Before we left for our Canadian road trip, I was curious what kind of growth would emerge. We definitely expected to have some clarity on whether we might want to live there in the future and I think there’s potential for sure, though we’re still getting our feet back under us here in Thailand where we’ll be for the next 10 months. We also had an idea of how much Cam would change between 9 months old when we left and almost a year old when we got back. And I suspect I am more connected to the earth now since we spent a lot of time in nature. But the Most Improved Player on this trip is my social skills. As an Enneagram 4, I sometimes believe that societal rules don’t apply to me or else I find it difficult to operate authentically within them. This also may just be a low level social anxiety, but it often makes me try to avoid or remove myself from conversations that I’m not at ease in. I hate conflict but I’ve had trouble listening to people without offering my opinions or judgments because it feels like my silence is endorsing things I don’t believe in. A friend of mine, the ever-wise Anna helps me understand that it’s not inauthentic to just listen and that most people’s deepest desire is just to be heard. Since on this trip we uprooted every week or so, our only immediately accessible friends were the ones we made along the way, through mutual friends who put us in touch or people we met in the street or through farm stays and airbnb. I spent one weekend just with Cam, on a women’s retreat with my new friend Vanessa – a friend of a friend of ours who is living in Thailand next door to us.
That’s right – I invited myself to a women’s retreat where I knew a total of one person that I had just met. And it was great. I’ve always been wary of women’s gatherings because I carry a lot of stereotypes and assumptions, but I’ve started to realize that getting to know a group of thoughtful women can never be a negative thing.
The week of the retreat, Vanessa (fellow enneagram-lover by the way) told me she probably couldn’t make it to the first night. So there I was surrounded by a group of women I had never met before, ready to dig deep on a retreat about psalms and lamenting but unsure if they would accept a total stranger crashing their church gathering, or, even if they were comfortable with me being there, would we get along? (hint: a baby is a great icebreaker). Camille and I were warmly welcomed. I let go of the idea that it was inauthentic to tell the story of how we happened to be in British Columbia more than a few times, and just let each conversation evolve naturally. But mostly I noticed that I cared to listen. I wanted to hear stories of women I might never see again, just for the sake of connection and being present with them in joy and in pain.
The first night I met a woman whose husband had died a year and a half earlier, and she was so vulnerable about how painful it was to lose her partner after 25 years, that I didn’t hold back tears for her and fears that I may someday lose my own best friend. She ended up being in my small group and in the last session I thanked her for being so open and explained that being able to ask questions and watch her go through my worst fear actually gives me a little more confidence that it could be survived. At the end of the retreat she shared with everyone how meaningful it was that her grief wasn’t a burden on others, but a benefit. This is how community should be.
I was amazed that this kind of depth could be achieved over just one weekend, and can’t imagine what long term community-oriented living could offer. Of course it’s never easy, but I think we are missing something core from our society since we have chosen independence over interdependence. It’s something we as a little family struggle with a lot – I believe objectively that allowing ourselves to be vulnerable and share both our excess and our needs within community brings more richness of life, but then on the other hand we are constantly trying to become more financially self-sufficient and making the decisions that make the most sense for us and our girl. Both ways of being create less reliance on our communities. So wherever we choose to live next, I want to make sure a way to create tight knit community is built in. We’ve been looking at eco-villages as one option, island life as another, and small towns as another option and on our trip, all of these hunches that we scoped out proved to offer the kind of potential for community that we’re seeking. I want to choose something that we’re not good at, but that will cause the most growth and meaning in our lives long term, especially for our Scout.
So how has traveling improved my social skills? It helps me be more present with the people I with at any moment. I’m not thinking about the mess I left the house in that morning or the projects I have going at the moment because home is wherever we happen to be together temporarily and our projects are small and on the move with us. (I was also on sabbatical from work so that was a huge difference). But since my only job was to experience the places we were in (and take care of our munchkin), I took her out in order to meet people more often and I talked and listened to the people that I did meet – so much so that it made an observable difference in my social skills and Tory commented on how engaged in conversations with strangers I had become over the trip. I hope I can take this attitude into my life in general.