The Nomadic Life

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“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.” – Helen Keller

I’m certain almost all of you will agree that traveling is a lot of fun (unless you’re visiting Disneyland with your 18-month old quintuplets, in which case you’re really on course for one hell of a ride). In fact, a majority of the people I’ve met have said that they love traveling, even though some of them haven’t gone beyond their front yard. And then there are several Facebook pages, Instagram accounts and a closet full of resumes that I have come across, which state that traveling is second nature to them. So whether people travel for real or are in the planning phase (sometimes for several months, years even, like me), it seems well established that traveling is on everyone’s bucket list.

I was on a 4-day trip to Khajuraho and Panna (in Madhya Pradesh, India) with my wife, daughter, my cousin and his wife just this past month. Coming from Mumbai, the experience was a complete breath of fresh air (literally, considering we were in the countryside). Khajuraho houses a group of Hindu temples, known for their spectacular architecture, apart from open green pastures. Panna about twenty-five kilometers away is home to a picturesque tiger reserve, that boasts of 40 tigers within its premises (which is way more than Africa can stake claim to). I had the pleasure of visiting both these sites and was fortunate to see not one, but three tigers. This is a fantastic result on a first attempt, considering there were others in different vehicles that were on their fifth outing. In fact, our guide told us about a foreigner who was doing the rounds for close to forty days before he saw a tiger and then broke into complete pandemonium (Which could have scared all the wildlife out of the forest and into the neighboring towns).

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Anyway, my aim isn’t to turn this into a travel commentary, but in fact, is to emphasize the positive effects that a simple and short trip can have. I don’t go on trips as frequently as I would like to. In fact, I rarely do and this is one statistic I’d like to change rapidly. I seem to get entangled in life’s expectations of me pertaining to my work, responsibilities toward my family, improving the quality of life for me and those around me, and prioritizing my finances for various things (like extended warranties on electronic products, unused gym memberships, Netflix, and even online shopping to fill up all the open wall faces in the apartment) that hasn’t included travel until now. However, the few vacations that I have taken in recent years has really had a profound effect on my mind and body.

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While I have loved all my trips to various cities around the world, I have always felt more alive when I have been in nature.

I sense the following positive changes in me when traveling, especially during nature travels.

Mental and physical health: I feel an increased level of wellbeing and also reduced stress, anxiety, anger, and tiredness. I feel happier, calm, and feel like I have no worry in the world. My body is ready to support what my mind and heart seek (while it lags behind when at home, grinding out each day).

Sleep and recovery: This is probably the most loved but also the most underrated activity in our lives. However, learning, creativity, muscle building, recovery, and other useful foundations take place during sleep. I have a degenerating lower spine and there is a rarely a day in my life when I don’t feel sore and sense lowered energy levels due to the discomfort. This does impact my sleep in some ways. I went for this trip only a few weeks after an episode of a back spasm and while I had recovered, I wasn’t a hundred percent there. I felt my body recover rapidly in the four days that I spent in Khajuraho and Panna (it takes a lot longer in Mumbai) and despite the day-long activities, I went to bed with negligible soreness and slept as soundly as I ever have.

Creativity: I feel more ideas pop into my head as compared to a concerted team effort in a boardroom. My mind is rejuvenated and I see more solutions than problems. Simplicity is the name of the game (While we sit with all sorts of data and infographics to solve basic problems).

Perspective: People in Khajuraho and Panna seemed to go about their lives with ease and didn’t feel the need to rush or be concerned about meeting deadlines or getting to places in time. They looked content despite their modest possessions and were living life on their own terms. And I feel like an idiot when I realize that I probably have access to more resources than them and can’t feel half as content. It’s important to be open to the different and the unknown because it’s not scary like our mind has always told us.

Living in the moment: While I barely have time to catch my breath during my regular life, time away in nature allows me to sense every single breath.

Soulfulness: The feeling of unbridled joy is amazing and in this technological age, it’s remarkable how we can feel complete without our gadgets and other fancy belongings (Not being connected via social media is considered as blasphemy these days). When I look back at our pictures from the trip, I realize that our souls are smiling as much as our mouths.

Adventurous streak: While I may have excuses to not do things in Mumbai, I am willing and raring to do anything when on a trip. And I believe this really might be my innate personality that I curb during my normal course of life (I need to fix this permanently). And I realize I can have so much fun than I actually do, and bring smiles on the faces around me.

Going back to the story about the ecstatic ‘tiger spotting’ foreigner, while I didn’t react the same way, I did feel immense joy when spotting these beautiful animals, myself. And when I think back, I can barely come up with moments where I may have felt such ecstasy (Including moments with loved ones, personal achievements, hanging out with my favorite collectibles, and even while watching the Halle Berry starring ‘Catwoman’). My maternal grandparents lived in the outskirts of a small town and I spent most vacations until my mid-teens at their place. I have very fond, healthy and happy memories from those days, playing and trekking around farmlands and forests. Over time I have lost touch with nature and in a way myself, just like many of you may have. It’s time to revive the nomad. What do you think?

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Mirror Trolls

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While a majority of us turn tail at the first sign of adversity, there are a few courageous souls that like to take life’s challenges head-on (And end up with a swollen head from all those head butts. Some swollen heads are also born out of arrogance on successfully taming these challenges). In fact, unlike the majority of us who use these hardships (such as acquired muscle pulls during the first few minutes at the gym, a bad performance during a group presentation in college, being rejected the very first time when asking someone out, falling off a bicycle while learning how to ride, heading into Andheri (a suburb of Mumbai, which is a populous city in itself) traffic, which I admit requires bravado, vacationing with overzealous relatives, finding a fly in the soup at a particular restaurant (like it’s never happened at home) and even being chased by a horde of dogs while walking your own) as an excuse to completely avoid these responsibilities along with a zillion others, the determined few tell themselves that they have had enough coming second to their problems, and intend to address them with enthusiasm, guts, and purpose.

Adopting a mindset that is positive in its outlook and perceives challenges as fun puzzles, is already a massive step in the direction towards success and fulfillment. Mastering our mind is key to mastering our lives.

I’m a big fan of the Rocky movie series (It ain’t over till it’s over), and in its sixth edition, ‘Rocky Balboa’, I was very moved by the spiel Rocky gives his son about life. It’s not about how hard you can hit, but about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward (If you’ve been reading my articles regularly, you will notice I find inspiration from anywhere; sports, movies, superheroes, toys, strangers, traffic, perpetual selfie-takers, Chihuahuas, and even my shadow (only at the ‘right’ angles)).

Until my mid-twenties I had a pretty meek demeanor towards everything and I was easily overwhelmed by situations, and more specifically people. As a kid, I have been scolded a couple of times by passers-by aunties in my locality for playing in the sun, while my parents were totally fine with it. I would disappear at top speed if I saw any middle-aged woman henceforth. I would blindly follow certain boys that I perceived as cool in school and take up classes and extracurricular activities, even if I had little interest, just because they had. Despite my talent as a cricketer during high school, I silently played victim to political gambles within our team and ended up with raw deals on multiple occasions. I was crazy about my first girlfriend in my teens and her wish became my command. This attitude of mine ensured that a relationship of equals had become lopsided, as I spent years at the bottom end of the see-saw. I can speak of various instances where I was easily bullied by people. Bosses, colleagues, family, taxi drivers, home delivery personnel, and now that I think of it, even my dogs and three-year-old may have pulled a few fast ones on me. And in defense of all these people, I was a willing accomplice. My demeanor sent a message loud and clear that it was okay to treat me this way. I thought I was being nice, and I cared enough to not fight back. I was just being a scared jackass.

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And then one day, after spending a quarter century or more hiding in the shadows, I decided to step out, stand up for myself, and work hard on my confidence and self-belief. In my quest to improve regularly and hone my mental strength and other skills, I became a tougher critic of myself over time. In my quest to prove my mettle, I began to set harder goals for myself and decided to not settle for anything less than absolute success. Of course, that’s not to say that I didn’t have my fair share of failures, but with every single one of them, I took a bitter turn towards myself. I set expectations of myself, which were perceptibly greater than anyone else’s of me. And in this pursuit, I probably set goals for myself that were unreasonable (By which I mean that they had to be devoid of mistakes or failures). Despite my diligence, commitment, hard work, integrity, and blatant honesty (fans of which I can count on the fingers of one hand), I didn’t always succeed, and that didn’t go down too well with me. The shortcomings could be very small (like minor errors in my Excel sheet workings, a less than perfectly composed email, or completing my 7-kilometer daily walk 2 minutes slower) or larger ones (like trouble in managing personal relationships, failing to convert every sales lead, and trailing my long term goals), I came down hard on myself.

In my quest to earn self-respect and not be allow myself to be ill-treated by others, I started meting out some really bad treatment to myself. I was no better than the many people I had encountered thus far. My lack of empathy for myself (despite a lot of empathy towards others), was adding to my bitterness, and subsequently showed in my environment, and results in my performances in every aspect of my life. There was a point where I didn’t even smile much or stopped altogether.  My behavior was the equivalent of punishing myself for overeating by ordering one more banana split sundae. I lost focus on a basic fact of life that empathy, care and kindness, and not brashness and rigidity, lead to improved confidence, achievement, and true happiness.

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I’m learning to not be too harsh (no pun intended) on myself. That doesn’t mean I don’t give everything my best and behave like a bum. It just means that even though the best efforts don’t always result in positive or desired outcomes, I pick myself up with care, and have another go. While, I truly believe that consistency in our effort tends to attract positivity in our environment, and things tend to manifest in our favor, it is a long process and comes without a 100 percent guarantee. The nicer we are to ourselves, and the more we love ourselves, the closer we get to that figure (assuming we do all the other necessary things as well)

Guess who paid the price for being meek and letting go of dreams and goals easily? You’re right, I did. And guess who bore the brunt of a negative mindset by being an overachiever and too hard on himself? Correct again, me. If taking things too easily is detrimental, being too hard on ourselves and not offering any reprieve is equally damaging.

Give yourself credit, time, attention and love, and only then will you truly empower yourself. Stop trolling the person in the mirror (unless your wife is checking her self out while trying on her forty-sixth dress as you look on in exasperation).

Take a break, have a Kit Kat.

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