Soul Seeking From Seoul to Tokyo

Naoshima. Japan. August 2017.

To move, to breathe, to fly, to float, to gain all while you give. To roam the roads of land remote. To travel is to live. Hans Christian Andersen

Ask people why they travel and there will be an answer somewhere along the lines of wanting to learn about new places; new cultures and new experiences.

In essence though, there is an openness to learn more about themselves.

I’m currently in the middle of two months of travel with my partner. When we first set out on our journey I was musing on thoughts of the ways in which this trip might change me. I was expectant, and more than that I think I was a little hopeful. I was hopeful that this trip would teach me some new ways of existing. We've all seen the bestselling books turned into films advocating for the ways in which travel can help you ‘find yourself’, where travel is often offered up as the holy grail of 'personal enlightenment'.

While I wasn't sure what they were, I knew that there were some small changes I wanted to make and I was hopeful that travelling might offer me some insights into what I was looking for. I thought that by being removed from my day to day, I could declutter my mind and do a little stock taking on life.

Our first destinations were bustling cities - Seoul and Tokyo. Hot and humid with sweeping architecture and tiny pockets of calm. I make no secret of being a busy city lover and this experience was everything I wanted. It reminded me of being back in London; experiencing the organised chaos, every individual their own small world amongst hundreds of other worlds. We would sit in small side street cafes and watch the city happen around us.

And while all this was great, and although I loved it, it didn't seem to fit with the idea I had of finding some of those answers. It was all too familiar. It didn't fit with the idea of some of the experiences I thought you were supposed to have to aid you in finding yourself.

Our next stop was seemingly a little more promising. We travelled to a small island called Naoshima, in the Kagawa prefecture of Japan. With a population of just over 3000 people and fondly referred to as the ‘art island’ for it being home to some of the most renowned art galleries and projects in the world, I couldn't decide whether I was more excited about the art or the possibility of answers such a place could offer.

Naoshima is an extraordinarily beautiful place. If you ever have the chance to visit, make sure you do. Even if you’re not an art enthusiast, it’s a very serene place and a stark contrast to the cities we had passed through. The quietness and stillness was like a blanket over everything. The calming effect was immediate.

When we made our way back to the mainland, my partner and I reflected on our experience so far. One thing we agreed on was the humble nature of many of the local people we had met. There was a different mindset exemplified by their actions towards their fellow humans, an empathy for the other that seemed to be lacking in other parts of the world.

That's what many people don't realise’ my partner highlighted, ‘that this whole idea of finding yourself, being a ‘better’ person, doesn't happen in one designed experience - it’s a mindset, it’s daily actions. It's hard and continuous work on the self.

It's asking yourself every single day: What is this moment asking of me?

He was right. Many of the people we met had lived on the island their whole life, never travelling, but that didn’t change the way they behaved. He reminded me of something I knew, but had seemingly forgotten.

I didn't find ‘personal enlightenment’ in Japan. And you won't find it in a five day retreat to Bali or a ten day mountain trek in the Himalayas. You probably won’t find it by quitting the city and travelling for a year. The truth is ‘finding yourself’ cannot be attained in a singular action, you can't write it in your diary, book your flight, tick the box and decide ‘that’s that’. We are all works in progress and if travelling through these cities has taught me anything it's that we are all the same. We are all the same humans going about life in much the same ways.

If you really want to ‘find yourself’, stick with life. Stick with the day to day, observe your daily interactions and reflect. What would you change about how you reacted for that one day if you could? What small change can you action for tomorrow to become a kinder version of yourself? It's a life long mindset and it’s hard work but that’s the real way to go about finding peace with yourself and life around you.

A small island in Japan wasn't going to offer me all the answers I think I need in life right now. But it was a pretty good place to start.


Written for and originally published on the A Boundless Being blog. You can read the original article here.

Copyright © 2020 Elaine Mead | Coffee&Books

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