Applied Buddhism – The Milan Awakening for the Solo Traveler
From April 26 to 28, I was in Milan, on my own, to see the city and take a break from day-to-day life. It was not my first solo travel experience – I’ve been to Paris, Sao Paulo, New York, Berlin on my own – but it was certainly a new kind of travel experience for me.
My mindset is what set this one apart from the previous journeys.
Previously, solo travel has been a somewhat tortuous process for me. Despite the fact that I appreciated each experience in hindsight and found it well worth doing, in the moment of travelling, alone and often bored, confronted with expectations of what solo travel should look like and how enjoyable it should be, I was often quite frustrated.
I resisted my surroundings. Because I live in the tiny and very wealthy country of Luxembourg, most of what I saw outside of my home country’s borders seemed dirty, imperfect, broken and frankly undignified to me, like the whole place was in need of repairs. It felt to me almost as if I identified with each place I came to and looked at it as a puzzle to be solved, a place that I should become friends with enough to accept possibly living there forever and never going back home. And I could never stand that thought.
For the first time, in Milan, I was faced with elements of boredom and resistance – pouring rain, a small language barrier, my own shyness, an old museum, a dark bathroom in the hotel… i.e. lots of small imperfections – and I found a way to overcome it.
The switch that took place in my mind feels like it is of fundamental importance, even though I have a hard time understanding or explaining it. For lack of a better explanation, I think it might be connected to my meditation practice which is gradually teaching me not to engage in my own thoughts when I do not want to.
Instead of getting caught up in dark thoughts of how ugly and imperfect the world is, and of how lonely I was (it was only 2.5 days!) my mind suddenly shifted into blissful and neutral observation on the morning of the second day. I started seeing the good and the bad without thinking that they directly related to me in some way. An imperfect city was suddenly no longer a puzzle to be solved but like a person to be looked at as valuable for her own merits and faults.
Milan is not an ugly city. Quite the opposite. Every place has beautiful and hideous sides, and all of them are worth exploring. But Milan was where I awoke to a more mature kind of traveling. I understood for the first time that the place I travelled to was just that – one destination among many. Milan is not the be-all and end-all, it is one interesting destination in a (hopefully) long journey.
I might just have gotten rid of a personal kind of unhealthy attachment, largely thanks to meditation and the new mindset it is helping to shape in my life. This might turn out to be a major turning point in my personal life, and for that, I feel enormously grateful.
It’s quite possible that I over-interpret what happened, and I might fall back into my old patterns of thought next time I travel, but at least I’ve had a glimpse of the promised land now and know it is accessible, given enough mental effort, and I thank the universe for this realisation, which seems infinitely precious now.