Tonight I am all alone. My roommates are out for the night. There is no humming of the TV from downstairs or human voices traveling through heating ducts. Behind the closed doors I am reading, knitting and listening to music. It is late but I don’t care about the time. I feel so complete in my solitude I don’t want sleep to take that away from me.
I feel like I am 15 years old. Back in the days when my parents went out and left me alone in the house, I enjoyed the silence of the empty apartment and a sense of freedom that was somehow connected to the solitude.
I am back at that age again. Contained, content and accompanied by myself.
All that matters is knit and purl, good music and Orhan Pamuk’s latest book.
I am resting in the moment. In this moment the sense of time and space is lost. I could be 15 or 35, here or there. The fluctuations of my mind are suspended for a while.
Oh how happy I am that I decided not to go to Canada!
What does Canada have to do with this picture? I sometimes hear this voice inside my mind. It says: C’mon, let’s go somewhere. I shrug. It insists: Let ‘s take the early morning train and go to Canada. We can spend the night in Vancouver and return tomorrow in the evening.
In the old days I always listened to this voice. The “voice”, was my charming guide. Now because I have enough experience to know, I can resist it a little more. What am I going to do in that new place? Most likely I will be lost in the streets of an unknown town and will search for a coffee shop to rest. I will want the coffee shop to suit my taste, not only in coffee but also in music and atmosphere. In my search I will get tired of walking and maybe even cold. Plus I will not want to go back to that cold ugly hostel room where I will be staying because of my college-student budget.
When I recount all these things to “the voice”, it becomes quiet for a day or two, if I am lucky. Then, like an addict, I start to feel that familiar craving. As if I had not described exactly what would happen if we went, or as if we hadn’t experienced the whole adventure before, “the voice” starts again: Wouldn’t it be fantastic if we take a trip to Canada this weekend?
“Let’s Go Somewhere Else, I can’t Take It Anymore”, demanded the voice!
This particular state of mind has been with me, ever since I can remember. When I was 8-9 years old and the voice would speak to me, I used to cycle all the way to the tip of the island where we spent our summer holidays. The tip, which was called the Tongue, was outside the limits of my “permitted zone” in the island. Therefore a short trip to the Tongue was enough to satisfy “the voice”.
Later, during my high school years, I started taking random public buses to unknown destinations after school. That is how I discovered the poor and old neighborhoods of Istanbul, which were very different from the affluent parts of the city where I grew up. There I saw wooden buildings on the verge of collapse and the people living in them. I walked the narrow cobble stoned streets over which clean laundry was stretched from one house to the next. I watched the neighborhood kids coming back from their schools. I wondered about their lives. What went on in the old wooden houses? I imagined their stories.
When I had my first car, I drove all the way from my home to the Black Sea and the eastern villages of the Asian side. Driving in solitude, I thought was freedom unlimited and it had an addictive quality. One Friday night I decided to drive to Antalya, a southern beach town 600 miles away. Before I reached the first third of the road - the voice was already silent and I realized that I needed to be back at school Monday morning so I drove back home!
One important and common aspect of these adventures is that I always needed to go on my own and secretly. Since I have no reasonable explanation of why I am going on this adventure, I preferred not to mention my plans to anyone. What if they wanted to join me?
As I grew older, trips extended to other countries. During the time when I lived in Thailand, I kept visiting remote villages in Laos. If you have ever been there, you already know this: It is a true misery to get from one town to another in Laos. In a sticky hot bus you’re squeezed, between villagers, vegetables and livestock. If Laos sounded too hard, then I took the night train to Bangkok. Once during a summer holiday I returned to Istanbul. I found a cheap flight to London and sneaked out without notifying anyone. Another time in Portland, my cousin lent me her car for the weekend and I drove it to Seattle to spend the day! I have more stories but I think by now you get the picture!
So, you may ask, what happens when you arrive?
It is always the same thing! The first thing that happens is the voice which kept talking and filling my head with the dreams of freedom shuts up completely and is nowhere to be found. I start looking for a place to stay. Once I settle in a small ugly room in a youth hostel or in some budget hotel, I go out. And then a HUGE emptiness slaps me in the face! That is when and every time I silently scream: “What the hell am I doing here?” Since the voice is not there anymore and the craving is gone, I find no answer, no explanation. The next thing that happens is that I want to go back home!
In the absence of the voice I am left alone with my restlessness that is guiding me nowhere. I feel exhausted and disappointed. Didn’t the voice promise me an exciting new reality at the end of the road? Wasn’t this new place supposed to satisfy my curiosity? What happened?
Now I realize at the core of all these little adventures is a feeling of anxiousness. If only I could make my way into the unknown I would be free of this unsettling feeling.
What is this unsettling feeling about? Did I feel it when I went to the Tongue in the island at the age of 8? Did I feel it when I was roaming in those narrow streets of old Istanbul? It seemed that I was excited and joyful during the journey. Back then, the adventures were not my escape from an unsettling feeling but they were tools for exploring myself. Each trip was a journey inward.
Then something changed. I found myself in a restless state. The whole trip was filled with frustration, grasping and a need to achieve the ideal, which had been that calm sensation I remembered from the earliest adventures. Once the ideal was created by my mind, then, instead of being present with my experience, I started to compare everything to that. Childish wonder was replaced by the greed to arrive there. I stopped exploring the experience as it spontaneously happened and transformed. Could the restless sensation, which I hoped to liberate myself from, be connected to the end of my childlike curiosity? The adventures continued but the journey within was over.
Is this what it is to grow up and become dull towards life and its wonders?
I know I am still curious. I still want to learn. The unknown continues to fascinate me and I still believe there is freedom there. The human mind is made for exploring yet one does not have to go far to meet the unknown. Stepping out of everyday routines and into new places has something to do with freedom but it can easily turn into another manifestation of our achievement-oriented lives or even into a pattern of escapism. Such adventures will satisfy our hunger for knowledge and freedom only if they go hand in hand with an inward journey. The inner journey begins once we start to transform our habitual ways of feeling, thinking, and acting in that new place.
A part of me knew this from the very beginning. When I was little, my mom used to read me a bedtime story called The Blue Forest. The hero, named Bunny Nomad leaves his home behind and takes a long journey in search of the Blue Forest. Finally, after many adventures our hero finds his way to the Blue Forest. As he approaches his final destination he looks up and sees that the Blue Forest, was the forest that surrounded his village and also the beginning of his journey.
I remember saying not a word after my mom finished reading the story. When she left the room I cried silently under the covers. Was I crying because my young heart was disappointed with the ending or was it because I felt that my own destiny was designed in a similar way to Bunny Nomad’s?
Sitting here in the silence of my room instead of hanging out somewhere in Canada – I feel so peaceful and satisfied that I think that I have arrived at the Blue Forest after all.
This is an excerpt from my upcoming book Mavi Orman which will be published in February 2011.Special thanks to Kokia for editing and helping with the concepts.