Why do we travel? Some may say it is to escape, and some to explore. For me, it is that I like who I become when I am faced with a need to improvise, and you can’t get much bigger of a test than having everything you are familiar with pulled out from underneath you. It is terrifying, and that is exactly why it is so thrilling, because you are at your outer limit.
Scientist Jamie Wheal says that urging yourself to new frontiers whilst remaining at the top edge of your capabilities is the key to accessing a transcendent way of being, losing yourself in your activity, what he and many others have called ‘Flow’. He speaks frequently of extreme sports athletes and high-flying CEO’s tweaking their lives to bring in more of these Flow States, but I found it came to me most intensely and most frequently when I was travelling. The combination of consistently new environments and crushing my fears was exactly what helped me to feel euphorically immersed and to push my personal limits further and further.
However, I never understood these benefits before I went on my first solo trip when I was 20. I had a friend who knew half the world like the back of his hand and had heard through him how amazing travelling was, but my apathy and apprehension was crippling in the build up to the maiden voyage. It was at this point he gifted me with an analogy that has stuck in my mind ever since:
You spend your waking life under a giant, circular blanket that we could call our comfort zone. You enjoy the warmth and snuggle up underneath it, sometimes for joy, recuperation and comfort, but sometimes from fear, anxiety, and again; comfort. You may be told by others what goes on outside of this space, although often it is that “you had best only look, don’t step outside this status quo, we all need the blanket or we perish from the cold”. I found that when I went to the outer edges to stare over the precipice I was initially met with fear, and incredible anxiety that I would freeze and die, a story for another time.
Nevertheless, I spoke to that same friend to hear what he might have to say and his advice was “take a seat, grab a coffee, have an ice cream and (proverbially) sit at the edge at the blanket, you needn’t cross it yet, or ever. If you jump on the first flight back, you haven’t failed”.
This took so much pressure off that I was able to finally feel the air on my skin, and what faced me wasn’t a frozen wasteland, an icy tundra, or a pit of darkness, but the light of the sun and the warmth of it on my skin. His advice branched out, guiding me to “grab that blanket, pull it to your shoulder and run outwards as far as you can muster, then stretch it over your head to where you’ve landed. When you return home, to the centre of that circle, you will know that your comfort zone has expanded, and you will act differently in the middle of your blanket from knowing what it’s like outside”.
You don’t need to live on the outer edges of your comfort zone all of the time – you could risk sunburn – but by occasionally pushing outwards you will feel more content in your ability to deal with hurdles and have a better understanding of what waits outside of the blanket. Just remember it can stretch.
We like to reference our sources:
Wheal, J. (2013). Hacking the GENOME of Flow: Jamie Wheal at TEDxVeniceBeach. Youtube [online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WqAtG77JjdM
Photography: Elizabeth Jacyshyn-Owen (2015)
Will spent his formative years living in Wales and Australia, going on to study Music and then travelling through Europe solo. This background melds with a passion for complementary therapies, and he currently lives in Cardiff in Wales where he works in primary schools and spends his spare time on various creative projects.