Make it up as I go along
How to find rituals on the road
One of the few downsides to becoming a digital nomad is that life on the road isn’t conducive to rituals — things we do on a routine basis that provide clarity and meaning in life.
We all have rituals. Some are for spiritual purposes like meditation, prayer and chanting. Some are physical, like hitting the gym, which my ex-colleague, Peter, does every morning at 5am. Still others take shape as community gatherings. Before my friends Paul and Julie had a baby, they hosted dinner every Monday with their close friends. My parents and I take a week every year to travel together to a place we haven’t visited before.
Whatever we do, we can’t call it a ritual unless we practice it regularly. And when we’re traveling, maintaining regularity is a challenge. We can’t attend any dinner parties or gatherings as easily. Depending on where we are, phone calls can be choppy. Even my own routine is dictated by weather, driving distance, and flight departures on a daily basis.
But this lifestyle of constant shift in rhythm and home base calls even louder for rituals. Without them, we lose connection with our mind and body, our friends and family, God, or in whomever (or whatever) we seek refuge.
Without rituals, we lose connection with our mind and body, our friends and family, God or whatever it is that we seek refuge in.
So how do I consistently find clarity, energy, and meaning when the my surroundings frequently change? In the past few week, I’ve been taking notes of things I do daily that feel grounding and nourishing that have slowly become my new rituals on the road.
Let others know when I think of them
An old ritual has made a comeback after I left New York: sending a brief text or email saying, “Hey, I’m thinking of you.”
Since I’m nowhere geographically close to any friend or family, the message no longer suggests putting a date on the calendar and meeting up in person. I do it simply to express love and stay connected.
Take a walk outside
The beauty of constantly being on the road is that every piece of land we come across has its own character. The cities have hardened grounds. In Paris, the sidewalks are narrow. I remember to always to have to step into the road to let someone pass. Walking in Paris thus feels like a dance on concrete.
Where we’re staying, in the fjords in Northern Norway, the moisture in the air carpets the ground with a thick layer of moss. The earth feels soft and tender, contrasting with the sharp edges of the rocky peaks.
In one of my recent favorite reads, author Amitav Ghosh wrote about the difference between travelers and visitors: “…that a place does not merely exist, that it has to be invented in one’s imagination.” Without imagination, one could live in many places, but never travelled at all.
When I walk, I let my feet become eyes that capture and remember the landscape, so I can reimagine it later.
Draw a tarot card
I’ve always been curious about mystical creatures and experiences, and I know they exist.
Perhaps the source can be traced to my Chinese upbringing — my childhood education was filled with folklores where a magical brush paints on its own and dragons descend from the heaven to bring good fortune to good people.
Though I hadn’t consulted the Chinese calendar for an auspicious date prior to moving out of our apartment, I believe that a sprinkle of magic, or mystery, every day is key to any rituals.
Enter a travel-sized tarot deck. I’m no expert on tarot reading, but I draw a card almost every morning to get a different perspective on the day. Whether it’s the hanged man or the queen of wands, the illustration and the symbolism on the card whispers something mystical and wise.
This morning, I drew the Temperance. The angel on the card has one foot in the water and the other on shore, holding two cups where water flows in between. The ray around the rising sun behind the mountains in the background mimics the sparkles around the angel’s crown.
To me, it hints ease and balance. Harmony between two entities. Perhaps the message is to test new waters before jumping in, or to strike a balance between different tasks?
I sat the Temperance by the kitchen window, so I can see it from time to time. A reminder to slow down.
Read a scripture
In my backpack, I carry a Kindle and a hard copy of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. While the Kindle takes care of most of my literature needs, the Yoga Sutras — short thought-threads on yoga and the mind — are almost biblical to understand the nature of the world.
The book was a required reading for my yoga teacher training last year, and every two weeks for a period of 3 months, we studied it with a scholar, unraveled the thought-threads, spending sometimes a few hours on a single sutra. And the more layers of the text we peeled, the more layers we discovered underneath.
I’ve learned to cherish the concise yet deep wisdom in the Yoga Sutras so much that I have taken it with me on various trips before living a nomadic life indefinitely, and have never regretted it. Now I seek the moments to read a few sutras with my tea in the morning and while waiting in line to board the plane.
This highly concentrated wisdom is better consumed a small dose at a time.
Compared to my rituals in Brooklyn, such as a sitting meditation and the morning pages, my new rituals are more fluid and relaxed, but no less meaningful.
Whenever I wake up, I draw a card from the tarot deck, and contemplate its message for a few minutes. I read the Yoga Sutras while sipping tea throughout the day. If weather permits, I take a walk outside.
I no longer feel guilty if I don’t check all the ritual boxes. I let them change, evolve, and grow with me. I think of what an urban shaman once said,
“I always say that I practice my religion precisely the way my forbearers did 50,000 years ago. I make it up as I go along.”
What’s your favorite ritual on the road? If you could only bring one book, what would you bring? Share them in the comments, or reach out to me on Twitter.