Peacewheel is putting on the brakes and taking some time out from life on the road. We are currently getting the bikes and gear packed up in order to fly home. Having spent 12 months getting here, the plane will teleport us back in a mere 12 hours. The recent pains of having to pull the bikes apart and sift through the Internet for flights is only bearable due to the excitement of soon being able to spend time with family and friends. There is nothing like being a stranger for a year with limited communication skills to make home seem so precious and welcoming.
Wrapping up this leg of the Peacewheel saga and living with a community of monks and nuns has stimulated more than a little reflection. In my experience, the value and impact of a project, or chapter in one’s life, often only becomes apparent in retrospect, when it can be seen in context. Despite this, I’ll have a crack at sharing some of my thoughts because it helps to clarify them and because I still have your attention!
Setting out on this journey was a response to an impulse. At the time, I tried not to think too much about the “why.” Abandoning my life and friends in Victoria was heart wrenching, especially given that it was not demonstrably clear why cycling around with no purpose would be very beneficial, or at least any better than staying in Victoria. However, despite my attachment to my life in Canada, I felt the need to expand my idea of what is possible in life and maybe drop some of my unconsciously appropriated self-expectations and demands. I was inclined to do something a career councilor might not approve of. Something I could not plan, predict, anticipate or even imagine. Something with no tangible objective, no destination, and no “next step.” This was my moment of rebellion from a life of strategic planning.
When I created a “Couchsurfing” profile, a truly regrettable endeavor, I had to say something about my aims as a flaky floating freeloader (not the terms used by Couchsurfing). I expressed the pompous desire to explore “what it is to live a good life.” Given that I am not Socrates, it might be better put that I wanted to explore how to be happily content. It’s one of those universal questions, for non-Catholics at least. I find it amazing to think how many expressions the search for happiness has taken, producing such wonders as the porn industry and international warfare. To be fair, it has also produced government and spirituality, although some of their expressions are arguably equally damaging.
For a skeptical guy who doesn’t seem to have much potential as a porn-star or a soldier, happy contentment needs a little consideration. The range of diversity I would encounter while cycling through the Americas seemed like the perfect stimulus. Maybe these encounters would provide some insight into where and how I would find happy contentment?
Ironically, I already had a strong suspicion that happy contentment was likely to elude me much of the time while trying to live on a bicycle. But such a lifestyle would leave me free to explore whatever I wanted without constraints, except for those of having only a bicycle and a budget of around $5 dollars a day. Happily, these conditions propelled me into a richer and broader experience of my relationship to people and nature than I could ever have imagined.
It has been the most diverse year of my life! We were invited to stay in a mansion in one the swankiest neighborhoods in the US, but also slept next to a clutch of chickens outside a one-room shack in the Mexican desert. We have discussed Darwin over dinner with geneticists who work in the Galapagos, but also mimed our way into the home of an indigenous family in Guatamala, whose lack of formal education limited their knowledge of Spanish. We have partied with tequila drinking, pleasure seeking, and overly financed students in Mexico, but also prayed with fasting, God seeking, and frighteningly poor nuns in Colombia.
These experiences demonstrated how the yin and yang of happiness and suffering manifest whether I find myself surrounded by wealth or poverty, eruditeness or ignorance, skepticism or faithfulness. In a sense, this is very good news to me. It removes the pressure of needing to strive for specific things in life in order to be happy. It is liberating to think that there is no next experience I have to have, next place I have to see, next thing I have to get, next person I have to meet, or next goal I have to achieve in order to be happy and content.
This journey has left me freer to simply choose those things that I know are good for me and not to worry about those things that are actually counter productive to happiness but seem to be exulted as vital in society. This freedom has arisen in conjunction with having had a more concrete taste of the brevity, transience, and preciousness of life. From this perspective many previous drivers, such as affirmation, security, and comfort, have become less relevant in my decision-making process. Happiness showed up when I was able to have an open, sensitive, clear, compassionate, and understanding mind. I now have a greater desire than ever before to cultivate these qualities.
A heartfelt thank-you to all the guides I have encountered along the way!