A particularly memorable sunrise at Cintsa Beach, South Africa

Feeling Alive

The past 6 months traveling have hands down been the best in my life. And when I think back on the most memorable and formative moments and experiences from this trip that have made a permanent impact at the soul level, they all have one thing in common: me feeling the complete fullness of being alive.

This aliveness has come from strong intensity of emotions from the happiest highs, the crushing lows, and the deepest sense of peace. If I were to pinpoint what triggered these moments, the essence of the trigger always comes back to a mix of following my heart, following my gut/ intuition, and as they say a lot in South Africa following the “good vibes”.

But I’ll be the first to admit that can all sound quite esoteric and fluffy. Especially since direct access to what my heart or intuition wants is not always so trivial. So underlying a lot of the experiences feeling alive have been when I’ve fully embraced these 6 mindsets and behaviors:

  1. Love the uncomfortable feelings and hard days. These are the days where I’ve gotten sick, felt scared, had bike breakdowns, travel delays, felt extreme tension from certain group dynamics, felt extreme loneliness from a lack of meaningful interaction, or felt physically excruciating pain sitting for 100 hours meditating over 10 days. But these are also the days I’ve learned and grown the most. And the days that have brought awareness and understanding to an edge that’s being pushed. The beauty of surviving mental or physical pain is that you realize just how strong and capable you are. And not just at an intellectual level but at a visceral level that’s integrated to your sense of self. You also get the real stuff — genuine raw human emotions from yourself and others where facades of formalities and politeness are stripped away. And connecting to the real stuff can powerfully shake you into feeling the depths of human existence.
  2. Let go of expectations and adhering to a strict plan. I started my travels in the conditioned “checklist” mentality. My fomo-driven self uncomfortable with uncertainty and loving the false sense of security having a plan wanted to go, see, and do X,Y, and Z at any given destination. But this often led to disappointment or more anxiety. Instead, feeling alive came when I set no expectations nor had the slightest clue on what I was going to stumble across, deeply trusting that everything would work out. Truly feeling wowed came when I stopped google imaging places, stopped planning detailed routes, and started picking my next destination or activities based on reccs from other travelers with similar energy levels and interests, or listening to my own feelings on what I wanted on any given day. If that meant not seeing/doing any of the top 10 at any given place, c’est la vie!
  3. Take care of yourself first — physically and emotionally. I’ve heard this a million times, but on this trip I’ve felt the repercussions in a different way. Where I’ve felt completely empty and devoid of emotion staring at the most beautiful sunset, temple, or epic mountain range because I was too preoccupied with some other stress mentally or physically. And on the flip side, I’ve felt extreme joy, happiness or peace in the most seemingly mundane, boring or terrible and catastrophic situation. The difference was the health of my mental and physical state. Sticking with morning routines of running, meditation and yoga on the road. Knowing when to walk away from awesome people to end a night and sleep. Knowing when to stay in a city for more days (or weeks) even if that meant missing a grand world wonder just a stone’s throw away. Knowing when to spend a day calling friends and feeling connection to the comfortable and familiar. Knowing when to say no when fear and fomo were the motivating factors vs saying yes from a place of abundance. Else, by not doing me first, I could easily find myself in the situation where the feeling of being in the biggest cave in the world would be no different than watching a documentary about it.
  4. Break free from past conditioning that builds walls. As children, we have no boundaries and engage with others and the world as extensions of ourselves. But as we get older and suffer unique childhood traumas and years of conditioning conforming to society’s informal rules and formalities, we adapt mentalities and behaviors that put up false walls between ourselves and others, protecting and feeding our own egos. Walls that keep us safe, avoiding unpleasantries. But bringing awareness and following my gut instincts to go deeper and push down these walls have led to the most unexpectedly delightful experiences: engaging 5 hour conversations right from the initial encounter, committing to days (or weeks) of travel with someone I’ve hung out with for less than an hour, and forming deep connections with others that I know will last a lifetime. We are all more alike than different (even with animals) and feeling that at your core by pushing down those walls is a gift that keeps on giving.
  5. Aim for understanding, not judgement. I’m constantly meeting new people traveling. Some people I feel an instant spark. We’re on the same page, have similar mentalities, and convo flows naturally. But with others, I feel tension. Either they say or behave in a way that makes me go WTF. And it’s so easy to judge and craft the storyline they’re crazy. But where things get interesting is when I’ve learned the backstory behind their perceived craziness. When the right questions are asked that shed light to the root cause of someone’s annoying behavior or comments. 9 times out of 10, it’s from some childhood trauma or mom/ dad issues. And with that deeper understanding comes a hellavu lot more empathy, where I automatically focus more on the positive traits of that person vs only noticing their crazy. And repeatedly applying that attitude of understanding and truth seeking has not only made me see individuals differently but also has provided a lens in making sense of all the WTF inducing events in the world today.
  6. Follow the signs. Whenever I’ve been at a crossroad on what to do or where to go, the best outcome has come when I’ve waited or stayed put until I got or felt a slight nudge in a specific direction. Vs. trying to force a rational, thinking-only decision. Signs have come in all shapes and forms: an out of the blue message from a friend I haven’t talked to in months, a crazy high feeling from stumbling on the London Symphony Orchestra around a lake in Hanoi, a meaningful song that starts playing at the most random location, a post-it note left on a table in a coffee shop, the first and last (but meaningful) 5 minute conversation with a complete stranger, two butterflies flying around me, etc. These signs have struck a chord with something that is trying to emerge deep in my subconscious or heart that is instead being buried by a mountain of thoughts and fears. I like to believe these signs are a gift from the universe and opening myself up to receive and follow them has never led me astray.

As that saying goes, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” It’s not always easy embracing 24/7 these mentalities and behaviors that have helped me come alive. But bringing awareness to them has gone a long way. And when all else fails, my shortcut to instantly feeling a rush of aliveness is blasting the tunes of Kung’s This Girl and dancing like there’s no tomorrow. :)