Hello Friends. I have desired to blog the past 2 months but life keeps reminding me that I only have time and space for a FEW priorities. Luckily, since I love to travel, October’s priority was traveling overseas to present some educational workshops, one which was in Italy!
In a previous blog I shared that traveling is great for our bodies, and for opening us up to expansion and newness, as well as to other viewpoints. But today I want to talk about a travel experience we all love, getting lost in a strange place! I am being facetious! There are a few hardy people who are so confident, and have such great nervous system regulation, that they actually enjoy getting lost, but most of the rest of us hate the experience. Being lost in a strange landscape exposes our vulnerability, our fears, and our “alienness” or lack of belonging to that place. The street signs are in a strange tongue, the sights are totally unfamiliar, and the locals are all busily buzzing on their own trajectories and often appear indifferent at first glance.
But today I will share the good news about being lost in a strange place! How navigating this experience benefits our body and Autonomic Nervous system, and how asking for help from strangers can improve our confidence, decrease anxiety, and even provide some Attachment healing/ feelings of nurture.
I write from my recent personal experience in Italy. After presenting the workshop in Naples, I ended up traveling alone for 5 days in Southern Italy. Prior to this experience I had never ventured south of Rome, and now I was headed south of Naples. I was excited to see some new territory and experience a slightly different culture. However, my Italian language proficiency is limited to a few important phrases such as “where is the bathroom, how much does this cost, where is the Hotel _____?” So I was also a little anxious about the whole experience.
I determined on day 1 to know where I was going and to have an organized plan. The unknown feels unsettling, and most often produces anxiety in a human being. Our brains prefer knowing what to expect at any given moment. So, the idea I had a plan, mentally helped with the anxiety of the unknown—but the plan fell apart, as plans tend to do when exposed to actual life! Getting on my first train, all I knew was the name of my stop, Piazza Cavour, so I thought I was set. However, it turns out, the train’s screen malfunctioned and after 10 minutes it reported each new station stop was Piazza Amador. My belly began to tense. I knew this couldn’t be good for my plan. After the 3rd ‘P. Amador stop’ my fight or flight energy kicked in and I started trying to get off the train and find help. (I own a car in San Diego, so I am never on a train or subway system, it is an unfamiliar situation no matter what country I am in.)
Surprisingly, help came from unexpected quarters. A sweet 3-foot tall Italian grandma saw me looking stressed, and frankly a bit panicked. Though she spoke not a word of English, she pointed at me, at the screen, and said Piazza Cavour, and then pointed the opposite way the train was traveling. I gathered from her excellent charade skills that I had missed my stop, one of the P. Amador’s was actually P.Cavour. Then, an urbane and well-dressed older gentleman who spoke a tiny bit of English, told me to follow him. I was at the point of “any port in a storm”, so I followed him off the train. He walked me to a platform about 5 minutes away and told me to get on this train and go 2 stops. Then he smiled and walked away.
After that experience my anxiety about traveling alone in Italy dropped away. If without asking for help I got the support I needed, maybe I could just ask for help at any point on my journey? So, when I got lost in Sorrento, I asked for help. When I couldn’t find the train station, I stopped a stranger and asked him. When the SITA bus to Positano dropped me off at the top of the town and I had no idea where my hotel was, I asked another stranger. A few people could not help me or didn’t know the answer to my questions, but they all tried to help. Southern Italians are amazing, warm, kind and friendly. I was blown away by all the support and kindness I received. Even on the Circumvisiana train (where travel guide books provide dire warning about pickpockets abounding, paste your valuables to your body, etc.), Italians made conversation with me and I met many wonderful people. By my second ride I was not treating my wallet like it was one of my kidneys. My fears dissipated and I really enjoyed this “dangerous” train experience.
By the end of my trip, looking back, I could not believe I had any anxiety about traveling alone. Though this was my first time doing so overseas, my confidence in navigating around a foreign country had skyrocketed. Thanks to Steve Jobs and my iphone, I had no trouble finding transportation (no uber in South Italy), booking hotels on the fly, and deciding where I wanted to go next. I had wonderful dinner conversations at every restaurant. People talk to you when you travel alone in Italy. I made friends with Colombians, Australians, Britons, Spaniards, and even some wonderful strangers from Ohio! I felt so much safer in my body and in my own experience. This always happens when you face a fear or something that brings you anxiety. Triumphing over the fear brings out sensations of our natural empowerment and increases our sense of safety. It is impossible for your anxiety to keep telling you that you cannot do something that you are actually doing! It kicks the fear right in the ass.
In closing, the best news is that asking for help from strangers brings more love/care in your life. If you don’t believe me, believe Barbara Fredrickson and the research that she includes in her wonderful book, “LOVE 2.0.” A simple encounter with a stranger when you are present and connecting, synchs up both of your brains, begins a flow of oxytocin (the love/bonding hormone, not to be confused with oxycontin the drug), increases your vagal tone, which promotes heart and overall physical health, and calms and soothes your Autonomic Nervous system! All that in just a brief encounter. Oxytocin is the hormone that counteracts the stress hormones that many of us have coursing through our bodies on a regular basis. So my mini encounters also helped me physically and emotionally.
My experience was that when strangers treat you as if you really matter and provide the help that you need, it increases your own sense of value, as well as deepens your awareness of how we are all connected as a human race. I felt more self-love during and after the trip just from the experience of so much help and care coming from so many strangers. I have wonderful friends and feel very loved on a regular basis, but there was something new and powerful that emerged as I repeatedly experienced being cared for by strangers.
So, my encouragement to you is to ask for help more often. Ask strangers for restaurant suggestions, directions, etc., when you travel. Whether you are going to Nebraska, Saskatoon, or Taiwan, let people help you when you need it. See what you notice in your body, mind and heart. Please let me know how it goes.
1.) Have you ever traveled alone in a strange country? If so, what was your experience like? What sources of support did you use to find your way around? Did you ask any strangers for help? How did that experience work?
2.) Do you have a sense of your own confidence and competence in navigating the unknown? If so, what is your source of support or comfort? If you do not, can you imagine stretching yourself and trying something new, unknown or a little scary, but asking for support in the process?