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The Tao of travel

Posted: September 29th, 2017 | Columns, Featured, Life Beyond Therapy | No Comments

By Michael Kimmel | Life Beyond Therapy

For seven years I read the book, “365 Tao,” and did the daily meditations.

Taoism — an ancient Eastern philosophy — emphasizes compassion, spontaneity and harmony with nature. It says “go with the flow” and don’t be attached to things happening in a certain way. Easy to say, not so easy to do.

One thing that might surprise you, however: Taoism believes that one of the best ways to know yourself is to travel.

I agree.

I just returned from two weeks in Idaho and Montana, with a bit of Oregon and Washington thrown in, too. So, what did I learn about myself and what can travel teach us? We get to see who we are without our friends, jobs and usual hangouts.

While traveling, we may meet people who stretch our consciousness. Whenever I travel, I try to meet people unlike myself and my circle of friends. I have conversations with Trump-lovers and truck-drivers alike. I try not to judge and aim to listen with an open mind.

During my recent travels, I ate in small-town diners and stayed in mom-and-pop hotels. I talked to the people who worked there and other visitors who stayed there. I learned new things about this “bigger” world around me and discovered who I am when I’m out of my comfort zone.

I like to travel alone: I meet so many people that way. I like traveling with friends and lovers, too, but in traveling with others I find myself in a cocoon where it’s all too easy to talk with the people I came with and not meet strangers.

If you rarely travel alone, you are missing quite an adventure; you get to see what it’s like to enjoy your own company, follow your intuition, and not have to compromise with other people’s needs.

When I am in a romantic relationship, I like to travel both with my partner and on my own. I make sure I get to do both and I encourage my partner to do the same. It’s so great to miss someone, isn’t it?

There is an old Bette Midler joke: “How can I miss you if you never go away?”

Exactly.

Some people think it’s scary to travel alone … and, they’re right. When you have only yourself (and the kindness of strangers) to rely on, it’s different from living surrounded by familiar friends and places.

I have experienced many kindnesses from total strangers when traveling alone. Like the guy I met at a (straight) sports bar in Twin Falls, Idaho, who told me what kind of sandwich to order at the bar, the most scenic route to take to my next destination (he was a truck driver), and where to stop for dinner.

I spoke with a great librarian in Missoula, Montana, who told me all about books I’ve never heard of. The manager of a hotel in Ontario, Oregon, told me the funniest stories about hotel guests doing weird stuff, and then she invited me to join her and her staff for a drink at a local bar. I went, of course.

And I learned more difficult things, like how judgmental I am when people don’t see things my way. I sometimes cursed the drivers in various states when they pulled out in front of me with almost no warning (or space). I got frustrated when there was no cell phone service and I couldn’t ask Siri for directions, and I was discouraged when I couldn’t find fresh vegetables anywhere in the rural towns I happened to be in.

But, overall, it was good. I saw my flaws oh-so-clearly and was encouraged to work on them. I am also repeatedly reminded when traveling, that by meeting people with different beliefs and views of the world, I grow wiser and more compassionate.

Michael Kimmel

Traveling also reminds me that experiences are much more valuable than “things” (psychological studies back this up). I encourage you to put it to the test and find your own Tao of travel.

On Saturday, Sept. 30, I will be reading from my book, “The Gay Man’s Guide to Open and Monogamous Marriage,” at the Barnes & Noble Bookstore at Grossmont Center in La Mesa from 1–3 p.m. Consider yourself invited!

—Michael Kimmel is a licensed psychotherapist who specializes in helping LGBT clients achieve their goals and deal with anxiety, depression, grief, sexually addictive behavior, coming out, relationship challenges and homophobia. Contact him at 619-955-3311 or visit lifebeyondtherapy.com.

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