My own personal-growth case study started in 1992 in Egypt. I was 22, blonde, and an army musician. It was the first country I landed in outside my home country of Australia, and an incredible experience of personal growth and awakening. This is where everything I’ve written in this book began, which is why I’ve chosen to start telling my story here.
It was my first real opportunity to face my thoughts, as well as deal with the loneliness, the dangers, the unknowns of travel, and the discomfort too—yes, all of it.
The glory of traveling this beautiful world has been my greatest privilege, not to mention top-of-the-pops in regard to what I’ve learned about living the best possible life.
When we explore the world, it’s not only about confronting external differences—sometimes on such an epic scale it scares the life out of us— it’s the personal and internal deep changes that matter even more. Even if we start off pretty happy with ourselves, travel changes us profoundly and deeply, for the better.
Now, it’s important to recognize that we don’t all need the same experiences to grow. Not everyone was born with an insatiable desire to explore the world. Many people find the space for silence, thought, and growth in their home landscape. This is really about getting out of your day-to-day way of seeing things, in whatever way that makes sense to you. We are all different and must honor ourselves rather than feeling an obligation to do something everyone says we must do to be whole.
For me it was definitely travel, and my time in the Middle East was the beginning of a love affair with otherness that changed everything about who I was.
This was my first journey, and I haven’t stopped since. I’ve spent half my life away, exploring our glorious world. I’m completely addicted to it and I never feel more alive than when I’m in a new, unknown place.
Many developing countries can be uncomfortable to travel in, especially for basic things—like access to suitable toilets. But it’s important to see beyond this to the raw beauty and humanity operating at a different level to what we’ve always known in our comfortable lives. There is something primal in these experiences, and I couldn’t help but get drawn in when I began traveling.
It also makes it really hard to go home, because being comfortable loses its appeal. That’s the downside of this experience: disconnection from your roots. It’s worth it, though.
Most of my adventures in the early days were solo, and this gave me weeks and months of silence to confront my own thoughts. When you meditate or work with a spiritual teacher, the number one thing they recommend is shutting the external noise down, so you can face yourself. This process can be frightening, intense, and lonely. It’s also very liberating, which is why I did it and did it again and again.
There was a lot of stuff in my mind that I came to understand wasn’t mine at all, programming I’d undergone that left me misaligned to who I wanted to be. I knew I needed to face these things in order to become who I wanted to be, and that I could only do this work through the kind of transformative silence I found in travel.
Those solo months on the road saw me pulling down tendrils of my own thoughts, ideas, and opinions, and gave me the chance to look at them and ask myself, is this my idea? Do I want to continue owning it or does it need to get tossed out?
So many ideas went to the scrap heap. The religious education I had all through school got broken down, jumbled around, and mostly rejected. It wasn’t all bad, but there were many ideas I did not buy into, now that I had the opportunity to question them.
There was family stuff, too; this time of reflection helped me understand that everyone was just trying their best in their own unique way. My parents’ divorce and the anger I held onto for years afterwards: also sent to the scrap heap.
I also really started to understand the gift of the experiences of my childhood. Every part of my childhood experience shaped who I am, and I finally appreciated that I should be grateful for it all—the good, the bad, the ugly—because without all that, I wouldn’t be me.
I reflected on politics, business, the world—asking myself which were my opinions and which were the opinions of others. Which ones should I keep, which ones should I reject? It was the ultimate detox for my brain and heart.
And all the way through this painful and lonely process—which does not seem to stop once you start, by the way—I discovered me and, in that discovery, I opened myself up to new possibilities, new ideas, and other ways to look at things. I even started to like different sorts of music! Yes, even my music tastes were more adventurous after I began my journey of self-discovery.
I went from black and white in my thinking to seeing everything in many layers of grey. I learned to listen to new ideas and questioned them from every angle. I took nothing as truth, and today I tell my boys that there is no single truth. There are only ideas, and you’ve got to discover your truth and then be ready to change your mind again and again.
Nobody on this planet knows it all. I’ve discovered that if you try to see the world from other people’s viewpoints as well as your own, it changes the game.
It wasn’t just the silence that helped me, it was the experiences I was having every day too. I witnessed other people’s lives, lived differently, but still, so much beauty everywhere. I saw alternative lifestyles I would have shunned before and realized how narrow my thinking was. As long as you’re smiling and doing no harm, enjoy!
Those long months of silence and incredible experiences, often digging deep into ancient history (a true passion), gave me the opportunity to gain so much more clarity. And it’s a path I continue to travel, because I never stop learning if I stay open.
That ability to step away from everything I’d ever known, and not only confront differences externally, but to face up to the silence and the thoughts in my head—such a gift. I am forever grateful I took myself out there and in return, discovered a better version of myself, a less judgmental, more open, more forgiving version.
When you travel, you constantly see the kindness of strangers. And I saw the kindness in humanity everywhere, from fellow travellers helping me out when I got in a bind to the incredible kindness of locals every place I visited. This vision of humanity is addictive.
I’ll always remember the Egyptian lady in Cairo who gently showed me how to cross one of their crazy roads when I first arrived. I’m now a master road crosser anywhere. Or a chemist in Cairo, who took me into his shop, gave me water, and took care of me because I’d lost my way in this maze of a city, and he didn’t think it was a safe place for a young woman to be walking alone.
Or another stranger in Shanghai in 1995, who took me to some of the best off-the-beaten-track places to visit just to show me her amazing, beloved city.
Or the gorgeous hearing- and speaking-impaired man in Calcutta who sold me toilet paper and kept an eye out for me, along with a hunchbacked man with a huge smile, who got me taxis any time I needed them. These two men were everything to me as I fell in love with that city.
And the small, curious children everywhere, fascinated by this person who looked different to anything they’d known before. Did that interaction with me have an impact on them, too? It certainly changed me.
Or the people learning to speak English in China, back in the mid-’90s, chewing loudly in my ear and spitting tea on the floor, as we all cramped in together on a horrible train ride for hours and hours and hours. I’ll never forget the lady who lost her shoe down the toilet on that trip. The spit from the tea was swishing back and forth on the floor by the end of this journey. You certainly didn’t want to be without shoes.
Or the boy in Mexico, who wanted to have his way with me, in his little hut nearby, and somehow, his eyeballs pulsed when he looked at me. I didn’t know eyeballs could pulse until that point.
So many people, from all walks of life, all faiths, all cultures—just human beings at their best, helping, guiding, showing and expecting nothing in return (except maybe the boy in Mexico—bless him). I always met so many more amazing people than I did people wanting to do me harm. I saw laughter everywhere.
When you travel, you have to learn to trust others when you are out there, facing the world alone. You learn to become vulnerable and to accept your own vulnerability, because you must.
Equally, you learn to pay attention to your intuition and trust yourself when you believe someone is a threat. My intuition is very, very good, and I could spot and feel danger a mile away.
I learned to handle myself on many levels. On that first trip to Egypt, Jordan, and Israel as a 22-year-old blonde woman, I was almost raped several times. I was mauled, groped, and stared at relentlessly. Because I’m a fighter, I punched a number of men during that time. I was still in the army after all, so they didn’t scare me. Let’s just say, no one was grabbing me and getting away with it! Guatemala City, Tegucigalpa in Honduras and Managua in Nicaragua—three of the most dangerous cities in Central America apparently—and yet I never had a moment of fear as I wandered the streets alone at night. I had to. I was by myself and I needed to eat. As a woman, solo travel teaches you that you don’t need a man looking after you.
Travel’s ultimate gift is strength in yourself. When you travel alone, you learn to fight and stand up for yourself. You learn how to get around with barely any language at all. You learn how to cope, and you learn how to thrive as you get fully connected with yourself.
I personally believe the only thing that matters in life is doing the work to get to the best version of ourselves. Everything else is just a distraction from that. The journey is different for all of us, and the destination too, but if we can find our path without to that joy within—wow, that’s a life worth living. Travel was the beginning of my quest for deep self-awareness, and everything you’ll read within these pages is an extension of that journey.
If travel isn’t your thing, there are other ways to make sure you face yourself from outside your life. Comfort is a beautiful thing, but it is never where personal growth lies. You’ve got to get a whole lot of uncomfortable to achieve that.
Globally, we’re all in a lesson in discomfort because of this pandemic. It’s a wonderful opportunity to prioritize working out how to take the time and space to get out of your life, to hear the silence inside and to work out what is really you. I hope we all take advantage of this powerful and yet uncomfortable time for growth. There are life lessons everywhere, if we choose to see them.
Art by Tim Hamons, Art of Awakening
Thanks for reading my first chapter of Uncommon Courage. I’ll publish a few more in the coming weeks. See below if the book has piqued your interest, and if you’ve read it, please let me know what you think? A burden of the pandemic era, where I’ve published two books, I don’t get to speak to anyone about it!
Uncommon Courage – my new book – is available
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