usual, allowing you to see who you are from another angle. But then you have to do something with that information. This clean slate is a gift, in the sense that we can build new habits without dismantling the old ones that much. But we will only make the most of it if we stay mindful and if we stay with ourselves.

Because that is it: awareness and present moment connection. Not where we are.

Who are we in this moment? What do we need? What feels good? How do we nourish ourselves? Does this still work? Do I still want this? What is this for? What do I desire?

It is possible to cope with life as we are now – detached from old habits, beliefs and rubbish. Simply as our true selves, without holding on to stories from the past.

Keep the good, make it stronger, add something new, play with it. Stay awake with it.

These questions are not just for me. This is not about me moving to Barcelona. I have been trying to clear it up, go back to the essence, support what I find in authentic ways ever since I came back from Cuba, while I was in Belgium, while I was travelling, while I figured out what was next. This has nothing to do with moving to Barcelona, this has everything to do with being ready. For authenticity and creating awareness, for doing the work it takes to dive into yourself and reorganize how you bring that into the world.

Act from that higher place, allow it to express itself again and again until it becomes the new normal.

These questions are also for you. Try to see yourself from a new angle – wherever you are. Like I said, it is not about where you are. It is about awareness. You do not have to take a trip. You can simply go to a city near you by yourself for a day. Go to a different bakery than your usual one. Buy something you normally don’t wear. Have conversations you usually avoid. Try going 30 days without something that you do “too often or too easy” like drinking wine or watching tv shows or complaining. Get out of your routine and see what comes up. You can simply sit instead of staying busy. Write instead of read.

Do something with what you find. Leave yourself to come home to yourself.

It is all there. If you are willing to learn to be fully aware in the present moment, and give expression to what it is you find there.