You may believe that you must have a reason for doing something otherwise what’s the point of doing it? Balderdash! You can do anything you want just because you want to, and for no other reason. You don’t need a reason for anything that you do. Looking for a reason for everything is the kind of thinking that keeps you from new and exciting experiences.
— Your Erroneous Zones, Wayne W. Dyer
A couple of my friends asked me if I wanted to go motorbike over the Hai Van Pass the following morning. It is a long winding road that cuts through the Annamite Range range near Da Nang, Vietnam where I lived at the time. The views are stunning but the road can also be dangerous with its sharp curves, large trucks, and impatient taxis.
“Where to exactly?” I asked.
“Nowhere in particular. Just riding and exploring,” my friend replied.
The three of us were photography enthusiasts so I quickly realized that this was just an invitation to wander. I gladly accepted.
The ride was as beautiful as it was dangerous. Trucks constantly played leapfrog on the open stretches of the road trying to advance their position one vehicle at a time. Each hairpin turn brought them all bumper to bumper again in a rumbling standstill. This is where the motorbikes passed. We’d ride along the shoulder taking advantage of the temporary traffic jam and advance ahead of as many vehicles as possible before the road straightened out again.
It wasn’t always chaotic like that though. There were many bends where we couldn’t help but stop to take in the view. We’d pull off to the side of the road and observe the shimmering ocean off in the distance and the farms and rice paddies below. After a couple of hours, we finally reached the valley on the other side of the pass.
The noonday sun was hot and the air was humid. After enjoying a few cold drinks at an empty outdoor cafe (everyone in Vietnam naps around lunchtime) my friend Robin started talking about wanting to take a dip in one of the rivers that cut through the valley. He was a thrill-seeker and his desire to dip into the river turned into a desire to jump off one of the many nearby bridges into the water.
There was nobody around. No traffic. It was open country with nothing more than a few small farms and the odd water buffalo strolling about. Out of nowhere, the instant Robin hit the water with a splash, a young man cruised over to us on his motorbike.
“If you guys want to go swimming, I can show you a great place. Just follow me,” this stranger offered in a blend of English and Vietnamese.
We quickly exchanged glances with one another. We knew that exploring the unknown was the goal of the day. However, we had all heard stories about foreigners and tourists getting mugged in certain situations. I found Vietnam to be a safe place but obviously there is some caution that naturally comes with following a perfect stranger into the unknown. After a quick sidebar, we decided to go for it.
Our Vietnamese wasn’t great so we didn’t completely understand where we were headed or how long it would take to get there. Within a few minutes, we had pulled off the main road and were following our new friend down a sandy dirt path that led toward the base of the mountains. He kept looking over his shoulder to confirm we were still following. The trail kept going and going, constantly splitting off at different intersections. It wasn’t sure we’d be able to find our way back. I wasn’t sure this was a good idea.
Eventually, we arrived at a small house in the middle of a field. Our Vietnamese friend told us we’d have to park our motorbikes here and walk the rest of the way. We were wary about the security of our motorbikes being parked in the middle of nowhere and we still weren’t sure if we should trust this stranger who just randomly approached and asked us to follow him.
We pressed on nonetheless.
The forest was beautiful. The canopy above was dense but the forest floor was clear and open. From the mountains above, these areas looked like a dense jungle, but now we were traversing through its beautiful secrets.
At a certain point, we heard guitar strumming and singing which was completely unexpected. Then we could hear the sound of rushing water. Eventually, the view opened up and we found ourselves standing alongside large boulders and a beautiful river. There were groups of people picnicking, lounging around, and wading in the water. We couldn’t believe our eyes. We had been led to a beautiful oasis.
We thanked our Vietnamese friend for his guidance. He seemed genuinely pleased and happy to share this secret location with us and continued on his way. We stayed for a while and spent some time exploring the river and jumping off rocks into the deep pools below.
We made our way out of the forest and were relieved to discover that our motorbikes were still there at the little house. We found our way back through the sandy trails and safely made it back over the Hai Van Pass to our homes in Da Nang.
It is one of my favorite memories because it was birthed out of a moment of open-ended wandering. We had no destination in mind, Trip Advisor wasn’t dictating our finds, and there were no Instagram locations that we were trying to reproduce. One thing led to another and we just kept exploring the unknown.
So much of my time in Vietnam was full of blind steps into the unknown like this. I would often go wander through the countryside and the mountains never knowing where I’d end up or who I’d meet.
One time I showed up to teach my adult English class only to discover that my students had planned to hijack class and take me out to dinner on the seaside since the semester was almost over. I put my lesson plans back in my bag and I spent the rest of the evening eating seafood and laughing with my new friends with the steady rhythm of the ocean at our backs.
Another time, a student invited my wife and I to visit her hometown in the Central Highlands. We ended up spending full days touring the countryside together on our motorbikes trying to find waterfalls. Once our motorbike broke down at the top of the mountain. We had to coast all the way back down to have it repaired at a roadside stand, then we journeyed back up again.
It was 2009 and just at the beginning of the smartphone age. The iPhone was still new and very few ordinary people used smartphones at this point. Instagram didn’t even exist. That meant we didn’t have a personal GPS everywhere we went or a way to look up information while we were out and about. We couldn’t Google locations ahead of time to see what they looked like. We had to rely on our intuition and boldly step into the unknown.
One time we followed a friend out into the remote Vietnamese countryside where the roads were no longer marked and gradually turned to dust. The terrain alternated between small forests and rice fields so many times there were no discernible landmarks to keep track of. I remember having this feeling of complete isolation as I realized I was somewhere in the central landmass of Vietnam and no one knew where I was, including myself.
I couldn’t map my way home, I couldn’t pin my location or hashtag something out to the world.
The feelings were mine to experience privately. No one was following me or waiting for an update. I didn’t feel any need or pressure to document this experience to some sort of audience. There was no tether connecting me to the cloud — only a dusty road and my private thoughts.
While I certainly love many of the conveniences that come with being able to map out a journey and get insights into what to expect when I get there. I miss the surprise of the unknown. Today, it is hard to not see photos of where you’re going before you get there. It is hard to not find out what the best hotspots are in advance. Reviews dictate where we go instead of having an organic journey of its own unfolding.
I miss those times when there was space to do something without it being informed by some form of technology. A three-star cafe could be a fabulous experience but our search filters are set to 4+ stars. The unlisted roadside pullover could be a fantastic place for a picnic but someone’s review suggests a more popular place. The accidental detour could be a pleasant surprise but our GPS guides us by the most direct route. A beautiful place doesn’t need to be Instagrammed to be enjoyed. An incredible experience doesn’t need to be shared to have substance.
There is a great story from Wayne Dyer’s book Your Erroneous Zones that touches on this idea in another way:
Make an attempt to do some things that you’ve always avoided with the sentence “I’m just not good at that.” You can spend an afternoon painting a picture and have a hell of a time. If the end produce is less than masterful, you haven’t failed, you’ve had a half day of pleasure. On my living room wall is a painting that is aesthetically horrible. Everyone who visits comments or painfully avoids commenting on how bad it really is. In the lower left-hand corner are inscribed the words, “To you, Dr. Dyer, I give you not my best.” It is from a former student who had avoided painting all of her life because she’d learned a long time ago that she was bad at it. She spent a weekending painting for her own pleasure and it is one of my most prized gifts.
I took up watercolor painting a few years back as a personal creative outlet. Once someone commented, “Looks great, but when are you going to start selling them?” It was almost as if they couldn’t conceive of me just painting for my own joy. Why not a question about why I enjoy painting, how I find inspiration or any other number of inquiries?
I’m uncomfortable with this mounting pressure where everything we do feels like the extension of personal brand that must have some sort of marketable channel or a practical outcome. For thousands of years, people lived rich and dynamic lives. Some preserved aspects of their lives through books and works of art, but most of their lives were preserved in the stories of their loved ones — and then eventually forgotten. We forget that this is normal.
As a child you could play with a grasshopper for an hour, for no reason but that you liked it. Or you could climb a hill, or take an exploratory trip in the woods. Why? Because you wanted to. But as an adult, you have to come up with a good reason for things. This passion for reasons keeps you from opening up and growing. What freedom to know that you don’t have to justify anything to anyone, including yourself, ever again.
— Your Erroneous Zones, Wayne W. Dyer
Last summer a young robin landed in our yard. It couldn’t fly and it didn’t seem in a hurry to run away and hide. It just sort of stood dazed in the middle of our backyard. My son and daughter laid on the ground just a few feet from it and observed it in amazement. They didn’t have any sort of impulse to film it, take a picture of it, and share it online. They just laid there in the grass and enjoyed that moment.
I miss that old wandering.
I miss the freedom to explore the unknown without the awareness of an audience. But we’re all connected now. The conscious eye of the other is always present. It is ingrained in the way we view the world and participate in reality.
Even now as I sit here and write. I’m alone and trying to sort out my thoughts. I’m writing this with a desire to understand myself and how to make sense of my unfolding life.
But I’m also aware that I am writing to you. I can’t get you out of my head. I sense you listening to my thoughts and judging my words. I wonder if you will even stick with this piece long enough to hear these final thoughts.
I miss the old wandering, but I don’t know how to escape the consciousness of the audience. I don’t know how to get you out of my head.