In some ways everything has changed and in others, nothing. When I left two weeks ago, I remember feeling claustrophobic, short-tempered, and impatient. The thousand details that needed attention in order to pack everything I needed for my trip seemed to blur. I gave up trying to double-check the lists I made to insure I didn’t forget anything. I just surrendered to the intention, tossed things in the car and headed south. Didn’t even get 25 miles away and realized I had left maps, directions, and other documents back at home.
One of my areas of personal growth is a tendency toward stubbornness. Even though I was not 20 miles away from home and could have gone back for the papers, I watched my ‘monkey-mind’ work through the knotty problem of how I could recreate the information, what alternatives I had and whether any of this would be as cataclysmic as my now-triggered amygdala was insisting. My intervention was a Venté, non-fat, decaf latte and a commitment to not look back.
Once under the hypnotic influence of interstate driving, I entered into a suspended state of animation now at the direction and totally supplicated to GPS driving instructions from a disembodied female voice telling me to watch out for vehicles on the side of the road and offering alternative routes available to bypass traffic. I pondered how easily I gave up authority and autonomy to this computer and followed, sheep-like, the instructions that took me into less than familiar places in areas I would normally avoid. The errant thought occasionally surfaced prodding me to question what would happen if I lost access to the GPS or my battery ran low.
In spite of these misgivings, I arrived safely at my first destination, embraced all the newness, adapted my nightly hygiene routine into a new order and promptly fell asleep. This would be repeated several times over my vacation, as I stopped to visit family and friends along the way and was received graciously at every venue.
I mention this, because while this vacation was designed to give me a well-earned rest, it was also an exploratory mission to check out possible sites to host Five Pillars of Aging five-day seminars. I have several criteria for these events. Seminar sights must be within an hour of a major airport, be destination sights that are able to accommodate a wide-range of visitor activities, including upscale sleeping accommodations, sight-seeing, catering, and convention services, and be beautiful. This time I was looking specifically at Santa Fe, New Mexico. (BTW, it met all the criteria!)
The older I get the more I rely on routine to keep me focused and not let things fall through the cracks. In this case, I needed to re-create my office including computer, writing prompts and work, as well as my health regimen. Since I was driving, I was able to pack my car with all the accouterments of home — various containers holding laptops, files, plastic storage containers with pills, special foods, and, perhaps most importantly, my pillow. I must admit, I felt like a Victorian memsahib re-creating my slice of England in foreign lands, sans a retinue of servants.
I am amazed at how easily I adapted this template to the different places I stayed. From every venue I was able to access email, banking, local and regional news, stay up to speed with what was happening on Facebook and post my own updates. My amazement rises from my inner experience of disorientation, increased word-searching and feeling just ever so slightly off balance. Thinking this reflected on my cognitive decline and was a death knell of my ever being able to complete my dream, I paused and just related the same advice I give to my patients – “you are tired, and just need to cut yourself some slack.”
All in all, I got to experience a multiplicity of wonderfully new (novel) experiences for my brain to grow new neural pathways. All of my senses were involved. New smells, new tastes (Christmas chile!), new faces, new ideas, new music. My body adapted to different biomes, different levels of calcium in the water, and different foods. High desert, low desert, mountains, verdant valleys, dry washes and stream beds, and huge lakes in the middle of nowhere created by the damning of once mighty rivers.
And everywhere, people going about their lives, their routines, and accommodating my life and its temporary and passing moments into theirs. Meeting new people, (names forgotten, but stories remembered), reconnecting with beloved family and friends, recalling (or inventing) stories of a shared past and committing to strengthening the bonds those memories rekindled are all elements of how and why travel and visiting is essential to remaining engaged as we age.
All in all I traveled 2,859.4 miles. Slept at an elevation of 7,199 feet and drove through Death Valley at an elevation of -282 feet below sea level. My arrival home revealed a transformation of flowers and shrubs from budding to blooming. The intensity and ubiquity of the greens permeated my psyche now used to umbers and tans. I had left Sonoma just as Spring was erupting and spent time in an area of our country that is stark in its chiaroscuro of adobe and clay against piercing blue skies and incomparably fluffy white clouds, but no less bursting with life.
I’m doing errands today. Re-entering the rhythm of my life in Sonoma. The familiarity of these rituals brings a smile to my face and makes me appreciate the gifts of having my own life on my own terms. I have not yet succumbed to my life’s potency that is simultaneously reassuring and habituating. In going away, I gained perspective on what is essential to me. What I cannot live without are good friends, good conversation, good food and a good cup of coffee. The rest can be improvised.