Partnership in travel
01.01.2013 - 14.04.2013
A few minutes past midnight on October tenth 2010, I, Jenni Anne took James as my exquisite partner. I wasn't sure of what would follow, but I knew that I wanted to experience a lot of it with this fascinating, adorable guy. So we made some promises to each other, the best we could at that point in our lives, suspecting that there would be some follow-up conversations as we moved on. After the wedding, Jim and I found our lives rapidly shifting into a routine that we didn't like. Jim took a new job with irregular hours and on-call duties, and I started building my new yoga teaching career on top of my full time job. Often we would have only one evening free each week, a few hours before sleep to dine together or go to a show. On top of that, the house became a money pit with first one thing and then the next going wrong. It was a relic from Jim's first marriage, full of emotional landmines and piles of undiscarded refuse, but in any case far too big for us, expensive and time consuming to maintain. The house anchored us to lives we didn't want and like in the David Byrne song we looked up and said "this is not my life!"
Referencing my blog post about Bali, a strong part of our conversation with the Aussies in the Ubud coffee bar concerned the need to make a definite break with old routines before really dedicating ourselves to a new life. That is, a strong break with ALL routine was something we all thought invaluable. Two of our new friends had just finished internships in Jakarta which had nothing to do with their future career paths. Thay just wanted a chance to get away from home and family and their daily lives, an experience of elsewhere to rattle their thinking and dreaming about the life they really wanted to live. A dramatic caesura, time to regroup.
Growing up, our family shared a little joke called the "marriage encounter." A marriage encounter was a weekend retreat for couples at our church. Under spiritual guidance, husbands and wives could get away from their responsibilities of home and family and dedicate some time to nurturing their relationships. The joke was my mom wanted badly to attend and my dad, being a "regular type guy" certainly did not. Periodically our church bulletin would announce the upcoming marriage encounter, Mom would vocalize the opportunity, and Dad would tell her to forget it. Us kids in the back seat smirked. Mama, I am on one heck of a marriage encounter!
As I write this, we are on day 103 of our five month project. Jim and I have been together almost every minute of all those days. We have shared every meal, every cafe break, every performance, museum and tourist site visit, every plunge into the ocean, every hike, and even for awhile we read the same book. (I had about a seven hundred page head start.) We have had a lot of conversation- some serious, some light-hearted, some tough. Jim and I travelled a bit together before getting married, and I have taken long sojourns several times alone, but such a lengthy trip shared with another person, all those days, all those hours, this was another level of togetherness entirely.
In everyday life, or on a long sabbatical, we buffer ourselves in some routine. Our conscious decisions are like mountain peaks that poke up through the cloud cover of our habitual lives. We have a chance to try things out, to spread our mistakes out along a long line, and of course to repeat successes. With this kind of trip, there is no such luxury. Every moment is telescoped with choice. Stay here, go there, eat this now, eat that later, pause and look, ask questions, keep going, get up early, sleep a little longer, see this exhibit, walk through slow, linger under this tree, hurry to the next castle, splurge on that, keep to the budget, etc. There is no chance to find the best way to get from the train station to our hostel, because we're only doing it once. There is little chance to settle on our favorite cafe or restaurant because after a meal or two we leave town. This means pecentage-wise that we make more mistakes. We should have taken that road instead of this one and now have to backtrack. We shouldn't have spent so much on that service, but we should have spent more on that meal, things get forgotten or lost, we continue to lug around things that should have been discarded. We even seek advice from people that don't know us and our proclivities, and so get led astray by well intentioned strangers whose opinions we shouldn't have used. With solo travel this all happens as an internal soliloquy. With a partner, every single waking moment needs to be negotiated. The shared successes are great, but how we deal with mistakes has become a really salient challenge in our lives.
Our darkest hour occurred on February 14th. We had completed an euphoric tour of southwesten Australia and were driving back to Perth to return our rental car. Jim driving, me navigating, clock ticking, small print map, unfamiliar place names, gasoline and blood sugar meters on low, bladders full, heavy metro expressway traffic - I think you get the picture. We were both vibrating at low frequencies, and both on downward-spiral trajectories. As mistakes, blame, regret and apprehension layered on frustration, stress, defensiveness and self-pity, the day became less romantic and loving with every breath. My vision of the two of us hand in hand, hearts and minds in PLAYFUL communion with the world seemed an unobtainable dream. How to realign with that vision?
I spent the rest of the day and a miserable sleepless night contemplating this conundrum. The point, I thought, was for us to enjoy being together. I had learned a valuable lesson with my "second family" in Finland, living for three months with children. It is more imortant to do things together than to do them "right." That is why the kitchen is always covered in flour and recipes for six dozen cookies only ever make four when you bake with someone you really love. I wanted very much to get back into this spirit. Things might go wrong, but hey, we were having a great adventure traveling around the world together, as exquisite partners! We really had to become skillful in dealing with mistakes, keeping our frustration and disappointment from escalating into blame or self-righteous gloating, keeping our embarrassment and regret from turning to self defeating apprehension. In other words, we had to keep "I told you so," "you always," and "you never" out of our thoughts and hearts.
I shared these thoughts with Jim the next morning (after he'd had his coffee) and he agreed, but our emotions were still a little too agitated. What we needed was a miracle. Handily, we orchestrated one. While exploring Western Australia, we had found an advertisement for Philip Glass performing in Perth the weekend that we would be in town. Of course, searching for tickets online indicated that the show was sold out. To be a good sport, I'd said we could go to the concert hall on that evening, and just see if someone didn't show up and we could buy their spots at the last minute. Um, it COULD happen. Instead, still grouchy from the previous day, Jim wanted to go to the box office two mornings before the show and ask. Internally rolling my eyes, I agreed, even though I thought it would be a waste of time, and possibly embarrassing. I needed to put into practice my ruminations inspired by our terrible Valentine's Day. I was ready to be soothing when he would still be frustrated, not to say or even think any of those things that would exacerbate the situation and prevent us from living in trust. Long story short, they had just released more tickets, and we bought two in the exact center of the sixth row, right in front of the piano keyboard. Yes, we did. It was so much a miracle, that I actually got teary eyed. Our vibrations shifted stars!
Jim is an exquisite partner. He persists when I give up, has excellent intuition when my direction gets muddled, and remembers exactly what I just forgot. He is whimsical and outrageously clever with language, and pretty handy with a map. I don't believe anyone out there can make an armoury museum half as interesting as he does. Moreover, we have built these layes of trust, that despite the liklihood of making mistakes as we go through our travels and go through life, it will be ok. We wil not resent each other for them. We will buy tickets for a lame performance, spend too much on mediocre sushi, go the wrong way, make a wasteful purchase, and make worse mistakes than these. We will not always do things "right" but we will do them together. Despite other difficulties, some really challenging situations, we have never again sunk into those mental and verbal ruts that dragged us down on Valentine's Day. I teach my students to practice cultivating awareness without judgement. Not only good for asana and meditation, this is an excellent way to travel. Not only good for travel, this is an excellent approach to partnership. The essence of this practice is forgiveness, forgiveness even before something has offended us. The essence of this deep knowledge without judgement is love.