I forget when exactly I learned the definition of equanimity–it was at some point on my travels–but I do remember thinking that I did not possess it. Equanimity is defined as mental calmness, composure, and evenness of temper, especially in a difficult situation: the stuff of army generals, presidents, English people.
The opposite of equanimity is volatility. I tend to be a big ball of emotion: like a puppy, I’m easily excitable and quick to disappointment. My moods tend to veer in extremes: in a matter of 24 hours, I can be floating with happiness before just as easily folding into myself with despair. Friends know I don’t have a poker face, don’t put up many pretenses: I’m “real” almost to a fault.
Recently, I equated these ups and downs with the stress of travel (although I’ve long been prone to stress, the very definition of high-strung): the unfamiliarity of new places and foreign cultures combined with the sensation of being very, very far from home. I don’t think friends (or for that matter, my parents) knew what to expect when they received a call with a long string of foreign digits: sometimes, I’d be calling just to check in and exclaim about my latest escapade or adventure. Other times, I’d be sobbing, futilely attempting to catch my breath as I wondered if all of this was worth it.
I once wrote that the greatest feeling of traveling was one of self-sufficiency: “Like, yes, I can carry all of my bags and find my hostel down three different alleys and sort out an awesome place to eat ALL BY MYSELF.” I didn’t realize how much I could do until I simply did it: I never though I could backpack through Europe on my own, move to Australia on my own, travel to Southeast Asia on my own until I booked the ticket without looking back. The very act of being on my own was a reward in itself.
Not surprisingly, what I hate most is a lack of control. My unraveling generally came when I was running late or feeling lost, subject to public transportation and traffic and unfamiliar street signs. In many ways, I’ve become much better about accepting the things I cannot change: when I showed up to the airport to fly to Colombia in September, I was informed that no, in fact, I did not have a ticket on that flight and the plane was full (hello, worst travel nightmare). Instead of breaking down–as I most likely would have done in many instances before–I closed my eyes, did a few rounds of yoga breathing, made the appropriate calls and got myself on a different plane a few terminals away. I called my mom, as I would have done before, but instead of seeking her to comfort me in between tears, I proudly told her how composed I’d been.
As I settle into my life in New York, I’m rediscovering that greatest feeling of traveling, self-sufficiency–albeit in a completely different setting. I’ve moved apartments by myself, painted my room by myself, struggled through putting together Ikea furniture by myself. I realized that had I stayed in (or moved back to) California, I never would have discovered that I’m capable of doing these things. I would have called my dad to help me paint or assemble furniture (or, more likely, tried to do it on my own, made a mistake, lost interest and then called him to bail me out, as I did throughout college). I would have convinced my guy friends to help me move or set up my router with promises of a 30-pack or a plate of homemade cookies. I would never have had to push myself; instead, I would have stayed squarely in the “princess” persona that defined me in high school and college.
I’m starting to realize that perhaps you don’t have to travel across the world to discover yourself, to realize what you’re capable of accomplishing on your own. Self-sufficiency does not exist solely in 16-hour plane rides, daylong bus adventures in Vietnam, successfully giving directions in a second language. It exists whenever we stop saying that we can’t do something and simply do it, when we push out of our comfort zone into new and unfamiliar–and ultimately, the most rewarding–territory. When we struggle through something, tears and hopelessness and all, and come out on the other side: perhaps not unscathed, but knowing that the scars will fade.