What is a quest? ‘A long or arduous search for something.‘
It happens to be the most prominent theme of the book The Hobbit written by J.R.R. Tolkien; the transformation of the Hobbit named Bilbo Baggins. He starts off a shy creature living in the shire, small and meek, with a very tiny radios of a life. Many of us can relate to this. We grow up in an area, we go to school there, we eventually go to work, and we follow our parents lead. We make friends from childhood; and our lives become more about where we landed which is mostly up to chance. The idea of adventure or change is not something we have time to think about in our busy lives. Yet, Bilbo Baggins ends up the brave hero of his own story who saves the Dwarven Kingdom back from the fierce Dragon. Little him steps out against the world. Of course, although only a story, we can all connect to the idea; especially those first few steps into the unknown. It is very difficult to move outside our comfort zones. However, new experiences help us grow as individuals; both mentally and by acquiring new skills as we try new things. Like Bilbo, we manage to not only survive, but to thrive. The message for me is clear;
Shouldn’t we all live our lives as the hero of our story?
The idea of a quest that transforms is not a new one. Legendary quests for the Holy Grail started being written about as early as the 10th century; where noble knights set off on horseback in search of artifacts that would prolong life, or heal. During the quest something profound would happen; perhaps love, or fame. Some stories reveal relics that would make some connection to the holy deity, of course brought back to their king for him to collect and ponder over. Some may have started off as truths, then turned into legends as time went on; building and building until the story had a life of its own.
Further, the idea of a quest transformation is in many fictional works; from classic stories like ‘The Wizard of Oz’ as the Cowardly Lion goes in search of courage, Tin Man a heart, the Scarecrow a brain, and Dorothy her home; so off they go to see the Wonderful Wizard of Oz to help the characters make personal transformation. Just like the book ‘The Alchemist’ after such a journey you find that everything you need has been there all along. Other books like ‘The Road’ by Cormac McCarthy, shares a quest in a not so distant dystopian future where father and son go off on an unsafe journey in search of food and safety, clean water and again the promise of a brighter future.
More recently there are self-help biographical stories, similar to my own, like ; ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ by Elizabeth Gilbert (if not with two kids in tow, and reaching middle age) true accounts of self-discovery where over the course of a year Liz finds herself through rediscovering food and all its pleasures, meditation in both India and Thailand and in the end she finds her balance and bravely opening her heart to falling in love again. ‘The Way’ the movie by Emilio Estevez also talks about the people who take ‘El Camino de Santiago’, known in English as the Way of St. James, the pilgrim route many take for many different reasons, and the paths leading there stretch straight across Europe.
Going out on a quest may sound strange to some, abandoning all for the unknown in search of something. It might be an idea, an explanation, a cure, a feeling, an answer, a reason, or a multitude of other things a person can find along the way, but the idea of a quest is actually quite simple. If you leave on your quest with the idea that those you meet along the way will have some important, profound lesson to teach you, and if you are willing to except those lesson 100%, then during your journey you will find what you are looking for. You actually decide your positive outcome of the journey before you even begin.
To make those advances in your own personal development, no matter what that may mean to you, can be found on the internal pursuit while on the external journey. Like most things worth doing, you dedicate your time. This is profound, because some people can stay home and take the journey entirely inside their heads. Remarkable really, and power to them! It takes a powerful mind. For me internal quests did help for the short term; I read many books, and for many years; The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin; The Secret by Rhonda Byrne; The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle; The Art of Happiness by the 14th Dalai Lama; and the list goes on to more Deepak Chopra, more Eckhart Tolle; motivational speakers like Tony Robbins; and icons and my own personal hero Oprah Winfrey and anything book she has ever suggested during my own internal journeys. Pretty much one book per week for the most part of my twenties and thirties, reading about other people’s quests before I left with my husband and two kids on my own.
There were many books along with yoga and a set exercise routine which did help me to stay in the present moment, burn off stress, sort out all my demons, take responsibility for my own choices and actions, and they did make huge impacts on who I would become down the road. However, for me personally, I had to physically disconnect from all my chores, routines, bills, mortgage and car payments, shift work, North American society, old friends, extended family, co-workers; all those things that kept drawing me back to my old self. I needed to leave to find my balance. Once the obstacles where removed, more permanent versions of change could happen.
When we set off in 2011, I wanted to find myself, and that would take time to know who I am without the heavy burdens of survival, or my family and friends who liked the way I was and wanted me to stay exactly the same. I gave myself permission to grow away from them and to take back the wheel of my life which was on autopilot for a very long time. I needed to find my own voice without trying to please others. I wanted to check out of the commercialized world I grew up in. Things did not matter to me; not the big house, or the new cars; those were just objects that I could not connect with and they did not bring long term happiness or joy. Some short term happiness sure! I love a good Lululemon yoga suit like the next girl but things never impacted my identity as to who I was. What I mean is that wearing a designer outfit did not make me feel more like myself. I feel just as comfy wearing my sweatpants from the grocery store; those types of material things do not resonate with me. I knew there must be more to life than working hard to buy those kinds of things, collecting the stuff everyone else was collecting. I wanted to find meaning to it all and more importantly to know myself enough to know what I liked and disliked without society telling me what was fashionable, or now that my husband and I earned enough money to buy the house on the beach or the lake, that just because that was what most people did, it wasn’t a good enough reason for us to follow along like sheep too.
I wasn’t in search of god. I already knew him. I had read those books before and am well versed. I wanted to experience life to make up my own mind about what I thought about things without the influence of books written 2000+ years ago or my family pushing their beliefs onto me. I wanted to know how other people live and love, and I knew for me to change my own limited views of the world, I would have to visit the places I read about in those books.
I searched for new light sources to help me grow as an individual. I needed to cut away from everything I knew and move far away. And that is what we did.
Now here I am after the initial journey, yet in many ways I am still on the quest of self-discovery if not in another country. I have lived the last near decade of my life completely open to whatever lessons present themselves to me, some through; opportunities, new cultures or traditions, education, new people, or work; bringing light, some dark, and endless amounts of love and understanding, if nothing else, compassion for the struggle of others (walking in the shoes if it were). And being receptive to all the lessons along the way, and I have made great strides in who I am as a person in countless ways. There have been moments that have profoundly changed me to the core of my being, some bringing me to my knees. You pull yourself up, dust yourself off and continue the journey. It has been a journey as deep as miles long.
With all my might I try to pass on the essence of these 40+ years worth of lessons to my children. Most they will discover as they grow, but some things I can pass along like guiding lights towards openness and acceptance. To give access to doors which open towards options, possibilities and hope for them to find some sort of happiness in this very stressful world by how they think about the world, and their responsibility to it. I want them to see human existence as I see do; full of possibilities. I want them to remain loving, wondering creatures, and beacons of hope.
One thing I know for sure is that I am not willing to except us being separated by borders, religions, laws and rules or whatever prison people want to put themselves in. I refuse to separate people into categories. We are one human race coexisting on a rock blasting through the universe at 100,000 kms/hour. We hold-on as best we can given the opportunities that are presented in our lives. It is majority luck to who we are born, maybe some ambition and drive to change, but it is mostly chance. We make our own paths, sometimes uphill through the thick, other times beaten down by those before us. However, we all know we will die, and we try to live the best lives we can. We all love our children and our families in the same ways. We wish and hope for a better future for them than we had for ourselves. With this similarity I try to make connections between all the people I meet, try to relate, try to see others as they are and find ways to unit or find compromise. I believe people are mostly good, or at least trying to be good, and if they are not good it is because of their circumstances and from what life has done to them. I have complete compassion for all; even those who dislike me. In fact, I give them the most empathy, and myself the time to see the why, understanding that not everyone is on the same page, and sometimes we act as mirrors as to what we are not to one another. Sometimes it is my positive nature that annoys, sometimes I am a reminder of all the things that they did not get around to. In these situation I try to stay true to myself by not letting their negativity change me. I stay true to my core being, remembering how long the journey is to get here and I send them love that one day they might also see how amazing life can be just by changing your outlook. It is hard not to hate someone, and it takes practice, yet it is these more challenging relationships that I have learned the most about myself from.
Looking deeper inside myself, I crave freedom for a reason. Initially I wrote all the details but have decided not to tell exactly the complicated situations I lived through because it is subjective and not everyone feels the same. Instead, I will say whatever your neurosis might be, those things that trip you up and stop you from moving forward in life; pinpoint them, and deal with them head on. Talk to the people you need to and put your issues to rest, even if they are 30+ years old like my own. Ask the why things happened the way they did, and try to make sense of it all using more experienced grown-up eyes. Because being honest with how I am able to cut off ties and travel the world, I had to come to terms with it all before I was able to move on.
That’s my quest and my quiet truth.