This post is less of a ‘Here’s what I did this week’ post and more of a philosophical one. Bear with me.
Independence has always been an important aspect of my character. As a youngster I didn’t mind my own company, and during the tempestuous teenage years (Oh the joys! The heart-breaks! The betrayals! The multitude of exclamation marks in my diary!!) I found that being alone was often preferable to company. Now, don’t get me wrong; I love the time I spend with friends, family, and even making new acquaintances and forming new relationships. These are the times that are memorable, that make each day different and new and exciting. Sharing an experience is sometimes the best part of it, and I’m so grateful for the people I share these things with. But sometimes, other people bring drama, and sometimes I need to take a break from it all, to evaluate, assess, and then go back for round 2.
If there is something I have learned over the years, it is that not only do I like having time to myself, but that I need it to keep hold of my sanity. Whether I’m curled up in a blanket with a riveting read, or belting out cheesy pop songs in an empty house, or driving my car out in the countryside, I always find comfort in knowing that when I am alone, there is nobody expecting anything of me, no-one berating me for misspent time, or pulling me out of my reverie to return back to the real world. Especially after my job finished in September, I knew the difficult questions about the future would start. And it is these questions, or perhaps the expectations of concrete answers, that made me want to take a life-pause, and get away to consider my uncertain future, alone. So here I am, in Nepal.
A lot of people used the world ‘brave’ to describe my trip, proclaiming that they could never do it alone. Like my choice to be independent was something worthy of praise rather than the result of a somewhat-selfish need to do things the way I wanted without anyone to oppose. So I disagreed quickly and brushed it off. I have never seen anything else particularly brave in it because I knew I would be among friends if things got tough, and that even thousands of miles away, my closest friends and family were only a quick message away. In this sense, I would never be alone when I needed someone, so I had nothing to fear. As for natural disasters/accidents etc, a stranger summed up my own feelings by saying, ‘If you’re born to be shot, you’ll never die of drowning.’
However, when I came to Nepal, I didn’t realise that there would be any question about me feeling independent, or that new and different expectations might arise from being here. Ah, the wilful naivety! Unless we become hermits, caring for nobody and with nobody to care for us, we must always be able to account for ourselves, where we have been and what we have done. I expected to come and go here as I please, without having to give reasons or agendas. I have to admit, for the first few weeks, I found the reality tough. I had the occasional feeling of a stroppy teenager (a decade late, might I add), thinking, ‘Why do I have to say where I’m going? It doesn’t MATTER if I’m late/early/not there, why do they need to know what I’m doing and why?’ What I forgot was that other people might actually care about where I am, or why I am going; even the people who were strangers to me less than 6 weeks ago. But then again, I misjudged the kindness and consideration of those around me, and I have since learned to be grateful for their care instead of thinking their curiosity was driven by a need to be in control.
In recent weeks, I found myself making myself even less independent by relying on others to plan things for me, to make my visit more exciting and memorable. Somehow I got it into my head that I couldn’t do these things alone. I was giving up my freedom willingly! These other people rose to the task admirably and helped me have days worth writing about, rather than those which I spent doing laundry or reading the news online. (Not that the latter were bad days, in fact many were very comfortable and happy, but they were just not worth noting.) But it took a passing comment from my brother to wake me up. He simply said, ‘You can do anything you want’. And it’s true.
After that, I started thinking about my time here. If there were things I didn’t want to do, I didn’t have to do them. I had worried about my trips being planned for me and not being what I expected them to be, but then realised that when the decisions were left in my own hands, I could do whatever I wanted. I took back the control that I had given away so freely. I booked a spa in Pokhara for three days later this month, because when I imagined going there I saw myself spending time in that particular place. I moved up my trip to Chitwan National Park to this weekend because it seemed as good a time as any and I didn’t feel like waiting. Suddenly, I started to get back the feeling of independence I had felt when I booked my tickets for Nepal all the way back in May. This was good! This was the way things were meant to be all along! If I didn’t sleep well one night, there was nothing to stop me from having a rest day to myself to make up for it. If I wanted to make a trip to Thamel just for a change of scenery, all I had to do was make the decision and go. The beauty of this trip was in my sense of independence, and until this week I had felt like I had lost that. I realised that my mini-moods about not having freedom were my own fault, and that if I wanted things to change, I was the one that had to do something about it.
Of course, there are times that my behaviour might seem odd. My host family may wonder not only about me taking trips on my own, but why I spend hours reading or writing alone in my room. But this had always been part of my plan. To give myself time to share what I have been doing with people back home, which I hadn’t done so well the first time here in Nepal. Or just to lose myself in beloved book that I hadn’t had the space or inclination to read at home because life (or 'How I Met Your Mother') got in the way. Or to plan for my future, a plan which is starting to take shape and should be more fully formed by the time I get home in 6 weeks. But as I plan ahead, I already know that my independence will be a predominant feature – finding a job, getting my own place, and basically becoming a fully-fledged adult. Admitting it is the first step... I am not a teenager, or a carefree student anymore. I am a GROWN-UP. I have to PAY BILLS and CLEAN ALL THE THINGS and BE RESPONSIBLE! (click here to see what on earth I’m going on about if you don’t get the reference.)
The times when I visit beautiful temples or shop in the city or take a weekend to visit the jungle are the times that are worth sharing and will be what I remember most from this trip. But the times when I can cut myself off from the world entirely are the times when I feel most like myself, and I can see what lies ahead more clearly. When I think about my first trip here, it was time spent evaluating and assessing that really changed me. I’m hoping that this time will be no different, and maybe in the future I won't need to take time off away from the world to figure out who I am and what I'm doing. I'll just know.