I’m nearing the end of my two-week trip overseas; my flight back to the District leaves in less than six hours. But for now, I’m checked out of my hostel and nestled into the corner table of a quaint little Icelandic coffee shop in Reykjavík. I haven’t written more than an email to my loved ones while I’ve been abroad, and I haven’t posted any pictures on Instagram since I left American soil. More than one person has asked me where my pictures are, and I don’t have a complete answer for them.
It started with the meditation retreat I think. For those who don’t know, the main reason I went abroad was to attend a week-long Buddhist meditation + painting and photography retreat at a Triratna (i.e., Hippie Buddhist movement that aims to make Buddhism accessible to the West and applicable to modern life) center in the Scottish Highlands. For a week, I meditated 2-3 hours a day, took photos of the countryside, and painted with watercolors—all wifi- and cell signal-free.
I will pause for a moment to tell you a bit about that experience:
I must say I didn’t miss my phone really. Definitely not the calls or texting. Or even Instagram–I do realize how much time I spend scrolling on there. I missed emailing Sister. But honestly, the thing I ached for and had no idea I would miss: Google. Every few minutes it seemed, I wanted to look up the history of an aspect of Buddhism or the root of the word or the English slang for something. I explained this in a small group circle early on, and Amoghavera (aw-mo-gaw-veer-a), our retreat leader, said he would be my Google–I was constantly asking him to write out a chant so I could get the spelling right or about the difference between a British Pound and a Quid (nothing it turns out).
But the main thing I missed Google for, and I know Sister nearly died laughing when I wrote her this, was my symptoms. I’m apparently more of a hypochondriac than I knew. I got very ill on the flight overseas, and it developed into a good ol’ head cold. I was miserable for the first Friday, Saturday, and Sunday when I first arrived; I also looked like death. I wanted to see if I had a sinus infection and what the risks were of going without antibiotics (I’d be fine). Then when stomach stuff started (turns out I had problems with the very carb-laden vegan food), I wondered if peat in the Scottish water could make a person sick and if I should be boiling it (the water was fine). I also got curious and wondered if extended meditation periods could adversely affect the body for a bit (um, no). And, after a bit of an itchy scalp and a few dandruff flakes, which I don’t usually suffer from, I assumed I had lice (spoiler alert: I didn’t; I am quite sure the change in shampoo is to be blamed).
Yeah, so, that happened in my brain (please be laughing, so I feel like less of a weirdo), and, yes, I am now limiting my Google diagnosing since I am aware of the problem.
But back to why I have not shared a lot:
Nayyirah Waheed, one of my favorite poets, asks, in “A Question of Appropriation”, “Would you still want to travel to that country if you could not take a camera with you?” Man, let me tell you, that line sat in the back of my mind, staring at me, this whole trip. Especially after a week of focusing on being present and the art of seeing, really looking without trying to capture anything but the moment in your mind.
I took fewer pictures than I normally do on trips. I really thought about each photo before I snapped it, be it via my iPhone or my DSLR; there was a reason behind each image. And before I post anything on IG, I want to be clear in my mind about the story and how much of it I want to tell about this trip. Also, becoming even more important to me these days thanks to yoga teacher training, I want to be able to explain why (in my head) I am posting something, because “Likes” are a dangerous reason.
I thought a lot too, about #VOWsave (last week’s verb and the main subject of this post) and #VOWshow (this week’s verb). About the things I want to keep to myself about this trip. About what I found on it. Because this has always been a completely solo jaunt that was and still is only about me, and in my heart, which is where I feel my intuition, I believe (and have for months thought) that things are going to change when I get home. Nothing particularly “magical” or “life-changing” happened on this sojourn, but I am sure it was a dot that will eventually connect for me.
For now, ellipses…
And a few photos, because this is, after all, a combined post about #VOWsave and #VOWshow:
Dhanakosa (Balquhidder, Scotland):