Wednesday, July 24, 2013


I'm not going to lie: I have a travel bug. Not, like, Montezuma's revenge (gross!), but a real desire to get somewhere wild for a little while.

I haven't always been that way. I'm kind of a homebody, to be honest: I like to curl up in bed with a nice book and some gluten-free cookies. Maybe if I'm getting really wild, lunch at a previously untested restaurant will be on the books. I've never been one to dive off bridges, dance on the table, or run with the bulls.

However! Things change. A couple years ago, we went camping. Eight days in the wilderness, canoeing from site to site, getting eaten by blackflies and hissing "You have to tell me when you're going to switch sides with your paddle!" at each other. It was kind of horrible, to be honest: physically demanding, emotionally draining, and I felt left out of the tight-knit group who had organized it. Plus, did you know that there are spiders in the forest? Big ones? It was tremendously challenging.

But it's funny, because looking back on that trip, there are some shining moments. I learned how to canoe. Mark read aloud from his hard-boiled detective story as we listened, intent and exhausted, around a campfire. I had sex in a tent, like any good Canadian should. The risotto was delicious. The campsites were magical. And we made it out alive: my relationship with my boyfriend survived the trip, and I made it out relatively unscathed. Nobody got eaten by a bear.

It turns out that trying new things—even things that might make us uncomfortable—is a secret to happiness. I've been trying this approach in my life lately, and it's led to some interesting results. Keeping an open mind about the little things, wether it's trying a new flavour of ice cream or turning an unexplored corner on an evening walk, lets our brains discover new sources of pleasure. And while there is pleasure in the tried-and-true way of being, these new exercises are mental calisthenics, forcing me to pay attention—do I like this? Why or why not?—and pleasure often emerges as a result.

This extends to big-picture items as well. I read an article recently where the author considered the idea of putting his partner at the centre of his life. For people who have been together since their teens, this might be second nature, but for those of us who spent a good portion of our 20s on our own, it can be tough to shift from "me" to "us." It's scary to give up on being "right," to start asking "what's best for us?" instead of "how do I come out ahead in this?" But being conscious of the need for this shift, and working on stretching those us-muscles (m-us-cles?), is rewarding, even when it requires a mental backbend or an emotional time-out.

Since I'm trying new things in several aspects of my life, it makes sense to savour travel opportunities as well. Last summer's trip to Iceland created for me what I like to refer to as my "Iceland-mind:" that is, the feeling of freedom, joy, and support that comes when I'm doing something I really love. It comes when I'm cooking, or when I'm doing Nia. It comes when I'm walking with my boyfriend, or writing fiction. And  I want to create other "minds" to go with it. Maybe "Tokyo-mind" will be my busy, workaholic aspect, primed and attuned to do my most focused work. Maybe "San Francisco-mind" will nurture my hippie-ish side, where I talk freely and unabashedly about my co-housing dreams and attend desert raves. Who knows what other minds are out there, waiting to be discovered. I won't know until I try a few on for size.